Category Archives: Travel

Seasonal Notes | Dahlias

For me, a highlight of early autumn is the appearance of dahlias, which come into their own in September and bloom spectacularly until the first frosts of October.

The flower shop next to my local tube station is currently overflowing with them, and it’s a weekly delight of mine to select a bunch. I ponder over type (spiky petals or honeycomb-like pompons?) and colour (soft lilac or tangerine orange?), delighting in the incredible variety.

Although dahlias fell out of favour for many years after reaching their pinnacle of fame in the Victorian era, over the past two decades these fascinating flowers have made their way back into the limelight.

It’s not a surprise that dahlias are used in photography styling with increasing frequency on instagram, where they’ve joined the elite rank of popularity previously dominated by peonies and ranunculus. The diversity in colour and shape make dahlias a versatile choice for florists and stylists; I love the creamy, blousy beauty of Café au Lait dahlias, just as much as I admire the dramatic Black Narcissus variety, with their pointed, blood-red petals.

History of Dahlias

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico and are the country’s national flower. They were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the early 1800s. After over 200 years of selected breeding, hybridising and culture, dahlias are now one of the flowers with the largest variety of form, colour and size and are grown and appreciated all over the world. Apparently, hybridisers today are seeking dahlias with scent, ones that are frost-hardy, and a true blue dahlia.

The Mexican heritage of these flowers has been increasingly celebrated in recent years, as homage is paid by the Art and Fashion worlds to the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, whose work has been showcased in several major exhibitions around the world (including this one currently exhibiting at the V&A). Kahlo loved flowers and bright colours, and she would regularly gather bouquets of dahlias, marigolds, lilies, violets and irises from her garden, sometimes including dahlias in her paintings as well. I love this photograph of Kahlo with dahlias in her hair.

Where to See Dahlias in the UK

Although I am not in the least green fingered, I do love visiting spectacular gardens, and I have started putting together a list of some of the best gardens in the UK to see dahlias:

The National Dahlia Collection, Cornwall. I visited this dahlia farm last autumn, and it was so special to spend an hour or so strolling amongst the rows of all different types of dahlias, admiring St Michael’s Mount in the horizon.

Great Dixter, East Sussex. This famous garden has been on my list to visit for ages. I’m determined to get here one day!

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden, East Sussex. I’ve heard many wonderful things about this garden, which isn’t generally open to the public, but I hope to take advantage of the September Open Days one year.

Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. The dahlia borders at this unspoilt garden are meant to be stunning.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge. The Dahlia Garden contains over 70 different varieties of the flower.

Kelmarsh Hall & Gardens, Northampton. You can visit the Dahlia Festival on 16th September.

Hever Castle, Kent. A visit early September is the perfect time to admire the gorgeous dahlia border, as well as late-blooming roses.

So far, I’ve only managed to get to the National Dahlia Collection in Cornwall, but I’m looking forward to exploring more as I work my way through this list.

Further Reading

If you fancy reading more about dahlias, or simply gazing at beautiful photos of many different varieties, then I recommend Naomi Slade’s book Dahlias: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden.

Georgianna Lane (whom I interviewed on the blog in this post) has taken many exquisite photographs to illustrate the book, and it’s a lovely read for any flower-lover, as well as giving helpful advice for growing and caring for dahlias.

I’m going to be back to the Penzance area again in early October, and I would love to make it back to the National Dahlia Collection if possible. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying picking up bunches from my local flower shop!

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Don’t forget to check out my latest Tea & Tattle Podcast episode here.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

In my ‘Talking Shop’ series, I introduce you to some of my favourite independent shops around the UK….

Illyria Pottery, Oxford

After finishing our lunch at Gee’s, Mum and I set off to Illyria Pottery, only a 10 minute walk away in Oxford’s vibrant Jericho. I’d been keen to visit the shop ever since discovering Illyria’s instagram feed many months ago.

Illyria Pottery was first established by Katie Coston in South Carolina in 2008. In 2013, Katie moved to Oxford, where her beautiful ceramics made a welcome addition to the interesting mix of independent businesses in Jericho.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I am always fascinated by pottery; I like to think it’s because my Grandfather worked as a potter for Poole Pottery in Dorset after WW2. Although I have no talent for the art myself, I can certainly appreciate the finished product, and beautiful ceramics have always been a weakness of mine.

Pottery Inspired by Nature

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Apparently, Katie draws inspiration from the natural world when creating her ceramics, and she often implements elements of nature into her work, such as pressing shells into clay to create dainty, whimsical little dishes.

Every piece sold in Illyria is created by Katie in her studio, just below the shop. There are also a few items available from other makers that are handmade in the UK: I picked up a lovely bar of soap as part of a hostess gift for a friend.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

We had such a wonderful time browsing Illyria on a sleepy afternoon at the start of September. The atmosphere was peaceful, and we were encouraged to take our time by the very helpful shop assistant, who was happy to tell me more about Illyria Pottery.

I had a lot of trouble deciding what to purchase, especially as I didn’t have much room at all in my suitcase! In the end I settled for a tiny, slate-grey bud vase and a streamlined cup the colour of sea-foam. I so appreciate that Katie puts on emphasis on creating products that are beautiful, but also functional. I can’t wait to have a cup of tea out of my beautiful new mug, and I know the bud vase will be perfect for my desk.

Lucie Maud, the Prettiest Shop Cat

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

As I was wandering around the shop, I suddenly noticed Illyria’s elegant shop cat, Lucie Maud (I like to think the name is a nod to one of my favourite authors, Lucy Maud Montgomery). With those wide green eyes and pearly white paws, she’s an utter charmer (unsurprisingly, she has her own hashtag)!

Lucie Maud  has a habit of dozing off in the biggest ceramic bowls, which I think is equal parts hilarious and adorable!

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I spent such a lovely time shopping at Illyria Pottery, and if you’re ever in Oxford, I definitely recommend paying a visit! There are also lots of fun looking cafes and bars in Jericho, should you fancy a pick-me-up after shopping. I’m already planning a return trip to Oxford so I can explore the Jericho area further.

~

Illyria Pottery
104 Walton Street
Oxford, UK
OX2 6EB

illyriapottery.co.uk

Online Shop

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read another in my ‘Talking Shop’ series, about a tastefully curated homeware shop in Penzance, Cornwall.

 

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee’s, Oxford

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's Oxford

Last weekend, My Mum and I took a trip to Oxfordshire to visit an old friend. We planned to spend the afternoon in Oxford, then our friend would pick us up from the Botanic Garden and drive us back to her home near Wantage.

With a few hours to enjoy before we needed to be at the gardens, I had a lot of fun drawing up a small itinerary, starting with lunch. Our train from Marylebone had pulled into Oxford at midday, just as our stomachs felt the first pangs of hunger, and I suggested we hop in a taxi to Gee’s (pronounced like the ‘gee’ in ‘gee whiz’), a restaurant I’d been eager to try for ages.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Situated a short walk from Oxford city centre on the Banbury Road, Gee’s serves a fusion of British / Mediterranean food in a tastefully renovated Victorian conservatory. The restaurant reminded me of Petersham Nurseries in London, with its abundance of potted plants and incredible natural light. It’s a truly gorgeous venue – just take a look….

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

We arrived just before the crowds did, so I was able to whip around and snap a few photos before studying the menu. We ordered a carafe of rose to share, enjoying the sunshine streaming through the glasshouse and planning out the rest of our afternoon.

I realised we were only a 10 minute walk from Jericho, a popular suburb of Oxford known for its dynamic mix of independent shops, cafes and bars. I was keen to explore the area a little and to drop by Illyria, a pottery shop in Jericho that I’d discovered through instagram.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Before pottery shopping, however, it was time to enjoy a good lunch! We went for the incredibly reasonable set menu (2 courses at £13.95 and 3 courses at £16.95), which is served Monday-Friday, 12pm-6pm.

To start, Mum and I chose a pea and mint soup, which was beautifully flavourful with just a hint of creaminess. Chunky slices of sourdough placed alongside our bowls were perfect for dipping.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Compared to what you usually get in London for a fixed price menu, we were both astounded by the portion sizes, and we could only eat about half the soup to save room for our mains. We’d settled for wild mushroom tagliatelle for our second course, which was also delicious and extremely plentiful.

UK Travel | Lunch at Gee's, Oxford

Too stuffed to even contemplate dessert, we ordered a pot of tea (me) and coffee (Mum) to sip as we digested our a meal before setting off for Jericho.

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I’ll be sharing further posts about my adventures in Oxford throughout the week, so do pop back soon for more!

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

Last Thursday, I travelled to The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, to enjoy their fabulous High Tea menu in collaboration with The East India Company. Considering I have a podcast called Tea & Tattle, it’s unlikely that it would come as a shock that I adore a good Afternoon Tea, and High Tea is even better! But really, is there a nicer way to spend a warm summer afternoon than sitting on a shady roof terrace, sipping on various drinks (lemonade, cocktails, gallons of tea) and wondering which cake to try first from the piled-high plate in front of you? If so, I’ve yet to find it! For anyone who is confused, by the way, a High Tea is simply a more substantial form of Afternoon Tea and is served with a greater selection of savoury dishes.

I turned up at Paddington Station far too early, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to collect my tickets, and as Great Western Railway had provided me with first class return tickets for the journey, I got to spend time in the first class lounge at the station. I’d done this once before, when GWR gave me tickets for my journey to Penzance last Spring, and it was just as fun the second time around! The first class lounge is filled with comfy seats, free WiFi, newspapers and complimentary refreshments. I helped myself to tea and a couple mini croissants and thought this is the way to travel!

In what felt like no time at all, the train platform was announced, and I made my way to my seat, feeling a little thrill of excitement as I stepped into a 1st Class carriage. I found a comfy seat, plugged my phone in to charge and pulled out the book I’d selected for the journey: The Private Patient by P.D. James. Mysteries are my favourite genre of books  to read when I’m travelling, and this detective story featuring the charming sleuth, Adam Dalgleish, was satisfactorily gripping.

Countryside flashed past the windows as the train sped further and further away from London, and, after one change at Newport, I arrived in Abergavenny at about 12.45. The Angel Hotel is a 15 minute walk from the station, so I made my way there, meeting another blogger on the way who had spied me coming out of the train, and thought it likely that, given my flowery dress and overnight bag, we were both there for the same reason!

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

The Angel Hotel is in the centre of Abergavenny, a pretty little Welsh market town, just a few miles over the border from England. As I wheeled my baggage through the big entrance doors, we were greeted warmly by the hotel receptionist and shown up to the hotel’s large roof terrace, where our tea would be served. On entering the roof terrace, I was immediately handed a glass of freshly made, ice-cold lemonade: the perfect refreshment after my train journey and walk from the station!

The different teas we’d be trying were already laid out, as were some menus so we could anticipate our meal ahead. I was astonished by how lavish The Angel’s High Tea is, especially considering the extremely reasonable £30 price tag (I shuddered to think what a similar feast would cost in London!).

I was also very impressed that every course on the High Tea menu is paired with an East India Company tea. I do think it’s lovely to be able to try lots of different kinds of tea, and it was really interesting to see which teas had been selected as a good pairing choice for each course. The East India Company had invited their Tea Master to talk us through the teas offered, as well as to give a little history about the company and the tea trade, which was fascinating.

The East India Company specialise in gin as well as tea, so after we’d finished our lemonade, we were handed a ‘Welsh 75’ cocktail (a geographically appropriate twist on the classic French 75), which combined gin with bubbles, crème de cassis, lemon juice and sugar. Delicious!

By this point, our appetites were definitely whetted, so we were all excited when the first course on the High Tea Menu appeared. To start off, we enjoyed freshly cut sandwiches: poached and smoked salmon with lemon and dill; cream cheese and cucumber; ham and whole grain mustard and egg and cress, paired with Royal Flush tea from Sri Lanka.

The sandwiches were very traditional and were extremely tasty. I also appreciated the occasional unexpected twist: the cucumbers used were pickled, and I  enjoyed the combination of both poached and smoked salmon. Royal Flush was a richly flavourful black tea, perfectly served with a splash of milk. It would be just the kind of tea I’d choose for my first cup of the day.

Next were more savoury treats: spinach and ricotta parcels; coronation chicken tarts; sausage rolls; bacon, onion and cheese quiche and finally feta, sundried-tomato and pesto parmieres. The tea served alongside was Da Hong Pao Oolong from China, a beautifully amber coloured tea that had a delicious mellow taste.

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

I enjoyed all of the savoury course: the sausage roll and quiche were particular favourites of mine. The pastry of the sausage roll was perfectly crisp and flaky, and it was satisfyingly meaty on the inside – yum!

In between the savoury and sweet courses, we were given a palate cleanser: ice tea made with Dragon Well Lung tea from China. It was delicious! I’m not always a fan of ice tea, but this drink was heavenly! Green tea works very well iced, and some mint leaves were stirred in as well, which made the drink even more refreshing.

After finishing our iced teas, the sweets came round: raspberry cheesecake served on its own little dish, then plates filled with bakewell tarts; chocolate and nut baskets; custard slices; profiteroles; lemon and poppy seed fairy cakes; coffee and walnut cakes and lemon and raspberry tarts. The tea served alongside was Darjeeling First Flush 2018 from India.

UK Travel | High Tea at The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny

I was too full to sample everything, but I tried the fairy cake, bakewell tart and raspberry cheesecake. They were delicious, particularly the raspberry cheesecake, which was smooth, creamy and fabulously decadent.

The Darjeeling First Flush was a highlight too. It’s an expensive tea due to its rarity and was beautifully light, with fruity and floral notes – a perfect match for our cakes.

There was more sweetness to come! Individual pots of Eton Mess arrived, paired with Black Vanilla tea from Sri Lanka. Oh my, this tea was incredible! I’m usually not a huge fan of vanilla tea, but this one has converted me. I want to go to the East India Company shop in London just so I can buy some to have at home! The tea had the most wonderful aroma, and it was surprisingly sweet too, although I was assured there was no added sugar. I think this vanilla tea will be my new favourite evening drink!

Have you been thinking, but what about the scones? Never fear! They arrived, rather untraditionally served last, but definitely providing a wonderful finale to the meal (although I could only manage half of one by this stage!).

These were some of the best scones I’ve tasted, and everyone around the table exclaimed over them. Still warm from the oven, they were well risen and light, the perfect vehicle for the lashings of jam and clotted cream provided alongside.

Our tea pairing for this final course came in the form of a ‘Gin and Tea’ cocktail. We were treated to a little gin tasting and lesson as another member of the East India Company team whipped up the cocktail in front of us. I thought it was charming to serve it in a teacup, poured from a pot!

The drink was made with gin, Earl Grey tea and ginger syrup- an unusual, but to my mind successful, combination and a wonderful end to a truly dazzling spread!

After the High Tea (which had lasted the whole afternoon and lingered into early evening!), I checked into my room at the hotel. I was immediately enraptured by the blissful air-conditioning. The current heat wave in the UK means I’ve been sleeping badly for weeks on end, as my bedroom gets very stuffy, so I was extremely happy at the thought of a good night’s sleep before me!

My room was huge, with a large double bed, desk, two-seater sofa and a good sized bathroom with a walk-in shower as well as bath. The hotel had also kindly provided me with a thoughtful welcome card, a bottle of sparkling Daylesford Apple Juice and dishes of olives and almonds.

I hung up my dress for the next day in the wardrobe, applied some fresh lipstick, then went out to explore a little of Abergavenny. As it was already well into the evening, none of the shops were still open, but I made my way along to the ruined castle (just making it in before the gates were locked) and then had a wander in the gardens, admiring a beautiful display of hydrangeas in full bloom.

After my stroll, I returned for a glass of rose in the Hotel’s courtyard and a long, relaxing soak in the bath before sinking into bed for a solid 8 hour sleep. I awoke the next morning feeling thoroughly refreshed and made my way down for a breakfast of croissants with jam and butter, followed by scrambled eggs and a sausage, all washed down with orange juice and tea. The whole breakfast was very tasty, but I particularly admired the croissants, which were fresh, perfectly flaky on the outside and soft and buttery within.

I was told that the hotel runs a bakery next door, where baked goods, including croissants, are sold daily and also made for the hotel’s guests. I just had time to pop by the bakery before I had to catch my train, and was lucky enough to be shown into the kitchens to see some croissants being handmade for a second batch that day!

I was tempted to buy another croissant for my train journey, but they were sold out already. I’ll just have to go back to enjoy croissants and High Tea all over again someday!

~

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny: angelabergavenny.com

The Angel Afternoon Tea is served:

Monday – Friday; Afternoon Tea and High Tea are served in the Wedgewood room from 2.00pm – 4.00pm.
Saturday & Sunday; High Tea only (£30.00 per person); served in the Wedgewood room from 1.00pm – 5.00pm.

You can book online or call 01873 857121.

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Specially paired Teas and London Dry Gin used in the Angel High Tea are by The East India Company.

Trains to Abergavenny run from London Paddington and may be booked through the Great Western Railway.

UK Travel | Roses at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

My first visit to Sissinghurst, the former home of Vita Sackville-West, was during an autumn (you can read about it here). I was stunned by the beauty of the gardens and the surrounding Kent countryside then, but I’d always wanted to return in the summer when the roses would be in bloom.

A few weeks ago in June, I finally made it back, when the gardens looked at their very best. Lupins, peonies and foxgloves jostled for attention, and the air was heavy with the scent of roses, which tumbled over the pinky-brown brick walls, curved picturesquely around lattice windows and grew with bushy abandon along footpaths. Sissinghurst is famed for its roses, as Vita loved them, especially old varieties, and if you’re a lover of flowers than the Sissinghurst Castle Gardens simply must not be missed!

I found a shady nook to sit and read a new book – Vita and Virginia – which describes the complicated relationship between the two women. Virginia was a frequent visitor to Sissinghurst, and photographs of her are scattered about Vita’s incredible writing room, situated in the Elizabethan tower house that looms above the garden.

Sadly, I could only peer through some iron gates to see into the room on my way up the tower, but it looks the most glorious space, with book-lined walls, a big desk and many of Vita’s personal knick-knacks on display.

If you’re feeling fit, then it’s well worth the climb to the top of the tower to take in the extraordinary views of the gardens laid out below and the beautiful rolling fields and woods stretching to the horizon.

Vita, recalling her emotions on first seeing Sissinghurst, wrote that the house and land ‘caught instantly at my heart and my imagination. I saw what might be made of it. It was Sleeping Beauty’s castle.’

There certainly is an air of enchantment that hovers over the place; it’s easy to imagine figures from the past sprawling across the neatly trimmed lawns with their rugs and deckchairs, or leaning out of a window to admire the view.

When Vita and her husband Harold first bought Sissinghurst in 1930, it was in ruins and uninhabitable. They transformed the buildings and grounds into a place of wonder and beauty, and I feel so grateful to have been able to sit in their cherished garden and breath in the rose-perfumed air on a warm June day in 2018.

Tea & Tattle Podcast: Skye McAlpine Discusses ‘A Table in Venice’

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the food writer Skye McAlpine, who recently published her first cookbook, A Table in Venice. Although originally from Britain, Skye’s parents moved to Venice when she was a young girl, and she now splits her time between London and Venice.

For years, Skye wrote about her love for Venetian home cooking and simple, fresh ingredients on her blog and instagram account, building a large audience of  followers who appreciate her delicious recipes and exquisite photography. 

‘A Table in Venice’ by Skye McAlpine

I’ve been a fan of Skye’s blog for many years, and I was so excited to get my copy of her cookbook. It doesn’t disappoint! A Table in Venice is a thing of beauty, with marbled end papers, pale pink pages and full-page photographs featuring the very best food and scenery Venice has to offer.

Skye McAlpine

In our chat together, Skye tells me why she thinks Venetian cuisine is Italy’s best kept secret, how to avoid the common tourist traps of Venice, her favourite morning ritual and so much more.

This is the perfect episode to get you in the mood for long summer evenings spent lingering over dinner tables in the garden, and it’ll definitely make you want to hop on a plane to sample some of those special brioche buns yourself!

Listen to learn more about Skye’s cookbook, A Table in Venice.

Talitha McQueen Shares Her Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen's Secret Seven London

I’m so pleased to be starting a new series on Miranda’s Notebook, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Talitha McQueen’s Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen (@rubyandb)

I’m so delighted that my lovely friend Talitha is kicking off my Secret Seven London column with seven fantastic recommendations. I first met Talitha on a press trip to Paris, and I’ve followed her gorgeous instagram account ever since.

Talitha is an Australian turned Londoner, who loves capturing the city’s prettiest destinations, from old-fashioned shopping arcades to peaceful parks. Talitha is a mum of three, an incredible photographer and an inspirational business woman. She runs her successful Etsy shop, Ruby and B, where she sells prints and other products that feature her signature romantic shots of London, New York and Paris.

Talitha also writes a blog about her family life and London adventures, and she recently shared a fantastic guide to capturing wisteria in Kensington. You can follow along Talitha’s gorgeous wisteria shots and showcase your own using her #wisteriawanders hashtag.

Here are Talitha’s Secret Seven London Destinations:

1. The Wallace Collection

This museum isn’t a well known tourist spot, so it is often quiet and lovely to wander through. The Wallace Collection hosts an amazing assortment of art and ceramics, but I also go for the interiors and the stunning conservatory where you can enjoy tea and scones.

2. St Dunstan in the East

A few minutes walk from London Bridge are the ruins of this gorgeous church. I love the way nature is reclaiming the area, and it’s a stunning place in Autumn when the leaves are golden.

3. The Horniman Museum and Gardens

Located in Forest Hill, this fantastic museum has an aquarium and mini farm, so it’s great for children as well. I go for the stunning Victorian conservatory and the farmers’ market held most weekends.

4. Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village is a delightful little area that has a wonderful gallery and a really beautiful park too.

5. Peckham Common

The Japanese Garden within Peckham Common is just stunning in Spring. Take a picnic and sit under the cherry blossoms. You may even spot some ducklings!

6. Nunhead Cemetery

This little known cemetery is a must visit if you’re a fan of gothic architecture. The gothic Anglican chapel is beautiful, and there are also spectacular views over London to St Paul’s Cathedral.

7. Columbia Road Flower Market

My absolute favourite way to spend a Sunday is at Columbia Road. Get there early to avoid the crowds and be sure to stop at Lily Vanilli for a cupcake.

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keep up with Talitha’s website, shop, instagram, facebook, pinterest and twitter

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Talitha McQueen

UK Travel | Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Last week, I started the long weekend early as I was invited to review the stunning Soar Mill Cove Hotel, a haven of luxury nestled in the South Hams, Devon. I took Mum with me to enjoy the sea air and a relaxing escape from London. We stayed for three days, exploring the beautiful countryside around the hotel and its nearest town, Salcombe, as well as getting plenty of R&R.

I had never been to Devon’s south coast before, and I was so impressed by its beautiful, rugged landscape. Spring was a perfect time to visit, as the apple trees were still in blossom, wisteria clambered over thatched country cottages, and blue tits were busy buildings nests in the nooks and crannies of the walls outside our hotel room. We were blessed with spectacular weather, and I got to dabble my toes in the sea, even though I couldn’t quite brave the cold waves for a swim!

A Family Run Business

A complimentary cream tea is offered to guests who book direct. We enjoyed ours in the lounge, looking out to the cove.

I was impressed by Soar Mill Cove Hotel even before my arrival in Devon, as I’d received such courteous and prompt emails from the reception team, arranging the details of my stay and booking my afternoon tea and spa appointments.

This warm hospitality was a key feature in making our stay at the hotel so special, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Soar Mill Cove has been a family-run business for three generations. There is such a cosy, home-away-from-home feel to the place, and you’re made to feel welcome as soon you step across the threshold (even the friendly yellow Labrador behind the reception desk jumps up to say hello!).

Above photos: Soar Mill Cove Hotel Lounge

Although certainly luxurious, the hotel has a cosy,  unpretentious atmosphere, and it’s clearly a favourite amongst locals, as well as visitors from farther afield. Guests regularly return again and again for the tranquil, comfortable environment (one couple who was there at the same time as us apparently stay at the hotel three times a year!).

Soar Mill Cove Bolly Bar

Soar Mill Cove Hotel is both dog and child friendly, making it an ideal family destination, but it’s also a brilliant choice for a romantic escape or for some solitary relaxation. I thought it  the ideal atmosphere for a writing retreat, and once I finally get started on my novel, I would love to hole up at Soar Mill Cove for a week, writing in the mornings and heading out for refreshing walks in the afternoons. One can but dream!

Secluded Setting

Beyond the attentive service, it is of course the spectacular setting that draws so many loyal guests to Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Much of the surrounding landscape is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the stretch of coastline is renowned for its breathtaking views. The South West Coast Path is on the hotel’s doorstep, and there are many stunning walks to be had. I enjoyed clambering up the cliff path to admire the views, as well as making my way down to the cove, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, which I was often lucky enough to have to myself.

I was awed by the clear blue waters and loved watching the beautiful sailing boats that regularly glided across the horizon, their white sails standing tall and proud against the forget-me-not blue skies.

The local wildlife is spectacular too, and I got very excited when I was told that a herd of deer usually grazed on the slopes of the valley and sometimes wandered down to the beach. I looked out eagerly for any sign of deer, camera in hand, but sadly the photography Gods weren’t smiling on me to quite that extent, and I only saw sheep and cows clustered on the hills (still very picturesque!).

On one walk, though, a single deer startled me by suddenly leaping out of a bush and springing away, quick as a flash, so at least I got to glimpse one, even if I wasn’t fast enough with my camera!

Our Twin Bed Cove View Room

I was so thrilled by our room, which had a private patio and spectacular views of the cove. Mum and I loved sitting outside, or in the armchairs just inside, drinking tea, chatting and admiring the sea, which seemed constantly to change colour.

The room was spacious and exceedingly comfortable. It was useful to have a big desk to sit at, as well as the ample armchairs, and there was plenty of closet space with a large wardrobe and chest of drawers. WiFi was offered free of charge throughout the hotel, although it worked best in the lounge. It was very pleasant to disconnect and simply ‘be’ during our holiday, though!

We very much appreciated the big bathroom, too, with its spacious tub and shower. Lovely Molton Brown products were provided, and I delighted in having a piping hot bubble bath after muddy walks in the evenings!

Afternoon Tea

The hotel offers a complimentary cream tea on arrival to guests who book direct through their website, which I thought was a lovely touch, and the homemade jams are to-die-for! We bought jars of jam (as well as mini bottles of homemade gin) as gifts for friends back in London. I’m looking forward to sharing them out soon!

On our second day, we decided to try the grander afternoon tea option, and I went for the Luxury Afternoon Tea, which came with a glass of champagne, whereas Mum chose the Salcombe Tea, which had a G&T made with gin from the local Salcombe Gin Distillery. Our teas were set up on one of the tables outside, so we could admire the view as we spread our clotted cream and tucked into crab sandwiches and dainty chocolate cakes. Everything was delicious, and I don’t think I’ve ever had afternoon tea in such lovely surroundings before!

Pre-Supper Walk in the Sunset

All the delicious food meant I was keen to get some exercise, and one evening before supper I climbed the hill to admire the glorious landscape, tinged golden and pink by the setting sun. It had been a bit overcast during the day, but in the evening the clouds cleared and the sun shone, promising a fine day to come.

It was a magical evening, and I felt a million miles from the minor worries and stresses of daily life in London.

The Hotel Restaurant

Both Mum and I looked forward to our supper at the hotel’s two AA Rosette restaurant, which is run by Head Chef Ian MacDonald. The restaurant menu features local specialities, such as Start Bay scallops and hand-picked Salcombe crab, and the majority of the seafood, fish and other fresh ingredients are sourced within a 9 mile radius of the hotel.

The restaurant space is light and airy, and we were pleased to get a table right by the window looking out to the cove. Mum and I decided to start with one each of the local specialities; dressed crab for Mum and scallops with slow cooked pork belly for me!

Both appetisers were fantastic; my scallops melted in the mouth, and I had a taste of the crab cocktail too, which was superb and incredibly fresh. Apparently, Salcombe crab is a little sweeter than other crab found along the south west coast in Dorset or Cornwall, and I highly recommend trying it if you’re ever in the area!

Being so close to the sea, we both decided to take advantage of the variety of local catches, and I ordered Hake with parmesan and herb crunch, spring onion creamed potatoes, rainbow chard and white wine butter sauce. It was delicious – I loved the tasty topping on the fish, and the sauce had a wonderful flavour. Mum went for a classic bouillabaisse, which she very much enjoyed too. Everything was washed down with glasses of prosecco to start, followed by a crisp and refreshing white wine.

I knew instantly what I wanted for pudding! Audrey Hepburn was apparently a fan of the hotel when it was first established, and she very much enjoyed the original Mrs Makepeace’s berry pavlova, pronouncing it ‘simply delightful’ (you can download the pavlova recipe here). Of course, I couldn’t resist ordering the pavlova myself, and entirely agreed with Audrey’s judgement! It was the perfect choice for a warm spring evening and a lovely end to my meal.  Mum went for a lemon posset with shortbread biscuits and polished off every bite!

Breakfast in Bed

Despite all the good eating the day before, we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast the next morning. Guests may dine in the restaurant, or ask for breakfast in bed. I decided to order ours to the room, so we could enjoy a relaxed morning before heading into Salcombe. Mum and I both went for the Full Devonshire: sausages, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and eggs (scrambled for me, poached for Mum). I always think a poached egg is a good test for a restaurant, and Mum’s arrived still piping hot and perfectly cooked.

We also had some croissants, warm from the oven and beautifully buttery on the inside and flakey outside. Pots of tea, grapefruit and orange juice, and some more of that gorgeous jam and Devonshire butter completed our meal. I think it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had!

The Hotel Spa and Salt Water Pool

On our final morning at Soar Mill Cove Hotel, I’d booked a treatment at the Discovery Spa. As I felt my skin had been somewhat ravaged by the extremely cold start to spring we’d had in London, I thought a hydrating facial would be a good idea, so I’d booked the  Renewed Radiance Hydrating Mud Facial, which lasted an hour. It was utter bliss, and I felt a new woman after, with soft, glowing skin. Mum had booked a pedicure at the Spa and loved her treatment too. We both felt thoroughly pampered!

Another lovely feature of the hotel’s spa area was the saltwater pool, which is perfect for enjoying a swim when the sea is too cold.

Local Area

Salcombe, Devon

Besides enjoying the local scenery and country walks, there’s lots to do in the area surrounding the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Later in the week, I’ll be writing up a proper post about Salcombe, a charming fishing town near the hotel, so do check back for that, but I also wanted to list a few other suggestions for outings in the area.

Overbeck’s is the former home of the scientist and inventor, Otto Overbeck, and is now a National Trust property. There are stunning subtropical gardens that offer dazzling views of the cliffs and sea.

Another National Trust Property, Coleton Fishacre, sounds lovely for those who enjoy pretty gardens and Arts & Crafts style.

The small seaside village of Hope Cove is meant to be well worth a visit for its charming setting, and The Winking Prawn is a restaurant overlooking the beach just outside of the centre of Salcombe that lots of people recommended.

~

Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon – www.soarmillcove.co.uk

Room rates at Soar Mill Cove Hotel are from £199 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast. To book, please visit www.soarmillcove.co.uk, or call 01548 561566.

Note: My stay at The Soar Mill Cove Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

Carbis Bay Hotel: A Literary Heritage

I’m so pleased to bring you my final hotel review from my holiday in Cornwall. The Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate was the last we stayed in whilst at St Ives, and our stay was a delight from start to finish. The larger and grander sister hotel to The Gannet Inn, Carbis Bay is about a 25 minute walk (or 5 minute train journey) to St Ives, and its stunning setting just above the smooth yellow sands of the beach (which is owned by the hotel) is a huge attraction.

I’d been so excited to stay at Carbis Bay, not least because of its impressive literary connections. First built in 1894, The Carbis Bay Hotel has hosted a number of famous guests over the years. Virginia Woolf knew the area well, as her childhood summers were spent at Talland House in St Ives, and she stayed at the hotel in 1914 on a return visit to Cornwall.  From its rooms, there are fantastic views of the nearby Godrevy Lighthouse that inspired Woolf’s famous novel, To the Lighthouse.

As a huge Rosamunde Pilcher fan (I brought Coming Home with me to read on this trip, as I’d read The Shell Seekers on a previous holiday in Penzance), I was also thrilled to discover that Pilcher features The Carbis Bay Hotel (renamed as The Sands Hotel) in The Shell Seekers. It is the hotel that Penelope enjoys when she returns to Cornwall after so many years away and splashes out on a luxurious holiday, relishing the hotel’s ‘thick carpets, swimming pools, Jacuzzis…huge bowls of fresh fruit, and flowers everywhere.’ Judging from my experience many years on, the hotel is still the epitome of comfort and style.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, CornwallUK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

On reading more about Rosamunde Pilcher’s life, I was also delighted to discover a reference to The Carbis Bay Hotel when she wrote about celebrating her golden wedding anniversary in Christmas with Rosamunde Pilcher.  Apparently the party took place the day before Christmas Eve, when the hotel was closed for the season, but opened specially to host Rosamunde and her family and friends. She describes the scene thus: ‘we found the hotel en fête: champagne corks popping, a jazz band playing music from our time, long tables set, flowers and Christmas lights, and the gleam of silver and glass.’

Walking through the hotel’s large entrance way and taking in the grand dining rooms and beautiful conservatory,  I could picture Rosamunde as an elegant hostess, mingling with her guests and sipping cocktails to the tune of the jazz band and the sea lapping gently on the shore.

A Tour of Our Room

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful deluxe room with a large double bed and French windows that opened directly onto a private terrace overlooking the sea. Spacious and attractive, we found the room exceedingly comfortable and were appreciative of its ample closet space, comfortable chairs and wide desk.

The enormous bathroom was another highlight, with a separate shower and large tub that was perfect for a long, hot soak.

Our Private Terrace

A real highlight of our room was having access to a private terrace. I enjoyed taking my early morning cup of tea outside and watching the sun rise over Godrevy Lighthouse, discernible in the distance. The mornings dawned so warm and sunny for most of our holiday that it was easy to imagine it was still summer, and I’ve rarely felt quite so serene as when I drank my tea and listened to the rustle of palm trees waving gently in the breeze.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, CornwallUK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

I’ll never forget watching the dawning sun turn the sky pink and violet above Woolf’s famous lighthouse.

The C Bay Spa

We’d arrived at the hotel just in time for our appointments at their lovely spa, which we’d already heard about at The Gannet Inn, as guests of both hotels are allowed to use it. The spa offers a wide range of treatments, and I’d booked a manicure for myself and a pedicure for mum. I went for my signature colour – a pale pink, and Mum chose a deep plum nail polish. It was lovely to be pampered in such a pretty, calming environment, and we both agreed that this was living the life!

Later in the evening, I decided to try out the hotel’s swimming pool and hot tub before we had supper, so changed into my swimsuit, wrapped one of the fluffy white bathrobes provided around me, and slipped through our little private gate onto the path which led from our room to the C Bay Spa.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

I had the pool and hot tub to myself for a blissful ten minutes before a couple of other  hotel guests appeared. The hot tub, I have to admit, I especially enjoyed, and it was marvellous to sit in the warm water and admire the view across the pool and out to sea as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky.

The Hotel Restaurant

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

My swim had given me an appetite for dinner, so after freshening up in our room and pulling on a dress, Mum and I headed to the restaurant for our meal. As there was a wedding being hosted during the night of our stay, the hotel’s main dining area, the award winning Sands Restaurant, was reserved for the wedding party, so our table was set up – along with a few other guests – in a smaller, but very beautiful room.

As I sat down, I admired the striking art pieces hung on the walls, as well as the heavy curtains and marble mantelpiece that gave the room a touch of opulence. Mum and I had a bottle of house white wine to share between us, and we raised our glasses, toasting our fantastic holiday.

We enjoyed an amuse-bouche of bread and pate as we decided our menu choices. Sands Restaurant prides itself on showcasing local, seasonal ingredients, with an emphasis on fish and seafood.  Both Mum and I settled on seared South Coast scallops and cauliflower, followed by sea bass and tagliatelle.

Our dishes were exceptionally well done – I don’t think there’s anything tastier than soft-as-butter scallops, and I loved the combination of flavours and seasonal root vegetables in our main dish.

For dessert, I settled on mulled wine panna cotta with  balsamic strawberries and poached pear, and Mum tucked into a deconstructed trifle (which even had a shot of sherry alongside!).

Our sweets were the perfect end to a fantastic meal and a wonderful day.

Breakfast And Coastal Walk to St Ives

I was very keen to do the cliff walk from Carbis Bay to St Ives, especially as we awoke to such a spectacular, summer-blue day. After enjoying a tremendous breakfast at the hotel, with their impressive selection of pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, yoghurt, breads, as well as hot dishes, we made our way along the ‘coastal walk’ path that started just outside the hotel’s large balcony.

UK Travel | Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall

As we climbed higher and higher up the cliff path, the sea shimmered blue and turquoise beneath us, and the salty smell of the seaweed collected in black clumps on the rocks sharpened the morning breeze.

The path was narrow in places, clinging to the edge of the cliff, so I could see fungi growing in the cracks by my head  as I walked along, and blackberries dangled, juicy and fat, reminding me that, despite the soaring temperatures, we were indeed in autumn. As we walked on further, the path widened, and we could admire large houses perched on either side of us, their gardens filled with palm trees and fuchsias drinking in the sunlight.

As the path started to descend, I caught my first glimpse of St Ives, with the town’s pretty grey stone cottages dotting the horizon before me. The walk had only taken about half an hour, with plenty of pauses as I snapped away with my camera, and was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I highly recommend doing it yourself if you’re ever in the Carbis Bay / St Ives area – the gorgeous views shouldn’t be missed!

Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate, Cornwall – www.carbisbayhotel.co.uk

Room rates at Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate are from £270 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.carbisbayhotel.co.uk, or call 01736 795 311.

Note: My stay at The Carbis Bay Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

I’m so pleased finally to be sharing the rest of my trip to Cornwall back in October. Life got so crazy in the late autumn, that I wasn’t able to write about my St Ives experience, which was a shame as I had such a fun time and thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to that part of Cornwall.

I’ll be publishing posts about exploring St Ives, particularly our visits to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and Leach Pottery, but for today I’ll start at the beginning with our arrival at The Gannet Inn, a charming boutique hotel in Carbis Bay, just a few minutes from St Ives. We’d hired a taxi from the Bedruthan Hotel in Newquay, and the drive to Carbis Bay took about an hour, which I didn’t mind a bit, as there was such attractive scenery to admire along the way.

I must say, that if you’re planning a visit to St Ives, then I very much recommend staying in Carbis Bay, rather than St Ives itself. Although there was much I appreciated about St Ives, I found its extremely touristy town centre rather disappointing. Many of the streets were lined with charming cottages, but the impression was rather spoilt by the placards on every door with engraved website links to book a stay. I started to wonder if anyone actually lived in St Ives! Even though it was off-season, the town was crowded, and it was a relief to get back to the tranquility and beauty of Carbis Bay. The Gannet Inn was very close to the sweet little train station, where it was easy to catch the train to St Ives – only a 3 minute trip, but one of the most beautiful train journeys I’ve taken, as the tracks hug the cliffs, and you get the most beautiful views of the coast and St Ives as you chug into the station.

The Gannet Inn

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

The Gannet Inn is sister hotel to the larger and grander Carbis Bay Hotel, in which we also stayed (I’ll be writing about that soon too). Although not situated directly on the bay, The Gannet still offered lovely seaside views, and the gorgeous, quiet little beach was only a short walk away. I liked the cosy, comfy rooms, which were decorated in the style of a country home, which instantly made me feel welcome.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the very friendly and helpful receptionist, who had our bags whisked to our room and provided us with very useful information about train times to St Ives, as well as a map to the area and tips about what to see and do.

Sea View Room

Before having lunch, we went up to our room (called The Oyster Catcher) to unpack, re-apply lipstick and brush our hair. Our double-bed room was on the top floor, accessed by a winding stair case, and I was charmed by the attractive furniture, neutral decor and view of the sea over the rooftops (where a glimpse of the lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf’s famous novel, To The Lighthouse, was clearly visible).

The freshly baked biscuits were a nice touch alongside the plentiful supply of tea, coffee and water, and both Mum and I were thrilled by the large bathroom, with a big bath and shower.

UK Travel | The Gannet Inn, Cornwall

The room was pristine and very comfortable, and I especially appreciated the large cupboard space, equipped with iron and ironing-board so I could press a few of my dresses before hanging them up.

Scallops for Lunch

By this time, we were feeling distinctly peckish, so decided to have lunch in the hotel restaurant before heading into St Ives for an afternoon of exploring.

The food at the Gannet Inn was really outstanding – some of the best from the entire trip. Our lunch of plump, fresh scallops, toast and avocado salad and cool, crisp wine was perfection. Feeling ready for adventure after our meal, we set off to catch the train for St Ives.

St Ives

Despite its high tourist foot fall, St Ives manages to retain a great deal of character and appeal. We happily wandered along the narrow, twisting lanes, flagged by brightly coloured doorways and attractive shops.

I, of course, nosed out the local bookshop in record time and couldn’t resist choosing a couple from its well curated selection: The Illustrated Letters of Virginia Woolf and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: a Childhood in St Ives. I was eager to learn more of the famous sisters’ connection to Cornwall, and I even managed to find the house they lived in as children when they visited St Ives for summer holidays.

I also did a bit of shopping for family and friends, picking up postcards and tea-towels from Poppy Treffry, as well as magazines in the beautiful fashion and homeware shop, Academy & Co.

The Best Apple Pie I’ve Ever Had

After our afternoon in St Ives, we returned to The Gannet Inn in time for supper. Heading down to the large, attractive restaurant, we were ushered to a table and given menus. All the walking had rekindled our appetities, so we decided to share a bottle of the house red wine, with a baked camembert cheese and toast as a starter, and roasted venison Wellington for our mains.

There are few delights as simple, but as tasty as baked cheese. The camembert was studded with garlic cloves and rosemary and tasted heavenly spread over our toast. I’ve since replicated this easy starter several times at home – it’s a Friday night fail-safe!

Our main dish was delicious as well, and an excellent twist on the usual Beef Wellington. The venison was very well cooked – perfectly pink in the middle – and served in a tasty jus with mushrooms and broccoli.

Finally, dessert: we’d both chosen apple pie with custard and calvados. Oh my! It was amazing. I’ve had plenty of good apple pie in my time, but none as magnificent as this. It was a real English – rather than American – pie, without any cinnamon, but the pastry was crisp and light, the apples perfectly sweet, and the combination of custard and apple liqueur absolutely inspired. I have yet to attempt my own version of this dessert, but I definitely want to soon!

Breakfast

You’d think after that supper, we’d barely manage more than a sip of tea the next morning, but the early morning spread was so tempting when we went downstairs after a good night’s sleep, that somehow I found myself managing a plateful of pancakes, and Mum went for a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.

As we’d come to expect from the food at The Gannet Inn, everything was delicious and set us up very well for another day spent exploring and enjoying beachside walks. I look forward to sharing the rest of my St Ives recommendations very soon!

The Gannet Inn, Cornwall – www.gannetstives.co.uk

Room rates at The Gannet Inn are from £160 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.gannetstives.co.uk, email info@thegannetinn.co.uk, or call 01736 795 651.

Note: My stay at The Gannet Inn was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.