Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A weekend out of Kensington to the beautiful Cotswolds: The Old Swan and Minster Mill at Minster Lovell

Kensington is undoubtedly a lovely part of London but sometimes it is nice to get away. Really get away. Nestling in traditional rolling English countryside amid thatched roofs and honey coloured stone homes in the heart of the Cotswolds is ‘The Old Swan and Minster Mill’, at Minster Lovell.

Part of the de Savary Family Group of Hotels, The Old Swan, a beautiful former coaching inn dating back to c1445 provides 16 rooms accessed by walking along creaking, narrow corridors with low beams. Beamed bedrooms are individually decorated in a comfortable and traditional style. 40 additional bedrooms (contemporary and larger) can be found in the adjoining Minster Mill. The former is probably not so good for those who have difficulty in walking – the main staircase to the rooms is small, windy and requires precision footwork, but in keeping with the character of the building, and (it’s good to know) that Health & Safety can’t touch it due to it being Grade II Listed.

I love log fires and here there are many (alight all day providing a warm and snug environment), the rooms filled with antiques and armories. There are lots of cosy places to have a drink/tea/coffee, read the paper or play cards/games. The emphasis is not on Smart, but rather on Good Quality Relaxing. Dogs are genuinely welcome as are children and there are lots on offer for keeping individuals, couples or families busy.

In addition to nearby picturesque Burford or Woodstock for those who want to be more energetic without using the car can make use of a wide variety of activities available within the 65 acre garden including a wild meadow and river: Tennis, badminton, croquet, boules, two giant chess sets or table tennis (housed in its own building, complete with beams and a thatched roof!) Bikes can be hired, and horse riding or canoeing are on offer. Due to the hotel being situated on a mile of the River Windrush, residents can try their hand at fly or coarse fishing (a gillie can be arranged, or for beginners a teacher is available) where fish such as Brown/Rainbow Trout, Barbel, Chub, Grayling and Pike are regularly found. Children might like to get to know ‘Betty’ and ‘Eddie’ the two resident ducks.

There are also two designated ‘play rooms’ complete with pool/snooker/table tennis, table football and more board games. The hotel has a Spa where you can have a variety of treatments and a small gym (the latter being situated in the conservatory overlooking the gardens and River Windrush). Plans are in progress to build a plunge pool and enlarged Spa area in early next year.

Food is either locally sourced or grown on site. There are three bee-hives where honey is collected for breakfast (an extensive affair) and children are encouraged to fetch eggs from the chickens and bantams. To emphasise the freshness of the produce, the kitchen does not have a freezer or microwave. Portions are generous and Georgina Prickett, Guest Host Manager, describes the food as ‘Hearty English’ rather than haute cuisine. The menu – gastro pub style – changes daily and is inspired by the season.

Wedding and civil ceremonies can take place either in the outside ‘chapel’ situated alongside the River or in one of the beamed conference rooms in Minster Mill. Family rooms complete with their own patio and fire pits are situated overlooking the River and the hotel is well placed to cater for large parties (anniversaries, weddings etc) and provides good conference facilities.

We stayed on an Autumnal weekend mixed with typical English weather, alternate clear blue or thunderously dark skies, sun or rain. Despite this we still managed a good wander around – within walking distance is the beautiful ruin of Minster Lovell Hall. We had a long walk along the river, spotted lots of pheasants and went shopping in Burford. The hotel is very happy to provide picnic hampers for those who really want to make a day of it and there are many picnic areas along the River to chose from. They can also provide guided walks if required.

There are little touches that set this hotel apart from others; upon arrival, guests are welcomed with a complimentary bottle of sloe gin, fresh fruit and shortcake biscuits in their rooms; a hot water bottle is delivered to each room every night and upon departure, guests are handed a bottle of water sourced from nearby Blenheim Palace. Newspapers are readily available, as are books and board games.

The Old Swan and Minster Mill are invited members of The Great Hotel group – one of only three in the UK. This is a ‘Great’ hotel, for a variety of reasons – great for sourcing food locally, great for welcoming children and dogs alike and above all, a great place to truly relax and get away from it all – so close to Kensington and yet so far.

You need to know:

The hotel is 1.5 hours by car from Kensington or 1.10 mins from Paddington to Charlbury station. Charlbury is about a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel.

www. oldswanandminstermill.com
Tel: 01993 774441
Old Minster, Minster Lovell, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 ORN

Period rooms in The Old Swan from £175.00
Contemporary rooms in Minster Mill from £165.00

All prices include 20% VAT and full English breakfast

Grayling Season runs to March 31st
Trout Season from April 1 – September 30th
Permits are available to hotel guests. All fishing is on a catch-and-release basis.

The Old Swan and Minster Mill are offering Christmas House Party or New Year’s House Party packages – please call or email to find out more

Old Swan & Minster Mill is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection.  For more information or to book, please visit http://www.ghotw.com/old-swan-minster-mill or call 020 7380 3658.

Images and copyright;  Lucy Elliott www.lucyelliottphotography.com



Photography Workshop in Mallorca 24 Feb – 28th Feb

Fabulous few days!  How to learn to take photographs and have a great break at the same time. Small group tuition led by professional photographer Michael Potter in the photogenic surroundings of Pollenca. Three things that matter: the ISO, the Av and Tv.  From here we mastered the art of shooting fast objects either clearly or with blur to give the impression of speed, portraits with a model or unsuspecting folk in the Sunday market and how to use lighting – all with the purpose of ‘telling the story’.

Michael is a natural teacher and together with his wife, Fiona, provide a most convivial environment in which to learn photography.  Accommodation is provided in their beautiful home in Pollenca with terraces, pool, studio and sitting rooms – minutes from two squares, numerous bars/coffee shops, a large Cathedral, a Roman Bridge and bustling Sunday market. So plenty of photo opportunities.

Would thoroughly recommend Eye Photographic Workshops as being a great place for beginners or intermediates to learn or refresh techniques. Price (four nights/five days) includes transfers, accommodation, food, drink and tuition but excludes flights. For more information see www.eyephotographicworkshops.com.  An excellent two day workshop is also available in Chiswick (tried and tested!)

Images taken by Lucy Elliott/The Kensington Magazine on this workshop (copyright: ibid)


Accommodation for Truffle Hunters in the Dordogne!

During our weekend away in the Dordogne we experienced a couple of rather lovely places.  The first was Chateau de Lacan in Brive-la-Gaillarde, which although was billed as a 3* hotel, felt more. The hotel is set on the edge of the City, in a traditional stone built (small) Chateau, comprising 15 bedrooms. The bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room and sitting room are all modern in decor and spacious. We had a four course ‘Truffle extravaganza’ comprising the Black Diamond Truffle which was infinitely worthy of more than three stars (for example Sea scallops cappuccino with black truffle and Limousin beel fillet with black truffle spelt risotto and roasted wild turbot, with black truffle mashed potatoes).

Definitely worth a visit in this region is the Denoix Distillery.  Owned by Sylvie Denoix Vieillefosse and her family since 1839, this is great way to see how aperitifs and liqueurs based on walnuts, are macerated and distilled. Their speciality is L’eau de Noix Supreme Denoix – a mixture of chocolate and walnuts with an earthy characteristic – very difficult to explain, but delicious.

A must to see is Rocamadour, a mediaeval village, a short drive from Padirac. The village comprises one street with many shops and restaurants,  It’s cobbled and rather like going back in time, particularly lovely at this time of year without the ‘maddening crowds’.   Historically and today, this village is a magnet for pilgrims wishing to visit the Black Virgin and St Amadour at the church set at the top of the mountain, since the 12th century.

Later we visited Le Manoir de Malagorse in Cuzance, only a short distance from Brive Airport. This is a beautiful set of old buildings lovingly restored to accommodate couples or families. It is a testament to Anna (English) and Abel (her French husband) that they are already fully booked over the summer holidays – however accommodation is available from now to the begining of July. Rooms have been beautifully decorated with warmth and great taste. Abel who is a wonderful cook (previously having owned his own restaurant in Courchevel for 15 years)might be convinced to cook you dinner. We were lucky enough to be treated to a superb evening of (another) ‘Truffle Extravaganza’ plus superb company in their restored Manoir.  We would highly recommend this as an extremely good place to either come for holiday and have a completely relaxed time, or use it as a base for day exploration around the area.

Lucy and Margaret flew to the Dordogne by kind courtesy of City Jet (www.cityjet.com) and were guests of Chateau de Lacan (www.chateaulacan.com),  Denoix Distillery (www.denoix.com) and le Manoir de Malagorse (www.manoir-de-malagorse.fr)

Images and copyright: Lucy Elliott/The Kensington Magazine











Truffle Hunting in the Dordogne

Firstly, and I would like to get this out of the way. Not all airports are equal. Some are more equal than others. City Airport is a case in point. None of the usual palaver of walking miles and miles once you’ve got there to try and find your gate. None of the waiting around carousels for your baggage to appear. Departing from City Airport turns out to be rather a well kept secret. You mention City Airport to people and they say, “Oh yes I used City and it was brilliant”. Well if it’s brilliant why aren’t people shouting about it? OK so they want to keep it a secret. Well I’m about to spill the beans. It took us precisely one hour to get there from Notting Hill (Friday morning 8.30 a.m.) and one hour to return to Notting Hill (Sunday 9.00 p.m.) When you get out at City Airport from the DLR the airport is there, right in front of you. Check in took about 60 seconds. Cost-wise, once you’ve added all the implausible extras from ‘no frill airlines’ you might as well have paid City Jet the same but have far less bother. Have I said enough?

City Jet fly to numerous places in France. Margaret and I flew to Brive, in the Perigord region of the Dordogne Valley. Our purpose? To hunt truffles and learn how to cook truffles and foie gras. A hard weekend. Within an hour of landing we were hunting truffles in the truffle area of Yssandon. Truffles can be found in three ways, by using a pig (somewhat unreliable as the pig will enthusiastically eat the truffle), flies (I won’t go into this here) or a dog. We met Jean-Pierre accompanied by his young dog who was definitely more interested in playing. She was quickly replaced with Pif, a 14 year old, experienced ‘truffle hunter dog’. Together we found lots of truffles. One so large that it sold on the market the next day for 180 euros. Truffles found in this area are known as The Black Diamond Truffle. They can be found from December to February and are highly prized. Collected in wicker baskets lined with the traditional red checked cloth, truffles have a very distinct scent, stronger in scent than when actually eaten. They tend to grow, as a fungi about 35 cm beneath the earth, on the roots of oak or hazelnut trees. One easy way of working out whether you might find truffles is whether there is a barren patch of earth surrounding the tree on the grass level. If it’s barren it means there are truffles since they are taking away all the moisture from the surface.

Truffles can be eaten both raw or cooked. Raw can be on sour bread with foie gras, or crushed with salted bread. Cooked could be as a brillarde – a form of runny scrambled egg or omelette with truffle – a traditional dish for all truffle aficionados. Other examples are Limousin beef fillet, with black truffle spelt risotto; roasted wild turbot with black truffle mashed potato; sea scallops cappuccino with black truffle or as a sauce with veal. To my mind the two most simple but delicious ways of eating truffle are (a) sliced truffle sandwiched between two layers of young brie, on bread or (b) truffle with foie gras and a tiny bit of truffle oil, flashed grilled. In both these examples the taste and texture of the truffle really shine.

The weekend of 14/15 January was La Fete de la Truffe held in Sarlat – a beautiful and traditional French market town. Tiny quaint cobbled streets, a traditional market square where the old and the young sample dishes of foie gras and truffles and chefs show off their culinary skills. Each truffle on sale at the market is checked for freshness and quality (if the truffle is ‘wet’ or a bit squishy, then it’s off). But there’s more to see here than just truffles and people eating and drinking. A must is the trip in the Vue du Ciel a glass lift to view the town from above. Masses of higgledy piggley roof tops in reds, oranges and browns, like a Klee painting, adorn the vista. You could imagine this was how London looked pre the Great Fire. Very close together, all shapes and sizes, turrets, flat roofs, steep roofs, etc. You really don’t expect this surprise as you ascend in the lift. Apparently it is equally beautiful at night.

As part of the Fete de la Truffe, the Academie Culinaire du foie gras et de la truffe takes place – here one star Michelin chef Daniel Chambon taught us how to make ‘Petit chou farci de foie de canard a la truffe, brunoise de legumes et de truffes’. Which, like most cookery demonstrations looked simple enough. It certainly tasted delicious. Later in the afternoon it was our turn to try and under the eye of Henry Florance, a group of enthusiastic novices (of varying degree of culinary talent) tackled a gratin of foie gras, truffles and vegetables. And for a group of enthusiastic novices, the results were surprisingly good.

A weekend in the Dordogne (Friday – Sunday) is a wonderfully easy (and stress free) escape from City Airport with plenty to do and see, and if you love truffles, go before the end of February.


How to get there:

What to do/see:
Vue de Ciel, Sarlat: www.sarlat-tourisme.com About 5 euros per person
Jean-Pierre Vaujour email:  jp.vaujour@wanadoo.fr / (only speaks French)

Where to stay:
Manoir de Malagorse www.manoir-de-malagorse.fr
Chateau de Lacan, Brive www.chateaulacan.com
Le Pavillon Saint-Martin Hotel www.hotel-saint-martin-souillac.com


CityJet flies to Brive twice a week from London City.  Their one way fares start from as little as £79, including all taxes. To book flights visit www.cityjet.com or call reservations on 0871 666 50 50. 

Lucy Elliott (Editor) and Margaret Mervis (Travel Writer) of The Kensington Magazine were guests of the above.

Images and copyright: Lucy Elliott/The Kensington Magazine





The Marbella Club, Spain

The Kensington Magazine was invited to stay at The Marbella Club by kind courtesy of the owner, Mr David Shamoon as part of the press corp covering The Global Party (more of that later).

The Marbella Club, as with Reids in Madeira, has quite a history.  Faded elegance; understated chic and royal connections.   At the cocktail party Count Rudi von Schonburg, (known simply as ‘Count Rudi’) a great friend and business partner of Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe of Spain, recounted a story of the Prince galavanting around Europe in the fifties telling all his friends about this wonderful place in Marbella – surrounded by a pinewood forest, on the edge of an olive grove.  His friends dutifully turned up, only to find a farmhouse which was neither chic nor elegant.  Having been determined to leave the next day, his friends succumbed to its charm and were woed.   They then stayed a couple of weeks, and in turn mentioned it to their friends.   The allure of what is now, some fifty years later, The Marbella Club is exactly that it is understated.  In a world of celebrity culture it is refreshing to be somewhere where the service is impeccable, the food is wonderful (nothing like a long lunch at the Beach Restaurant) and even if everyone is someone, no-one seems to care or even notice. Celebs (if they want to) can actually be themselves without having to preen in front of cameras.

On a spot check (we like to do this), out of seven members of staff we spoke to, the minimum length of service was 5 years and the maximum, 22 years.  As one younger waiter gesticulated in charming broken English – “this is my family, why would I want to work anywhere else”.   No amount of glossy brochures can give such a good testament as this.

The rooms and bathrooms are large; but the tour de force are the Andalucian style private villas, each with its own pool.  Beautifully decorated (remember no glitz), these are a wonderful treat for anyone wanting total privacy. The gardens are beautiful, reflective of mediterranean greenery and very tranquil.  Just lie by the pool and listen to the birds singing, or for the more energetic try a ride in the beautiful countryside, a round of golf, or a visit to the Thalasso Spa.

The Marbella Club offers a wonderful break from the fast pace of life – a time to recharge and enjoy understated elegance and service.

Images Lucy Elliott

Copyright The Kensington Magazine

External shots around The Marbella Club; internal shots inside an private villa; Lucy Elliott with Count Rudi


Contact details:  The Marbella Club

The Maldives

Turquoise sea, white sands, amazing food, spectacular snorkling – no we haven’t gone to heaven – yet. This is the Maldives. A ten hour flight from London and a small aeroplane trip from Male and you are, what most people would consider, in heaven.

Accommodation is in small wooden villas with outside bath, shower, his/her basins, and a double size day bed. Frequently the (night) bed is decorated with rose petals. The views, interrupted only by the odd palm tree are of turquoise sea changing to dark blue further out into the Indian Ocean. This is the place to relax; read, have a spa or massage, play backgammon, table tennis, tennis, golf or simply eat and drink. The eating and drinking on the Maldives is taken quite seriously. You may have endeavoured hard to lose weight for your holiday, but the generous portions will, I’m afraid, completely ensure that you will need the gym on your return. Menus change daily and a couple of times a week, the entire restaurant is recreated on the beach for a huge b-b-q. Spectacular.

When you’ve had enough of being on land, you can snorkel or dive. We snorkled amongst many different types of vibrant coloured fish and surprisingly graceful sea turtles. The biggest fish we swam with were the baby reef sharks who seemed very comfortable swimming with us. Boat trips are also available for those who want to photograph the sunset across the sea, armed with the inevitable sun-downer cocktail.

The Maldives are experiencing visible climate change effects and suffer from encroaching sea levels resulting in land loss from these islands. It is probably best to visit now before these beautiful ‘in heaven’ islands of the Indian Ocean are lost forever.

This was a personal holiday of the author.

Images and text:  Lucy Elliott  wwwlucyelliottphotography.com