Hello happy! Hello Havaianas!

Ooh, the sun is shining and it is finally time to break out the summer footwear. Top of my list are my faithful Havaianas. My go-to footwear brand for an easy, breezy style that’s not just for the beach.

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Created in 1962, the iconic Brazilian flip flop brand is known all over the world for their incredibly comfortable and stylish flip flops. Originally inspired by the traditional Japanese Zori made of rice and cloth, Havaianas rubber flip flops still have the rice pattern sole as a link back to the ancient sandals. Today there are over 200 styles available, with new collections every year. This summer sees the launch of the Flat, shown below, which features thinner soles and shorter ‘jelly’s  traps. They are also available in a Flat Kit, complete with samba music, that takes you on a sensory journey through Brazil.

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The new flat style

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With a few trips on the horizon for my travel writing, the brand have been kind enough to send me a selection to showcase when away. So exciting! Consequently, I’ve been busy sorting through my new collection and deciding what pairs will suit the destinations I have lined up. Earmarked for my trip to Montenegro are the black Luna flip flops, which have more of a ‘city’ feel with slingback straps and, of course, the classic ‘Greek’ style pattern on them.

For Halkidiki in Greece later this year, I’ll definitely be packing the Brasil Logo style (mine are in a gorgeous lavender/blue combo) and the urban-style, camo-gold strap flip flops.

Watch this space to see them ‘on location’. Thanks Havaianas.

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To purchase, visit: www.havaianas-store.com/en

Life is sweet: a few of my favourite things

Sun is shining and life is looking sweet. Reflecting this sugary sentiment are a trio gorgeous beauty products that have landed on my desk.

Take Nina Ricci‘s latest limited edition fragrance, for instance. Les Délices de Nina is inspired by the ultimate candy shop, bought to life in classic stories and fairytales – think Hansel and Gretel and Alice in Wonderland.

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The fluoro pink apple and shiny gold top (to reflect golden caramel) bottle has a unique ‘soft touch’ texture and aims to replicate that covetable feel we get in a sweet shop. The fragrance itself has been created by Marie Salamagne and Olivier Cresp, the Master Perfumer behind the Nina collection of fragrances. It has an innovative strawberry candy accord at its heart mixed with top notes of tangy lemon and tangerine. White caramel, gardenia, praline and white musk combine together to create a sweet yet sophisticated scent. Luminous and ever so tempting.

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Next, are the latest offerings from one of my fave brands Korres. The Water Lily collection – a shower gel and body milk – has a fresh, delicate scent inspired by wild flowers. This beauty label is seriously underrated I think. The price points are so affordable for very top-end quality products.

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In particular, I love Korres’ shower gels, £8, they are rich and sumptuous to use (and they feel much more expensive than they actually are) and deeply hydrate the skin (due to the wheat proteins they contain). The body milk, £10, meanwhile, is enriched with vitamins, almond oil, active aloe and shea butter to give long-lasting hydration and to keep skin supple. Both of these are great for travelling. Check out the ‘sweet-like’ palette on the packaging of lilac, soft greens and pale blue. Available to buy online from Debenhams.com

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Finally, my sugar fix ends with Heyland & Whittle Jasmine & Lilac Candle, £24, and super-cute Rose Soap Bar, £4.99. The Heyland & Whittle Brand was launched by husband and wife team Paddy Heyland and Ursula Whittle  in 2003. The collection of products are inspired by their original location on a farm in rural Surrey. The company produces a range of handmade soaps in the traditional cold-processed method, using only tnatural ingredients. Essential oils, herbs and spices are combined to create a sulphate and paraben-free range.

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The candle is made from 100% pure soy sustainable wax which burns cleanly to give a natural fragrance. The Jasmine & Lilac scent is also blended with lavender, summer berries, oranges and lemons to give a deep, summery smell, which is gorgeous and evokes the quintessential English garden.

The soap, meanwhile, is enriched with cocoa butter and gently cleans and moisturises the skin, leaving it delicately scented with rose. Available at johnlewis.com and heylandandwhittle.co.uk

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Everything’s sunnier in Sunuva

Giving a unique boho approach to children’s sunwear, Sunuva‘s swimwear and beachwear collections not only look good but also keep the kids safe in the sun.

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Thinking ahead to our upcoming holidays, I’ve been hard-pressed to find sunwear that my boys will be happy to wear. The limited ranges available are either too ‘babyish’, too garish or not ‘cool’ enough to appeal to young boys’ imagination. Happily filling that gap in the market is the Sunuva label which was launched by Emily Cohen and Sabrina Naggar. Having been introduced to each other on holiday by their children, they bonded over a mutual frustration at the lack of stylish and UV-protective swimwear that was available for kids. Sharing a love of fashion and travel, and taking inspiration from their holiday adventures and bohemian style, the idea for Sunuva was born: gorgeous UV swimwear and beachwear available year-round, which kids look super stylish in as well as being protected from the sun.

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Some of the inspiration behind the brand’s prints include Indian elephants, Nepalese buddhas, Mexican skulls, English florals and classic Nantucket-inspired marine stripes. Since launching their first collection the label has garnered a strong celebrity following including Victoria Beckham, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose kids have been spotted in Sunuva.

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Its new Spring/Summer 2015 collection offers a range of brightly designed prints for boys and girls as well as a cute matching sibling collection. Girls can choose from Navajo inspired tribal embroidery, bright neon pink lace and fluorescent feathers, while those who are more whimsical will love the birds of paradise and strawberries prints. For the boys, meanwhile, there are cool skateboards, surfing hotdogs, New Hampton lobsters and nautical blueprints to choose from.

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What’s more the Sunuva swimwear range is UPF 50+ and is validated by the British Skin Foundation, the UK’s leading researcher of skin disease and cancer. The special fabric blocks out over 97% of the sun’s harmful rays and meets stringent Australian/NZ guidelines.

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Watch this space for further updates of Sunuva clothing, modelled by my boys, on location in Greece later this summer.

Sunuva is available online at sunuva.com and is also stocked in major department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Barneys, many independent boutiques all over the world, and luxury international holiday resorts such as the Four Seasons and the One&Only.

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Dressing up time

Make sure your home has a sleek, finished look by pulling together all the right details. From lighting to lust after to wallpaper to swoon over, choose the right accessories and you can instantly, and easily, update your décor. Here’s how to get it just right.

John Lewis is a one-stop shop for home accessories

John Lewis is a one-stop shop for home accessories

What’s in, what’s out, what’s over, what’s on the radar… keeping abreast of new home trends can often be a confusing affair. Whether you match or whether you clash, the key to pulling a look together is often in the small details. Select items for your home that you love and you’ll cherish them forever. Remember less is often more when it comes to accessories and, where possible, seek out expert advice. Whether you are looking for new curtains or refreshing your soft furnishings, professionals are a great source of new ideas and they can advise on what will work in your given space. Here, we seek out some leading experts to help you on your road to home glory.

WINDOWS ON YOUR WORLD

Dressing windows is often the more costly area of decorating a room. Most of us invest once and stick with that choice for many years. Because of this, it is important to choose something adaptable which will work with a variety of schemes and which will easily adapt if you later update the room’s decor.

Cambridge Sunblinds

Cambridge Sunblinds

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Cambridge Sunblinds (01223 460192, www.cambridgesunblinds.co.uk) is a one-stop shop for all types of window treatments, including blinds, curtains and shutters. Fiona Garwood, director, gives her insight: “Cambridge Sunblinds is a family-run company with over 33 years experience. We offer a wide selection of blinds, curtains, roman folds, shutters and awnings – both manual and motorised. We can supply and install blinds with advanced specifications that can reduce the heating bills in your home by up to 15%, helping to save you money, and help save energy!

She continues: “Blinds not only have functional benefits, they can also enhance a room’s overall scheme and make it look polished and ‘finished’. There are a huge variety of styles to choose from. Roman blinds, for instance, in rich fabrics can give a luxe, sumptuous feel to a room, while shutters are more of a modern, streamlined approach. Get your window dressings right and it can pull a whole room together.”

QMotion

QMotion

For a unique investment, QMotion UK’s range of automated blinds are an innovative step in advancing the home (0845 450 1606, www.qmotionshades.co.uk).

Ian Claxton, director at QMotion UK,  comments: “The blinds operate from one central point by finger touch via a smartphone, tablet app or remote control. The wire-free concept means that there are no cords, power or control wires required at all and the user can install a fully motorised and intelligently controlled shading system without the need for chasing out walls or using an electrician.  There’s a collection of over 400 fabrics and colours available, or, for a personal touch, you can supply your own imagery for QMotion UK to manufacture the blind with.”

For those who like a no-fuss, contemporary look, shutters are a popular choice.

Shuttercraft Cambridge (01223 581339; www.shuttercraft-cambridge.co.uk) supplies a range of window shutters in hundreds of colours and style options.

“Plantation shutters not only look stylish, but they also offer many benefits over more traditional window coverings, especially when dealing with hard to cover windows such as those found in conservatories, or instance,” says Ryan Jarvis, owner of Shuttercraft. “We offer a made-to-measure service and therefore can fit just about any size, shape or complexity. We offer specialist advice on shutters and a free consultation service.”

Drizzle

Drizzle by Kvadrat

For a sumptuous look, meanwhile, you can’t beat swathes of curtains made out of a luxurious fabric. Luxury textile brand Kvadrat’s latest curtain collection, entitled Sparkling, Drizzle and Drill, has been designed by Danish design duo Aggebo & Henriksen and is made up of subtle, shimmering patterns (020 7324 5555, www.kvaddrat.dk). Giving the wow-factor to any room, the pattern starts as a unicolour at the bottom of the curtain. As it moves upwards, it melts into a lively play of organic shapes, which steadily taper away into the white base fabric.

Faces by

Faces by

Meanwhile, the new Faces collection from luxury Swedish brand Kinnasand (020 7324 5555, www.kinnasand.com) is made up of 27 unique curtains designed to reflect the expressions of real faces.

Kinnasand’s creative director Isa Glink, who designed the range, comments:  “Seen from the outside, curtains define how people perceive windows, which are the ‘faces’ of architecture. By giving them distinguishing characteristics, the textiles create personality and stimulate curiosity about the interior. Inside a building, curtains play a key role in establishing the feel of different spaces. They introduce vibrancy and charisma, ensuring that rooms are as individual as the people who use them.”

FABULOUS FLOORS

Taking their inspiration from the fashion world, carpets and rugs are moving away from plain, block colours in neutrals to new vibrant patterns, which reflect the geometric and graphic prints seen on the catwalk.

Padstow Surf Spot carpet by Brintons

Padstow Surf Spot carpet by Brintons

Natalie Littlehales, consumer marketing manager at the British heritage carpet brand Brintons (0800 505 055, www.brintons.co.uk) agrees that this is a growing trend: “Grids and graphics from the ordered world of geometrics are the inspiration behind the new checks and prints in Brinton’s collections for SS15. The Padstow range, for example, is a fresh, modern and flexible carpet available in a wide range of colours. The palette is inspired by the seaside with soft ice-cream shades of blue, pink and spearmint, balanced by subtle greys.”

Gypsy Cowhide Rug from Mineheart

Gypsy Cowhide Rug from Mineheart

While patterned carpets, however subtle, are not for everyone, an easier way to introduce the trend is simply by investing in a statement rug. From the Gypsy Cowhide rugs at Mineheart (0845 467 4580, www.mineheart.com) to the bold Starlight rugs at Luku Home (020 8943 3683, http://www.lukuhome.com), the choice is endless.

Dart rug from Urbane Living

Dart rug from Urbane Living

Advising on how to choose the right rug for you is Adam Robertson, managing director of Urbane Living (020 7138 3838,
www.urbaneliving.co.uk): “When choosing a rug it is important to think about the choice of material and its suitability for the space in which it will be used. Durability is key in high traffic areas, such as hallways and landings, whereas sumptuous deep piles will add a sense of luxury in rooms, such as a bedroom. Area rugs are a great way to finish a room as they help to bring colours and style together while adding comfort and warmth. Consider the impact you want from your rug then choose colours that either blend seamlessly to unify a room or create a statement to define your space.  Often lighter colours will make a room look larger whilst darker colours can be used to create a cosy intimate feel. Choosing the correct size rug is vital for creating a well-balanced room. In a dining room for example, I advise customers to push chairs back from the dining table and add another six inches to this measurement to ensure your rug will be large enough to accommodate seated guests. Often the size of a rug however comes down to personal opinion. If you want to unify a room, a large rug will do this effectively, however, a number of smaller rugs can break up a room into different zones with great success also.”

Danskina rugs

Danskina rugs

Those wanting to keep ahead of the curve should keep an eye out for the new rugs soon to be launched by luxury rug brand Danskina (www.danskina.com).

The new collection, Fringe, Dew and Argali, has been designed by the brand’s design director Hella Jongerius and upcoming designer Daniel Costa and are said to celebrate the beauty in simplicity as well as material innovation and skilled craftsmanship.

TAKE A SEAT

A simple and affordable way to instantly lift a room is by adding in specially selected cushions, throws and accessories, such as vases and candles. The key here is knowing to choose the correct styles and shapes to achieve a cohesive look.

Furniture from Black Orchid Interiors

Furniture from Black Orchid Interiors

Sally Chamley, owner and founder of Black Orchid Interiors 
(0844 854 2794,
www.blackorchidinteriors.co.uk) gives her expertise: “When working with contemporary furniture such as rectangular sofa designs keep all accessories rectangular.  Such as rectangular cushions, rectangular mirrors and vases.  Keep the orientation the same, such as landscape, as this creates an ordered look that helps when creating symmetry.

“Use textures cleverly,’ she continues, “for example if you are working with spots, particularly in fabrics, choose a raised spot and reflect this texture in ceramics such as ones that also feature a raised spot in the pottery.  Textures on hard and soft materials can combine to great effect and really pull a scheme together.”

Raf Simmons

Cushions by Raf Simmons at Kvadrat

Offering a range of complementary colours and textures, unified by a strong diagonal graphic in the weave of the fabric, is the new Raf Simmons and Kvadrat collection of cushions and throws (020 7324 5555, www.kvadrat.com). Harlequin’s (0845 123 6815, www.harlequin.uk.com) vibrant new Amazilia range of cushions is equally as luxurious with its mix of tropical paradise motifs, such as hummingbirds, butterflies and feathers, counterbalanced with watercolour designs and soft, ombre velvet cushions.

Amazilia cushions by Harlequin

Amazilia cushions by Harlequin

Amazilia cushions by Harlequin

Amazilia cushions by Harlequin

For an inspiring mix of home accessories, including cushions and more, head to Home Sense, at the Beehive Centre, Cambridge (01223 462457, www.homesense.com). From country chic to urban cool, HomeSense buyers scour the globe finding unique one-off pieces of everything from the eclectic to the essentials. The store has a continually changing range of stock due to its daily deliveries of new homeware.

Accessories by Home Sense

Accessories by Home Sense

Also offering an eclectic mix of items to suit all tastes is online boutique Adventino (01529 307812, www.adventino.co.uk), which offers a range of cushions inspired by the animal world and British countryside.

Cushions by Adventino

Cushions by Adventino

Meanwhile at interior design store Absolute Abode (020 8090 3210, www.absoluteabode.com) you’ll find a curated collection of homewares. Kirsty McMorron, founder, adds her viewpoint: “Tactile textures such as throws and cushions are a key trend for spring-summer 2015. We love Margo Selby and Jessica Zoob’s beautiful cushions, which will instantly add a splash of colour and reinvigorate a living room ready for summer. Include freshly cut roses as a finishing touch to create a welcoming scent, or a collection of neutral soft furnishings that will create a relaxed atmosphere.”

Bronte by Moon - alpaca throw at Absolute Abode

Bronte by Moon’s alpaca throw at Absolute Abode

WONDER WALLS

Wallpaper from Farrow and Ball

Wallpaper from Farrow and Ball

Update rooms with the latest wallpaper designs, which range from bold swirling prints, such as those at Farrow and Ball (01223 367771, www.farrow-ball.com) to organic papers inspired by nature at Urbane Living (020 7138 3838, www.urbaneliving.co.uk).

Sumatra wallpaper

Sumatra wallpaper at Urbane Living

Boasting innovative textures and ground-breaking finishes, the new Anthology collection of wallpapers from Harlequin (0845 123 6815, www.harlequin.uk.com) will please lovers of sophisticated schemes. With its palette of metallic tones, the collection has a faded glamour appeal with tarnished copper, platinum, pearl and sapphire at its core.

Anthology wallpaper at Harlequin

Anthology wallpaper at Harlequin

“Geometric shapes are gaining popularity in wallpaper designs,” says Sally Chamley, owner of Black Orchid Interiors
(0844 854 2794,
www.blackorchidinteriors.co.uk). “Large format hexagonal designs in black and white and neutrals are very dominant and should be used on accent walls only.  Working with such a bold shape demands accessories to be complimentary but not competitive with the overall look.  You could introduce the shape in the form of a hexagonal fruit bowl in pure white for example, this would complement the wallpaper but not shout.  Mixing shapes needs to be well considered in order to get the correct balance.”

Black Orchid Interiors

Black Orchid Interiors

While wallpapers can be effective, you can also create feature walls by using collections of mirrors, frames and themed artwork. Philippa Prinsloo, design manager, Home at John Lewis (01223 361 292, www.johnlewis.com), advises: “A cluster of black and white photography looks visually appealing and strong regardless of your colour scheme, especially when framed in the same range of frames. If you want maximum impact, choose an oversized piece in a smaller space. The contrast will create an installation-like feel, particularly if it features a contemporary or abstract artist/piece. Hallways and bathrooms are popular locations to display art. Showing works that are of the same genre look great in smaller spaces or on one wall. On stairways, graduate the height of the images as you travel up the stairs. If you don’t want to rely on prints or artwork to create interest, use mirrors which look great in smaller spaces, making rooms look bigger and brighter.”

Pictures from John Lewis

Display art in hallways: pictures from John Lewis

For a truly unique feel, look in vintage stores, such as Cambridge-based Oxbow and Peach (www.oxbowandpeach.co.uk). Owner Georgie Mitchell says:

“Combining vintage with contemporary pieces can create an individual style that looks as though it has evolved over many years. Blending modern trends with items that have personal importance is what makes a home unique. Don’t be afraid to be eccentric, put imagination into your styling.”

Oxbow and Peach vintage store

Oxbow and Peach vintage store

LIGHT UP THE ROOM

Bubble table lamp from Luku Home

Bubble table lamp from Luku Home

Every interior designer will tell you how important lighting is in a room. It’s also a fabulous way of injecting glamour and personality into an otherwise pared-back scheme. Luku Home (020 8943 3683, www.lukuhome.com) is a one-stop shop for many styles of lighting, from retro-inspired glass table lamps to unusual pendants.

Ammonite table lamp

Ammonite table lamp at David Hunt Lighting

David Hunt Lighting (01295 672 200, www.davidhunt-lighting.com) is also a good source of unusual finds, such as its ammonite table lamps; while at Fritz Fryer (01989 567416, www.fritzfryer.co.uk) you can find a selection of on-trend industrial-style lighting, such as the glass dome lamps and metal pendants.

Pixley Pendants at Fritz Fryer

Pixley Pendants at Fritz Fryer

“Statement lighting is making a big return with large open shades being key in providing a focal point to the room,” says Jenny Hurren owner of home store Out There Interiors (020 8099 7443, www.outthereinteriors.com). “Our favourites at Out There Interiors include Peng, a shiny metallic Nordic style pendant and Maginti, an open lab style pendant.”

Peng light at Out There Interiors

Peng light at Out There Interiors

Lovers of contemporary lighting can source the latest designs at King’s Road emporium Christopher Wray (020 7013 0180, www.christopherwray.com). Chris Jordan, managing director, comments: “The perfect lighting scheme can make all the difference when creating a welcoming atmosphere as you enter your home. Choose a wall-mounted uplighter to cast a soft diffused light against the wall and ceiling. These are most effective when used in conjunction with a dimmer switch. Add a floor lamp to brighten up dark corners and create a warm glow within your hallway. Consider investing in a light with a statement shade or detailing so it doubles up as a piece of decorative art as well as being functional.”

Coboche Suspension light at Christopher Wray

Caboche Suspension light at Christopher Wray

Finally, Renaissance London (020 7251 8844, www.renaissancelondon.com) renowned for its collection of unusual vintage lighting, reveals its take on the theme: “Original 1970’s lighting gives an original edge to an interior, it’s a real design statement,” says Owen Pacey founder of Renaissance London. “If you select good quality pieces from that period the look is very smart. I’m seeing a real trend for pieces from this time, especially 70s chandeliers, such as sputniks. Pick out individual pieces to create an eclectic look without being ‘Del Boy’ inspired and choose design-led elements from the period rather than the gaudy brown and orange tones that were so popular back then and it becomes easy to incorporate into the home. Make sure you avoid imitations and stick to one of two smart original designs from the period.”

Murano Sputnik Chandelier at Renaissance London

Murano Sputnik Chandelier at Renaissance London

Good hair day: VIP Tresses

I’ve always fancied trying hair extensions, but being a ‘wash and go’ kind of girl, I’ve been put off by the commitment required. But having shoulder length hair (that doesn’t seem to grow any longer), extensions seemed to be the only option to gain that swishy, thick hair that we all desire.

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Then I came across VIP Tresses’ Kate Ponytail. Promising the best of both worlds – glossy hair that’s easy to attach for those special occasions – with no maintenance required, it seemed silly not to give it a try.

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I chose the Natural Blonde Highlight shade (there are 19 realistic colours available) and this seemed to match my hair tone perfectly. As you can see here, it’s very natural looking with real hair-like texture and it also feels lovely and soft. The ponytail is 19 inches long so is extremely versatile and is simply attached into your own ponytail by two hidden hair combs and a drawstring.

Here’s the before and after shots and you can see how there’s hardly any difference between my natural colour and the attached pony:

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The ponytail comes with loose, bouncy waves and is wonderfully thick. It can be straightened and brushed and made into a fishtail plait, braid or bun or indeed just kept loose as a long ponytail.

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Whatever you choose to do, it’s the perfect way to have effortlessly glam hair. I’m a convert.

£25, www.viptresses.com

Ooh la la! Cafe Culture collection from Yankee Candle

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J’adore the latest summer collection of candles from Yankee Candle. Designed to whisk you off to the continent, the three new fragrances are based around classic French and Italian treats and are ideal for use in the kitchen, and home in general, for a rich fragrance that lasts for hours. Tarte Tatin, Cappuccino Truffle and Pain au Raisin conjure up just-baked delights and heart-warming drinks.

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My favourite – Pain au Raisin – is a warm blend of cognac soaked raisins, buttery vanilla dough and cinnamon.

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The lovely rosy-red Tarte Tatin is based on a just-baked tart of sweet apples, spices and vanilla.

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Finally, the Cappuccino Truffle is a decadent fragrance with roasted coffee and velvety chocolate notes.

Available in Large, Medium and Small jars as well as votives and wax melts, there’s also a new accessory collection, including trays and votive holders decorated in a cute, ‘cafe culture’ motif.

What’s more, to celebrate the launch of the new collection, Yankee Candle are also holding a competition which gives the chance for a Yankee fan to really get under the skin of the continent and win a European city break for two. Enter now at: www.yankeecandlecafeculture.co.uk

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For more information on this range and the wide existing collections, visit: www.yankeecandle.co.uk

Five-star family: TAJ 51 BUCKINGHAM GATE SUITES AND RESIDENCES

Despite all of its glorious must-sees, it’s very easy to overlook your own capital city in favour of different, undiscovered destinations. But, ironically, it took an exotic hotel brand – namely the Taj Group – to tempt me and my family to experience London anew – through the eyes of a tourist.

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Better known for its sumptuous hotels across India – many of which are carved out of palaces – the Taj Group’s presence in London, at the flagship Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, is equally as impressive as its home-grown properties. It turns out, surprisingly perhaps, that this gem, hidden away behind ornate, wrought-iron gates close to Buckingham Palace, is also eminently family-friendly. Luxury can often mean exclusivity but the group is keeping abreast with a new way that modern hoteliers are approaching five-star luxury these days (currently emerging at top-end, independent hotel brands) by introducing its Kids at Taj program. Offered at 51 Buckingham Gate and its second London property – St James’ Court, A Taj Hotel –this incentive actively welcomes little ones with a bespoke programme of child-friendly treats, custom-made activities and practical offerings. Taj, it seems, is savvy enough to know that if the young ‘uns are kept happy, then parents will keep returning.

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Consequently, despite the opulent interiors, your welcome is less of the formal and more of the friendly. The property is made up of a series of three impressive Victorian townhouses and situated around a pretty courtyard complete with tinkling fountain and the world’s longest sylvan Shakespearean frieze. Liveried doorman swing open doors before you’ve reached them and whisk away your bags before you’ve given them much thought. Check-in is pleasingly casual, quick and the right side of personable. Impressive still are the suites and residences (85 in total).

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Each are designed like exclusive private apartments – with separate kitchen and living areas (there’s also a butler service for those who want to leave the kitchen work behind), making for a practical, not to mention beautiful, place to stay for families. Our three-bedroom version was expansive and elegantly decorated. A palette of ochres, taupes and magentas gave a pared-back regal feel, heightened by the deep carpets, fine linens and glossy bathrooms. After a few moments of haring around, the kids were of course nonplussed about all of this. As I continued to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, and take mental notes on home improvements to do on my return, their enthusiasm lay instead with their welcome bag, stuffed with goodies, such as a guardsman teddy bear, a ‘Taj passport’, stamped by the hotel with your dates of stay, a hotel registration card and key card holder, sketchbook and journal with crayons and postcards. Meanwhile, in their bedrooms bathrobes and slippers (impressively in the correct sizes) were discovered. The home-away-from-home feel continues with the special Kids’ Dining Menu, available for room service or in the in-house restaurants, as well as bedtime cookies and hot chocolate. The attention to detail was impressive.

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Being so central, it was easy to wander around places of interest. Our children are no strangers to London so taking an easy approach, we decided to simply meander around, taking in the sights and sounds. China Town for dim sum (parents’ choice), a trip along Regent Street to visit M&M World (childrens’ choice) and a river-boat trip down to the Tower of London (unanimous), meant our first day was delightfully full.

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We later dined at Kona, the hotel’s contemporary dining room (there are three restaurants to choose from), which boasts a fresh Mediterranean menu. Very much a grown-up space, we wondered beforehand if this was the best choice but I’m glad to say it worked out wonderfully. The children were brilliantly looked after and put at ease – even being allowed to order off menu, which pleased them no end. We were all delighted with the exceptional cuisine. The simple names of the dishes – Lobster Bisque, Seabass and King Oyster Mushroom, for example – belied the layered, complexity behind them. Reasonable prices (mains were around £15) were a surprising bonus.

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The next morning, after an indulgent breakfast, we set out again for a day of sightseeing, starting off by catching the Changing of the Guard at the Palace, just a few minutes walk away, and finishing with a stop-off at St Paul’s Cathedral. The day was rounded off by a Taj cookie lesson taken by two of the hotel’s chefs in our own kitchen. Donning their aprons with personalised name badges, the kids were in their element and were soon whipping up a batch of sweet-smelling biscuits. Meanwhile, us parents were left to put our feet up and plan when we were returning.

Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, 51 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF. A Two Bedroom Suite at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences (suitable for a family of four) is £600 per room per night. For further information visit www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk or call 020 7769 7766.

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