Sweet gifts your heart will ache for this Valentine’s Day


Regular readers of my blog will know that I heart Baylis and Harding goodies. Their pretty-in-pink goodies for Valentine’s are the perfect pressie choice for any discerning sweetheart. Or simply ideal treats to give yourself a lift (after all, who needs a man to buy these?)


My favourite is the pale pink heart box (much like a 1950s chocolate box). Inside is a Balancing Shower Creme and matching Body Lotion both scented with Pink Magnolia and Pear Blossom (£10, www.ocado.com). It’s a sweet, spring-like fragrance that gently lingers on the skin throughout the day.


Also in the collection is the weighty Triple Wick Candle, scented with the same notes of pink magnolia and pear blossom. It comes in a heavy glass jar and is perfect for creating that elusive romantic ambiance (£15, www.debenhams.com).

Lastly is the bumper Baylis & Harding Pink Magnolia & Pear Blossom Five Piece Gift Set.
Channelling notes of spring, the set contains a Hand & Body Lotion, Shower Creme, Soap, Body Wash and rose shaped Body Polisher. The products are beautifully packaged in a dusty pink and white colourway and the formulas are rich, pampering and lush, leaving skin gently fragranced and soft to touch. (£20, www.houseoffraser.co.uk). Just the thing for a love fest – even if you are home alone.

These are perfect gifts from a loved one or ideal as a little indulgence from you to you. Love yourself, why not? Heart Valentine’s.



Escape the way we live now: Ballynahinch Castle, Ireland


These days we want everything instantly. Information, food, service – if something is not ready to go, at our fingertips and switched on in seconds, it’s enough to set our blood pressures racing. Some of the best travel experiences work because they are an escape from this – an antidote to the way we live now. For those yearning to switch it all off for a while, then Ballynahinch Castle is a real find – the perfect retreat away from the pressures of the modern world.


In a remote spot in the west of Ireland, it takes some time to get there – in fact, it’s a two-hour drive from Shannon, the nearest airport. To some this may seem like an inconvenience, given that we are in Ireland and not some far flung corner of the world, but it turns out that this meandering journey past heavenly scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way (think rolling hills and dramatic coastline) is the perfect prelude to what will become your chance to de-connect from the rat race.

When you finally reach, your first impressions may be that Ballynahinch is a brooding, moody sort of place. You’d be right – it is. The 48-room mansion dates back to the 1750s, but it is largely the Victorian architecture that remains – gothic, dark and regal – made more so as it is positioned in the shadow of the majestic Twelve Bens Mountain Range. Inside it’s a different story. The heavy, emerald green door (complete with brass fox knocker) swings open and you are engulfed into a warm blast of cosiness.


From the roaring fires to the boot room, stocked with Dubarry wellies and raincoats, the wood-pannelled pub to the chic riverside bedrooms, this country house is all about offering an authentic welcome to its guests. The team of staff is led by Patrick O’Flaherty, who has been at the helm for over 17 years and whose enthusiasm, amusing anecdotes and ‘nothing is too much trouble’ policy sets the scene for your stay here. He will hug you goodbye.


While the newly renovated bedrooms (48 in total) will no doubt attract a young, well-heeled sort of traveller, the appeal of Ballynahinch is far greater than the crisp linens, soft carpets and dreamy beds. Guests check in and continue to return year after year – not because it is fashionable – but because of the genuine welcome you receive, the focus on locally-sourced, seasonal food and the simply stunning landscape the castle boasts all around.

Elevating a stay here further still, is the stellar choice of interesting activities on offer. The recent Lens and Larder Retreat, for instance, brought together food, photographer and adventure. The two-day masterclass in visual storytelling through photography and food styling was devised by food bloggers Cliodhna Prendergast of Breaking Eggs (www.breakingeggs.com) and Imen McDonnell of Modern Farmette (www.modernfarmette.ie) and utilised the estate’s indigenous ingredients, with the historical surrounds and the Connemara landscape as a focus.

And, yes, the wild, unspoilt beauty of the surrounding countryside is undoubtedly a highlight. Set in 450 acres of woodland, meandering rivers and boggy hills mean that this is a perfect spot for outdoor pursuits. Try your hand at fly-fishing with gillie Cyril Biggins. He’ll teach you how to cast off on one of the 72 piers along the famous Ballynahinch Salmon River, which runs through the grounds. If you are lucky, your salmon can then be smoked for you at a nearby fishery for you to enjoy at home. Or there’s clay pigeon shooting with the deeply charming Shane Bisgood, who runs the Connemara Shooting School on the estate. Trained by Holland & Holland in London, he was hired by the American shooting team for the Olympic games and is a true expert in the sport.

From the hearty homemade Irish stew or oysters and Guinness– served in the downstairs Fisherman’s Pub – to the outstanding wild salmon gravadlax and rich venison on the menu in the more formal Owenmore Restauarant, culinary buffs will also be in their element here. There’s a focus on keeping the foodie offering natural, seasonal and local and guests are encouraged to be part of the gastro action by joining one of the guided foraging tours, where you’ll be taught how to search for mushrooms, edible flowers and plants. The Sea & Islands Experience is also eminently satisfying, during which you take a boat out to sea and catch lobster and shellfish, which can be cooked for your supper.


Back at the manor house, you’ll be seduced by the character it oozes, with many clues to its chequered history dotted about. Corridors are lined with old black and white photos of Indian princesses (the Indian Maharaja, Ranji, was a past owner, having bought the estate in 1922 and images of his family are still dotted about) and the bar boasts pictures of literary luminaries and works of art by well-known artists who have stayed here (Margaret Atwood, Edna O’Brien and Seamus Heaney are all devotees of the place). The link with the arts here is a strong one – there’s a traditional Irish band that play each Saturday (in the great Irish tradition, joining in is actively encouraged) and, in fact, Des Lally who presides over the Fisherman’s Pub (with its fabulous wood panelled walls and tables of vintage fishing equipment) is also chairman of the renowned Clifden Arts Festival. He know anyone who is anyone when it comes to the Irish arts world, so if this is your thing catch him on a quiet night when he can regale you with stories of famous literary and artistic greats who have stayed here.

While you can mooch about the house, take tea in one of the sitting rooms with a good book or shoot the breeze with Des, your bedroom will also be a most welcome retreat. Painted in a putty palette that makes Farrow & Ball so popular the world over, the rooms are spacious and uber cosy. Quirky wallpapers decorated with birds or dogs channel the natural surroundings while statement lights (bulbous copper side lamps and wood chandeliers) give a nod to modern design. Nothing is fussy, everything is tasteful – with your comfort in mind. It’s plush, it’s timeless and I want to go back.


Stay at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate from £158 per room, per night for a Classic Room (ballynahinch-castle.com).

Round trip transfers from Shannon Airport with Pat Keogh Chauffeur Service from £201 for a Mercedes E-Class (pat-keogh.com).

Fly from London Heathrow with Aer Lingus from £49.99 per person (aerlingus.com)




From a new colour palette to inspire you to glamourous burnished metals, this season’s new interiors trends will give an elegant feel to your home. Add in botanical prints and a dash of floral décor for schemes that are naturally stylish.


With a new season comes a desire for renewal, not least when it comes to our homes. The new interior trends for spring-summer 2016 take their inspiration largely from the natural world with a hint of high-fashion style. Whatever room you want to refresh this year, take a note from these new emerging styles to keep your house looking fresh and new.


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Pastel kitchen at John Lewis of Hungerford


Each year Pantone, the colour experts, announce their ‘colours of the year’ from which many designers and brands take inspiration. For 2016 the emphasis is on softer shades with Rose Quartz (a warm, rose pink) and Serenity (a cool, tranquil blue) being named as the shades that will dictate the way we dress our homes.

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Rose shades at Besselink & Jones

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Wall table at The Scandinavian Shop

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Petrol blue lamps at Bert Frank

As a consequence, the high street is already awash with home accessories in pale pink and hues of blue. Check out the dusty-pink, space-saving wall table at The Scandinavian Shop and the pretty rose light-shades at Besselink & Jones. While Bert Frank’s stunning matt, petrol-blue Revolve lamps are great investment pieces that will stand the test of time.


Barker and Barker

Specialists in fabrics and upholstery, Cambridge design-house Barker and Barker offers a sky/pink stripe fabric called Serenity that is bang on trend. Janet Dixon, chief designer, gives her advice: “When using colour and fabric in the home try to use something you really like that reflects your personality, even if it doesn’t follow the current fashion. Trends come and go, so choosing something that you really love is important or you may end up with an expensive mistake in your home! Colour and pattern make bold statements and can liven up a room and make it feel fresh. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to add these is to use cushions and throws. Adding weaves, patterns and prints in your chosen colour is a good way to make a change so try to incorporate colours that work together and prints that won’t conflict with each other. Tone down a bold pattern with a plain, solid tonal colour – this will help to bridge the gap and soften the look. Changing your curtains and sofa are another great option, but for a purse-friendly alternative decorative accessories are a brilliant way to add new life to a room.”


Muted Drabs at Farrow & Ball

Considered a ‘new neutral’, grey-pink (rather than the bubble-gum pink of little girls’ bedrooms) can bring a sophisticated, gentle hue to walls. Teamed with gleaming bronze and flashes of neon yellow, blush tones can look instantly grown-up and elegant. Launching this month are Farrow & Ball’s new colours for 2016, which includes such a shade. The ethereal Peignoir is one of nine new paint colours, including a range of so-called ‘muted drabs’. This grey-pink has a romantic feel “inspired by the chiffon gowns in which ladies traditionally brushed their hair in boudoirs”.

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Dash and Albert Star Rug

You can easily give a nod to the trend by adding hues of pink in rugs or cushions (source yours from Dash and Albert), or commit further by purchasing chairs and sofas in pale pink hues, such as those at Sofa Workshop. For lovers of the shade, why not go the whole way and invest in a pink Shaker-style kitchen (pictured top), as seen at John Lewis of Hungerford.

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Pavilion Sofa at Decor

The blue theme, meanwhile, has perhaps more of a universal appeal with Delcor’s baby-blue Chesterfield and Pavilion sofas particularly stylish choices for living spaces. Sainsburys Morrocan Blue collection of homewares, meanwhile, is inspired by a bolder, electric blue giving the ultimate summer feel.

Sainsbury's Moroccan Blue Dining

Sainsbury’s Moroccan Blue range for S/S 16

Andrew Tanner, head of home design at Sainsbury’s, comments: “The timeless pairing of classic blue and white invites us to embrace summer style. We’ve updated it by looking further afield for our inspirations, to the city of Casablanca, picking up prints and patterns from elaborate tile work, ikat and batik fabrics. This melting pot of influences has resulted in a collection of beautiful ceramics inspired by decorative textiles that you might more readily expect to find in the souks of Morocco.”

Bursnell Upholstered Ottoman - Olive

Ottoman by MY Furniture

To give a fresh, modern feel, add in touches of citrus yellow or bright white, in the form of accessories or one-off pieces of furniture, such as the occasional chairs and ottomans available at MY Furniture.

Acrylic Painted Boat Bath in Citron from BC Designs

Citron Boat Bath at BC Designs

“Nothing adds a burst of sunshine to interiors like the colour yellow. This versatile colour blends well with pastels as well as darker shades making it a great colour choice for any room,” says Sally Cutchie, sales co-ordinator at BC Designs, the innovative bathroom specialist, which sells a citron painted Boat Bath, which will no doubt give the wow factor to a bathroom.

As part of its new collection of Architectural Paint colours, the relaunched brand Paint and Paper Library (above) offers Chinese Emperor – a dull, yellow that works well in contrast to its equally striking Plaster V (a mauve-pink) and Blue Blood (petrol blue).

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Benjamin Moore

Championing the return of white, however, an complementing all other colours, is Helen Shaw, marketing director at paint specialists Benjamin Moore UK: “White is transcendent, timeless and has an unrivalled versatility, that is why we chose ‘Simply White OC-117’ as our colour of the year for 2016. From the elegance and beauty of layered whites to striking, bold contrasting schemes and warm rustic textured settings, the colour white is not just a design trend, it is a design essential.”



While gleaming copper, bronze and gold has been on the design radar for a while, this year sees a focus on more matt metals. High polish is out with darker, wrought iron and burnished and brushed metals in.


BHS lighting

One easy way to translate this metallic trend is by accent lighting – with a huge range of styles available. Next, for instance, has a choice of streamlined, industrial lights, while BHS’s matt, silver mariner-style lighting will give impact in a room. For lovers of Victoriana, seek out the wrought iron chandelier and delicate Peterstow lamps at Fritz Fryer.

Peterstow Industrial XS

Peterstow light at Fritz Fryer

For a subtle take on the trend, factor in one of The Nine Schools chinese cabinets or console tables that feature metal handles and locks or go for a decorative, traditional cast iron radiator, available at The Radiator Centre.

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Console table at The Nine Schools

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The Radiator Centre

Giving a talking point to a bathroom, meanwhile, is the Albion Bath Company’s slipper or double-ended baths available in a range of burnished finishes (gold, iron and bronze). Complement it with copper porcelain floor and copper metallic wall tiles from Tile Mountain.

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The Albion Bath Company

Copper Metallic Modular Wall Tiles from Tile Mountain

Tile Mountain



Heralding the end of minimalism, is the return of all things floral with big, bold prints particularly in vogue. Cambridge-based interior designer, Cate Burren of Angel and Blume, agrees: “For me, florals have never been out of style but if a contemporary feel is what you are after, there are some fabulous digital prints on the market that are about bold patterns and vibrant colours.”


Touch of floral at Angel and Blume interior designers (pic credit: Simon Whitmore Photography)

Jim Carlile, managing director at Ely-based Reeds Furniture and Bed Centre, comments: “Floral upholstery is very much on trend this season. The new take on florals has promoted what was once considered old-fashioned to stylish heights. Mix and match prints with plain pieces to get the balance right. Dark prints – such as navy and rose florals on velvet – are very much of the moment and are a hip version of the ‘grandma chic’ look. Choose bold, wild blooms over small ditzy prints for a modern feel and show these off on a statement piece of furniture for maximum impact.”

Pic 1 Amelie large sofa from £1239

Amelie sofa from Reed’s Furniture and Bed Centre

A case in point is Sofa Workshop’s St Ives Chair, which is now available in Liberty’s Secret Garden fabric, a jewel-toned, floral velvet. Match it with Besslink & Jones’ roses chandelier for a dramatic feel.

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Sofa Workshop’s St Ives Chair


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Besselink and Jone’s rose chandelier

Also featuring wild blooms on its furniture is Delcor, which has armchairs and sofas in rich floral designs. If you dare, why not carpet a bedroom or spare room with Brinton’s luxury Florals Parterre – a subtle, floral carpet that is beautifully soft underfoot.

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Sofa from Delcor

Classic Florals Parterre Champagne

Brintons’ Floral Parterre carpet

As the weather heats up (we hope), you can inject a blast of summer into your home with floral motifs found on the kitchen accessories by Pip Studio and Cath Kidston at Daisy Park, the fun and flowery cardboard deer heads at The Scandinavian Shop and the evocative textile designs found at Art of the Loom. Its latest collection, entitled ‘Indian Summer’ features fabrics in bright colours and is inspired by the vibrancy of India. The fabrics hint at the influence from embroidered saris, flowers for the temple, painted trucks and decorated camels.

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Pip Studio at Daisy Park

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Deer Heads at Scandinavian Shop

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Textiles at Art of the Loom

Finally, come the bright soft furnishings and bold wallpapers at the Finish brand Vallila Interior. Emma Niskanen at the brand comments: “Florals are certainly an enduring favourite in design, but we are seeing some exciting, fresh takes on the theme this season with more edgy designs emerging in bold colours and graphic prints, alongside contemporary motifs in soft, pale shades. Another key trend is large scale botanical and foliage prints with a touch of the exotic. These styles look great in modern interiors and are easy to incorporate into the home.”


Vallila Interiors



Moving on from last year’s botanical craze, there is still a penchant for ‘bringing the outside in’ when it comes to interior design. Consequently, garden inspired designs are bringing leaf patterns, fern prints and insect motifs, in particular, into the living room.

Sainsbury's Botanist Dining

Botanist Collection at Sainsbury’s S/S 16 range

Sainsbury’s Botanist collection, for instance, includes fern-printed pillows, green glasses and butterfly-themed crockery. Andrew Tanner, head of home design, gives his insight: “Autumn’s moody-hued painterly florals give way to fresher botanicals for spring. This
is the sophisticated, fashion-led take on conservatory style and to get a handle on it, think a dash of Victoriana palm house, with botanical illustrations and brass finishes, which when combined, beautifully transforms the home into a tropical haven.”


BHS Sweet Nostalgia

BHSs Sweet Nostalgia Range taps into three new emerging trends with floral, botanical and nostalgia at its heart. Make a beeline for the pretty lampshades, wooden pictures and pineapple accessories.

Winchester Solid Wood Chest Of Drawers, Atkin and Thyme (rs)

Chest of drawers from Atkin and Thyme

Offering an eclectic collection of classic and contemporary furniture and home accessories sourced from across the globe is Atkin and Thyme. Co-owner Victoria Atkin comments: “This season’s style is situated in organic influence. For SS16, interiors are reconnecting with Mother Nature by finding their roots in unfussy, pragmatic styling that emphasises the raw beauty of natural materials. Handcrafted, artisan products make for truly unique designs that please aesthetically and perform functionally. Surrender the home to the natural drama of hide, rustic mango wood, elaborate embroidery and rich, colourful prints for a season of wild abandon.”

Jungle Print Wallpaper By Miki Rose

Wallpaper at Lime Lace

Angel Ferns Glass Fronted Buffet Cabinet

Botanist Cabinet at The Farthing

From jungle-print wallpaper at Lime Lace to the botanist cabinets at The Farthing, the trend has its roots in British history. David Mottershead, managing director of Little Greene, paint and wallpaper experts, agrees: “The bedrock of design, botanicals have never been in or out of fashion in interiors – but the way they are presented has changed dramatically over the centuries – from the eccentric Victorians, to the geometric Art Deco period, to the flamboyant ’70s. The wonderful thing about having such a rich history of surface design in Britain is that we naturally embrace eclecticism. This year more than others, traditional botanicals are being reproduced in modern colours from brights to darks, and used spectacularly on panels as art works, or together with geometric prints in the same room. Botanicals have never felt so fresh and in vogue!

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Archive Trails wallpaper at Little Greene

It goes without saying that the colour green is also predominant in this trend. Use flashes of the colour for maximum impact – scatter a few cushions with a fern or leaf print, for instance, or introduce the Manila or Hortus rugs from Modern Rugs.

Manila Green Rug from Modern Rugs

Manila Green rug at Modern Rugs

Ben Dale, the founder of Modern Rugs, gives his expertise: “The use of florals, botanical prints, and green colourways are a simple and effective way of ‘bringing the outside in’. This eco nature vibe can easily be added to a home with inexpensive accessories and soft furnishings.”

Cate Burren of Cambridge-based interior designers Angel and Blume agrees: “I find green a wonderfully calming colour and I love to use it in houses with great views of garden greenery as I think it visually connects the interior and exterior of a home. Adding in florals is an added bonus and keeping the main colour palette the same then adding accent colours allows you to layer textures and patterns without the end result being too hectic.”



Mix romantic, feminine touches – think velvet and lace – with more contemporary, harder materials, such as concrete flooring or woven textiles – for a modern-day ‘mash-up’ style.


St Ives Tile and Stone

Revealing the trend in full-effect is the new style of wall tiles that are becoming increasingly popular. Emma Pratt at Cambridge’s St Ives Tile and Stone comments: “Coming on trend this year is a mix-match effect of tiling style. Subtle florals, geometric patterns and quirky prints are being used in a non-matching way and we are seeing more customers opting for patterns where once most choose plain tiles. It gives a quirky patchwork effect and is very of the moment. Love it or hate it, used sparingly, next to plain tiles, it gives a wonderful focal point to a bathroom or kitchen. Use as a stripe down the wall of a shower enclosure, for example, or as a splash back behind a range – above all, this type of tiling gives personality and character.”


Interiors of Ely

Nigel Wright owner of, Interiors of Ely, also in Cambridgeshire, gives his advice on translating the theme: “Harness the nostalgia trend by seeking out a quirky, one-off find for your home. We supply a range of unique pieces – such as vintage furniture and unusual accessories. For something completely original, we also offer a hand-made bespoke service so you can create your own pieces. These ‘finds’ will add character and give a talking point to your room. We also restore items of furniture – this is a great way to breathe new life into something you would otherwise replace. After all, who wants to be the same as everyone else – originality is key to being on-trend.”

Velvet Tub Chair Dusk

Velvet Tub Chair at Oliver Bonas

Unique pieces for your home include the sumptuous, bright tub chairs at Oliver Bonas, the velvet dining chairs and chaise longues at Black Orchid London and the quirky, plywood stools designed by Piet Hein Eek and Dutch manufacturer NLXL LAB which feature paintings from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (available at Lime Lace).


Black Orchid London

Angel & Blume’s interior designer Cate Burren concludes: “Creating a space that is personal to a home owner is the core of a good design scheme and often this includes a carefully balanced mix of styles. I love to see a modern contemporary home softened with, for example, some feminine textures of velvet, linen, lace and embroidery.”


Plywood Print Stool By Piet Hein Eek

Stools by Piet Hein Eek and NLXL LAB at Lime Lace


Piet Hein Eek and Dutch manufacturer NLXL LAB


Suddenly, Maybe

There’s an art to spontaneous travel… even for those like me who are control freaks. I find out first hand, when I try out the new Booking.com App with enlightening results.

By the time I’d got to the airport, I was already stressed-out. This was not my usual way of travelling. I had no itinerary, no paperwork, no idea where I’d be staying that night. This was spontaneous travel and I didn’t much like it. As a travel writer, I’m used to going away at quick notice but I’m also a bit of an obsessive planner. I work out my wardrobe ahead of a trip, I read up on my destination and I pre-book restaurants and activities in advance. Call me boring, but I definitely don’t hot-foot it out the door, last minute.

Then I was asked to trial Booking.com’s new App – Booking Now. Based on their research, the travel website had discovered that 50% of global hotel reservations are booked using mobile devices within just 48 hours of someone’s stay. (Who knew!) With products – such as the Apple Watch – offering users easy, speedy booking, it means that spontaneous travel is a growing trend. Consequently, the new App aims to encourage last-minute getaways with users able to book their accommodation– from basic B&Bs to grand five-star hotels – in just two taps. It was enough to strike fear into the heart of any control freak.

“It will be fun,” said my other half, who was being particularly gung-ho about the weekend away. I eyed him cautiously, employed friends to have our children and ripped up my to-do list. I was to receive our plane tickets a day before departure and I had agreed to book accommodation via the App on arrival. There was nothing else to do, except worry.

All thoughts of an adventure in an exotic land fell away when the tickets to Nice in the South of France fell out of the envelope and I must admit my heart sank a little. This was not what I had expected. I’ve been to Nice a few times and it’s not exactly the most thrilling place to escape to. But in the spirit of spontaneity, I reminded myself to go with the flow. See what happens.

Two hours later we touched down on the Côte d’Azur and my fingers were itching to turn on my phone and get booking somewhere half-decent. Scrolling through the options, nothing exciting jumped out – a Radisson, a Hyatt, bland apartments – and I began to wonder why I had agreed to do this.

“Why stay in Nice? Let’s hire a car and go further afield – to Cannes or Cap D’Antibes,” said my husband, gesturing expansively around him, Gatsby-like.

Well, why not! And by swapping my chosen destination on the App from Nice to Cannes, the outcome of our weekend changed course in an instant. I couldn’t quite believe it when I spotted an affordable last-minute deal (€590 for two nights, for both of us) at Le Mas Candille (www.lemascandille.com), a renowned Relais & Chateaux hotel (www.relaichateaux.com)  in the arty little village of Mougins, in the hills surrounding Cannes. I was impressed – it was a place that I’d always wanted to visit and I knew the hotel had a lauded gastronomic reputation in an idyllic location, not to mention a stellar Shiseido spa. Within a few clicks, it was booked, hassle-free, and after hiring a car, we were on our way.


Street scenes in Mougins (and below)


Anyone with kids will know that spontaneity and parenthood are not natural bedfellows. It was a liberating feeling therefore to pootle along the steep roads in our Fiat 500 without the little ones knowing we had no set plans ahead of us (sorry, boys). There was no need to eat at a sensible time, no need to stop for emergency loo breaks and no cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ Freedom beckoned.




“We can dance to the early hours, we can drink champagne in a field, we can mingle with the jet set – the world is our oyster,” I exclaimed, warming to my subject, the dappled sunlight lighting up the entrance to the hotel.

“Shall we check-in first?” the hubbie answered staidly. And so we did. Lunch was eaten beside a chic 1930s-style infinity pool and afterwards we decamped to the loungers in the immaculate gardens, the breeze heavy with rosemary and lavender. Soon it was early evening and time to retreat to our room, which was a re-imagined take on the Provencal-farmhouse style. White shutters, sorbet-coloured textiles and panelled walls were elegant and unfussy.

That evening we explored Mougins as many have done before us. Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Christian Dior are just a few of the artistic big-hitters who have lived here at some point during their lives – enchanted no doubt by the arty vibe and culinary heritage the village is known for and the picture-perfect countryside it sits in, the turquoise waters of the French Riviera a permanent backdrop.

Booked up weeks in advance, we told ourselves that it would have been predictable anyway to eat at the celebrated La Place de Mougins (www.laplacedemougins.fr), with its walls lined with masterpieces by Matisse, Warhol and Picasso. Instead we chose the charming Aux Trois Etages (tel: 04 93 90 01 46), a crooked house of a restaurant, and ate our moules on a wrought-iron balcony, watching the evening passers-by below us.

The next day, we got up when we wanted, ate breakfast in silence (a luxury) and then ventured to the medieval town of Saint Paul de Vence, just a 20-minute drive away. We popped into little galleries, ate pistachio ice cream under an olive tree and I bought too many scented lavender bags from tiny boutiques. En route back to the hotel, we decided to make a detour to Grasse to see the historic Fragonard perfume museum, where I also took the opportunity to stock up on bottles of Bleu Riviera (www.fragonard.com). Then – because we could – we made a pit-stop in Cannes for window shopping with the glitterati.

That night, our last, we dined at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Le Candille restaurant overlooking the foothills of the Alps, our everyday stresses long forgotten and I realized that I’d left it too long since the last time I had done something for the first time.


The new Booking.com App has over 600,000 properties in more than 70,000 destinations and automatically generates hotel suggestions based on your location and individual preferences.

Simply Healing Retreat: Get your mojo back

Get your mojo back at a peaceful detox retreat hidden away in West Sussex’s idyllic countryside

IMG_7966 House 2 South Downs View

Prior to my checking into this unique West Sussex country house, which doubles up as one of the UK’s leading detox retreats, the offer of a liquid lunch meant only one thing (and it didn’t involve vegetables of any kind). Being Italian, a weekend away ordinarily brings the promise of good food not the absence of it and so on checking in to the five-day ‘juice cleanse’ programme, I was wondering why I had thought this was such a good idea.

Treatment Room 2 Treatment Room

Run by renowned detox expert and healer Vivien Kay, the programme is juice-only (yes, that’s right, no solid food is served here) aimed at the stressed, overweight and world-weary. Tick, tick, tick. It is the place to banish the bloat.

Blue Room 2 Gold Bedroom

Having run a successful centre in California, Vivien returned to the UK in 2000 to launch Simply Healing – the first of its kind in the country – and hasn’t looked back since, winning many awards and accolades over the years. In short, Viv’s number is the one that A-listers and beauty editors (wanting to shed a few pounds) have on speed dial.

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Her hands-on approach is what appeals – while everyone (celebs, stressed out executives and time-poor entrepreneurs alike) are unified by sharing the same juices taken at a dining table interspersed throughout the day, she nonetheless offers a bespoke take on detoxing.


“Everyone is here for their own reasons,” she says. “So one rule does not work for all. It’s often not the weight loss that’s the problem but some underlying cause. My job is to get to the root of that.” Consequently after check-in you have a one-on-one consultation appointment with Vivien or Kate, an expert in meditation, during which any so-called underlying problems – be it physical or emotional – are gently unravelled.

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Your stay is then tailored to your needs with bespoke treatments, such as colon massage, reflexology, REN facials and aroma algae wraps, breaking up the day. While it’s not for the faint-hearted – expect headaches, brace yourself for colonic hydrotherapy (‘an essential part of any detox”), and don’t be surprised to be hallucinating about fish and chips – it is surprisingly do-able and best of all utterly relaxing.

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Open fires tempt you to lounge by them with a good book and ‘me-time’ is actively encouraged here. Viv and her team are also experts at checking in with guests with words of encouragement when they most need it. Best of all, though, are the serene surroundings. The creaking 18th century manor house oozes charm and character (ask for the blue room which is uber stylish) and the beautiful South Downs countryside makes for a dreamy setting. Make sure you join the early morning and twilight guided walks – the blast of fresh air is a real tonic and gives a focus to each day.

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For those used to being on the go, this is a place to come to unwind, rest and re-energise. Evening mediation sessions and nutrition talks are a great way to interact with others – although not compulsory – and the evening hearty soup by candlelight is a welcome end to the day. I returned home six pounds lighter and with a spring in my step (although that could have been to help me get to the fridge a bit quicker!)

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A country house retreat that gives you back the time to listen to your body again. You’ll return home bursting with energy.



The Simply Healing Essential Juice Detox Plan costs from £1,300 for five days.

Simply Healing, Alliblaster House, Hill House Lane, Rudgwick, West Sussex RH12 3BD. Tel. (01403 822117; simplyhealingcentre.com).


Keep the home fires burning

Whether it is a traditional surround or an ultra-modern wood-burner, the fireplace is the ultimate symbol of home. From the crackling of a real fire to the flickering light conjured up by the latest modern models, there’s something undeniably enticing about curling up next to a fireplace, no matter what the style. Here’s how to achieve the art of cosiness.


Ever since primeval times, fire and man have been intrinsically linked. While most of us don’t rely on a fire for warmth or cooking any more, it is still an important and desirable part of a home. Whether you love a characterful period fireplace or you lust after a contemporary installation – a fire oozes character and is a crucial architectural focal point to any living space.

Cambridge Stoves

Cambridge Stoves

Ben Pellegrini, director of Cambridge Stoves, experts in wood burning stoves, comments: “Man has an obsession with fire. There’s a Danish concept – called Hygge – which is said to make homes nicer and people happier. It roughly translates as ‘cosiness’ and having a fire in your home is part of this concept. People also like the thought of having a fire – particularly wood burners – in their home because they are often energy efficient. Burley stoves are among the most efficient – they have a contemporary look, so they fit into the style of modern houses. Dean Stoves – such as the Dartmoor – are also popular. This model has a huge glass window so you can see a lot of the flame and it is also quite slim making it a practical choice as it fits into most existing hearths. We have something available to fit everyone’s needs.”



A must for older properties is an impressive, traditional surround that speaks volumes of cosy winter evenings spent indoors. If your property no longer contains its original fireplace, than seek out a classic style from Haddonstone, which stocks a selection of cast stone fireplaces, mantels and chimney-piece surrounds, ­from simple and stylish to ornate and decorative in design.



By contrast, a wood-burner can also add oodles of character. Experts in modern wood-burners, Morsø UK offers a selection of elegant styles, such as the just-launched Insert Stove Collection. Managing director, Declan Walsh, says: “It’s never been more popular or more fashionable to install a wood-burning stove into your home. The trend now has changed from traditional stoves to contemporary, free-standing stoves that are a focal point in the room.”

Go Modern

Go Modern

Taking the concept of home fires a step further is Go Modern which stocks a range of minimalist bioethenal fires from select Danish brands. The high-end designs – from Cocoon and Decoflame, for instance – feature flue-less designs, that don’t require a connection to gas or electricity.  Bioethanol is a green fuel from sustainable sources, emitting no smoke, soot or smell, and generating only very small amounts of carbon dioxide and water vapour when burning.  Simple in style, they provide contemporary spaces with a superb focal point and are simple to operate, providing instant heat.


Cade Wood Burning Stoves

Cambridge-based Cade Wood Burning Stove Installations supplies and fits stoves throughout Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas. Director Nigel Cade comments: “We predominantly install Convection Swedish Contura type stoves, which are known for their excellent heat distribution, compared to the more usual radiant heat appliances. Considerable savings can be made on heating costs with one of these models. Environmentally friendly, burning wood in a stove produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as wood decomposing in the forest. In other words, choose a high efficiency stove, burn fuel sourced from sustainable managed woodlands and you are contributing to a cleaner environment.”

He continues: “Inexpensive, sustainable wood is generally a lot cheaper than the volatile fossil fuels of oil, coal or electricity, especially if you can get a free source of wood from your garden or friendly joinery workshop! Aesthetically attractive, your wood burner can become a stylish traditional or contemporary focal point to the room, allowing the seductive power of the dancing flame to enhance the overall comfort level of your home.”

For more options on environmentally friendly options, Eco Installer based in Ely, can also help. It has a range of wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves on display in its showroom and can supply and install premium space heating stoves, as well as stoves which can contribute to the central heating and hot water through either a thermal store or a heating innovations panel.

“Multi-fuel stoves burn wood, wood pellets and coal and can be used for cooking, and for heating your home,” Eco Installer advises. “Multi-fuel stoves are becoming increasingly popular as a focal point in the home and are a cost-effective alternative for space and water heating using renewable or fossil-fuel heat sources. Burning wood from a renewable source is an easy way of helping to protect the environment, not just for ourselves but for future generations. Nothing is more warming than curling up snug in front of your wood burner.”




Once you have chosen your style of burner or fireplace, then the next step is to create a cosy tableau around it for the perfect inviting space. Essential to the look and feel of your fireside is, of course, the seating that you choose.

Black Orchid

Black Orchid

Black Orchid London’s stylish button-back and wing chairs give a traditional and refined feel, while Raft Furniture’s leather Havana armchair is perfect for the classic gentlemen’s club style.

Raft Furniture

Raft Furniture

For showstopper pieces – such as the mustard-yellow Tempo leather sofa and the dove-grey suede Marlene fireside chair – visit Natuzzi Italia. Amy Howard, marketing manager, gives her style advice: “For a truly cosy atmosphere, plan the space from the floor upwards. A soft, deep rug adds welcome texture to a room as well as having the practical benefit of taking the chill off the floor. Seating should be chosen with care. A lot of time is spent curled up at home on a chilly evening, so it’s wise to choose a comfortable and practical option, but this doesn’t have to mean compromising on style.”



“A sofa or armchair in deep rich shades such as red or mustard yellow can offer the perfect marriage of comfort and panache. Accessories are key for adding to the opulent feel of a space; when creating an inviting atmosphere, more is more. Decorative vases and ornamental pieces bring an instant luxe look. Finishing with a home fragrance boosts the sensory experience, while displaying the bottle adds to the eclectic feel.”



Metro Leaf Chair (RS)

Meanwhile Rick Petini, creative director and managing director of British sofa company Delcor, says for maximum impact, it’s all about the statement sofa. “Substantial pieces like seating carry bold patterns with aplomb and can be a great way to unify a decorating scheme” he says. “Don’t be afraid of a pattern clash. Spots and stripes or mismatched florals give a contemporary feel to a room and work well provided the overall colour scheme is kept simple and complementary.”

Eames chair at Wharfside

Eames chair at Wharfside

Finally, if budget allows then choose a design classic, such as the Eames Lounge Chair available at Wharfside, or Ercol’s Nest Sofa by Paola Navone, that will never go out of fashion.



Ercol’s creative director Rachel Galbraith adds: “Everyone can imagine the pleasure of settling down in a favourite chair by a warm fire on a chilly night or finding a cosy corner with good light to read a book or paper. At Ercol we understand the need for chairs, which are versatile, stylish and, above, all, comfortable whether you are relaxing in the evening or working by day. The Marino Chair is a perfect example of a chair which offers all those ingredients, has the classic style which works with all other pieces and is beautifully made so that it will last for generations.”



Like any interiors scheme, accessorising is key. Layer sofas and chairs with soft pillows and faux-fur throws for maximum comfort factor.

Ragged Rose

Ragged Rose

Belinda Gold Velvet Throw

Ragged Rose’s jewel-coloured velvet cushions and blankets give a feminine touch, while Dash & Albert Europe’s muted linen prints are ideal for a mix and match effect. Bright prints, such as shown on the cushions at Hibou Home and Aspace, are perfect for an otherwise neutral room – bringing interest and colour to a pared-back scheme.

Dash and Albert

Dash and Albert

Hibou Home

Hibou Home



For chic stripes, subtle patterns and soft sheepskin finishes, stock up at Scandi Living. “A neutral colour palette is the trademark of Scandinavian interiors,” says managing director Linda Swarbrick. “I love the striking looks that can be achieved with such simplicity. Grey is so elegant and can be amazingly warm and inviting when used in the correct way.”

Scandi Living

Scandi Living


Pastel Lane

Pastel Lane

Bronze Lantern Small

From rustic log baskets to ceramic lanterns, there’s a myriad ways of dressing your mantelpiece and hearth. Pastel Lane is a one-stop shop for tea light holders, antique-style lanterns and lace-effect candle pots, which can all combine for a charming effect.

Out There Interiors

Out There Interiors

Out There Interiors - Furi faux fur throw, £110

For a range of modern candle-holders, copper storage baskets and mirrors, checkout home emporium Out There Interiors. Founder Jenny Hurren says: “Nothing says winter like a crackling, cosy fire. For the ultimate in relaxed settings, place an oversized armchair next to the fireplace and layer up with chunky knitted throws, indulgent faux fur cushions, and rich autumnal colourways. Add opulent metallic tones for a modern touch. My top tip is to add cinnamon sticks or your favourite essential oils to the kindling to fill the home with the most wonderful scents.”

Gisela Graham

Gisela Graham

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Giving her personal take on creating ambience is home-accessories queen Gisela Graham: “In winter, in my London house, the sitting room fire is nearly always lit. It is infinitely nicer and more comforting than central heating – my cats like it, too! I always keep logs in a basket beside the fire ready to use, which look lovely and the smell reminds me of winters in Germany. And, of course, there are always lots of candles.”




Whether you opt for sleek wood or textural carpet, the flooring you choose is fundamental to bringing an intimate fireside look together.


Kersaint Cobb

Kersaint Cobb

Kersaint Cobb is renowned for its sisal, jute and coir carpets. Its new Caribbean Day’s 100% wool collection is based on natural and earthy tones and complements neutral palettes.



Wood flooring, such as the new parquet wood collection from Bisazza, on the other hand, adds a sophisticated touch. Warm it up with a statement rug, like the new vibrant Ted Baker collection available at Modern Rugs.

Ted Baker at Modern Rugs

Ted Baker at Modern Rugs

Ben Dale, managing director, gives his insight: “As a general rule, when choosing a rug, go for the largest size and the best quality rug you can afford. Avoid ‘the floating rug’ look in which you have a small rug in the middle of the room touching no furniture. As well as adding colour or pattern, a good rug will also create an area to bring all of your furniture together, so it should always reach or go under furniture. A rug is a good way to add a pop of colour to a room.”


Urbane Living

Urbane Living

For a subtle effect, Urbane Living has a range of glamourous pieces, such as its Fading World Blue Night Rug and Vanilla Dream. Managing director Adam Robertson, comments: “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. Area rugs are a great way to finish a room as they help to bring colours and style together whilst 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.  Sumptuous deep piles will add a sense of luxury in areas such as the living room.”

Barker and Barker

Barker and Barker

Barker & Barker’s bright graphic patterns and deep pile rugs, will give the wow factor to any fireside. Janet Dixon, chief designer, suggests choosing a hand-knotted rug for its longeavity and says that planning your whole room in advance is key. “When choosing a rug for the home, think about how you want to use it.  Is it going to make a statement piece or does it need to blend into the space to create a more relaxed atmosphere?” she says.  “Whatever you decide make sure you absolutely love the colour and design.  Neutral colours will make a space feel more relaxed, while vibrant colours will create more of a focal point.“



Lighting is, of course, central to creating the right atmosphere for the ultimate comfortable fireside space. Add in variations, such as table lamps, pendants and wall lights, so you can create differing effects depending on the time of day or night.

Fritz Fryer

Fritz Fryer

Mason Jar Pendant Light

Simon Wallis-Smith, director of Fritz Fryer, agrees: “It’s important to have multiple layers of light in areas such as the living room, with the principle source being dimmable. This enables you to set the right mood for the room.”

J Adams

J Adams

Meanwhile the lighting collection from new brand J Adams & Co draws inspiration from England’s historic design archives. Box wall lights and lantern-style pieces are imbued with antique styling and age-old surface techniques, all sympathetically combined with the latest lighting technology to suit the modern home.

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Besselink and Jones


Flos Lighting

Flos Lighting

Quirky chandeliers, like those available at Besselink and Jones, and the overhanging Arco lamp at Flos, give immediate impact to a room, while stylish side lamps – check out the range available at Dar Lighting – are essential for evening reading.

Dar Lighting

Dar Lighting

Finally, make sure your colour palette is on-trend to create the perfect backdrop to your fireside. Combine dark and light shades and consider painting the chimney breast or alcoves either side of a fireplace in a bold, statement colour.

Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore

Helen Shaw, marketing director of paint specialist Benjamin Moore UK lends her expertise: “Paint has the power to change the feel of a room more than any other element. With fireplaces often being the focal point of the room, you can create a wonderful effect by using paint colour to accentuate the feature. For a subtle scheme, use a colour a few tones darker than your main wall colour. Sticking to muted, greyed off shades will help to keep the scheme feeling cosy and inviting. For a more adventurous pop of colour, select a complementary shade (complementary colours are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel, such as blue and green). The cleaner the colour, the more vibrant the effect will be – more muted shades will create a more subtle and sophisticated combination.”














Christmas Beauty Countdown: Glimmer Tattoos

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On the last day of my Christmas Countdown, I end with this shimmering body art kit by Glimmer. Temporary body art has been the big craze of the summer – seen on Alessandra Ambrosia, Aerin Lauder, Rita Ora and Beyonce – and it is just as perfect for the party season as it is on the fields of the big summer festivals.

For Christmas, Glimmer has teamed up with Melanie Sykes to produce the Gold by Melanie temporary tattoo kit, £13.99. Creatively directed and co-designed by the model and TV presenter, the set includes two sheets with designs inspired by jewelry, symbols and words that have a special meaning for her.

Included is a fishnet cuff or necklace, shoal of fish, stars, drops and chains. There’s a star armband, necklace with star pendants, arrows, swallows, mandala sun, feathers and hearts.

Hi Res WEB Melanie Front

Easy to apply, you simply clean the area of the skin where you want to place the tattoo then cut the design that you wish to apply. Then remove the transparent film, place the tattoo onto the skin (design on the skin), damp the  white transfer sheet with a wet sponge or cloth, wait 20 secs and slowly remove the sheet, done!

Ideal to pop under the tree or tuck into a stocking, the metallic jewellery tattoos (which embody Melanie’s elegant yet rock chic style) will give a touch of festive sparkle, like real jewellery but at a fraction of the cost. Sparkling lovelies.


Just a note to wish you all a Merry Christmas and thanks for following!