A weekend break in: Rye, England

You may have heard of Rye, England. If you haven’t, chances are you’ve seen the instafamous sloped cobblestone street, home to the Mermaid Inn. Only 70 minutes from London by train, we decided this storybook medieval village was the perfect weekend break and set off to explore.

Setting off from St Pancras station, we watched the city turn into fields and within 45 minutes we were properly in the countryside.

We made a little stop on the way at Ashford International, which is where you would normally transfer to a local train to get to Rye, but instead we made a special stop for our steam train enthusiasts. We hired a taxi to take us to Tenterden (about 20 minutes away) for a ride on a vintage steam train.

The Kent & East Sussex railway is a Victorian era train, and as soon as we stepped inside, we were transported back to a bygone era. We sat in our own gorgeously upholstered cabin with the windows down, heads out, for better or for worse.

The 10 mile ride took us on meandering ride across farm fields, passing cows and sheep, and ending at the Bodiam Castle.

Your train ticket allows you to disembark the train to explore and visit the castle, but we were short on time, so we took the train back to Tenterden, and continued on our journey to Rye.

Rye is a small town in East Sussex, known for its medieval half-timbered houses and an abundance of English village charm. You could probably walk the length of the town in 15 minutes, but within the town centre, there is plenty to explore in one weekend.

We walked 5 minutes from the train station to our hotel, the Rye Lodge Hotel, and lucky us we reserved the penthouse family apartment complete with a kitchen and living room, a perfect landing pad for our family.

The sun had started to set, so tucked in for the night, but not before taking a swim in the hotel’s pretty swimming pool.

Waking up in the morning, we had views of the sea from our hotel room, and decided it would be a great day to walk to the seaside.With our bearings now set, we ventured out for our first day in Rye.

We started off strong, discovering the hot chocolate shop (hailed by some as the best hot chocolate in the world), Knoops.

At Knoops, it’s a hot chocolate lovers paradise. Choose your type of chocolate – ranging from milky 34% to super dark 99%, and choose from a variety of spices and herbs including cardamom, cinnamon, or lavender. Of course they have a variety of milks, too. The options are endless, which only kept us coming back for more.

(Also, THIS JUST IN – a quick peek at the Knoops website informed me that they are opening a new store this month in Clapham (South London). You know where to find me now.)

With hot chocolates in hand, we walked across town to quickly pick up some snacks from Rye Delicatessen, and admiring the pretty sights along the way.

Then we set off for the 3 mile walk to Camber Sands Beach.

It was a slow walk with the children, but many cows, horses, and wooden gates later, we arrived at the rolling sand dunes of Camber Sands. I’ve grown to appreciate the pebbly beaches that are typical of English beaches, but I was so happy to see the wide sandy beaches here.

The children took turns chasing each other around the sand dunes, and plenty of people were out taking walks on the beach, even on the chilly winter day.

The next morning we woke up early, ready to get a start on the day before we had to return to London. Downstairs to the dining room, the hotel served a lovely cooked breakfast and the the most lush yogurt/fruit/patisserie offerings. I couldn’t stop admiring the interiors of the hotel, too, and only wished we’d had more time for an afternoon tea so I could sit in this gorgeous room.

But, with our limited time remaining, we went for a walk around the town. A quick stop by Knoops for another hot chocolate, we were ready to explore. We walked the winding streets to the 12th century town church, St. Mary’s. Visitors can climb the staircase to the top of the church for views over the town. Don’t miss this pretty pink house right next to the church.

So many cute streets and shopfronts to explore in Rye.

Soon it was time for lunch. We booked ourselves in at The Mermaid Inn for their Sunday lunch. Imagine eating a meal in this gorgeous 700 year old building! Wonky everything, but the food was spot on.

The food was incredible, the yorkshire puddings perfectly puffed, potatoes roasted as they should be, and lashings of gravy to top it off. We were too busy eating to take photos, but I did manage a photo of the prettiest dessert.

With our bellies full and many memories locked away, it was time to return to London. Thankfully, this won’t be the last time – I can think of many reasons to return. Wisteria season. Summer beaches. Knoops hot chocolate. The list goes on!

A few recommendations:

Hotel:

The Rye Lodge Hotel is a small independent hotel with lovely service, dining options, and a small swimming pool and sauna. We loved our stay in the penthouse suite with the best views in Rye.

Eat:

Sunday lunch at the Mermaid Inn is a must. The cozy dining room is the perfect setting to tuck into the seasonal, local menu.

The Fig is a cool little cafe with a menu focused on fresh local ingredients. Peruvian corn cakes with avocado, smoothie bowls, french toast, to name a few. Loved the modern touches in this cafe.

Stop by the Rye Delicatessen for your foodie needs – from local cheeses and jams and salads to speciality hard-to-find items. Great place to fill the hamper for a picnic.

Afternoon tea at The Cobbles Tea Room is a must. Eat some scones and don’t forget to gram it.

Hot chocolate at Knoops. Don’t dare skip it, such a treat!

Do:

Visit Camber Sands to walk the sand dunes, explore nature trails, kite surfing, or enjoy a day at the beach.

Explore the 12th century church, St. Mary’s and The Tiny Bookstore in Church Square.

Walk around the cobblestone streets, don’t miss Mermaid Hill for that insta-shot.

Five things to do on a day out in Notting Hill

Ahh, the gorgeous Notting Hill. Home to the famous Portobello Road…or maybe you know it from the movie with That Blue Door and Hugh Grants floppy hair…this colorful neighborhood has a feel all its own. A day in Notting Hill is always a good one, and is never quite enough! Here’s my list of the top 5 things to do for out a day out.

1. Portobello Road

Portobello road is iconic. I love an early Saturday spent browsing the stands, shops, and picking up a special little treasure for my kids (or myself, ha!). Some of my favorite shops to visit are Alice’s at the top end of Portobello (the antique shop made famous in Paddington as Gruber’s), Rough Trade – a cool record shop, and just browing the stalls filled to the brim with art, antique china, vintage toys, you name it they sell it.

You’ll no doubt have seen the colorful houses that line this street, and feel free to take photos but remember to respect the residents’ privacy, as some have grown weary of people standing on their steps. I really need to share my thoughts on this in a separate post, which I plan to do once I’ve had some time to sort it out!

2. Cafe Hop: Where to Eat

You’re going to need some food for all that walking you’ll be doing. My favorite places for breakfast/brunch are Eggbreak, The Dayrooms Cafe, Farm Girl (featuring THAT pink table), and Granger and Co.

For a snack, swing by Gails for a small cake or my favorite the maple pecan scone or a savory sandwich, or Ottolenghi for well, anything! Pedlars is great for vintage shopping, paper accessories, and they have delicious cakes and small salads/sandwiches.

For sweets, Biscuiteers have the most intricately decorated biscuits, Fabrique has life-changing Swedish style cinnamon or cardamom buns, and Hummingbird Bakery is cake heaven (my fave is the black bottom cupcake).

Grab dinner at the Electric Cinema, Taqueria, or The Chipping Forecast.

3. Shop till you drop

Westbourne Grove has lovely shops, from the newly opened French clothier, Sezane to the more established British brands like Paul Smith, Toast, and Jigsaw. Children’s shopping is great, too. My favorite stops are La Coqueta, BonTon, and Petit Bateau. For something special, Caramel Baby carries gorgeous things from Liberty print onesies to velvet dungarees – a total eye candy shop for me.

4. Colorful Houses

You know I can’t resist a colorful Notting Hill house! You can find houses in every color of the rainbow in this quirky neighborhood, and trust me, I do! I’m working on putting together a guide for those interested in visiting and seeing all these inspiring colorful houses. But a simple walk around the streets just off Portobello Road will take you to some lovely colorful streets.

5. Explore the hidden mews

Notting Hill is known for its gorgeous multi-million-pound mews homes, which were originally built as horse stables. Now, these charming houses are some of the more desirable property in London!

It doesn’t get more charming than St. Luke’s mews, home to the Love Actually pink house and other breathtakingly beautiful houses. Don’t be afraid to explore, but do be sure to respect the privacy of residents. Mews homes don’t typically have gardens, and homeowners make up for it with lavish gardens, including wisteria and jasmine vines, roses, potted trees, and more. It’s really something to see in person, so don’t miss the mews.

London in Bloom: Five Best Places to See Cherry Blossom

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Planning a trip to London? I can’t think of a prettier time to visit when the cherry blossoms are out in bloom. It’s no wonder it’s my favorite time of year in London.

So, when can you see cherry blossoms and where should you go to get the best shots of these lovely pink blooms? Here’s my guide.

London has several common varieties of cherry blossom, with the earliest blooming in mid-February.

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If you can believe it, I think this may be one of most famous trees on instagram! It might have something to do with the gorgeous pink door framed by the blossom. This house is instagram gold anyway, but when this tree is in bloom, it is literally swarmed by people wanting a photograph! You can find it on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. I snapped this photo last year on February 12.

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I love this instafamous cherry tree (yes, trees really are instafamous, i know, isn’t life grand!) in South Kensington.  It always blooms mid-late February, and can be found just off Thurloe Square.

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This tree is one of my favorites in London! It’s a different variety to the other types you typically find around London, but I adore it’s gorgeous delicate flowers, and the color pop in the colder winter months. You can find this one in Holland Park, close to St. James Gardens, and it blooms end of Feb/early March.

The fluffier variety of cherry blossom bloom in mid-April, and do they ever stop people in their tracks!

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They are so pretty, like little pink popcorn blossoms dotting the city. It’s my absolute favorite thing to see.

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A few trees can be found around Hillgate Place in Notting Hill, and the famous blossoms near St. Pauls Cathedral that perfectly frame the famous blue dome. Walking around some of my favorite colorful neighborhoods (Notting Hill, Chelsea, Holland Park), you’ll find some gorgeous blossoming trees.

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Of course, all blooming seasons are dependent on the weather, but if you can catch the elusive cherry blossom season, you’ll be glad you did!

Paris patisserie crawl: The highlights

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When my friend, Sara, invited me to a one day trip to Paris with the sole purpose of eating desserts, I booked my Eurostar tickets before even checking to make sure someone could watch my kids. Sara is a formally trained patisserie chef, and knows her way around the vast city of Paris with a patisserie on every corner.

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We hopped on the 8am train from St Pancras, arriving at Gare du Nord just in time for the opening of the famous patisserie, La Pâtisserie du Meurice from the Worlds Best Pastry Chef, Cedric Grolet. Upon making final preparations to open the stunning shop, the staff opened their doors and each staff member greeted us all with a handshake. It was completely adorable and also lovely to see how much pride they put into their work. We tried one of everything, and I suggest you do the same. My favorites were a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie and an “apple” with a savory apple compote inside. Directly across the street is the Jardin de Tulleries, with benches perfect for digging into the boxes and boxes of patisserie you just purchased.

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A quick 2 minute walk away is the delightful Angelina Cafe, home to the famous thick and rich European hot chocolate. I had missed this one on previous trips, so I was happy to finally try it. IT WAS ALL I WANTED IT TO BE AND MORE. The hot chocolate is perfect. I made off with a few souveniers for the little ones at home (including some incredible caramels).

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Next, we took an uber to Pierre Hermes on Rue Bonapart and I missed out on the millefuelle because I’m an idiot, but Sara’s looked amazing. Also, pistachio chocolate croissants. I decided on a very good strawberry chocolate tart, but still have millefuelle regrets – and yes, that is apparently a thing.

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At this point, I’m beginning to feel my stomach turning on me. Too much sugar. Time to take a break. We walk to a cafe selling something I hadn’t tried before, Praluline – a praline filled brioche – from the cafe, Pralus.

Time for a quick uber ride across town to the 10th, for a walk beside the gorgeous Canal St Martin. If I ever live in Paris, I’m headed straight for the 10th. We stopped into Patisserie Yann Couvreur, home of some highly delicious and instagrammable patisserie. Raspberry and lemon tarts make their way into my hands and once again I miss the millefuelle. Only 50 are made daily. *Le sigh* *C’est la vie*

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From here, I swing by the Bensimon shop to pick up a couple pairs of summer shoes, then we walk to the Gare Du Nord. Home by 9pm, bearing the fruits of our labors for my nice husband who “worked from home” with the kids.

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If you’ve been following me on instagram, you know that I recently took another trip with friends, where we took the earliest Eurostar out of London and the latest train back. We were able to add on lunch at L’as du Fallafel and breakfast at a favorite, Du Pain et des Idees for the chocolate pistachio snail pastry. Keep an eye out for cheap tickets – Eurostar releases £50 return tickets every season.

London is Pink’s Guide to Holland Park

One of my absolute favorite neighborhoods to get lost in is Holland Park.

Holland Park is the genteel, quieter neighbor of the wild and colorful Notting Hill. It’s like the older sister who grew up, settled down and decided to buy a few nice things. But, even though older, she’s not afraid to show the fun side. Let me walk you through some of my favorite landmarks of this lovely neighborhood.

I start my walk from Holland Park tube, walk down the hill and take a right onto Portland Street. Lined with colorful doors, and one of the London is Pink landmark doors, the Hill & Friends pink googley eyed door.Holland Park door HIll and Friends

You will approach a courtyard with some lovely shops at Clarendon Cross. Don’t miss The Cross and Summerill & Bishop – both lovely and gorgeous.

Head down Penzance Place for a glimpse of another London is Pink landmark, the tall pink house.

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Walk back towards Holland Park high street on Princedale Road. I always swing by Daunt Books for a quick peek at their books and to pick up another tote bag, because you can never have too many tote bags. Melt Chocolates is a great place for a hot chocolate or cheeky chocolates, and I love Hop Like a Bunny  – a gorgeous children’s lifestyle shop.

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Next up, Holland Park mews is a great place to take some photos, especially during wisteria season. The Beckhams house is a stones throw away, and I’ve even run into Mr. Beckham himself at the local cafe, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re into football stars!

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Take a walk through the Holland Park to admire the peacocks, and if you’re in the mood for a tour of a beautiful historic home, I can’t get enough of the Leighton House Museum. The recently opened Design Museum is also a great place to explore on a rainy day, and the gift shop is one of the best in London.

You’ll be in Kensington now, but I can’t end this post without a mention of my favorite local pizza place: Pizzicotto. Get the margherita DOP, and thank me later!

 

Southern Spain: 6 reasons why it’s the perfect February holiday

IMG_9009If you’re looking to avoid sweltering heat and crowds, here are six reasons why you should consider southern Spain in February (February half term holiday, anyone?).

  1. Off-season = Lower costs and easier to book. We had a lovely stay in both of our airbnb’s in old town Marbella and in Seville (right across from this gorgeous hotel). Costs were outrageous (sub £100/night for 3 bedroom properties!) and we booked just a month ahead of time without worry.IMG_9144IMG_9636IMG_9082
  2. Empty beaches. Marbella’s crowded beaches were all but empty. With temperatures reaching 24 C a few days in Marbella, it was warm enough to slip on our swimming suits and play on the beach. Sure, it may have only been us and a few other Brits enjoying the warm (to us!) weather, which made it all the more special. It is the Costa del Sol, after all!IMG_9022IMG_9027
  3. Shorter queues for all the good cafes and restaurants. We never waited long to get into some of Seville’s hot spots, including our favorite tapas place, La Brunilda, and my favorite place for quick tapas and churros con chocolate, the buzzy Bar El Comercio.IMG_9132
  4. People-free photos of El Alcazar and Plaza de Espana. IMG_0109
  5. Perfect season for exploring. For this American-turned-Brit, I’ve grown accustomed to the cooler temperatures and me (and my kids + husband!) cannot handle the heat anymore. Anything over 27 and we all wither like a sad little flower. Daily temperatures from 20-25 left us happy on our city walks. Enough Vitamin D for it to feel like a sunny break, without the heat exhaustion. Our drive from the coast to Seville took us past mountains and valleys dotted with fluffy blossoming almond trees and beautiful craggy olive trees.IMG_9242IMG_9637
  6. February or not, you can’t miss Ronda, located about an hour up a very windy mountain road towards Seville. Even though it is higher in the mountains, we didn’t come across any snow (though we did see snow in Grenada from our airplane). The mountain air was refreshing, and the views of the bridge are SO incredible. We only stayed for a couple hours, but it was one of the most memorable parts of our trip. IMG_9145IMG_9147

Top tips: Definitely rent a car for Southern Spain if you can. We’re already thinking of returning to visit Nerja, and staying among the olive groves (I have my eye on this stunning place). Also some touristy spots, like the Alhambra in Grenada, book up weeks or months in advance. We couldn’t get tickets for our trip, but we’ll make it there next time!