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.

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.

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!

A weekend in Amsterdam

If you’re looking for a gorgeous city break to spend an Autumn weekend, you have to consider Amsterdam. But really, what’s to consider? The food is amazing, the architecture is beyond stunning, the canals and boats are so charming, and did I mention the food? Top tip: don’t miss the freshly made stroopwafel.

We loved walking over Amsterdam’s bridges and admiring the boats and flowers everywhere. Just look at these canals.
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So many of the houses are crooked because of the foundation sinking over the many years since being built. Charming, don’t you think?
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We stayed in Hotel the Exchange, a pretty little hotel with an incredible central location – just a quick walk from the train station, and right across from the canal boat tours.
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All the rooms are designed by recent graduates from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, and we loved the pink touches throughout this room. I brought my Tales of Thread pink pyjamas to match the room, and was quite the happy girl all weekend!

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Love the details on these pyjamas. That tangerine piping! Tales of Thread works with female-owned/managed factories paying above-market wages and provide training for vulnerable women. Ethical fashion is something I really made a priority for 2017, and plan to continue in 2018.

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We packed a lot into two short days (especially with two small children!), which meant a lot of walking and admiring the pretty Amsterdam houses in between eating. I even found a pink house!

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We stumbled upon this adorable floor-to-ceiling pink shop. I wanted one of everything. So I did the only thing that can be done in these situations: walk away slowly and regret not buying just one single item to remember this precious shop. Next time!

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We ate so many frites. So many waffles. So many stroopwafels. I don’t even remember much else, it’s all a haze of sugar and grease. I was SO happy.

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Until next time, Amsterdam! Thanks for treating us so well! And thank you to Hotel the Exchange for having us, it was the loveliest weekend.

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