Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Essential 10 Piece Capsule Wardrobe for a Spring City Break

Packing for a city break can be tricky because you’re likely to be doing so many different things from sightseeing to smart dinners.  And you may only have one small piece of luggage.

I am famous for over packing, and having just spent three weeks away, mostly in the city, which included dinners, concerts, long walks I definitely took too much but I created a list of the items I wore frequently, that did double (or triple or quadruple duty) so that I can get it right next time.

The most important thoughts are:
Take pieces that work with others
Leave out linen  and preferably pack things that won’t crush
Take things you can wash if necessary
Curate the shoes – it’s so easy to pack too many

Geox Jaysen Sneakers
Geox Jaysen sneakers are the most comfortable sneakers I’ve ever put on my feet, you can walk miles and miles in them, they’re light to pack and you can even wear them in the gym as there’s loads of cushioning.  They come in metallics, glitter (autumn) and plain leather.  Don’t settle for less.

J Crew Leopard Print Low Heel PumpLow enough to walk comfortably round the Louvre in but chic enough to go with most things and even take you out to dinner if you have to walk.  These J Crew leopard print pumps are perfect for travelling.

Geox Mauvelle Sandal
High heel neutral platform sandals that again will work with everything and again that you can walk in, because Geox uses their own cushioned insole and rubber sole to make walking as comfortable as it can be.  And yes, my sneakers were Geox on my last trip, as were my heels, which allowed me to walk up eight flights of stairs to the balcony of the opera.  Which is saying something.  Having painful feet when you’re away is not only the worst at the time, but can spoil the days ahead.
DKNY top handle satchel with removable cross body strapI always want a bag that can look smart, I can use during the day and evening and that also can be carried hands free, and this top handle satchel by DKNY does both perfectly.  It also has a zip top which is perfect for city travelling where people can all too easily dip their hands into your huge tote. 

Madewell High Rise Skinny JeansOne pair of high rise skinny jeans with stretch in them will work for travelling, sightseeing and depending what you pair them with, out for a casual dinner.

Max Mara stretch cotton cigarette pantYou can wear a pair of smart cigarette pants everywhere.  These by Max Mara are a blend of cotton and stretch – they’ll look great with heels and flats.
Lauren Ralph Lauren navy jersey ruched side dressOne Lauren Ralph Lauren ruched jersey dress will take you everywhere from a smart dinner to a gala depending on your accessories.  And you can wash them as well.  Just make sure that yours is the most flattering length for you.  Too long and you’ll look frumpy.  And they don’t crease either.  Ever.

LK Bennett cream cotton mix trimmed jacket - black alsoI’ve found that the most invaluable piece of clothing for the city is a jacket (preferably several).  Something that will go with everything again, and smarten up any look from jeans to a dress.  I love this jacket by LK Bennett which ticks all the boxes.  It also comes in black with a black trim. 

Karen Millen peplum hem knitted cardiganI always pack a black cardigan because it works on its own, over tshirts and tops, over a dress and over a crisp white shirt.  This peplum hem cardigan by Karen Millen is lovely and just that little bit different.  Bear in mind that this model is 5’ 10” tall. 

Lauren Ralph Lauren cap sleeved topJust in case it gets unexpectedly warm (as it just did in Paris) you need a top you can wear without anything over it.  This top by Lauren Ralph Lauren has cap sleeves and a flattering pleat in the front to hide that enormous lunch……

Add to these 10 pieces basic t-shirts and a white or striped shirt plus accessories such as scarves and jewellery plus a lightweight coat and you’re done….

Thursday, 13 April 2017

6 of the Best Eye Rescue Creams and Serums

Do you need a different cream or serum for your eyes and your face?  The answer from the experts is very definitely yes, because the skin under your eyes is thinner than that of your face and regular moisturisers may cause irritation. 

Taking that into account and because I am such a beauty product experimenter (and collector) anyway, I have narrowed down my favourite eye creams and serums to six – which let’s face it is quite enough….

clinique pep start eye creamI have to confess to being a bit suspicious of this bright orange ‘new kid on the block’ Pep-Start Eye Cream from Clinique although there are so products I love from the brand.  However, having bought this on impulse just before my recent trip I can highly recommend it.  Instantly refreshing it wakes up your eyes in a flash.  They say use it morning and evening.  I say keep one in your handbag for those moments during the day when you want a quick wake-up, not to mention after a long journey.  It’s reasonably priced as well.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Eye Rescue

There’s something about Charlotte Tilbury’s products and it isn’t just the marketing hype and gorgeous packaging.  Everything does exactly what it says on the tin.  This Magic Eye Rescue cream is one of the very best creams I’ve found for soothing, refreshing and tightening the eye area. It’s perfect for using morning and evening.

Dr Sebagh Eye Primer Lift

I’ve never found anything better for an instant lift – for example when you’re getting ready to go out in the evening, than Dr Sebagh’s Eye Primer Lift.  You can feel the results immediately.  Yes it’s expensive but a little goes a long way.  I take have this with me wherever I go.

Lierac Liftissime Yeux

I tried this Eye Lift Serum from Lierac just recently on a visit to Paris and I like the texture and the result.  It’s not quite as instantly tightening as the Dr Sebagh but it’s a worthy substitute for use on a daily basis.

Elemis Pro Collagen Eye Renewal Cream

Here’s one for the long term from award winning British brand Elemis which specialises in using natural ingredients to produce the highest quality products. Elemis Pro Collagen Eye Renewal Cream has a soft gel texture and works over time to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Clarins Extra Firming Eye Lift Serum

Finally another all time favourite, Clarins Extra Firming Eye Lift Serum.  This again doesn’t have quite the instantly tightening effect of Dr Sebagh’s Eye Primer Lift, but the fact that it is a bit more gentle may well suit some people.  I like them both.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Chocolate Truffle Cake, Brownies, Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Biscuit Cake - Recipes for Chocoholics

It doesn't have to be Easter to eat chocolate, we all know that, but Easter is probably the time when the most chocolate is consumed, so this seemed a good time to put all my family's favourite chocolate recipes together in one place.  I seem to have become the pudding chef by default in my kitchen as most of my family like to cook and do it extremely well, but they always ask me to produce something sweet, usually for a large number of people.

I've written about all of these chocolate recipes before, so I'm linking through to each one, with a little bit about each. 

Delia Smith's chocolate mousse - pictured above - this is most probably the quickest and easiest of the lot (although none of them are difficult.  I find mine always has lumps of chocolate in it which my grown up kids now insist on, if it's too smooth it isn't right.  Make tons of it, it'll keep in the fridge for a while and you can be sure it'll all go.

The Best Ever Chocolate Brownie Recipe - this is from the BBC's good food website and I've made it many times.  It freezes extremely well so you can make a load and keep them for when the need arises.  These ones don't have nuts in, which some say chocolate brownie recipes should include, but the white chocolate chunks are absolutely I'm told.  I serve this, if I'm doing it as a pud, with vanilla ice cream and strawberries.  Watch it disappear.

Delia Smith's chocolate truffle cake or torte - this is a wonderful dessert for a dinner party and again it freezes very well.  A little goes a long way.  It's good with cream as well, which may sound like over egging the pudding....if you know what I mean, but actually isn't.  Just don't serve anything other than a thin slice - they can always come back for more.

Finally A recipe literally fit for a Prince - a luxurious chocolate biscuit cake stuffed full of pistachios and soft dried figs.  I will say that when I haven't  had time to go shopping and have everything other than the nuts and figs I have used a dried fruit mix in place of the figs and walnuts or pecans instead of the pistachios.  You think anyone noticed?  I seriously don't think so.  It's another utterly delicious chocolate desert which everyone will love. 

Ingredients for chocolate lovers desserts to always keep on hand
Dark chocolate - I usually have some Bournville and some high quality chocolate such as Green and Blacks.
Milk chocolate - a couple of large bars for decoration and inclusion as necessary
White chocolate - ditto - always keep this on hand
Dark unsweetened cocoa powder - keep a large pot in your cupboard
Golden syrup - a large tin
Butter - both salted and unsalted
Liquid glucose - you can buy tubes of this from larger supermarkets and tubs of liquid glucose from Amazon.  I always keep this as sometimes it can be difficult to find.
Amaretti biscuits - get these from larger supermarkets and keep a packet hidden away or they'll be pinched.
Digestive biscuits - for the chocolate biscuit cake
Double Cream

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Revisited - Auberge de l’ill–A Little Bit of Heaven in the French Countryside–and the Hotel des Berges

Auberge de L'ill
The first time I visited Auberge de l’ill I was on my way from work Paris to Salzburg for the Easter Festival and was lucky enough to be invited to the Auberge de l’ill, which rests just south of Strasbourg in the sleepy town of Illhaeusern and is the creation of the renowned Haeberlin family. 

Restaurant Auberge de l'ill
This year's visit was on the way to another Easter Festival at Baden-Baden, Simon Rattle having de-camped from Salzburg to this spa town in Germany. There are easier ways to get to Baden Baden from Paris, but I promise you that a visit here is totally worth the effort.

Auberge de l'ill 4Awarded its 3rd Michelin star in 1967, this is a superb experience.  You can’t think of it as just a gastronomic meal, everything is perfect, from the ambiance and restaurant itself to the friendly and welcoming service.  Incredibly lucky with the weather this year we drove from Strasbourg to Illhaeusern on a cool but totally clear day.  You couldn’t have a much more idyllic setting, with both the restaurant and the hotel leading straight on to the river.  In the summer you can sit outside and have your drinks on the terrace.

Auberge de L'ill 3 I’m not of course a food critic, so I won’t wax too lyrical about what I had to eat other than to say that every bite was absolutely delicious.  What I can say is that whatever you choose you won’t be disappointed – this is one of the very best restaurants in France which lives up to its reputation in every way.  The meal goes on from one delicious course or treat to another, ending with perfect home-made (of course) chocolates that although you know you should resist you simply can’t.  There’s very little that can be resisted here.  Don’t bother to wear anything too tight girls – a little word of warning.

As you would expect the restaurant was full again, despite the fact that it is really out of the way, so if you decide you want to pay the Auberge de l’ill a visit make sure you book well in advance.  This time I stayed at the beautiful 5* Hotel des Berges attached to the restaurant by a short path and overlooking the river.  

Hotel des Berges from the restaurantHotel des Berges Hotel des Berges seating area

There are many places you can visit in France and have a good meal and stay somewhere locally – restaurants with room attached, hotels with great restaurants nearby, but very few where a 5* hotel has been built as an adjunct to the restaurant.  This one is worth visiting on its own merits (although you’d be hard put to visit without going to the restaurant) and has been very cleverly designed.  The furniture is very slightly quirky, every detail thought out, the beds seriously comfortable and the bathrooms filled with Hermes toiletries.

Hotel des Berges coffee by the river
Breakfast is another feast, brioche and croissants, fresh fruit salad, charcuterie, cheese, eggs, creme brulee (yes really) and whatever else you request.  And lest you think you’ll have eaten too much the night before to eat breakfast, forget about it…. something about the air, the place and being quite so beautifully indulged makes you want to sample everything.

Now they have added a spa to add to the Hotel des Berges – so you can eat breakfast, go to the spa,  a walk along the river, coffee on the riverside and then start all over again.  All in all this is an incredible treat and one well worth making the journey for.  Find a seriously special occasion and go.

Auberge de L'ill 2
Auberge de l’ill
2 Rue Collonges au Mont d'or  
68970 Illhaeusern, France
Tel: + 33 (0)3 89 71 89 00
Hotel des Berges
Tel. : +33 (0)3 89 71 87 87
Email :

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Eat Out in Paris and Europe for Less with The Fork App
Eating out is expensive, particularly in Europe, and if you've ever thought 'I'd really like to try..... but it costs too much' then install The Fork app and find out if the restaurant of your choice has an offer.

The Fork is a simple to use app - or website - where you can book almost any restaurant (not in the UK, note) and you can also search for restaurants offering discounts in the area you want to eat.  And there are loads of them.  From 20% off brunch to 50% off the a la carte menu at dinner The Fork will almost certainly have something on offer near you.

So you can search to find a great restaurant, or you can search by offers.  Another extremely good reason for using The Fork is that you will get the offer if you've booked through the app, and they'll check up afterwards to see if you a) received the offer and b) had to ask for the discount.

Last night I had dinner in an excellent restaurant near to the Etoile at Citrus Etoile.  I discovered the restaurant by chance, it was highly rated on both Google and Tripadvisor and was included in the Michelin Guide.  I then went and checked The Fork, to discover that they were offering 50% off the a la carte menu.  No reminder needed, 50% came off the bill.

This is all particularly good news bearing in mind the Euro/Pound exchange rate I'm sure you'll agree.  Now if we only had The Fork in the UK......

Saturday, 1 April 2017

12 of the Top Tech Gadgets and Essentials for Travel Addicts

Knowing which of your favourite tech gadgets to take with you when you're traveling can be tricky.  As we do more and more online we want to have everything with us, at least I do.  So I've tried to narrow it down to the items I always use wherever I travel to. 

Firstly when it comes to reading news, watching a TV show or looking at emails when you want something larger than your smartphone I don't think there's anything better than an iPad.  I am both and Apple and a Windows user as you'll see lower down and believe that I have the best of all worlds with an iPad and Windows Surface, which is what I'm using right now.   You don't have, of course, to have an independent keyboard for your iPad and I frequently don't take one with me, but to have a keyboard that also acts as a cover/case seems to me to be offering the best of all worlds.

As I'm one of those people who hates to have anything below a 50% charge on any device I take with me I'm always the one with the chargers, not to mention the ability to charge absolutely anything, anywhere be it plane, train, hotel room or Starbucks.  New on my list is the universal charger that'll charge any device from one small hub.  I find it particularly useful plugged into a single USB port and not so good when you want to charge more than one device at the same time but it will charge them all. 

I also never travel without a headphone splitter - it'll keep kids quiet so they can watch the same thing without having to fight over the iPad/laptop or the headphones and of course you can share what you're listening to....should you want to.
On to supremely portable laptops/tablets.  My No 1 here is Microsoft Surface Pro.  I have the 3 version.  I have a much larger HP Envy laptop for long trips away but the Surface is beautifully portable if you're moving about, and very fast.  Personally I don't like the keyboard smart cover that you can buy with it.  It looks good, but make sure you get a UK keyboard if that's what you're looking for, there are many with a US keyboard.

I found that the Tecknet mini full function keyboard and mouse worked excellently.  And my Surface/ charger and keyboard fit perfectly into the Belkin notepad bag.

Finally some tech accessories I wouldn't be without, my trusty portable charger which I charge up each night and drop into my handbag each day so that no matter how long I'm out for I never run out of charge (and nor do my fellow travelers), the case I keep all my charging cables, splitter and headphones in on the move - make sure you get one like this that you can see inside, and last but definitely not least a mini speaker so you can play your music wherever you are.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

3 of the Best French Pharmacy Beauty Products - Beauty for Less

Most of us have now heard about French Pharmacy beauty products, many of which offer exceptional performance for a price so much less than the major beauty brands that it sometimes seems a bit unreal.  But it's not.

What is difficult is to know what to buy, because there are so many brands, including Avene, Bioderma, Lierac, La Roche Posay and Filorga, and they all seem to offer a solution for everything.

My favourite for skincare has always been Lierac, which I was introduced to some time ago, and in particular - I know, I'm going off the main subject - their Mesolift Anti Fatigue moisturiser which is hard to find in the UK.

A recent addition to the French skincare stable which is now happily available in the UK from Escentual is Bioderma Sensibio H20 make-up removing wipes.  Try these and you'll probably never want to use another brand.  They take the day off and wake up your complexion with ease, and of course they're so much better than a bottle or tube of cleanser for travel.

Then here are a couple of new discoveries.  Unable to find the body scrub I usually buy in Paris, I've started to use Nuxe Body Melting Body Scrub.  This is made from 95% natural ingredients.  They say, 'blended with almond, orange flowers and botanical exfoliants'.  I say, another excellent product from the Nuxe range which does exactly what it says 'on the tin' and leaves you with seriously smooth skin. You can again order this from the UK from Look Fantastic.
Finally if you suffer from dry skin you're going to love this hard to find face and body lotion from Avene.  This is specifically designed for dry and sensitive skin (and little ones).  It's non sticky, fragrance free and one of the best body lotions I've found.  You can buy it in 200ml and 400ml from Cocooncentre who are happy to sent it to you in the UK for not much more than you'd pay for a UK store delivery.  At time of writing delivery is free if you spend £86.