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Films, London

BFI LFF 2017: The Boy Downstairs

The Boy Downstairs is one of many films I’ve seen at this year’s BFI London Film Festival that feels like a love letter to New York life and all its complications.

Director Sophie Brooks’ debut romantic comedy is a bittersweet journey through a relationship, chronicling its beginnings, demise and future possibilities through a series of perfectly-woven flashbacks.

Diana (Zosia Mamet) arrives back in New York from living in London and starts working in a bridal boutique while establishing her writing career.  She’s ambitious yet unsure of herself, with a few social eccentricities that are familiar to us millennial city girls.

With a little help from her friend Gabby (Diana Irvine), she manages to score an enviable apartment in a brownstone rented out by recently widowed Amy (Deirdre O’Connell).  The pair instantly connect, as Amy likes to surround herself with young, creative tenants and they develop a touching friendship.

Awaiting a furniture delivery on the front steps, Diana discovers that her downstairs neighbour is none other than her ex-boyfriend Ben (Matthew Shears), who she broke up with just before leaving for London.  He’s shocked and not exactly pleased to see her and to make matters worse, he’s dating Meg (Sarah Ramos), the prim and uptight girl who initially showed her around the building.

Plenty of awkward moments follow, as Diana attempts to befriend Ben under the suspicious gaze of his girlfriend and ends up losing focus of her writing and sense of self.  Meanwhile, her friend Gabby realises at a Halloween party that the guy she’s been sleeping with has no interest in dating her exclusively and is pretty much treating her as a booty call.

Photo by Jon Pack.

No one seems to be lucky in love at this point, as Ben and his girlfriend break up, leading to a moment of romantic crossed wires with Diana after a friendly dinner.  Ben then moves out of the building and Diana begins to think that she might still be in love with him and pursues him, only to be rebuffed.  Of course, this isn’t the last time they see each other and a ‘will they, won’t they’ situation ensues.  Exhausting, right?

In between the romantic meanderings are some hilarious moments, like when Diana gets drunks and knocks on Ben’s door on Halloween and dealing with a demanding mother-daughter duo trying on wedding dresses.  There’s also Diana’s fab winter wardrobe to lust after (I left the cinema craving a new red coat), as well as some hipster hot spots to add to your address book (no struggling writer’s lifestyle there).

Photo by Jon Pack.

Nice guy Ben’s character is rather undeveloped and two-dimensional, but as Sophie Brooks emphasised in the Q&A after the screening, the film is from Diana’s point of view and she preferred to focus on the great female friendships in the film.

The Boy Downstairs take a little while to warm up, but Sophie Brooks really captures the impact of your first love and the fear of not fulfilling your potential as a twenty-something living in the big city.

The Boy Downstairs is showing on Sunday 15th October as part of BFI London Film Festival 2017.

Films, London

BFI LFF 2017: Jeune Femme

Director Léonor Serraille’s debut film Jeune Femme (or Montparnasse Bienvenüe) is a heartfelt account of a woman hitting rock bottom and then re-inventing herself.

The captivating Laetitia Dosch plays Paula Simonian, a chaotic, unemployed woman who has just been dumped in the cruelest way by her 50 year-old boyfriend of ten years, Joachim Deloche (Grégoire Monsaingeon).  Upon discovering he’s changed the locks, Paula stands yelling outside and splits her forehead open when bashing his door in a rage.

After fleeing hospital, she spends the night wandering around Paris after being kicked out by her sister Anne (Marie Rémond) and crashing a house party full of strangers.  With a bit of cash from her sister, Paula checks in to a run-down hotel with her ex-boyfriend’s cat who she finds roaming in the street and takes stock of her situation.

Her misery is lifted momentarily when she is mistaken for a girl called ‘Sarah’ by a supposed old school friend Yuki (Léonie Simaga) and ends up playing along.  Cool and seductive Yuki buys her lunch and they ride the metro back to Paula’s hotel.  Their liason doesn’t get far, but they become friends and see each other again.

Having never held down a proper job, standing on her own two feet doesn’t come easily to Paula.  She job hunts with little success but eventually finds a part-time job at a knicker bar in a shopping centre and has to polish up her appearance to fit in.

Meanwhile, she also blags herself a job as a live-in nanny, looking after the shy and disconnected Lila (Lila-Rose Gilberti).  Luckily her mother (Erika Sainte) doesn’t press her for references and believes that Paula is an arts student at university.  Her modest room in the old ‘servants quarter’ provides some stability and even though their bourgeois routine takes some getting used to, things go well for a little while.

Paula befriends the shopping centre security guard Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) and one day brings Lila to the shopping centre to hang out, eat candyfloss and try on dresses.  Late to bring her home, Lila’s mother is livid and starts advertising to replace Paula.

Despite more than a few challenges along the way, Paula gets her life on track and finds a new sense of independence and self-worth.  She even begins to make amends with her icy, estranged mother (Nathalie Richard), who never forgave her for leaving the family at an early age.

As expected, the pretentious Joachim Deloche comes crawling back and Paula is posed with the opportunity to slot back into her old lifestyle of fancy dinners and a plush Parisian apartment.  However, she resists and has to fiercely fight off his advances.

A far cry from the usual romantic depiction of Paris, Paula shows a grittier side of the city which can be unkind to those who are down on their luck.  She is a self-destructive, impulsive and frustrating character but you soon start rooting for her and for things to start going right.

Jeune Femme is showing on Sunday 15th October as part of BFI London Film Festival 2017.

Films, London

BFI LFF 2017: The Meyerowitz Stories

A new Noah Baumbach film is always exciting, but his latest film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is surprising and a real game-changer.  I don’t think I was the only one who left the cinema thinking that while this film is his most mainstream and accessible, it’s also his most triumphant.

The unlikely casting of Adam Sandler in an indie film seems perplexing and risky, however it’s a smart move since he’s known to be such a big draw for the film’s producer Netflix.  Any scoffs are quickly silenced as he adeptly sheds his popular comedy image, driving and swearing his way around Manhattan in the opening scene.

Sandler plays Danny, the underachieving yet musically-gifted son of New York artist Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman).  Following the break-up of his marriage, he come to stay with his overbearing father and scatty, bohemian alcoholic step-mother Maureen (Emma Thompson).  With little to do, Danny relives memories of his happy but fractured childhood with his kooky sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and tries to be a good father to his blossoming film student daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten).

Danny’s step-brother Matthew jets in from LA soon after to encourage his father to sell the family home and his artwork while the market is favourable.  Unlike Danny and Jean, Matthew’s relationship with his father is fractious and they have an explosive argument over Harold’s perceived distaste for Matthew’s soulless corporate life and financial success.

Harold then takes ill and is bedridden in hospital for months.  The three children devote themselves to caring for their father and attending the art opening celebrating his work that never quite achieved the industry recognition he thought they deserved.  The tensions between the siblings inevitably come to a head with some hilarious scenes and bitter conversations.

The family’s candid talks about disappointment, inadequacy and desire for approval are sure to resonate and Baumbach approaches them with such insight and poignancy.  I found myself unexpectedly shedding a tear, such were the raw emotions towards the end.

However, the film is far from a downer – it starts as a love letter to the bohemian New York of the Meyerowitz family with their rousing piano ditties, old video tapes and fondness for houmous.  There is also a drama-filled private view at MoMA, a disastrous lunch at a downtown hipster restaurant and some great cameos from Adam Driver, Candice Bergen and Sigourney Weaver (as herself).

The Meyerowitz Stories is a beautifully-crafted snapshot of a dysfunctional family trying to resolve their issues before it’s too late.  Its focus on the influence of parents is more mature than the ingénue narrative of Mistress America and Frances Ha but it still has Baumbach’s ‘auteur’ signatures and typical warmth.  With a memorable performance from Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler’s surprising suitability for the role, it’s a real must-see!

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is showing on Friday 6th, Saturday 7th and Thursday 12th October as part of BFI London Film Festival 2017.

Hotels

The Best Hotels For Art Lovers

Is it just me, or do you also have an ever-growing list of must-see hotels around the world?  Whether it’s the latest opening from a cult designer or a hip neighbourhood gem, there are certain hotels that manage to grab your attention just by their approach to art and design.

For the most discerning art lovers among us, here are some of the top hotels that should be on the travel radar…

Faena Hotel Miami Beach 

Luxury hotel Faena is definitely the coolest hotel on Miami Beach and a regular haunt for the art crowd.  Designed by filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin, the hotel evokes the cinematic glamour of the 1950s and is all about creating sensory experiences.

In the hotel’s art collection are works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, while Juan Gatti painted the entrance’s Cathedral murals and Alberto Garruti designed two chandeliers to replicate lightning strikes over the Pampas of Argentina.  However, it’s not just about the big names, as Faena’s bar The Living Room hosts Local Culture Mondays showcasing the works of local artists.

Gramercy Park Hotel, New York 

This midtown gem not only looks the part, with its Renaissance-revival interiors by Julian Schnabel, but it has one of the most covetable art collections in the hotel world.

Guests can marvel at iconic pieces by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, George Condo and Richard Prince while lounging in the lobby or sipping cocktails in the exclusive Rose Bar.  I stayed there on a past trip to New York and was wowed by this hotel’s moody, restrained opulence – also don’t miss its rustic Italian restaurant, Maialino, by Danny Meyer.

The Gladstone Hotel, Toronto

Located in Toronto’s cool West Queen West neighbourhood, The Gladstone was originally a residential building that attracted the city’s artists and creatives since opening in 1889.  Over ten years ago, it was relaunched as an affordable concept hotel by artist and hotel president Christina Zeidler and its 37 rooms have each been uniquely designed by artists.

The Gladstone’s art gallery incorporates spaces across its four floors and is the perfect spot to discover Toronto’s best art talent, particularly during its frequent programmes and events.

Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai

Nestled on The Bund, this remarkable, upscale hotel by watchmaker Swatch is also partly an art gallery and artist live-work studios.  Local artists can stay in residence for up to six months to produce work that interacts with the space and offers guests a glimpse of Shanghai’s thriving creative scene.

Swatch is synonymous with creative luminaries, having collaborated with the likes of Keith Haring, Jeremy Scott, David La Chapelle and Cassette Playa.

Villa La Coste, Provence

Chateau La Coste, Provence’s spectacular art centre and winery, has just this summer opened a luxury hilltop hotel with 28 beautifully-appointed rooms.  High-end and minimalist, Villa La Coste overlooks the sprawling vineyards, where the landscape is punctuated with outdoor installations by artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra and Tracey Emin.

As if that wasn’t enough to tempt, there are three restaurants and a spa on the complex and it’s only a 25-minute drive to the charming university city of Aix-en-Provence.

To see where else I’ve recommended for art lovers in Paris, check out this post on Expedia’s blog, The Hotel Edit.

The post is in collaboration with Expedia

Images courtesy of the hotels (Gramercy Park Hotel and Chateau La Coste by Chérie City)

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Machiya, London

When the team behind the brilliant ramen bar Kanada-Ya opened Machiya earlier this year, I knew it was going to to be good.  However, I hadn’t expected it to be my favourite new restaurant and one that I’d be rushing back to again.

Machiya is just two doors down from Kanada-Ya’s Haymarket outpost and is already just as popular as its sister restaurant, but the cuisine is strikingly different.  This slick Japanese canteen is all about authentic, honest dishes that have a comforting home-cooked taste but with surprisingly intricate layers of flavours.  I can just imagine the recipes being handed down through generations and closely guarded.

On our visit we enjoyed the chef’s selection of dishes, which was a blessing as it coaxed us out of our ordering comfort zone.  First to arrive was a trio of Izakaya bites to graze on.

Chicken yakitori was two chunky skewers of unbelievably tender chicken thigh which were marinated very subtly and given a bit of a chilli kick with the blistered padron peppers.

Tsukune minced chicken skewers were hearty and moreish, like little meatballs finished with piquant shichimi pepper and accompanied by a Buford brown yolk in soy sauce for dipping.

An unexpected hit was the Tofu custard, which to us seemed closer to a savoury creme caramel in texture than custard.  The light, silky tofu was topped with tangy chilled dashi, spring onion and ginger and we found it an uplifting and refreshing contrast to the meaty dishes.  The Chuka salad of finely-cut seaweed in a light dressing was also pleasant and a good palate cleanser.

The winner of the mains had to be Gyudon – a generously-filled bowl of sliced beef, onsen egg, red ginger, onions and rice.  This rustic dish was so comforting and flavoursome with succulent strips of beef, slow-cooked onions and sticky sushi rice punctuated with runny egg yolk.

Abura soba was like deconstructed ramen without the rich, fatty broth (in fact, I preferred it this way).  The melt-in-the-mouth chashu pork belly had a honey-roasted flavour and was well complemented by the onsen tamago, marinated bamboo shoot, fresh spring onion and red ginger, shredded nori and perfectly-cooked udon noodles infused with sesame oil and garlic.

Tonkatsu was exemplary with a lean fillet of piping hot pork coated in golden, crunchy panko breadcrumbs on a bed of crisp cabbage lightly dressed with Japanese vinegar.  It was served with tangy, fruity tonkatsu sauce and simple steamed rice.

I would have expected this to be my favourite, as tonkatsu is so hard to resist, but the other two dishes were so unique and memorable that I’d order them again without fail.

After such an indulgent, filling meal, a little dose of matcha rocket fuel was necessary.  The Matcha fondant had a light soufflé texture and was filled with molten, velvety matcha-infused sauce with warm adzuki beans.

Genmaicha mille crêpe was also outstanding with thin, spongy crêpes packed between lightly-whipped creme and dusted with roasted green tea powder.  We accompanied the desserts with a pot of high quality genmaicha tea, which was presented in cute little pottery cups.  However, if you want something stronger, try the Japanese-style cocktails in Downstairs at Machiya, its stylish basement bar with a speakeasy vibe.

Machiya is already a popular spot and a real gem in the busy, central Haymarket area.  If you’re looking for something different to sushi and ramen, Machiya is the place to taste a different aspect of Japanese cuisine.

For more information and menus, visit: www.machi-ya.co.uk

Cherie City was a guest of Machiya

Photos by Cherie City (interior by Machiya)

Cafes, London

Dinner at Boki Seven Dials, Covent Garden

Covent Garden seems to be acing it with great shops, restaurants and cafes, but my new favourite has to be Boki on Earlham Street in Seven Dials.

It’s a chilled-out independent coffee shop with a neighbourhood vibe that stays open into the evening (9.30pm/10pm most nights).  It also features a stylish plant-covered bar serving cocktails, wine and craft ciders, making it a prime spot for after-work drinks (no need to stand on the street or endure pumping club music).

Boki was set up by the super-friendly Boris Becker and Kim Mahony Hargreaves (hence the name), who worked together in the film industry and bonded over their love of good food and coffee.  Hailing from the UK and Asia, Boris and Kim have different perspectives on food that come together harmoniously on their menu, balancing fresh and spicy flavours.

What really sets them apart, though, is their passion for high quality, well-sourced produce and it’s clear that they’ve considered and curated every aspect of the food, drinks and design.

The cafe has an airy, industrial-luxe feel with concrete floors contrasted with highlights of brass, touches of marble, cool lighting and most importantly – comfortable seating!  There are also some lovely touches like blue pottery plates, black and rose gold cutlery, chilled cucumber water, a proper good soundtrack and Aveda hand wash in the bathrooms.

The best way to eat dinner at Boki, to avoid serious food envy, is to order a selection of small and larger dishes and share.

Crispy chicken skin crackling with a choice of baba ganoush or houmous was a moreish little snack.  The thin shards of chicken skin were golden and well-seasoned and the baba ganoush had a home-made taste with slow-cooked aubergine and subtle flavours.  It also came with a plate of mini tacos for dipping – a nice change from the usual bread.

Salt beef tacos with Asian slaw and sriracha were punchy and tasty – you might want a whole plate of them to yourself.  The salt beef was tender and juicy and went well with the tangy and colourful Asian slaw and the sriracha mayo that had nice kick but wasn’t crazy-hot.

A star dish was the McBoki with salt beef, avocado, fried hen’s egg and sriracha mayo on a charcoal brioche. Not only does it look the business but it’s the kind of sandwich that you’d come back for again and again…morning, noon or night!

I think we’ve established now that Boki does a mean salt beef, but it was the perfectly-dippy fried egg, creamy avocado and that earthy (and a tiny bit gritty) charcoal bun that really elevated it.

A great balance for the smaller, flavoursome dishes was the healthy and nourishing Vegan Bowl.  This highly-Instagrammable dish was filled with a generous amount of pillowy quinoa, sliced ripe avocado, edamame beans, chunky beetroot, thinly-sliced radish, toasted sesame seeds and really tasty smoked tofu.  It was so fresh and filling and I can see myself ordering it again for a virtuous lunch on the go.

To finish, we enjoyed a heavenly Brownie with a little pot of the most decadent salted caramel sauce.  It was such a joyful combination that I reckon all chocolate desserts should come with this!  The home-baked cakes and tarts on the counter also looked very tempting.

Boki are really proud of their coffee (made using Allpress espresso) and it’s easy to see why.  Steven’s Flat White was exemplary – smooth, rich-roasted and just the right temperature.  My T2 French Earl Grey was also fragrant, fruity and nicely served in a colourful teapot.

Also worth a mention are the excellent cocktails – many of them infused with coffee.  Steven went for the Boki Negroni with Sipsmith gin, coffee-infused Campari and Vermouth, which was just as it should be, but with the addition of a subtle coffee flavour.  My Boki gin iced tea was very refreshing and summery, made with Sipsmith gin, lemon verbena tea and fresh lemon.

Boki is a great spot if you want something a little different in Covent Garden, whether it’s a relaxed lunch, afternoon caffeine fix or cocktails and bites in the evening.  I think it might become my regular haunt.

Chérie City was a guest of Boki

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London

Brunch at Morty & Bob’s, London Fields

Last weekend, we were in the mood for a trek around east London and began our jaunt with an indulgent brunch at Morty & Bob’s in London Fields.

Famous for its grilled cheese sandwiches, Morty and Bob’s quickly became a star of the street food scene and until recently had a little shack at Netil Market.  Two years ago it laid down roots on the second floor of Netil House and has been serving up ‘wholesome and honest comfort food’ ever since.

Netil House is a vibrant institution in Hackney, housing over 100 studio spaces for creative businesses, including Glasshouse Salon, NT’s Bar, Netil360 and the Michelin-starred bistro Ellory.

Morty & Bob’s occupies NT’s Bar during the day and has a chilled out atmosphere and cool industrial design with simple wooden tables, cosy sofas and an abundance of plants.

The all-day menu is filled tempting breakfast bites, all-day dishes like Smashed avocado on toast, salads and soups, plus a selection of home-made cakes and Allpress coffee.  The weekend brunch menu is similar but with the addition of more elaborate grilled cheese sandwiches and Bloody Marys.

We ordered the Brisket Benedict and a Grilled cheese sandwich straight up with mixed onions and shared.

The Brisket Benedict was absolutely delicious – perfect poached eggs with a bright orange yolk, velvety Hollandaise, fluffy English muffins and tender, slow-cooked brisket that wasn’t overly heavy on the spices (although it may be on the timid side for some palates).

If the Brisket Benedict was subtle and moreish, the Grilled cheese sandwich was an intense flavour explosion.  Thick slices of golden, buttery toasted sourdough were packed together with a gooey mix of three cheeses, finely-cut red onion and slivers of spring onion.  It was super-rich and satisfying – everything you want a grilled cheese to be!

We accompanied our food with mugs of Earl Grey tea and later strolled down to Soft Serve Society in Shoreditch for ice cream, however our plans were almost derailed by the most gorgeous-looking brownies at the counter.  Next time, for sure!

For menus and booking, visit: www.mortyandbobs.com

All photos by Chérie City

Aix-en-Provence

Things To Do in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is the most heavenly place to spend a lazy summer break.  With bountiful rustic markets, charming cobbled streets and the scent of lavender in the air, there’s a lot to love about the slow-paced Provençal life.

Whether you’re visiting the Bouches-du-Rhône region for one of the many summer arts and music festivals, or simply nourishing your soul with delicious food, wine and views, here are a few things you must see in Aix-en-Provence…

SEE:

Outdoor Markets

One of the best things about a trip to Aix-en-Provence is its almost daily outdoor markets.  The leafy squares of the old town overflow with the most colourful and ripe fruit and vegetables, local cheeses and saucissons, pungent spices, fresh seafood and even juicy, golden poulet roti with fat-roasted potatoes.

Other markets offer rare antiques, bric-a-brac, floaty embroidered cotton holiday clothes, hand-made lavender beauty products and of course flowers plucked from nearby fields.  To get the best produce, arrive early and fill your panier before enjoying lunch on the terrace.

Atelier de Cézanne

A pilgrimage up the steep Lauve hill to Cézanne’s studio is a must when visiting Aix-en-Provence.  Still intact with all of his furniture and work tools, the studio provides a rare glimpse into the private life of the ‘father of modern art’.

Cézanne spent the last four years of his life painting in this peaceful studio, climbing the hill each day from his house on rue Boulegon.  It was here that he created masterpieces such as Grandes Baigneuses, overlooking views of fig and olive trees and the Verdon canal.

Hôtel de Caumont

Dedicate some time to exploring the aristocratic Mazarin district, beginning at the stunning Hotel de Caumont.  This exquisite 18th century mansion was restored to its former glory in 2010 by Culturespaces and now runs as an art centre, hosting two exhibitions each year dedicated to great names in art (its film on Cézanne is shown daily).  Currently on view is a major review of the French impressionist Sisley (until 15th October).

A perk of visiting the art centre is the exquisite Cafe Caumont, where you can enjoy a light lunch or tea and cake in one of the many pastel-hued salons.  The elegant terrace also hosts regular jazz concerts throughout the summer, best enjoyed with a glass of rosé in hand.

Musée Granet

Housed in a refined 17th century building in the Mazarin district, Musée Granet features a diverse collection of over 600 paintings and sculptures.  It also hosts major art exhibitions focusing on the 20th century, from Henri Cueco to American Icons.

Visit before the end of September to see new exhibition An Art Lovers Collection: Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Since 1925, featuring artists such as Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky and Giacometti.

Château La Coste

Drive just 25 minutes from Aix into the countryside and you will find Château La Coste, a magnificent winery and art centre.  It features over 500 acres of sprawling vineyards punctuated with sculptures by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists, who were invited to react to the landscape and create.

A two-hour art and architecture walking tour offers the chance to view works by the likes of Jean Nouvel, Alexander Calder, Frank Gehry, Richard Serra and Tracey Emin.

At the centre is a striking minimalist glass building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.  Guarded by Louise Bourgeois’ imposing Crouching Spider sculpture, the centre is home to a bookshop, the fine dining Restaurant Francis Mallmann and the more casual Tadao Ando Restaurant.

The terrace cafe is the most joyful spot, where we enjoyed a simple and beautiful lunch of rocket, parmesan and pine nut salad, home-made quiche and fresh baguette followed by delicious sorbets and ice cream.  Of course, a trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling the exquisite Château La Coste rosé, which was so refreshing, crisp and bursting with fruit.

EAT:

Angelina 

For delicious, homely Italian food al fresco, head to local favourite Angelina.  Go for light bruschetta, pesto pasta, Provençal specialities such as tripe and stuffed peppers or my choice of a piping hot lasagne straight from the oven.

It’s the perfect old town spot to sit and watch the world go by and is conveniently-located for Aix’s many music venues.

Marie-Georgette

If you can find this gem of a restaurant, hidden away off the Cours Mirabeau (it took me around half an hour and lots of asking for directions), you will be rewarded with a fantastic lobster roll and skin-on fries.

It takes food inspiration from New York and London and tends to attract a clued-up crowd looking for something a little different.  You might even be tempted to dine here more than once!

La Tarte Tropézienne

The Tarte tropézienne was created by Alexandre Micka in 1955, celebrating Brigitte Bardot while she was filming And God Created Woman in Saint-Tropez.  It’s a light and fluffy brioche filled with vanilla creme and topped with sugar crumble –  a real holiday treat.

Have you been to Aix-en-Provence?  Where are your favourite Provençal hotspots?

Eurostar fares start at £99 for Marseille (from £199 in Standard Premier).  For more information and booking, visit: www.eurostar.com

Chérie City was a guest of Eurostar and Bouches-du-Rhône Tourist Board

All photos by Chérie City

Hotels, Spain

A Tale of Two Innside Hotels, Mallorca

For our summer holiday in Palma de Mallorca, we were excited to discover the Innside by Melia hotel brand for the first time.  As a ‘next generation’ hotel concept, it has a cool approach to affordable luxury and lots of millennial-friendly touches.

The majority of our time was spent at the sleek, urban Innside Palma Center and then we had a change of scenery over at the brand new Innside Palma Bosque close to the port.  Even on a relaxing city-beach break, we couldn’t help hotel hopping and it turned out to be a wise move, as the two hotels complemented each other perfectly.

Innside Palma Center is a stylish boutique hotel in the north of the city, close to the main train station and the old quarter.  It has a creative, relaxed feel with contemporary rooms and artworks from a local gallery throughout the hotel – serious design inspo.

Our Innside corner room was spacious and pristine with a juliette balcony, plush bed with high quality linen, large LCDTV and best of all, a free minibar with soft drinks replenished each day.

Of course, the jewel in the hotel’s crown is the fabulous rooftop Garabato Sky Bar complete with a mezzanine sun deck and the most heavenly pool.  We spent some time there soaking up the sun with strawberry smoothies and grazing on tasty Mallorcan burgers and Katsu pork sandwiches.  It’s also a chilled place to enjoy evening drinks at a very reasonable price – a large glass of Pedro Ximenez was just 3 Euros.

We hadn’t planned to have breakfast at the hotel every day, but we were offered a very tempting deal at check-in as MeliaRewards members (tip: book directly) and appreciated the luxury of rolling on down to the lovely Garabato Restaurant in the morning.  The breakfast buffet was really very good and we were able to start each day with eggs on toast with jamon Iberico or smoked salmon, mini pastries, muffins and proper coffee.

One of our favourite spaces in the hotel was the cosy ground-floor library filled with a well-curated selection of art and fashion books and magazines – it’s easy to while away the hours there.

Most notable about Innside Palma Center was the friendly and efficient service.  All of the staff were so friendly and helpful, from the charismatic front desk manager who welcomed us to the hard-working breakfast and pool bar team.  Everything was so perfect that we were sad to leave.

Our second home on the trip was the newly-renovated Innside Palma Bosque, which has just been relaunched as an Innside hotel.  It’s one street behind the port and is convenient for taking a bus to the many sandy beaches along the coast.

While Innside Palma Center has an intimate feel, Innside Palma Bosque is sprawling and minimalist with an open-plan lobby, lounge with a DJ and restaurant all on the ground floor.  There are still a few telltale signs of the old hotel as the new property completes its transition, however we were very impressed with our Innside Premium Swim Up Room on the edge of the magnificent outdoor swimming pool.

This superior room came with a large king-size bed, smart TV, free minibar, Nespresso machine and the most enormous free-standing bathtub in front of the patio window.  If you love swimming and lounging on your own private terrace, it’s worth booking one of these rooms for that extra touch of luxury.

The hotel’s Syndeo Restaurant with its open kitchen is also a real highlight, as the food, ambiance and staff are top notch.  We enjoyed our lunch of sushi and stir-fry noodles so much that we had burgers there later in the evening before heading out to explore the port.

Unfortunately we found the local area uninspiring and this particular stretch of the port is, frankly, quite tacky and dated with endless strip bars, cheap boozers and unappealing restaurants.  However, walking 20 minutes or so to the hip Santa Catalina neighbourhood will restore your faith in this part of Palma.

Our first experience with Innside Hotels was just wonderful and we would definitely seek them out when visiting other cities.  In fact, we’re already considering a return to one of the Palma hotels…can you guess which one?

For more information and booking, visit: www.melia.com

All photos by Chérie City

Spain

Where to Shop & Eat in Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca is one of the hottest holiday destinations this summer and it’s easy to see why travellers are falling in love with the postcard perfect city.

For travellers who like to multi-task, it’s like having the best of both worlds – a style-conscious capital city with designer boutiques, cool restaurants and chic rooftop bars, as well as endless stretches of gorgeous beaches.  We visited Palma for a short four-night break, but you could easily stay for a week and use the city as your comfortable base to explore the rest of the beautiful island.

Unlike the typical Chérie City whirlwind trip, our stay in Palma factored in plenty of chill time – mostly by the pool with the latest Margaret Atwood book and an icy strawberry smoothie in hand.  I did feel a little guilty about not rushing around to see everything, but that didn’t last long when the rooftop sun terrace was calling.  So, here are some top Palma addresses for the lazy sunseeker:

SHOPPING:

Rialto Living

Located on a side street just off the Passeig del Born, this stylish concept store is filled with covetable fashion, interiors and lifestyle products.  Just as important is its architectural backdrop – the grand Baroque-style building was once an 18th century palacio and then the Rialto Cinema before a major refurb.  The centre courtyard cafe is quite the hub for Palma ‘ladies who lunch’, enjoying light bites such as Gyoza, Caesar Salad or Tuna Tataki.

Bazaar

This little gem of a shop is dedicated to tasteful Mallorcan living with a mixture of artisanal textiles and high end designer wares.  Find woven cotton table mats in a rainbow of colours, a quirky pineapple plate or a luxurious Astier de Villatte candle.

Mallorca Delicatessen Mateu Pons

The best of the island’s produce can be found at the bijou Mallorca Delicatessen Mateu Pons.  You can graze on a platter of Sobrassada and Mahon cheese with a few glasses of Cava, or grab some fresh olives to go.  The food products such as flavoured Mallorcan salt and artisanal oils are beautifully-packaged and make gorgeous gifts.

EATING:

Ziva To Go

Holidays don’t need to be a complete departure from healthiness, so if you don’t want to miss your vitamins, head to Ziva To Go.  This chilled out cafe offers colourful super food salads, nut mylks and tempting healthy desserts.  The smoothies and cold-pressed juices are pricey at 7-8.50 Euros, but all ingredients are organic and locally sourced.

Buscando El Norte

This buzzing neighbourhood restaurant is the kind of place that you’d want to have as your local at home. It’s fashionable but unpretentious and the menu is full of tantalising Mallorcan, Mediterranean and Asian dishes.

From the selection of pintxos and small plates, we both ordered the most incredibly moreish Mini black angus burger with cheese and quail egg served with haystack fries.  Other hits were the fresh and Lobster toast with seaweed bread and the artfully presented Cod gratin on squid ink rice.  We also couldn’t resist the all-round pleaser of tender Crunchy chicken with a fruity satay sauce.

Pizzeria 500 Grados

If you’re in the mood for pizza, look no further than Pizzeria 500 Grados, a tiny urban joint serving up proper Neapolitan pizzas.  However, you need to plan ahead and book a table, as walk-in availability is rare (but not impossible if you arrive early and plead a little).  It is worth it, though, as the pizzas are some of the best I’ve ever tasted – even verging on the greatness that is Da Michele!

The Margherita is a solid choice with nicely blistered dough, juicy crushed tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of virgin olive oil.  If you’re after more intense flavours, try the Martina Franca topped with high quality cured pork loin, fresh rocket and Parmigiano.

The Kitchen 

This is the place to see and be seen in the centre of Palma’s labyrinthine shopping streets.  The cuisine is a sun-friendly mix of Mediterranean and Asian and the three-course lunch menu is a good bet at 19.50 Euros.  You could easily start with sushi and bao buns and follow with indulgent Parmesan truffle ravioli and roast leg of lamb – there are no food rules when you’re on holiday!

Udon

Sushi is big in Palma (maybe something to do with that big open sea?) and the city has an abundance of Japanese restaurants for all budgets.  For a quick and tasty meal in a slick Japanese canteen, head to Udon, part of a small Spanish chain, in the cool Arxiduc neighbourhood.  Bypass the noodles (just ok) and go straight for the yummy sushi rolls and pan-fried gyoza.  They even have chocolate mochi for dessert and Japanese iced teas to cool down.

Have you been to Palma de Mallorca?  Where are your favourite places to shop and eat on the island?

Beauty, Websites

New Beauty Website: Shop Skincare

Last week saw the launch of Shop Skincare, an exciting new retail site for like-minded beauty lovers – particularly those who can’t resist a good beauty box!

However, Shop Skincare is a little different from the rest.  Each order over £40 includes a free beauty box containing full-size products from niche brands across the site, so you can try something new.

There are over 200 products across multiple beauty categories: skincare, make-up, haircare, suncare & tanning and wellbeing.  Some of the carefully-chosen brands available include Lord & Berry, Margaret Dabbs, Pure Elixir, Intelligent Nutrients and Ardell.

There are also some big names behind Shop Skincare, as the site’s blog features a panel of Wellness Experts such as Dermatology Specialist Natalie Fisher, Nike Trainer and Owner of Fat Buddha Yoga Jessica Syke and Nutritional Psychologist Rick Hay, among many others.

Here are some of the fab products that you can find online and may make it into your beauty box:

Ultrasun Face 50+ is a real hero product, whether you’re on the beach or sweltering in the city.  I found this face cream really helpful in preventing sun-caused pigmentation, which can flare up in the warmer months.  Its light, non-comedogenic formula also means that it won’t clog your pore, cause break-outs or make your foundation slip.

A’kin is one of my favourite natural beauty brands and its Pure Radiance Rosehip Oil is absolutely gorgeous.  Its certified organic formula leaves the skin feeling nourished and calm without any greasiness.  I’ve been using it to repair my skin after a summer beach break in Mallorca and it’s been quite a saviour.

Natura Siberica was a new discover for me and I’ve really enjoyed using its active organics Oblepikha Hand Cream.  Made with sea-buckthorn, oil, amaranth oil and cranberry seed oil, it’s a surprisingly light and naturally fruity remedy for maintaining hydrated hands and nails.

Saaf Organic is another under-the-radar natural beauty brand that is sure to impress.  Its Pure Face Cleanser comes with muslin cloths and has a luxurious balm texture and botanical aroma – perfect for the first step of a double cleanse.

Will you be trying Shop Skincare?  Which are your favourite natural beauty brands?

Shop Skincare beauty box provided as a sample

 

Beauty, Cherie Soleil

Ultrasun Summer Sun Care

With the summer holidays approaching, it’s time to plan your beachside sun care routine.  On our honeymoon in Montauk last year, I tested out a selection of products by Ultrasun against the blazing Hamptons sun.

Created by Swiss sun care experts, Ultrasun’s revolutionary technology allows a safe once-a-day application.  While other brands require regular top-ups, Ultrasun bonds to the skin and is completely water-resistant, providing all-day protection against UVA and UVB rays (up to eight hours).

It’s super-simple to use, however, in order to be fully effective, it needs to be applied properly.  Just stick to the three rules:

  • Apply sun cream to cool, dry skin 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Use one teaspoon for the face and at least one teaspoon for each part of the body.
  • Pick your protection to suit your skin tone and environment – 50+ in extreme conditions or Face 30 for a bright February morning walk.

A common sun care myth is that you have to go red before you can go brown.  Ultrasun UK Sun Expert Abi Cleeve advises that “a ‘trauma tan’ from inadequate protection that occurs too fast only ensures that the skin burns and sheds, leaving the skin tanless in days.

One of Ultrasun’s best-selling new products is the Glimmer Shimmering Sun Protection SPF50+ and it’s easy to see why.  The cooling, frangrance-free cream has a slightly irridescent sheen and leaves the skin glowing (no sparkly disco legs, don’t worry).  It’s suitable for sensitive skin and is packed full of anti-oxidants to keep your skin nourished.

Face 50+ is a real hero product, whether you’re on the beach or sweltering in the city.  I found this face cream really helpful in preventing sun-caused pigmentation, which can flare up in the warmer months.  Its light, non-comedogenic formula also means that it won’t clog your pore, cause break-outs or make your foundation slip.

As I’ve learned from past experiences of red eyes, sunglasses simply aren’t enough to keep your delicate peepers protected.  Eye SPF 30 offers great protection against sun exposure in the area where we show photo ageing the most.  The opaque fluid can feel a little intense at first and just a small amount should be applied carefully around the eye area, but it does make the difference.

Lips can often be forgotten in a suncare routine, but Ultrasun Lip SPF 30 is one of my favourites and I tend to just use it all year-round, especially on the plane to avoid dehydration.  It’s a rich, velvety lip protector enriched with blackcurrant seed oil to moisturise and reduce inflammation and chapping.  Perfect for both hot and cold climates, so you could take it to the slopes too.

Even if your skin is protected against harmful rays, your skin needs some after care to combat the drying effects of the heat, sweat and chemicals from the swimming pool.  I was super impressed with the Overnight Summer Skin Recover Mask.  The luxurious gel mask contains hyaluronic acid and brown algae to soothe and hydrate the skin.  It has a light-weight texture and is easily absorbed, plus like all Ultrasun products, you can use it for up to two years after opening, making it more than just a holiday indulgence.

Have you tried Ultrasun products?  What are your top tips for staying protected from the sun?

All Ultrasun products tested were samples