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cheriecity

Beauty, Shopping

Estée Lauder Travel Retail Exclusives

To me, World Duty-Free is the reward for arriving at the airport on time and getting through all of those pre-travel stresses.  It means that the trip has begun and it’s time to relax before boarding that flight.

Last week, I headed over to the super-stylish penthouse at the Estée Lauder headquarters in Fitzrovia for a look at what’s on offer at the duty-free, both in the UK and internationally.  I tend to pick up the same beauty essentials while travelling, but it was a great chance to discover some travel retail exclusives that can only be found at the airport.

There were two main things that I learned from speaking to the brand experts at the Travel Beautifully event that are definitely worth sharing.  Firstly, the beauty and skincare counters are about more than just speed-scanning products for frazzled travellers cramming in last-minute purchases before their flight.

Whether you have five minutes to spare, or have the luxury of leisurely browsing, you can enjoy a complimentary pampering treatment.  This can be an indulgent hand and arm massage at Jo Malone, a professional cleanse at La Mer, a touch of Moisture Surge hydration at Clinique or a make-up lesson at Bobbi Brown.

At the event, I learned how to create the perfect lip with a Bobbi Brown make-up artist and there are many more bite-size tutorials that you can take advantage of for free at the counter.

Another helpful thing to know is just how great the travel retail exclusive sets are, in terms of the product and value for money.  Clinique Moisture Surge is my regular travel purchase, but I was also impressed with the make-up offering at Smashbox and MAC.  Here are a few products worth checking out at the duty-free…

Clinique Deep Comfort Exclusive Set features a velvety, cooling body lotion and an intensely nourishing hand and cuticle cream.  Both are free from fragrance and colour and suitable for sensitive skin, as well as being within the travel liquid allowance.  They’re particularly useful for staying hydrated on a long-haul flight, where you can really get cosy and turn your seat area into a spa zone.

MAC Look In A Box is a genius product, especially if you want to treat yourself to a whole new holiday look.  The Be A Little Naughty Box (one of four looks available) is filled with a softly-shimmering cream colour base, a duo of warm and natural nude shades for coverage and definition, a classic black kohl eyeliner and MAC’s Haute & Naughty Lash black mascara with the coolest disco-esque packaging.

Also included is a flattering beige-pink powder blush and MAC’s best-selling Ruby Woo retro matte lipstick. The box is ideal for going from day to night with an extra slick of eye liner and striking red lips.

Finally is the Bobbi Brown Crazy For Color Lip Palette, for when you can’t decide which lipsticks to pack. This gorgeous palette has everything you need, from a peachy nude to a deep red and hot pink.  I was told that the ‘Bobbi way’ to get the perfect lip is to blend some of the colours together to get the exact shade that you want, so don’t be afraid to get creative.

Next time you’re travelling, be sure to leave a little more time to get the most out of the duty-free shopping experience.  With massages and mini facials on offer, I know I will!

All photos by Cherie City

counter massages.

Interiors

Interior Design Trends To Try At Home

Ever come back from a holiday and wish you could recreate the hotel look at home?  I’m always seeking design inspiration on my travels, whether it’s five star luxury in Hong Kong, an indie Montauk beach motel or a romantic urban bolthole in Paris.

One of the easiest ways to transform your living space is to keep the foundations simple and add bold accessories such as designer furniture, a statement roman blind from Blinds UK, beautiful artwork or even small trinkets.  I recently broke the uniformity of my modern, white living room with a colour-popping armchair that lifts my spirits every time I look at it – a great investment, for sure!

Here are a few interior trends for the home that never go out of style…

Modern Marie-Antoinette

I’ve always had fantasies of a boudoir inspired by Marie-Antoinette, but back in the real world, this level of decadence requires a contemporary approach.  Toile de Jouy brings an elegant French touch and it can be complemented by plush, light furniture or even a flash of neon to punk it up.

Get the modern Toile de Jouy look…

Beach Chic

One of my favourite UK seaside hotels, The Gallivant in Camber Sands, is a treasure trove of boho, beachy inspiration.  Whether it’s nautical stripes, driftwood furniture or azure-hued textiles, coastal style always feels fresh and makes you dream of sunnier climes and salty air.

Here are a few more ways to get that sea breeze style…

Painterly Florals

Take inspiration from fashion designers like Erdem and Mary Katrantzou with vivid, painterly florals.  The bolder the better and if you need a reference point, have a spin around one of the chic Firmdale Hotels, the Designers Guild store or one of Soho’s many luxury fabric stores.

Get inspired by a palette of painterly florals…

Would you try any of these interior design trends at home?  Which look is your favourite?

Sponsored post 

Cafes, London

Valentine’s Day at Dominique Ansel Bakery

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than tasting delicious pink pastries with your love?  Cake is certainly the key to my heart, so I was excited to see what Dominique Ansel Bakery had in store to mark its first Valentine’s Day in London.

Leading up to the day of romance, Dominique Ansel Bakery has turned the pastry counter pink, offering a Valentine’s spin on its signature cakes, along with a few new surprises.

We visited yesterday afternoon and tried a selection of the limited edition Dressed in Pink pastries, as well as some of the classics.

Fresh Strawberry and Lychee Pavlova was simple and whimsical with two crunchy pastel pink meringue shells sandwiched together with a cool, velvety ganache and finished with juicy sliced strawberries and a pink chocolate heart.  The lychee flavour in the ganache was very subtle and I think it could have been amped up a little, but overall it was a lovely dessert for those who like plenty of sweetness.

Hibiscus Gingerbread Pinecone was pure artistry at work with exquisite presentation and layers of complex flavours.  It really looked the part, with more than 70 hand-cut dark chocolate petals and pink chocolate hearts.  Inside was smooth ginger mousse, fragrant hibiscus gelée, spiced cake with an aromatic kick and crispy feuilletine.  It had a spicy, seasonal flavour, like a jammy lebkuchen, and was just perfect for the wintry weather.

We also had the chance to taste the famous DKA – ‘Dominique’s Kouign Amann’ – and I can see why it’s such a favourite.  This version of the typical Breton cake had a crusty, caramelised top and inside were delicate layers of croissant-like dough and light slithers of sugar syrup.  It’s a good choice if you want something sweet yet substantial for an afternoon treat.

Finally, we managed to find some room for some freshly-baked mini Madeleines, served warm right out of the oven.  They were just so springy and airy with a delightful vanilla flavour – definitely the best madeleines I’ve ever tasted.

By that point, we’d hit a real sugar high, but there are still 11 more pink pastries in the collection to try! Highlights include a Cupid Religieuse, Chili Chocolate Eclair, Raspberry Mini Me Cake, Paris Je T’Aime and the highly Instagrammable Pomme D’Amour.  Then there are the sweet gifts like Valentine’s meringues, hot chocolate bottles and popcorn, so you can really treat the love of your life.

The Dressed in Pink collection is available until 14th February at Dominique Ansel Bakery, Belgravia.  For more information, visit: www.dominiqueansellondon.com

Chérie City was a guest of Dominique Ansel Bakery

All photos by Chérie City

Shopping, Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

Valentine’s Day is almost here, so it’s time to find a fabulous gift for your special someone, whether it’s a seductive luxury fragrance, a chic bracelet or delicious chocolates that look almost too good to eat.

Here are a few ideas that are sure to impress…

Bella Freud Close To My Heart Eau de Parfum, £95, Liberty
Chloé Marin Bracelet, £250, Farfetch
Glowing Radiance Aroma Roller, £29, ila spa
Sao Paulo Travel Guide, £25, Louis Vuitton
La Maison du Chocolat 48-Piece Chocolate Truffle Selection, £28.50, Selfridges
Camera Bag, £159.02, Pop & Suki
Love Of My Life Letter Cards, £11.95, Liberty
Emma Low-Cut Pump, £250, Repetto
Bamford Essential Oil Collection, £80, Liberty

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Farmstand, Covent Garden

I’m always on the look out for healthy and tasty eateries in London and Farmstand in Covent Garden is now one to add to the list of favourites.

Devised by Milwaukee native Steven Novick, Farmstand takes inspiration from the fresh fruit and vegetable roadside stands that you can find in rural America.  Ingredients are ethically sourced from British farms and producers and dishes are made in house every day.

Farmstand has a relaxed, casual vibe and in the evening, it has lots of atmosphere with twinkling candles and a cool soundtrack.  Best of all, you can order at the counter and sit down to a beautifully-prepared organic meal instantly – healthy fast food in chic surroundings.

The concept is simple – build your own box or plate with a choice of one main and two sides, or simply three sides, for £7.50 (or £11.50 with a glass of wine or beer included).  There is a good selection of organic meat, fish or plant-based mains and sides include grains and vegetables with exciting flavours.  Also, everything is free from wheat, gluten, dairy and refined sugar, so it’s suitable for those with intolerances.

I was tempted by the Slow-cooked beef brisket with mushrooms and tamari, accompanied by Roasted sweet potatoes with ginger and coconut yoghurt and Broccoli with tahini and sesame seeds.

The enormous portion of brisket was so tender and flaky with a rich and pleasantly salty flavour from the tamari.  The sweet potatoes were soft and juicy and topped with an amazingly creamy coconut yoghurt, while the broccoli was perfectly blanched with a slight crunch and a nutty flavour from the tahini.

Steven went for the Lamb meatballs with smoked paprika and tomatoes with Split fava beans, roasted peppers and pumpkin and Brown rice pasta with artichokes, mushrooms and marjoram.

The meatballs were plump and lean with an aromatic Middle Eastern flavour and a tangy tomato sauce.  Fava beans with sweet pumpkin were slightly spiced with cumin and the brown rice pasta was well-cooked with a velvety cream sauce.

For dessert, we couldn’t resist trying a Rose and pistachio cake from west London gluten-free Pearl & Groove.  It was a lovely, springy loaf cake with a subtly fragrant flavour.  We also loved the decadent Double chocolate brownie.  It may look petite, but it was actually quite substantial with a silky texture and flaky top.

Of course, cake requires tea and the Earl Grey by Postcard Teas was excellent – full-bodied and delicate.

Farmstand is the perfect spot for a quick and nutritious lunch or a fun dinner with friends over a glass of wine.  The food quality and level of cooking are fantastic, especially for the price, and you’re sure to leave feeling well-fed and satisfied.

Chérie City was a guest of Farmstand

Photos by Chérie City and Farmstand

Hotels, London

Studio Life at Leman Locke Hotel, London

London is quickly becoming the city for ‘next generation’ hotels and the newly-opened Leman Locke is really leading the way.

This forward-thinking hotel – the debut from new brand Locke Hotels – combines the luxury of a hotel with cool apartment living for creatively-minded folk who want a home away from home.  Its minimal, urban look may also be familiar – it was designed by Grzywinski + Pons, the New York design company behind gems such as The Nolitan Hotel, Boro Hotel and west London’s Urban Villa.

Located in buzzing east London, Leman Locke is set across a modern tower in rapidly evolving Aldgate. The area may be slick and modern, but it’s just moments way from London’s historic Brick Lane and Spitalfields, as well as being next to Aldgate East tube for quick access to the heart of the city.

Entering the hotel, your first encounter is with the cheery baristas at the hotel’s casual cafe Hyde, who give you a friendly hello every time you return.  This bright and sunny cafe keeps guests fuelled all day with pastries and paleo granola for breakfast, hand-crafted sandwiches and salads at lunch, afternoon cake with Chash teas and Volcano coffee and evening cocktails and craft beers.  It also attracts locals, particularly for Sunday brunch, so it has a good neighborhood vibe.

Hyde leads on to the cosy hotel lobby with a comfy seating area, copies of i-D magazine and plenty of quirky artefacts (I can’t help thinking it has a bit of a Wes Anderson feel).  We had a swift and efficient check in and scaled up to the 16th floor in the lift.

Our Studio was an absolute dream with the most gorgeous, highly Instagrammable interiors and impressive floor-to-ceiling views over the city, including The Shard.  The open-plan studio is designed in a soft palette of pastel pink, blue and white with geometric patterns, tactile wool and felt textures and touches of exposed concrete.

The cosy living area features a large LCD Smart TV, full-length mirror and a coffee table with art books, however the star of the show is the powder pink L-shaped sofa.  Seriously, it’s the most brilliant piece of furniture, as feels plush however you sit on it.  Why don’t I have one of these in my own home?

While the apartment overall is very spacious, the bedroom is quite petite, however the concrete partition cleverly gives it the combination of intimacy yet openness.  The bespoke Locke Dream bed was pretty comfortable with good pillows and a stunning wool throw, but I found the linen a little too crisp and rigid.

We were really impressed with the sleek, high tech kitchen complete with a top notch oven, fridge, dish washer, washing machine, digital kettle and toaster.  It also has a big selection of pristine utencils and cookware, a full set of china and handily, the Hemsley + Hemsley cook book for those creative moments in the kitchen.

To get you started is a nice little care package featuring a selection of lovely T2 Teas, ground coffee pods and a healthy treat – an indulgent bar of vegan maca, vanilla and cacao nib chocolate by Doisy & Dam.  There is also still mineral water and a mini bottle of milk in the fridge – a thoughtful touch.

The bathroom is also really spacious and well-appointed with a bath tub and top-of-the-range shower, heated towel rail, thick and fluffy towels, wide mirror and a very generous amount of storage space.

I was excited to find a full set of Kinsey Apothecary bathroom products in delicious scents such as Salted Caramel Vanilla and Himalayan Hibiscus.  This London-based body care company was a new discovery and it fits in well with Leman Locke’s approach to wellbeing and locally-sourced products.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from our new pad, but it’s definitely worth venturing out to try some of east London’s many exciting restaurants.  We had the most amazing dinner at lively and hip Smokestak in Shoreditch (a short 15-minute walk away) and highly recommend booking a table there if you like barbecued meats with a London twist.

Also worth checking out in the nearby area are Gunpowder, HotBox London, Canto Corvino, Blixen and London institution Duck & Waffle.

There is also plenty going on at Leman Locke with in-room spa treatments by Viva Therapies, a cultural programme including yoga, meditation and cooking, as well as Locke Coves that can be booked complimentary for quiet time through a House Host.

Leman Locke is a real game changer for London and its beautifully-designed studios are so inspiring that you might find yourself trying to recreate the look at home.  Whether it’s a staycation or an extended visit, make Leman Locke your stylish base and get to know a different side of London.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Leman Locke 

All photos by Chérie City

Hotels, Milan

Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Milan is known as Italy’s city of style and there’s plenty of it to be found at the five star Hotel Principe di Savoia, part of the prestigious Dorchester Collection.

Opened in 1927, the historic hotel has a sense of grandeur, overlooking the open and leafy Piazza della Repubblica.  It’s also just a short walk from the artistic Brera quarter, designer shopping at 10 Corso Como in Porta Nuova and Central Station for convenient travel links.

Not only is the hotel a favourite among well-heeled Milanese and the international crowd during Milan Fashion Week, but it has hosted royalty and stars in its impressive Presidential Suite that boasts its own swimming pool.

Arriving at the hotel’s marble entrance, it instantly feels opulent and inviting, with beautiful flower arrangements and theatrical draped curtains.  This leads on to the lobby, where the open-plan lounge Il Salotto has a warm glow and is a delightful place to relax over a coffee or a club sandwich at any time of the day.

Keep meandering through the lobby and you’ll find the famous Principe Bar, a real hotspot for Milan Fashion Week parties, as well as its expertly-mixed cocktails and typically Milanese aperitivo bar bites.

Our check-in was friendly and welcoming and we were kindly shown to our Ambassador Junior Suite on a high floor.  It was simply breathtaking, designed in a characterful Art Deco style with dark wood panelling and a rich colour palette of regal purple, soft gold and cream.  The decorative wood furniture, silk-covered walls and luxurious carpet bearing the Dorchester Collection signature pattern added to the drama of the suite.

Ambassador Junior Suite features include a separate bedroom and sitting room with sliding door, reception area with spacious fitted wardrobes, two large LCD TVs, executive writing desk, minibar and complimentary wifi.

The queen-size bed was an absolute delight, covered in the most exquisite linen, and we found it ever so comfortable.  It’s also very quiet and peaceful around the hotel grounds, so you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

The bedroom leads on to the bathroom of dreams!  The enormous white marble and mirror mosaic bathroom features a deep-soaking tub, a fabulous walk-in shower with strong water pressure, bidet, vanity-style sink, luxurious towels, plush bathrobes and slippers and a full set of Acqua di Parma amenities.  The underfloor heating and hot towel rail also make it feel cosy and inviting, like a boudoir that you might not want to leave.

A real perk of being a guest at Hotel Principe di Savoia is having access to the penthouse Club 10 Spa and Fitness Centre.  After an afternoon of culture at Fondazione Prada and a cheeky gelato from nearby Biancolatte to sustain us, we were ready for some spa relaxation.

The swimming pool was so heavenly and tranquil, with a fabulous adjoining hydro-massage tub for a real treat.  There is also a perfectly-maintained sauna and a powerful steam room with eucalyptus aromas.  For that bit of extra indulgence, the spa offers face and body treatments by [comfort zone] and Sensai.  In the warmer months, the outdoor terrace, with views over Porta Nuova, is an ideal spot to relax with healthy drinks and snacks.

In the morning, we had a lovely table at Acanto restaurant for a typical Italian breakfast.  This spacious and smart restaurant, overseen by Executive Chef Alessandro Buffolini, boasts elegant Murano glass chandeliers and a veranda overlooking the hotel’s beautiful Italian garden.

Breakfast is a stylish affair with a copious buffet offering classic hot dishes from the live chef station, Italian meats and cheeses, smoked salmon, luxury yoghurts, pastries, at least three different cakes and a selection of home-baked bread rolls.

There is also an a la carte menu for more elaborate breakfast dishes and if you visit on a weekend, a decadent Sunday Brunch is served just after noon, with a sumptuous buffet, live jazz and Champagne.

The Dorchester Collection hotels always have some extra treats in-store for guests and what could be better than your own private car to do a spot of shopping on the Via Montenapoleone or arriving in style for an evening at Teatro della Scala?  Every day, from morning to early evening, a complimentary limousine service to the city centre is offered to all hotel guests.  That’s not to say that the hotel is far away – it’s just a pleasant 20-minute walk through the chic Quadrilatero Della Moda neighbourhood to the heart of Milan – but why not indulge.

Hotel Principe di Savoia is a stunning hotel with so much charm, sophistication and fabulous facilities. Compared to the city’s ultra-luxe (and eye-wateringly expensive) designer brand hotels, rooms at the Principe start at a surprisingly modest rate, making it the perfect choice for a luxurious weekend in Milan.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Hotel Principe di Savoia

Photos by Chérie City and Hotel Principe di Savoia

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Smokestak, London

Saturday night barbecue in Shoreditch is my kinda night out, and where better than the newly-opened Smokestak?

It’s heartwarming to see stars of the street food scene thrive and launch a restaurant of their own.  While Smokestak’s branding has always been on point, the food market set-up has its limits, so it was exciting to see what founder David Carter had in mind when given free reign with the menu, design and location.

Smokestak opened to rave reviews and I’m pleased to report that it’s just as thrilling and brilliant as expected. The first thing you’ll notice when approaching the restaurant is the intoxicating aroma of smoked meats and secondly, the cool and unique exterior that takes urban-industrial design to another level.

Inside, it’s buzzing and loud – a slick operation and clearly the place to be on a Saturday night in Shoreditch. As if you aren’t already drooling by this point, the open kitchen offers a glimpse of what’s to come out of that wood-burning smoker and there is table and counter seating at either side, as well as a more zen basement bar for cosy cocktails and bar bites.

The moody interiors are inspired by the inside of a smoker with black carbon-stained concrete walls, steel surfaces, solid wood seating, leather banquettes and even black metal cutlery.  It’s like a gloriously charred, steampunk workshop and I can’t think of any London restaurants with this kind of dark and sexy look.

At first, I wasn’t thrilled at being seated at the end of the counter, next to a narrow pathway to the less glam side of the kitchen.  My coat was on the floor, my bag kept falling off the hook, the staff were zooming past us constantly and I must have flashed half the restaurant each time I clambered up on my very high stool.  I don’t really mind counter seating, when I’m not knee-deep in a pile of coats and scarves, but this felt a bit chaotic.

Luckily, service is speedy and super-charming and I was quickly dazzled and distracted by the arrival of some real eye candy food.  The concept is all about sharing, so we ordered two different meats and two sides, which was more than enough for a good feed.

The Beef brisket with barbecue (£9.50) was magnificently tender with a rich flavour and a small layer of melt-in-the-mouth fat.  The home-made barbecue sauce had a mellow, spiced taste and the pickled red chillies added a tangy punch.  It can also be served packed inside a brioche bun, but for the first visit, I preferred to get the full flavour of the meat on its own.

I thought the brisket couldn’t be matched, but the Thick-cut pork ribs were also divine and made for a nice contrast.  The lean meat had a very pure taste and was enveloped in silky fat with charred edges enhanced by a bold, full-bodied dry rub.  The portion size of the ribs was particularly generous and they were just so satisfying.

Sides aren’t merely an after-thought either, in fact, the Jacket potato with smoked rarebit (£5) was quite an event in itself.  The crispy smoked potato skins were filled with a lovely mix of scorched, gooey cheese with mild rarebit seasoning and soft, slightly sweet potato.  I think we scored an extra portion, shhh…

Another gem was the Roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme and honey (£4.50).  The aromatic, sticky glaze really enhanced the flavours and I could detect some additional herbs and zesty orange.

We were feeling pretty full by that point (I blame the boulder-esque jacket potato) but found room to share a light dessert.  Salted caramel ice cream with hazelnut praline (£4.50) was ultra-smooth with an intense flavour (you could actually taste the salt in the salted caramel) and punctuated with a layer of golden crunchy nuttiness.  It was the perfect end to a fabulous meal, but if you have an appetite for further indulgence, try the Sticky toffee pudding or Plum crumble with malt ice cream.

Smokestak not only does the most mouth-watering barbecued meat, but it’s a fun destination restaurant with tons of atmosphere, modest prices and really dedicated staff.  I know I’ll be back pretty soon to indulge my barbecue cravings on these cold winter nights.

For more information and booking, visit: www.smokestak.co.uk

Photos by Chérie City

Smokestak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hotels, New York

A Stay at Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown

Think you know everything about the dependable, mid-market Holiday Inn brand?  What if I told you the next generation Holiday Inn is a super-stylish, millennial-friendly haven over in downtown Brooklyn?

Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown was a fantastic base for our first proper night in New York last year.  Since our priority that day was securing our marriage licence at the Office of the City Clerk in Downtown Manhattan, we chose a hotel with quick access to make things nice and easy – it’s just three subway stops away.  Also, I was lured in by the newness of the just-opened hotel and its cool design by Andres Escobar.

The hotel is in an ideal position on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn’s buzzing Boerum Hill neighbourhood.  Not only is it within walking distance of the Barclay’s Center, but there are some great shopping and dining spots nearby, like Bklyn Larder, Flatbush Farm, Cafe Luluc and Doughnut Plant (order the Carrot Cake doughnut).

On arrival, the hotel lobby feels so calm with a living wall, a spectacular light-reflecting crystal prism-shaped chandelier and an Instagrammable quartz mosaic floor.  The lobby leads on to a spacious atrium guest lounge with a relaxing waterfall feature, communal work areas and intimate booths complete with their own TVs – it’s quite a social hub.

Also on the ground floor is Brasserie Séoul, a cool (and very Brooklyn) industrial-chic restaurant offering dishes inspired by modern French and traditional Korean cuisine.  It’s also the place for a hearty breakfast of Eggs Benedict, Mini Malted Waffles or a Sunrise Sandwich.

Our check-in was friendly and dedicated and we were able to have early access our King Room on a high floor.  The room was very spacious, bright and pristine, designed in a natural palette of walnut, mink and white with chrome highlights.

As expected for a brand new hotel, everything is well-designed with plenty of electrical sockets, a large LCD TV with premium channels, reading lights, full-length mirror, coffee maker and a mini fridge.  Our king-size bed was also extremely comfortable and plush, plus it was so quiet that we had a great night’s sleep.

We found the bathroom pretty luxurious and just the right size with a high-pressure walk-in shower, large fluffy towels, proper hairdryer and a full set of Bath & Body Works bathroom products.

Another perk of staying at the Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown is the impressive Health Club.  The hotel was still so new when we visited that this facility wasn’t open yet, but now all guests can unwind in the sleek indoor spa pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold shower and gym.  What could be better after a long day exploring the city?

Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown really wowed and I can’t recommend it enough.  Not only is it thoughtfully-designed, affordable and in a handy location, but it has a relaxed neighbourhood vibe that you might not expect from such a big brand.  I’m definitely considering it again for my next New York trip, as I just have to try that amazing pool.

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

Photos by Chérie City and Holiday Inn Brooklyn Downtown

London, Pubs

Young’s House of Happiness

Blue Monday – officially the most dismal day of the winter season – is always a tough slog, but what could be better than to spend it with cake, comedy and cosiness?

Yesterday, I ended a challenging day on a hygge high at the pop-up Young’s House of Happiness.  Taking over two floors at Finch’s in Moorgate, the pub became a temple of relaxation with some fun treats.

According to a happiness survey conducted by Young’s Pubs, Brits tend to find joy in simple pleasures such as going on holiday, good food or freshly-washed sheets.  In fact, a restaurant or pub is known to be the nation’s happiest place outside of the home, so it made perfect sense to congregate in the pub to banish the January blues.

It’s not often that you can go around the pub in your slippers, but we were given some lovely, soft slippers to keep our feet comfy while leaving our shoes at the door for a free shoe shine.  After a warming cuppa, I settled downstairs for a 15-minute ‘happiness burst’ with Laughology.

Funnyman Dave Keeling regaled us with witty observations on happiness and offered up some quirky life advice.  As ever, us Londoners were a tough crowd, but within no time he had us hugging and massaging the shoulders of our neighbours (yep, that really happened).

Tasty sharing platters kept us fuelled up, as well as a DIY cake decorating station where you could graze on indulgent brownies and pound cake, embellished with sprinkles and velvety chocolate sauce. For those in search of something harder, there was complimentary Rum Apple Punch and Whisky tasting with Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet.

Of course, a keystone of hygge is mindfulness, so there was the chance to let our creativity flourish with letter writing, complete with a cute red post box, and colouring books.  Add to that professional shoulder massages, tea blending and chatting corners and it was a perfectly uplifting and sociable evening.

Young’s House of Happiness was great start to the week and the rest of January feels much more manageable after this mid-month pick-me-up.  I’m now tempted to return again soon to see if the survey’s claims that a Sunday Roast or proper fish and chips are the key to a Londoner’s happiness are spot on.

Photos by Young’s Pubs and Chérie City

Films

Film Review: Manchester By The Sea

If you have the January blues, Manchester By The Sea is certainly not going to elevate your mood, but that’s no reason to skip it.  In fact, it’s one of the first ‘must sees’ of the year, especially since lead actor Casey Affleck has just won the Golden Globe for Best Actor and the film is set for Oscar and BAFTA recognition.

Kenneth Lonergan’s atmospheric indie film opens with grumpy Boston janitor Lee Chandler unblocking toilets for bored housewives and clashing with his boss over his bad attitude, when he receives the news of his brother Joe’s (Kyle Chandler) untimely death.

Following a pain-stakingly long and at times awkward hospital scene, Lee discovers that he has been appointed legal guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), since Joe deemed the teenager’s estranged alcoholic mother (Gretchen Mol) incapable.

Panic sets in as Lee not only lives far away in spartan bachelor conditions, but also has some painful memories and a bad reputation from his years living in Manchester, Massachusetts.  However, he concedes and has to learn how to live with typical teenager Patrick, who is juggling two girlfriends, playing in a band and coping with crippling anxiety.

Flashbacks shed light on Lee’s relationship with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), from happier times to a fateful night of fighting and a terrible accident that left their two young children dead.  You then begin to understand the reasons behind Lee’s self-loathing and depression, although chaperoning Patrick gives him some distraction and purpose as a reluctant father figure.

Casey Affleck’s performance is epic, capturing Lee’s array of emotions from pensive detachment to violent outbursts and breaking down.  Michelle Williams also plays the hard-edged, yet courageous, grieving mother flawlessly and there are moments of tender comedy between Casey Affleck and rising star Lucas Hedges.

Manchester By The Sea is a well-crafted film and the small New England fishing town landscape is beautifully-shot, but it can be a long, hard slog.  If you can handle Manchester By The Sea’s icy anguish, chase it with a shot of technicolor La La Land, also released on Friday.

New York

How To Plan An NYC Destination Wedding

The New Year always brings a flurry of engagements and if that’s you and your special someone, a million congratulations!  Of course, soon after the initial excitement comes the multitude of questions, the where, when, how…and this is where I may be of some help.

After our engagement in Paris, we knew that we wanted a low-key but luxurious destination wedding in a city that meant something to us.  Our New York wedding last summer was an absolute dream and to mark our first year anniversary, we’re planning a trip back there in a few months to relive the memories.

Destination weddings can take away some of stresses of typical wedding days, however getting married abroad can pose its own challenges.  Here are a few handy tips that I learned along the way on how to have an amazing wedding in New York…

What’s Your Wedding Style?

Most New York elopements tend to be small and intimate affairs, but there’s nothing to say you can’t take over a different city with a big wedding party including all of your friends and family.  Once you’ve established the size, time of year and budget, decide whether your wedding is best suited to, say, a warehouse loft with twinkling lights, the private room at Lafayette that’s sure to please foodies, the chic rooftop at the Gramercy Park Hotel, a pretty spot in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or the quick and easy Office of the City Clerk (City Hall).

Get the Licence

The first step is to get your marriage licence at the Office of the City Clerk in downtown Manhattan.  To avoid extra paperwork at the office, apply online in advance and leave plenty of time have your documents and payment processed by a clerk.  This is also the place where lots of couples get married, so you can pass the time by watching other couples celebrate their big day.  One of the grooms sat next to us fell asleep, but that’s another story!

Timing is a key issue, as you are required by law to wait a full 24 hours before your marriage ceremony can be performed, unless a judge grants a judicial waver (only in exceptional circumstances).  For peace of mind, get this over and done with on your first full day in New York so the fun can start.

How to Get Married in Central Park

Central Park was our number one choice and it couldn’t have been any more magical at the picturesque Wagner Cove, with rowing boats passing by and little turtles jumping off the rocks.  You might be wondering how to go about getting married in Central Park, but it’s actually very simple.  The park is a public space and you can get married there by hiring an officially registered officiant to conduct the ceremony.

There isn’t actually a fee to get married in the park, however, to secure use of a particular venue, it’s advisable to get a special event permit, even if there are fewer than the stated 20 guests.  This costs $25 and covers a two-hour time slot on your wedding day.  The permit takes up to 30 days to process and the permit was sent by post to our officiant, who offered to help secure our venue.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the park is open to the public, so if you arrive to find a family tucking into a picnic right on your spot, get your most charming (or pushy) relative to shift them politely.  There aren’t many park rangers roaming around to lay down the law, but everyone we met in the park was super-friendly and chatty, so it shouldn’t have to come down to flashing your permit.

Do I Need a Wedding Planner?

As many times as I’ve watched J.Lo in The Wedding Planner (more than I wish to admit), it didn’t make sense for us to hire a specialist for our wedding, especially since I’m one of those strange people that actually enjoys planning and admin.  I made the bookings for everyone in our party, including flights, our accommodation at the WestHouse New York and our reception dinner at Little Park in Tribeca, as well as all of our wedding vendors.

Many planners offer a full service, to make things run smoothly on the day for larger parties, but these packages can run into thousands of dollars, so be sure that it’s something that you want to delegate.

Vendors

You might think it’s tricky to organise your big day from such a distance without a planner, but the internet is your friend when choosing your wedding vendors and there is no shortage of talented people in New York to make it happen.

I signed up to Wedding Wire – a handy online directory that connects you with local vendors, including wedding/reception venues, DJs, florists, stylists and jewellers.  I used it to view the portfolio and reach out to our photographer Emilia Randler, who photographed our wedding beautifully and made us all feel at ease.

We found our officiant Sarah Smart at Officiant NYC and liaised by email to decide on our type of ceremony and vows.  She understood the kind of relaxed yet dedicated ceremony we wanted and everything went as planned.

For wedding beauty, it’s worth securing your stylists or appointments well in advance, especially if you can book online.  I knew that New Yorkers are serious about their grooming, but didn’t realise that appointments at the most exclusive nail bars, salons and blow-bars can get snapped up literally weeks in advance.  However, this is the city that never sleeps, so there are still plenty of options if all doesn’t go to plan – you’ll never be left high and dry…or unpolished!

The Technical Stuff

You got married…woohoo!  But it’s not over yet, as it’s back to that ole Office of the City Clerk to do the paperwork and get your marriage certificate.  At this point, it’s essential to know exactly what is needed to make your marriage valid in your home country – it’s not like you can just pop back easily to sort out any mistakes.

You might expect the officials involved in your wedding to be walking wedding encyclopedias, but they’re not necessarily au fait with requirements outside of the US, so I was glad to have done my research ahead of time.

Unless you plan to also get married officially in the UK, you can get everything tied up with a UK extension certificate.  I won’t lie, it’s quite a hassle, possibly adding hours to your City Clerk visit and sending you on a wild goose chase to various government offices in downtown Manhattan.  In fact, it was such a mission that we missed our planned train for our honeymoon in Montauk, so be sure to leave a full afternoon to get it sorted.

While the City Clerk gave us detailed instructions on how to proceed, we found this detailed guide from a UK couple on Tripadvisor extremely helpful.  There are a few extra small fees involved with this process, but it’s necessary to seal the deal back home.

Planning our New York wedding was quite an adventure, but it was totally manageable and mostly a fun experience.  If you have any questions about getting married in New York, send them my way in the comments below.