Love street pianos, like the free ones in St Pancras? Great news – this year brings a new theme, street guitars in the Square Mile for you to practise on or simply amaze pedestrians with your skills. A brilliant, brilliant idea! Click here to see where to find them. As always, scroll down to find 10 more fun ideas to enjoy the week-end in London.
1. On Friday, for its late evening, the London Transport Museum is turning Brazilian. Carnival and daiquiris amongst the buses!
2. Make yoga more fun - try it on Saturday mornings on the roofs of Netil House.
3. Will you dare to order the Marmite Martini at Peg + Patriot, whose cocktail list is out of this world?
4. If you fancy yourself a Sherlock Holmes, join this Guinness Record attempt on Saturday – the most people dressed as Sherlock!
5. You will love the Children’s Film Club at the Soho Hotel: the movie is matched with a buffet lunch (ice cream, popcorn…) and a glass of prosecco for the parents! Each Saturday until September.
6. New street food vans are converging on Southbank this summer. Including one of my favourites, The Bloody Oyster, with their fancy oyster assortments and funky blooody mary cocktails served in their double decker! Also B.O.B.’s Lobster and their lobster mac’n’cheese, Beany Green serving artisan coffee in a container decorated with street art. And many more!
7. Let’s go to a street party! The very best in London is always the one on Whitecross Street, this Saturday and Sunday. The atmosphere will be super happy, there will be stalls, music, a street food market and even better, street artists will be at work (the pieces will be on show for 6 weeks).
8. Will you succeed to stare these artworks down? They just appeared on the facade of the Wellcome Trust.
9. Regent Street will once more be traffic free this Sunday. The V&A will have a pop-up stall there with fashion themed workshops. There will also be a 100m long catwalk and 60 street food stalls. Go and enjoy!
10. Tower beach (that’s right, right in front of the Tower of London) will exceptionally be open to the public this week-end. Who knows, you might find a little souvenir from the past there!
♪♫♪♫ Click on the map to locate the events ♪♫♪♫
Being a froggie, I am often asked – is there anything you particularly miss from France?
Real bread with excellent cheese.
In the beginning, I wondered whether England only produced Cheddar, Stilton and Wensleydale. The list is much longer, of course and much more interesting. However, finding the good ones is a bit trickier. Not if you live in London – great cheesemongers there (Neal’s Yard, Paxton and Whitfield to only name the most famous) and fabulous markets. Now if you live in say, Farnborough, no fromager around. The nearest farmer’s market is once every two weeks, a one hour drive.
I need a magic formula that would make a cheese platter appear on the table, effortless.
And I found it. Just say (well, type) The Dairy Girl.
This is the best foodie box on the market as far as I am concerned. I’m French – trust me. One of those surprise boxes you subscribe and receive once a month with the impatience of a child on Christmas day. There are 3 options to choose from – taster (4 to try), classic (5, it’s all in the name, ideal comfort food!), gourmet (5, more on the adventure side. Don’t hesitate, go straight to this one). The idea of course is to enjoy and discover, never knowing what will come your way. You can however tweak what you do or don’t like and it will be tailored to your taste. Rachel is passionate and about knowing the artisans doing the hard work, making a point of getting all the details just right. She will not compromise on quality. You know it from her very first email. I love her all the more for it.
The parcel arrives on the set day, well packaged with paper straw, very countryside like, bringing a hint of nostalgia, and tiny frozen cushions to keep it fresh all along. It reminds me of school fairs, trying to find a surprise in a barrel, the excitement of it. Each cheese comes with a very precise card, written in a warm, friendly way. You’ll learn everything about it – name, origin, type of milk, anecdotes of the way it was made, which wine to match it to, how best to serve it. I am very fond of the proposed twists – melt the Keltic gold and add a pinch of nutmeg. Crumble the Cornish Blue on sauteed leeks and mushrooms. Brilliant.
I took the cheeses out of the box. One by one. The wrapping made me happy - proper cheesemonger style. I tried to guess them by shape alone, tried to imagine them from their name. I love the way a piece of cheese owns the space around it. It has a physical presence – tall and towering, lower, cream and ash, marbled and artistic. Then the aroma, milky or strong, overtaking your senses.
Patience has its limits – it was time to try them. The creamy, perfect Pont L’Eveque (I had to be patriotic on that one, it had to be the first). Then another way to discover England. From Corwall, a beautiful Cornish Blue, subtle, slightly salty, then exploding in flavours. And a Keltic Gold, the rind washed with cider, filling the mouth, supple, I have a thousand recipes planned for this one. From Somerset, a fabulous Tor, creamy, refreshing, a hint of lemon, very addictive. And my favourite, a real gem, Smoked Wedmore, crossed by a line of chives, to which I always go back, slightly sweet, between the grass at the end of summer and a fire in the hearth in autumn.
This gourmet selection has 900g of cheese – enough to be shared for quite some time without sacrificing your appetite. Then again, these are cheeses with a personality, fulfilling flavours. They do not call for excess, just ask to be enjoyed with as much love as rachel put into choosing them. Preferably several times a day starting with breakfast.
My level of energy and cheerfulness is proportional to the amount of sunshine. On a sunny day, you’ll find me outside with my cup of tea, radiant, sighing happily. I could spend my life in tropical countries, just to enjoy the vibrant light, the way it makes the colours stand out so beautifully.
Of course, I pay for it. My skin dries instantly. The rich, comforting cream I use against the cold does not match summer temperatures. Fancy lightness, a soft touch too? Try Melvita‘s new rose beauty mist. Refreshing, like the caress of a butterfly’s wing, gentle, an appeasing scented dew. Even better, it is enriched with antioxidants to help your skin fight the first signs of ageing. My tip? Use it as a tonic after cleansing the makeup.
Hema has saved me more than once. The Dutch brand is my favourite treasure chest – hundreds of colourful, fun, adorable accessories. More importantly, perfectly prices. Not too expensive, not too cheap – exactly what I would have paid had I been asked what the value was. With no guilt in mind, you fill entire baskets! This is where I find inspiration for photoshoots, nice touches to highlight a picnic, a brunch table, kids parties (from the organisation to the birthday presents), even rather cool office supplies. Little nothings that make such a huge difference.
I first discovered the brand in Antwerp. I knew it was popular, got curious. The result? I filled half a suitcase with melamine plates, T-shirts for the children, funky sweets. Later, they set up shops in Paris and in my hometown, Bordeaux. Each time I go back, I stock up. Closer to me, not close enough. But hey, this is it, Hema has finally opened not one but two shops in London. A third is on the way!
Why so happy? It just makes my life so easy. My daughter wanted to plan a sleepover with her best friend. She’s 8 but these days, it almost means they are teenagers. Pop songs and neon colours, dancing and singing, giggling and whispering. But still on the sweet side – there are still hugs and My Little Ponies, modern version. And so we made cupcakes with a twist, baking them in ice cream cones instead, adding rainbow sparkles. On the table, paper umbrellas, sugar confetti, doilies turned into favours and filled with treats, I recall them jumping in joy. I also got them notebooks and stickers, turned within minutes into secret diaries. Add a manicure session with sorbet-coloured nail varnish (at that price, the fact that it would have to disappear before Monday morning barely mattered. We’re all princesses at heart). And you know what? It cost me less than taking them to see a movie with popcorn and sodas.
As addictive as Ikea.
Victoria Place Shopping Centre
115 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9SJ
24 Clarence Street
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT1 1NX
Grand Canyon West, Canyon de Chelly… The rocks, eroded by time, and rivers, offer open sky canyons, a silent, stone sea reaching as far as the eye can see. Vertigo inducing grandeur. Standing at the very tip makes you feel both very small and as rich as if you were the king of the world. With Antelope Canyon, in Navajo country, I discovered Slot Canyons. Wind and sand widened a crack in the cliff this time vertically rather than horizontally, digging a quite extraordinary tunnel through it, narrow but high, amazing layers twisting above you.
This one (the Lower part of Antelope Canyon) is particularly striking. Plan your visit between 10am and 2pm, when the rays of sunshine filter through admirably, highlighting fully the pink-orange tint of the rock. The walls are smooth to the touch, reminders of the polished yet sharp-ended surfaces of icebergs. During the monsoon, water rushes in, rising quickly, torrential, carrying branches and tree logs, sometimes leaving them suspended in the air as it retreats. At the end of the path, it’s only wide enough for two people, verging on an intimate atmosphere if you let the clicking cameras fade away.
Back from a wonderful roadtrip in the US, five weeks going round National Parks, stunning hikes, breathtaking landscapes, a few days to explore San Francisco. One of those trips that makes you feel so much richer, an emotional journey, giving you a new respect for the strength of nature. Oh, that space, the seemingly limitless canyons and sky!
A road trip is also… endless driving, hours in a row. In my case, 8850 km to be exact. Amazing that on a map, everything seems so close, so manageable. 3 hours? Sure, easy! On the way, I found comfort in American diners. Juicy, tender burgers. Skyscraper like, piling on layers of cheese, lettuce, tomato, double or triple patties, mushrooms, avocado, anything you can dream of, impossible to get your mouth around. Mexican dishes too, succulent chili, nachos, tamales. A Navajo version of tacos, with deep-fried bread. And the 25 flavours of milkshakes at Sonic Drive-In, your order brought to your car by a waitress on roller skates. In a nutshell, a few more kilos went straight in the suitcases, a few more on my hips.
Time to be reasonable, find a healthier way of living, lighten up a little. The idea made me sigh, to be honest.
Remember, I had discovered a while back Perk!er, a gluten free brand. Although I am not allergic to gluten, some of my friends are so I could share treats rather than buying two different products. But in the end, I was rather seduced by the taste and kept loyal to it. It’s often by stepping away from your habits that you find the best treats. Another bonus point? The texture and flavour are so satisfying I am not tempted by snacks later on.
Perk!ier had a surprise for me. A mystery box arrived in the post. Perk Up Your Summer, it said. Try something different! Do they read minds, I wonder? Inside was a kit to start exercising, gently. Inspiration, finally - just what I needed. Efficient but not threatening. Alternating effort and reward. I started with pilates and yoga, keeping the Perk!er creamy porridge in a corner, the promise of a nice breakfast enticing. Then the kids jumped in, giving me challenges. Could I prepare cereals for everyone, with one free hand only, weights in the other? How many yellow objects could I find in the room, jumping up and down my exercise ball? They are tough coaches, I tell you. Right after getting up! I had to escape, going for power walks in the nearby forest, taking a rocky road or tiffin along with a flask of water infused with lime and fresh mint. The right balance between detox and pleasure.
Who would have thought sport could be such fun? Go on. Give it a try…
Gluten and wheat free but full of happiness! #summerperk
Perk!er, gloriously gluten free
Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Asda
Yes, I’m back in the UK. Of course there was chocolate waiting for me when I arrived. There is a reason I was nicknamed Chocoralie, you see -chocolate finds me.
This one brings together two brands - the superb vintage patterns by Betty and Walker and the sweetest creations by award-winning Creighton’s Chocolaterie. The beauty of the first, in cheerful, full-of-vitamins colours, wraps the delicious bites of the other. They were meant to be, surely, such a perfect match. Refined design, nostalgic fonts, transparent paper teasing you, shall it be slowly undone or torn apart, the sugar call stronger than reason?
The chocolate melts immediately on your tongue, such comfort, bringing memories of French goûters with just a warm baguette and milk chocolate. The cacao is so very supple, in turns lyrical with its floral rose notes then crunchy, unexpected almond pieces.
More to discover in this collection – fig and pink pepper with dark chocolate, pineapple and dark chocolate, peach-raspberry with white chocolate. To be devoured!
French lovers rejoice. You may not have the budget to spend the 14th of July in Paris but hey, the Borough Market is bringing the Bastille day atmosphere to you. A lovely market, swinging music, pétanque and even a guillotine (only for watermelons). How about enjoying an apéro with friends there on Sunday, pretend you want to start a revolution and shout “Vive la France!”? Or you could go and cheer the garçons de café in Soho for their annual race in the neighbourhood. As always, you will find ten extra fun ideas below to enjoy London this week-end.
1. On Friday, celebrate the week-end at Camden Lock, opening for the occasion an urban boutique festival with designer stalls, three music stages, a dance tent, hip-hop workshops and street food.
2. On Saturday, rush to see the tenth anniversary of the Chap Olympiad, a celebration of gentlemanly elegance with games and a good dose of humour.
3. The National Portrait Gallery opens an exhibition dedicated to Virginia Woolf, a beautiful occasion to learn more about the woman beyond the author.
4. On Saturday, enjoy an open day organised by the Bank of England – time to go backstage!
5. Take the kids to the Pop Up Project, a free children’s literature festival with lots of storytelling. Quiet yet magical family time.
6. Latest addition to the bar scene? The open air terrace, right on the Old Street roundabout. Craft beer and comedy nights through August. Cheers!
7. For a rum island escape complete with rattan beds, flickering hurricane lanterns and superb cocktails… go straight to Floriditas in Soho.
8. An American touch - 4 London restaurants set in what was previously a petrol station.
9. Hotel Chocolat has just opened their very school dedicated to cacao so have a look at their workshops list. Even kids can join!
10. Sunday brings immersive theatre which will take place… on bus line 202.
♪♫♪♫ Click on the map to locate the events ♪♫♪♫
It is close to midnight when I arrive at the hotel. Inky black. My shoes are still powdered with the scarlet sand from Monument Valley. I can see a few jackrabbits hopping around but nothing else. I crash on the bed, dreaming of the past days, the majestic canyons, the burnt colours.
At dawn, I step onto the balcony. There it is. Lake Powell. Majestic. An exotic blue, the one you expect surrounding far away, dream like islands. The colour explodes in the landscapes, almost blinding, so vibrant. Circled by quite an impressive dam, the lake is now a restful pause for visitors, so soothing after hundreds of miles. Cruising yachts, small motor boats, water sports, kayaking. Look for higher vista points to really appreciate the contours, sometimes curved lovingly, sometimes rugged, highlighted, always by that blue.
In the States, there are three categories of parks. The National ones (covered by an annual pass costing $80, unlimited access), the State ones (smaller and individually priced) and Indian Reserves (like Grand Canyon West – the entry fee is more expensive but before criticising, remember that this is their own private land and that they have very limited revenues to take care of the infrastructure and advertising compared to the government).
Monument Valley belongs to the Navajos. A different world. The loop circuit is unpaved. If you came with a basic car, like I did, think twice about taking it. If you have an SUV or 4×4, go for it. If in doubt, ask the rangers, they will advise you fairly. The jeep tours are costly for sure but… really, compared to the stress of having your vehicle shaking apart for a whole hour, risk of stopping in too much sand, the opportunity to take pictures the whole time, it proved very much worth it in my case.
I went for the sunset tour, 3 whole hours. It starts on the classic circuit, ocre colours all around, burnt rocks and earth, contrasted by the cloud ceiling. The ideal film setting and indeed the John Wayne ones were filmed here, as well as Back to the Future and Lone Ranger (the movie version with Johnny Depp). The space, here too, takes you by surprise. You’ll have to project shapes on the rock formation. Mittens. Church. 3 sisters. Table. Eagle. Sleeping dragon… Ah, to be a bird, flying high, vertigo-inducing heights, slaloming through the tops of these!
The tour then takes a side road, unreachable without a guide. The dream starts here, emotions too. Our guide, whose speech had been a little too much by rote so far, mellowed. You could feel how touched he was by these sacred places, the meaning they had to him. It makes you feel kind of sad he has to share them, makes you wonder what right you have, as an outsider, to even claim a visit here. Where there used to be important dances and celebrations. The same atmosphere as walking in a cathedral. God’s eye, lashes drawn by the rain. Big Hogan, featuring a woman’s profile, with her long hair, or an eagle, depending on the angle. Ear in the wind, projecting a wide beam of sunshine. You’ll have no words to describe them. It has to be felt.
On the way back, the sun turned the ocre to a darker, intense red. Better than a sunset in the Far West? Plan your holiday to include a New Moon and watch it rise over the canyon. Unforgettable.