Monday, April 29, 2013

And on to Lacock....

Upon leaving the picturesque village of Castle Combe, our group headed to the sweet town of Lacock,

another timeless and traditional English village,

first founded in 1232 and with most houses built in the 18th century or much earlier.

Almost untouched in the last few centuries,

the village has been the backdrop for many movies and period dramas,

including Pride and Prejudice, Cranford, Emma,

and a couple of Harry Potter films.

Situated in the center of the village is Lacock Abbey, first founded  in the 13th century as a nunnery,

which was converted into a country house of various architectural styles.

The cloister courtyard is especially picturesque. The cloisters and side rooms were converted into classrooms at Hogwarth Castle for the Harry Potter movies.

After touring the village which is almost completely owned by the National Trust, we found ourselves hungry, so we ducked into The Red Lion

to warm up and enjoy a Sunday roast.

And then sadly it was time to drive back into the city, leaving behind two magical villages that time has left untouched.

We had rented a Mercedes for the excursion, and were quite perplexed when a "cup" light illuminated  on the dashboard with a ding sound.

We wondered for a while--do British cars announce when it is time for tea?? After all, it was that time of the day!

Any guesses what it's for?

After a prolonged search in the owner's manual by our faithful "co-pilot" for the day, we finally realized that it was a warning signal that the driver was veering out of his lane, and might need to break for some caffeine. Needless to say, we got a good laugh out of that one, and stayed more focused on keeping our driver alert and staying in his own lane.

If you'd like to read a bit more about Lacock on a prettier day, this will direct you to earlier blogs after a 2010 visit, both here and here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

After first visiting the charming village of Castle Combe 3 years ago, we had the chance to return with friends on a very frigid weekend in March.

The guys had been plotting a golf weekend at the Manor Hotel in Castle Combe on the edge of the Cotswolds, staying 

at this magnificent 14th luxury country house attached to its own golf course. 

So do you think that we gals were going to let them go off on their own and miss all this loveliness?

Not a chance!

Built on the site of an old Norman castle, this country house is situated in 365 acres of beauty, including the hotel, golf course, and a Michelin starred restaurant.

Their brochure claims that the hotel is a "labyrinth of quirky hidey holes" which is indeed true, and we enjoyed exploring all the levels,

and alcoves where we uncovered all sorts of treasures such as this antique cradle on a landing beneath a tiny stained glass window.

Every room was unique with its own charm, and both the bedroom

and bath were huge. Luxury awaited in the form of a long soak in the claw footed tub with a rubber duckie supplied for fun.

Our room was graced with this bell--in the style of Downton Abbey!

Time for a stroll while the boys golfed, and wellies were supplied at the front door just for such an occasion.

A short walk through the village reminded us that this was a town that has literally been untouched since the 17th century. No new homes have been built there since 1617.

The oldest aspect of the village is the centrally located market cross seen above, which was serving as a center of trade as early as 1000 years ago. Some of this trade has been with the military through the years, and the market cross still shows the grooves where English longbowmen are said to have sharpened their arrows as they passed through.

The village was once a thriving woolen town due to the access of the Bybrook river and the cloth trade flourished there between the 11th and 18th centuries.

Today the town is a popular spot for tourists and movie makers. Many TV shows and movies have been situated there, including most recently Dr. Doolittle, The Wolfman and War Horse.

Doorways were inviting

and made us wonder what treasures lay behind the ancient doors.

In addition to staying in the hotel, some of the old weavers' cottages are available for guests as well.

We were amused to find cakes offered for sale at one door way,

where Mr. Yummy runs his business on a trust basis. Notice he is a "supplier" to the film and T.V, industry too.

The boys enjoyed playing golf (even in the rain), the gals enjoyed a spa day in nearby Bath, and everyone took home another memory of the good life in Britain.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cajun Food in London?

This blog is dedicated to Pam Cooper, my New Orleans friend, who lives here in London and truly exemplifies the Mardi Gras spirit all year long. The little restaurant just over the bridge from our flat in Chelsea, London is going to "let the good times roll" this week with their pop-up Jambalaya menu.

The JAM Tree restaurant serving JAMbalaya-get it? Good, because that little detail escaped me until today.

The choices were pretty extensive, and we were anxious to try out some of the Cajun delicacies- British style.

Cristen and Jason really wanted to order frickles (fried pickles) for an appetizer, but since we were there on the first evening of the new menu, they weren't quite prepared to fry pickles the first night. Honestly, I think they were a bit overwhelmed by all the new recipes!

So, second choice for an appetizer was Momma's Southern Fried Chicken with Creole Slaw. Little chicken wings topped with a single fried okra isn't really what my momma makes, but they were tasty.

Cristen ordered Etouffée,

and Jason selected the Jambalaya.

They both really liked their choices.

Served with the étoufée were collard greens and dirty rice.

My dish was a little more complicated. Blackened Shrimp with Grits, Re-fried Green Tomatoes, and Biscuits. Every bit of it was very tasty, but there were no biscuits. The manager told me that the chef hadn't found a recipe he liked yet!

Maybe he hasn't yet figured out that a biscuit is bread, and not a cookie!

With New Orleans jazz music playing in the background and a garden spot for warmer afternoons, The Jam Tree is a great choice, especially now.

So London friends, time is short: the menu only lasts until April 28, so don't drag your feet. Get yourself over to the Jam Tree on Kings Road in Chelsea or their Clapham location and "laissez les bons temps rouler!"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

So Dior

This past month, Harrods celebrated the relationship between England and Christian Dior, the iconic French designer, with a huge So Dior exhibit and make-over. The windows were 

decked out just like Christmas windows with amazing displays. Little red buses carrying the fabulously popular round heeled shoes of the season around the sights of London.

My friends and I were treated to an hour long tour by a guide who fascinated us by the stories and history surrounding the Dior phenomenon.

We were anxious to hear all the details and feel the "Miss Dior emotion" as we were spritzed by his iconic scent.

Entering, we were amazed by the façade re-creation of the Paris headquarters on Avenue Montaigne, with silhouettes of Dior fashion

and glimpses of Dior perfumes in the little windows.

Christian Dior first presented his flattering feminine fashions in his 1947 collection, and this lovely "Bar" suit from that group was on display. 

Dior's special relationship with England began in 1953 when he came to England to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. A year later he had his first fashion show in Harrod's. Princess Margaret was a big fan.

Since Dior's untimely death at age 52, while on vacation in Italy, a succession of artistic directors has taken the helm of the house of Dior, the most current being Raf Simons, and the first being Yves. St. Laurent.

It was fascinating to see the stage of miniature Haute Couture re-creations from the history of the House of Dior telling the story of the design house through the years,

and we were spellbound gazing at this white tulle dress embroidered with silver sequins that Audrey Hepburn wore in 1959 for Harpers Bizarre magazine.

Equally stunning was this midnight blue satin dress worn by Princess Diana to celebrate the House of Dior's 50th anniversary in December, 1996.

Having always yearned a bit for the iconic Dior bag, I was intrigued by this grand scale bag, as well as being fascinated by its connection to Princess Diana. Evidently, the former first lady of France, Bernadette Chirac, gave Princess Diana this bag soon after it first came out in the mid 1990's, and Princess Diana loved it so much 

that she ordered one in every color. Soon after, the bag was christened to be the Lady Dior bag in honor of Princess Diana.

Many references to the Dior scents were on display, including this bottle of Miss Dior, the first scent of the company, which was exclusively designed for Princess Grace of Monaco with the Grimaldi coat of arms featured on the bottle.

Maybe you remember seeing this dress from the commercial with Charlize Theron for Miss Dior perfumes, when she channels the memories of Marilyn Monroe, Princess Grace and Marlene Dietrich in the Palace of Versailles. The design of the dress and beads reflects the design of the bottles which surround the mannequin here.

So feminine, so figure flattering, this gown is the one currently being worn by Natalie Portman for Miss Dior ads.

And if all that beauty and design left you feeling a bit overwhelmed, you could pause in the Dior cafe

for tea and "fashionable" cupcakes.

A delightful way to end a lovely experience!