A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Dedham Vale & The Sun Inn

Did you think that Essex is the land of uber-tanned folk and bejazzled...well, everything? Think again!
Last Saturday I spent the whole day in the wonderful Essex-Suffolk border, in the picturesque Constable Country.

John Constable, was one of the romantic English painters of the late 18th century, who thought that if you are going to paint anything, then you might as well portray the land where you come from, as well as you possibly can.
I'm paraphrasing off course, but that's the gist of it. 
What a grounding thought, that shot him into fame, nevertheless.

How I came to spend my Saturday there? 
Early on Saturday I had to pick up one of my oldest school-friends from Stansted airport; but since I had to drop her off again, to catch another flight a couple of hours later, I looked into what else we could possibly do in the area, apart from visiting Cambridge.
I love Cambridge. If you knew my obsession with learning and my appreciation for academia, you would understand how much so; but on a Saturday afternoon, I wanted to avoid the traffic and instead of wasting time looking for parking, tuck into good food and cosy up in a nice pub to catch up with my dear friend, who I hadn't seen in more than a year.

We drove to Dedham, the most popular of the Vale villages. It's about half an hour away from Stanstead airport.
The road off the main square in Dedham, leads to river Stour and if the day would be sunnier we would have jumped into one of the rowing boats, down at the Boathouse. But cold and rainy as it was, we braved the wind and strolled around for a bit, before sitting down to a yummy lunch in the Sun Inn. 

The river banks are dotted with footpaths, and although we didn't have wellies on, we did our best to catch a glimpse of the ever famous Constable's landscapes. It seems that very little has changed since the late 1700s. The river was braking its banks, since it's been raining quite heavily the last couple of days, but swans were cruising around and all else seemed peaceful.

The houses around the village are colourful and some have interesting carvings, paintings above the front door, art-deco railings...quirky little details that will attract your attention. 

The Sun Inn is popular with locals and tourists alike, everybody seemed to know each other. Three fireplaces were lit throughout the pub, which is great, because the scent of burnt wood always makes me feel welcomed and reminds me of old village houses. 
After lunch we moved into the lounge, to chill out in one of the comfy sofas and make space for a hazelnut tiramisu. The staff were very relaxed too, they didn't come after us for the bill when they saw us moving to the lounge and there was no rush to leave after we finished our coffee and cakes either.
Upstairs there are cosy rooms too, where you can stay and I did catch some conversations between visitors thanking the pub stuff for their recommendations around the area. 

I had lovely smoked Haddock with spinach and crispy cauliflower florets alongside the ultimate comfort food: potatoes gratin with mushrooms; layers for fluff, with hints of butter, in other words. My friend had the risotto which looked a bit unconventional, with a red tomato salsa on top, but after the first bite she declared it delicious and finished every single grain of it! 

So, get out of London this Easter weekend people, go explore the countryside and yes, even Essex can surprise you!

PS: here's to good old friends, who sit down and chat for hours like not a day has passed since the last time you caught up...

Signature Day at Coworth Park Spa

My Christmas gift from my husband, was a Signature Spa day at Coworth Park

It came upon my request for two reasons. Let me explain...
Firstly, I find it increasingly difficult to slow down during the week lately, weekends are filled with chores, cleaning, kitchen & house planning, studying, marking, blogging and - phew - some dancing when feasible. 

Bottom line: no time for quite time, I mean zero. 

Secondly, Christmas gifts are great when you open them, but they tend to get lost amongst the excitement of the day; whereas gifts you can enjoy later, in the midst of post-Christmas, grey days for example, serve a much better purpose. 

So I booked myself in at Coworth Spa on a February weekday, to break away from the working week. How did that go?

I almost had a panic attack until I left the house, thinking that everything that could go wrong, would go wrong in the office, just because I wasn't there. No, I don't think I'm that irreplaceable, I just take on responsibility to another level sometimes, for no reason, whatsoever. 

Anyway, I was counting on the drive through gorgeous Virginia Waters to calm me down...it all happened very slowly. 
The area around Coworth Park is full of parks, lakes and gorgeous houses. It's close to Ascot too. It wasn't the best of days to drive through the green site, cloudy, raining and grey, but the tranquillity of Coworth Park estate overpowered me, as soon as I drove in. Promising start!

The Spa is a separate building to the rest of the hotel, which some people might find a bit too isolating.
Some of the ladies I spoke to ,as I was getting ready to leave, said that they found it a bit clinical. But I will admit that I did not speak to anyone for most of the day, apart from ordering lunch and I actually found it very therapeutic!
Now, although this is a small facility overall, it did not feel crowded at any point.

The Spa building is in a futuristic half moon shape, facing the grounds.
The thought that I was in Dr Blofeld's clinic on the Schillthorn, with James Bond, did cross my mind. The changing rooms are very minimalistic but everything you need is laid out in case you forgot to bring it along; things like deodorant, face cream, hand cream, shampoo and conditioner are all there for you to use.  
I went straight to the pool to relax.
It is at the lower level of the building, facing a courtyard which is protected by a little hill, so although you don't have views across the lawns, nobody can see in either.
The pool is heated and the whole room feels quite warm, perfect spot if you want to close your eyes while reading a book.

Around mid-day I had my Signature Spa treatment. Money well spent!
An hour and a half of exfoliation, massage and toning, face cleansing, head massage and even foot massage. 
My therapist was really good, she didn't stop for a minute. I lost count of how many different layer of lotions she applied, tit must have been close to 15 layers of creams and toning. I don't normally include facials in my treatments because my skin is sensitive and although some of the oils used, did sting at first, nothing caused me a reaction. 

The body treatment was fun.
What I mean, cheeky, is that after applying a layer of Hungarian mud on my back, the therapist covered my back with a plastic sheet and a warm towel, followed by hot stones and then she used the towels I was lying on, to cocoon me into a little bundle.
I imagined hovering in the room and looking down, I must have looked like a baby, all wrapped up.

When it was all over, I laid down in one of the loungers in the relaxation room and I couldn't believe how radiant my face looked.
You don't realise that even your face muscles get tense.  All of the stress gone.
I had to go for lunch and I wasn't sure I wanted to break this streak of quite and no talking!

Lunch was served at the Spatisserie, get it?
It's a small restaurant on the first floor with floor-to-ceiling windows and wonderful views across the grounds. The food was actually quite filling and I loved their juice combinations, great nutrients. I couldn't even finish my pavlova, can you believe it?
The thought of ordering a glass of champagne did cross my mind, but I didn't want anything to spoil this clarity I felt. I kept downing water with cucumber and lemons though! So refreshing, it's a little trick I play with myself when I don't feel like drinking water, pop some mint and lemon in it and there goes the whole jar...

My day ended by the pool, I thought of leaving after lunch but this warm pool-room felt so cosy, plus the pool changed colour to blood red in the early evening.
I had to have one last dip. 

Let me tell you, swimming in seemingly clear red waters is one of the sexiest things to do...in public. And there was hardly anyone there, peace, quite and for once, no thoughts other than how gorgeous the water felt.
Mission accomplished! 

Mikrolimano, Piraeus

If you find yourself in Piraeus port this Easter, waiting to be whisked away to one of the Aegean islands, do jump in a cab and go to Mikrolimano.
Five minutes around the corner from the main port of Piraeus, is this naturally formed incy-wincy port, perfectly round, utterly cute! It 's picture perfect, straight out of a 40's black and white movie; neo-classic houses towering above the tiny bay form part of an old neighbourhood "Kastella", offering the best view over Saronicos Gulf.

Lots of restaurants to choose from, but we headed to Vosporos.
We were lucky to get a table by the water and nothing else mattered any more. It was so relaxing looking out at the fishing boats and sailboats nested in the tiny bay. My dad & sister are regulars so we sat back and let them order...wow is this copper tagine coming our way?
The lid was lifted and a selection (poikilia) of kebabs, barbecued chicken, sausages and burgers mesmerised our eyes and our tummies! Attack! To accompany this delightful surprise there was cheese-pie (tiropitta) made of feta cheese and soft creamy anthotiro (Greek version of ricotta) with vermicelli instead of pastry and lots of butter!

This is a restaurant that specialises in Greek dishes with wonderful influences from Asia Minor (what a forgotten term that is) cuisines, hence the delightful variation! The only challenge was eating fast enough to keep up with the rest of the company, because my eyes were glued to the sea and the fishing boats! Speaking of middle-eastern cuisine, do not miss the desserts here. They make this crème brulee variation, nested on sweetened vermicelli, all very syrupy and sinful, admittedly!  

A one-man sailboat entered the port and seven or eight smaller ones followed, just like ducklings following their mother. It was a kiddie’s sailing class; heart-warmingly cute!
tagine with souvlaki & fries and all things nice!
I don’t mean to sound all sentimental, but sitting around a table with great food and people you feel comfy with, does have a grounding and wholesome effect on your soul!
Chilled rose wine did help off course - Katoyi Averof semi-dry - if you must know.
Now that I think about it, even if you are not waiting around for a boat in Piraeus, just make your way to Mikrolimano anyway next time you are around! x
© Life Love London

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