A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Fall Table

I walked into an India Jane store the other day and fell in love with these Renaissance soup plates.  The first thing that came into my mind were autumn, chilly Sundays, spent inside, around a candle lit table. And hot butternut squash velouté with dancing steam rising above the plates.
And orange, burgundy and deep green - the colours I'd use for the table centrepiece, napkins and candles. And for the main? Well, it's a pretend-perfect Sunday, so roast shoulder of lamb with all the trimmings should do nicely!
 
The table setting:
 
It's also time we start planning about bonfires, and kick leaves around country lanes, oh and wearing wellies (yay!) and watching Guy Fawkes fireworks and lighting Diwali lights and then, the start of mulled wine season off course, Christmas!
I love Fall, usually it's marked as the end of summer with a nod of sorrow, but to me it's a full on, festive season! What does Fall mean to you?
 

Last Days of Summer in Waddesdon Manor


 
We caught one of the last days of summer around Waddesdon Manor, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
 
It is impressive. The Manor was built by the Rothschilds, for their summer escapes from London.
Lodged on top of the Buckinghamshire hills, its' Renaissance towers unapologetically reach for the sky. It's the kind of chateau that you'd expect to see in the Loire valley and yet, here it is, amongst acres of woodland and perfectly laid out gardens.
 


We had tea in the old kitchens of the Manor - nothing fancy, simple sandwiches and cakes, but we were in awe of the iron stoves that run along the whole length of the room,  the pans and pots stacked up all the way to the ceiling. Imagine the commotion in this room when a feast would have been prepared!

We spend the entire afternoon walking around the gardens, we even walked down to the stables, another French inspired group of buildings, perfectly set amongst the dense woodland.

The Manor is just about an hour's drive from London, but if you want to take it easy and stay locally for the evening try the Five Arrows hotel & pub, it is located in Waddesdon village, right by the heavy gates of the Manor estate. It's built in unique style, with all kinds of trimmings hanging off its' roof, pretty much like a real-life gingerbread house!




A healthy Brunch at the Grocer at No5, Gerrards Cross


There is a foodie destination brewing around the Chiltern Hills: Beaconsfield, Old Amersham and Gerrard's Cross are all developing into hotspots for dinning; on any Friday night you'll find a lot of west Londoners around No5 & the Crazy Bear in Beaconsfield and The Artichoke in Amersham. This provides for lovely alternative to London for locals too. I, for one, have welcomed the change.
 
Last bank holiday weekend, I promised to take my mother-in-law out for brunch. We headed to Gerrard's Cross to have a healthy spot of lunch at the Grocer.  I didn't expect that "Shoreditch" vibe, right in the middle of the countryside! Exposed brick walls, copper lights and a long table for sociable eating and mingling, not to talk about the selection of incredibly high-stacked cakes. We were sure to walk away from those, as we were on a healthy mission.

Instead, we chose a couple of "Dexters", that is vibrant beetroot & ginger smoothies to start with, while we were deciding on our selection of six salads. 
Green runner beans, cooked Greek-style, with chopped tomatoes and loads of cinnamon. Roasted cauliflower, with a dill dressing. Sweet, red peppers. Roasted aubergine with yoghurt and pomegranate. All so colourful and delicious. We were stuffed, I dare say, on veggies! No bread at all, I even got some pasta salad and hardly touched it, so proud!
 
The Grocer has two branches in Old Amersham too, which look like fun places for breakfast, haven't been yet, but if you have let me know! 
 

 

Pride & Prejudice alfresco at Cliveden




 
It was one of those hectic days; work wouldn't ease down, calls, emails and the rest of it kept us busy until five o'clock. But it was also Friday, the start of the long, Bank holiday weekend and I had plans of making lovely wraps and other nibbles for our picnic in Cliveden that evening. This plan went out the window. The back-up plan was to set a cut-off time, five o'clock, when I'd stop working and use a whole hour to prep our picnic basket, drinks, nibbles and the rest of it.
 
Forty-five minutes later, I was still looking at spreadsheets and replying to emails while my husband had been glued to his phone all day, call after call. Enough. It was Friday evening, the sun was finally shining after a long time and we had tickets for open-air theatre in one of our favourite places; the gorgeous grounds of Cliveden, on the edge of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire.
Right. Time to prep our nibbles for the picnic; no sandwiches or bagels, I was trying out a healthier option: lettuce, smoked salmon and a tahini-lemon-wholegrain mustard dressing, all roll up in sweet potato wraps. The naughty part was in the pudding - it always is! As I was running around doing errands earlier in the day, I managed to cheekily pop into Junks Bakery and got some lovely coffee éclairs and tarts du citron.  These were meant as a little surprise to compensate my husband for coming along to Pride & Prejudice and for eating a healthy dinner. I knew that in the end he'd enjoy the whole evening and thank me for it, but I enjoy seeing his eyes light up like a little boy's, when sweeties are involved.
 



We arrived at Cliveden's Water Garden last, huffing and puffing, just fifteen minutes before the start of the performance. What a sight! In a clearing amongst the trees of Cliveden's woodland, there was this cheerful congregation of people, sitting around perfectly laid out tables, using actual glasses and cutlery, chatting, dinning and joking, in anticipation of the beginning of the performance.
There was nothing snack-ish about the food either, there were casserole and tart dishes with lovely quiche, coq au vin and colourful salads! All had been brought it, the tables the chairs and "the kitchen sink" for that matter, as we joked. Right at the front, there were a dozen picnic blankets laid out, with more traditional spreads. What made me very happy, was seeing families with young children attending. The little ones were tucking into baguettes taller than them, looking around inquisitively and asking all sorts of questions.  What a lovely gathering of all generations.
Right in the middle of it all, we claimed our spot, spread out our checked blanket and pulled out the prosecco - now we could finally relax.
 
The performance was put on by Illyria theatre company and it was quite punchy right from the beginning. Five vivacious cast members continuously changed in and out of costumes, to alternate all of the popular characters. The reserved Mr Darcy, gullible Jane and frustrated Elizabeth Bennett, the superficial Mrs Bennett. All portrayed amongst a plethora of jokes, witty comments and clever set changes, with minimal props. It was a light, fun adaptation of Jane Austin's favourite play.
As the sun went down, the chill started spreading and we all got more and more focused on the performance. It was great for the mind to be out in the open air, surrounded by darkness, focusing on one thing only, away from TV, phones and laptops, looking at the stars and breathing in fresh air. 



 

Saint Paul De Vence - Hilltop Charm in Cote D'Azur





If you search for the "most beautiful villages in Cote d'Azur", St. Paul de Vence will come up every single time, alongside dramatic Eze and culinary Mougins.
 
This might be because of its' proximity to Nice and Cannes, or simply because it's a perfectly preserved, little medieval town, in a movie-like setting of manicured greenery and rolling hills.  

Remember, no cars allowed in the town so prepare for a steep climb in order to get within the walls. But once you are in the old town, just wander around, don't worry too much about looking at the map, you can't get lost!
The town has two main roads that run all along the old centre, one is full of antique shops and the other is completely quiet and empty, what a contrast, a few yards apart!
 

Approaching St Paul de Vence

Watering spots in the middle of the old town

Cheeky art in one of the dozens of galleries in town - off course we both proclaimed that "we want that gnome" as soon as we spotted it!

Strolling around the old town, you are spoiled for choice, when it comes to art.
Galleries open up in every little nook possible, stairs leading down to what can only be Aladdin's caves, staffed with paintings, classic furniture and all lovely things imaginable.
 

The quieter side of town

At the end of the main route you'll find yourself at the tip of the old town - climb up the old ramparts and absorb the view.
The first thing you see just below the ramparts is the town's cemetery, believe it or not, it's as well kept as the rest of the scenery,  impressive!
Allow your eyes to slowly follow the hills, all the way to the sea. It's a small but very satisfying journey.

View to the north and the Alps Maritimes
Follow the hills all the way to the Mediterranean...
The end of the road - literally! This is the southern tip of the old town.
 
Things you need to know:
No cars are allowed in the village, so if you are staying in the old centre, pack light, you don't want to be dragging an endless train of luggage around the pebbly streets.
Also wear flats or wedges, heels are a suicide mission!
I found this charming poet's corner house to rent on Aibnb - if you do that make sure to buy some provisions before hand, there are almost no groceries shops in the village.

It was time for a rest from the heat and a spot of lunch.
We picked a spot just under the old trees in Place de Tilluel, where restaurant Le Tilluel had set up  camp. Melon and prosciutto alongside some Pastis on ice, made everything better.
The occasional breeze and the view, also took our mind away from the heat.

Goat's cheese salad

Beautiful view and a refreshing lunch of fresh, fragrant melon with prosciutto.

We found just one shop open with lovely salamis, cheese, dried fruit and fois gras.
All the staples you really need for a picnic around here. It's right by Place de Tilluel and you must visit it! We bought this lovely salami with nougat and dried cherries. I made a little spread with our goodies, when we got back home and invited the family for a Sunday spot of lunch - a little nice way to bring back our lovely day in St Paul.

The views are spectacular, all the hills around are covered in honey-coloured and terracotta villas with light green and turquoise painted shutters - it's a real life post card.

L'Amandier de Mougins


On our first night in the South of France we ventured out to Mougins.
We had read about its' rich culinary history and we were hoping for a nice, easy meal.

As soon as we entered the old town we spotted L'Amandier on the left, squished between the hill and the other town houses. We decided there and then to make a reservation for a bit later.
It turned out to be a good idea, as it was already 8pm and they didn't have anything free until 9:30pm! L'Amandier was re-opened in 2010 and specialises in cuisine Nicoise, that means local dishes with a little twist.
  


Strolling around the old town, we built up a good apetite, so when we finally returned to L'Amandier and climbed up the two sets of stairs, we were overjoyed with the setting: a massive terrace, seemingly floating over the hills with amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding area.

All of the hills were covered in bright green, dotted with the traditional honey-coloured local houses and even splashes of blue from the pools here and there.
And far to the left, where the Alps Maritime slowly gather up higher and higher, the horizon was turning pink and coral, with the sun setting.
 
We went for the "menu Roger Verge", cooked by the 2006 "best young chef in French cuisine", two-Michelin stars, chef Denis Fetisson. 

*Amuse-bouche: a watermelon gazpacho, fresh, crisp and refreshing!
*Pan Bagnat: an interesting take on a Provencal classic sandwich with tuna - only in this case, it came in the form of a golden, bite-size creation. 

*Zucchini Flower Stuffed - they had me right there, no need to read on - with Chicken Breast, in a Creamy Mushroom "Velouté, with Noilly Prat vermouth.
My favourite dish of the whole menu hands down.
The chicken stuffing was succulent and the mushroom veloute a luxurious treat; not to mention the artistic presentation.  

*John Dory poached in Fish Soup, served with Purple Artichoke in a French Dressing with Pine Nuts.
A light, delicate dish - not entirely sure if we did it justice however, having it after the gorgeous and intense stuffed zucchini.

*Filet of Lamb Stuffed with Parsley and Garlic, served with Carrots on Swiss Chard Cushion, with Thyme Juice.
Lamb cooked to perfection, no doubt there! And the plate looked like an abstract painting...
 
*Goat Cheese from Mr Monteiro, Olive Oil, Onion "Cebette" and Thyme.
This is when things start to go slower - when the cheese arrives.
The initial excitement subsides and waves of fulfilment force you to take it easy. Not such a strong goat's cheese, flavoursome enough however, to keep us going!

*Black Forest  "Amandier’s Style" - Chantilly galore in other words!

Oh, but that's why we come to France, ma petite cherie! To indulge in butter and Chantilly with no regret and no shame.
That's exactly what we did! x


Mougins in the moonlight.
 

South of France - Mougins

Rolling Hills around Mougins

Mougins is for the romantics.
It's all about "that" South of France feeling...
Sitting in our patio, on our first afternoon in Mougins, sipping on coffee, taking it all in: the warm breeze, the pine trees swaying, splashes from the pool nearby and the excitement of discovering new places! 
 
During our trip to the South of France, we decided to forgo large cities and instead, rent a car  and drive around smaller villages; 
Mougins is one of them, a perfect little medieval crown on the hills of Alpes Maritimes, just off the coast of Cannes.
 
It might not be as famous as Eze, or Saint Paul de Vance, but it is a very special place, especially if you are a bon viver with appreciation for good food; there was a time in the 70's that Mougins was called the most Michelin "starred" village in France, with 11 restaurants carrying Michelin "macaroons"! 
 
Afternoons by the pool in Hotel de Mougins 
View from our patio: Orange trees, Olive trees and lavender bushes.

We stayed in Hotel de Mougins, a lovely property built around mature gardens full of Mediterranean natives; olive and orange trees, lavender and rhododendron bushes. A little oasis amongst swaying pine trees and singing cicadas that would easily rival your favourite Spotify list!  

The Pros: great location, on the hills behind Cannes; 20 minutes drive to Nice airport;
perfect for "that" feeling of Cote d' Azur; comfortable beds and lovely bed linen;
Nespresso machines in every room; Tesla supercharger, for your electric car, within the grounds!
Could be better: oldish bathrooms, tidy but in need of updating.
 
Starting the day off in he sun, with a shot of coffee and yes, it's in a wine glass!

Early evening around Mougins

A bit of afternoon rest by the pool and off we went into Mougins old town, on our first evening in Cote d'Azur. 
There is a car park just before the entrance to the Old Town, where lovely classic cars pop up from time to time, as a reminder that something of that 50's feeling is still to be found around these parts.
That's if you are a bit of a romantic like us, if you are into your modern supercars and humungous super-yachts, head to St Tropez, instead.
 
The entrance to the village has been renamed "Avenue of the Grand Chefs", because it runs by a few of the restaurants that used to carry Michelin stars.
One of them is L'Amandier, a gorgeous honey-coloured property lodged on the side of the cliff, with amazing views over the surrounding hills. We made a reservation for dinner for nine thirty and went on for a troll around the village.

Locals, tourists and expats were all starting their evening off with aperitif, around the old town square; we joined in off course! 
Aperol Spritz in hand, we watched the world go by.

Last rays of glorious sunshine in Mougins

Mougins has also played host to Picasso, who stayed here in a hotel in the 1930's and painted his hotel room wall; but the owner of the hotel had no idea of who he was, so he painted over Picasso's drawings!

Since then, lots and lots of artists have visited Mougins, with its' tiny streets, steep cobbled ways and majestic views of the surrounding hills bursting with all shades of green.
There is absolutely no rushing around here.


On our way to L'Amandier, we passed the main square where the local "old boys" were having a game of Boules, or..."playing with balls", as I like to put it. Such a quaint sight, we stopped and watched the game for a while.  

At that time, there was nowhere else we'd rather be; there were no cars, no shops open other than the restaurants and the setting sun was making everything warm and happy.  

At the end of our trip, we asked each other what was our favourite place and we both looked at each other and said... "Mougins" at the same time.  

Sunday Brunch - Mediterranean Eggs with Spinach and Greek Yoghurt


Eggs in tomato sauce are a staple, all around the Med.
May it be "kayiana" in Greece, or Calabrian "uovo fra'diavolo", or "Shakshuka" in Israel, it's all about fresh ingredients and a delicious, easy and healthy home-cooked breakfast.

Mediterranean Eggs with Spinach and Greek Yoghurt

- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 200gr spinach, washed & drained
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes, washed
- pinch of cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 eggs
- salt & pepper

- Wholemeal multi-seed toast (or your favourite bread)
- olive oil
- dried oregano

Start with blending the tomatoes, one spoonful of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon together in a blender. Set aside.

Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide frying pan, on medium heat and soon after, add the chopped garlic.

Once the garlic starts sizzling - or dancing around the pan, as my niece would say - add the spinach.

Toss the spinach around the pan until it's glossy, but not completely reduced down.
This should take 3-4 minutes. Do not cover the pan at this stage, let the steam evaporate.

Add the blended tomatoes to the pan and stir gently to spread out the spinach around the tomato sauce. Let most of the liquid evaporate and the tomato puree to cook down a bit. That should take 5-7 minutes, depending on how much water the tomatoes have.

Clear a spot at a time, amongst the tomato and spinach and crack an egg into it. Repeat three more times. Cover the pan straight away. After 4 minutes uncover the pan and switch the heat off completely.
Season with salt and pepper, dollops of Greek yoghurt and a sprinkle of olive oil, if you wish.

Serve immediately with lots of your favourite bread!

My favourite everyday bread is multi-seed toast, well toasted and sprinkled with olive oil and oregano! But use any kind of bread you like and if you happen to have the BBQ fired up, this makes for a great starter too!
This is the flavour of Greek barbeques and summer days! x
© Life Love London

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