Friday, 16 December 2011

Destination Paris


Paris is the city of style. I love the sense of history, the stunning buildings and the wide boulevards. I took the Eurostar, which is “greener” than flying, and comes without the hassle of a lengthy check-in procedure you usually have with airlines nowadays. After a comfortable couple of hours I stepped out into another world. I crammed so much into a day that when I returned to London I felt that my trip had the same benefits as if I have been away for a weekend.

Paris is totally absorbing. All the neighbourhoods have their own distinct personality. It is easy to get round the city using the Metro combined with some leisurely walking. The more aimlessly I wander the more I discover, including great boutiques. After all, the Parisian shops are an important part of the city's identity.

 Le Marais

I started my day in Le Marais, one of the city’s oldest districts which is now rather trendy. It’s where tradition meets modernity. It is easy to while away a couple of hours here roaming the narrow medieval streets, which are peppered with beautiful boutiques crammed with cool fashion and which sit comfortably alongside art galleries and lovely cafés all surrounded by amazing architecture.

Over a cup of coffee I sat chatting to a couple of locals and got a real feel for the place. I never find the Parisians aloof. A word of advice, if you can speak a little French, or at least you show you are trying, people seem to warm more easily to you.

Next on the agenda was rue Faubourg St Honoré, littered with designer labels. There are plenty of shops around this area where you can lighten your wallet. However, don't expect bargains, prices are about the same, and in some cases, dearer than at home.

A shopping trip to Paris wouldn't be complete without a visit to Galleries Lafayette (bd Haussmann). This department store is home to a vast array of brands so it's well worth a visit.

After a rummage round the store, I decided it was time for lunch and headed to visit Lafayette Gourmet. It’s a foodies’ heaven stocked with all the delicacies you could possibly imagine. It also has some superb delis, tasting bars and restaurants.

Les Tuilleries

To burn off the calories, I walked from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde through Les Tuilleries – these gardens truly are magnificent – to take a quick stroll beside the Seine before returning home.

I always leave Paris wanting more. As Eurostar is such a civilised way to travel and there are always good deals for a day, I know it won't be long until I go back.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Eurostar operates up to 18 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris (fastest London-Paris journey time 2hrs 15mins). Connecting fares available from over 200 stations in the UK. Return fares from £69. Book through or call 08432 186 186.

Worth checking out Eurostar plus, (available with your ticket) for special offers such as 2-for-1 entry into museums and galleries and discounts at shops including Galeries Lafayette as well as restaurants.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Tips on buying wine

Choosing a wine when you are in the supermarket or in a restaurant or bar can be daunting. Where do you start? Should you stick to what you know or be brave and experiment?

I asked Alan Holmes, chef sommelier at Chewton Glen, the renowned country house hotel in Hampshire, for some guidelines.

“Don’t buy the cheapest wine,” says Alan. “Trading up a couple of pounds to around £8 per bottle means you will buy a much better quality of wine.” He also suggests checking out wines on offer in places such as Waitrose and Tesco where wines have been on sale at higher prices. “These can offer some of the best value for money,” he adds. “Ask the wine manager for advice. They are usually very knowledgeable and can point you in the right direction.”

When choosing wine in a restaurant, Alan says: “Don’t pick the cheapest one on the menu as it can often have the highest mark-up. Discuss with the wine waiter what wines you like and what you don’t like.”

Wine is personal. If you found a French sauvignon blanc too dry tell them, or a Australian merlot too heavy, say so. If you are not sure about grape types say what flavours you like. For example, strawberry flavours are often associated with pinot noir grapes, while blackcurrants and tannins are usually the characteristics of a cabernet sauvignon. If you like zesty whites you may want to try a riesling or sauvignon blanc from the New World.

“The same wine may taste different dependent on where the grapes are grown,” says Alan. “Sauvignon blanc from cooler climates such as the Loire Valley will be lighter than a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand as grapes grown in warmer climates have more sugar and the wines tend to be fruitier and have more alcohol.” 

What wines to watch out for?  Alan says wines from places such as Romania and Bulgaria can be good value. Chenin blancs from South Africa, sauvignon blancs and cabernet sauvignon from Chile and Grüner Veltliner from Austria are some of the most popular ones right now.

By Daralyn Danns

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tips for choosing champagne

“Do you think you can tell the difference between a good sparkling English wine and French champagne?" That was the question that Alan Holmes, chef sommelier at the luxurious Chewton Glen, in Hampshire, put to me during a recent visit. I felt confident that I would recognise the different styles, so I accepted the challenge.

Only bubbly that comes from the Champagne region, in France can actually be called champagne. It is made from only three grape types: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, often blended. Blanc de Blanc is made only from chardonnay grapes and Blanc de Noir, also white champagne, is made from pinot noir and pinot meunier.

“Although English sparkling wine is made in the same way as champagne and uses the same grapes, which are grown in almost identical deep chalks soils, it can never be called champagne,” Alan explained.

Trying a non-vintage champagne gives you a good indicator to a house’s style as the winemaker produces the same each year. Brut champagnes are very dry. The actual sugar content is 12 grams per litre. Extra Dry, on the label, indicates there are between 12 and 17 grams per litre. 

Alan gave me Nyetimber 2006 Classic Cuvée and Taittinger Brut Réserve NV (both £13.95 a glass), to try.

Nyetimber, Alan told me comprises chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. It was a lovely pale gold and had tiny bubbles. It had a fresh green apple flavour, which lingered on my palate.

Still run by the Taittinger family, it is one of the older great champagne houses. I immediately recognised its elegant style as it’s a champagne that I am rather partial to. This delicate golden wine has a high proportion of chardonnay making it lovely and fruity. I also tasted subtle hints of honey and brioche.

I guessed which one was which. If you fancy doing the test at home, a bottle of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Vintage 2006 will set you back £29.99 and Taittinger Brut Réserve NV Champagne, £35.99, both from Waitrose.

Alan also gave me some pointers on how to pick a good champagne. “Go for champagnes produced by smaller houses such as Bollinger, Gosset, Ruinart and Taittinger. Some of the bigger brands can dilute quality by producing quantity.”

One of my all-time favourites is Bollinger Special Cuvée (£41.99, Waitrose). This family-owned house produces one of the best classic non-vintage champagnes. It is rich and powerful with a wonderful toasty finish.

Here are some others which I have tasted (all in the name of research, of course) which I think are well worth the money.

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002, £79, Waitrose
For a really special occasion, you will find it hard to beat this gem from Bollinger. This pinky-gold champagne is bursting with character and flavour.   

Champagne Pierre Peters, Cuvée de Réserve, Grand Cru, £28.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd
This zesty champagne from this small producer has just the right amount of acidity and offers excellent value for money.

Ayala Brut Nature “Zéro Dosage”, £24, Selfridges
Dry and crisp, it’s the “perfect diet” champagne as no sugar is added. Also worth trying is the Ayala Brut Majeur (£24), the house champagne at The Goring Hotel, where Kate Middleton spent her last night as a commoner. It’s lively and fresh but well-rounded.

By Daralyn Danns

Monday, 28 November 2011

Gift giving

Buying presents can be a daunting task. At this time of year we are bombarded with advertisements in magazines and newspapers trying to tempt us into spending our money on treats for other people.

As we all know, there is nothing worse than getting an unwanted gift. I asked several men and women to tell me what presents they would like and those best avoided this Christmas. Here are my findings. I hope they help you to get the appropriate present.

Women don’t want to be bought underwear as it’s hard to buy the right size for somebody else and men, especially tend to get it wrong.

Another pet hate was grandparents who buy woolly jumpers for a Christmas gift as they tend to forget that children grow up and their tastes change. Clothing is personal, so unless you really know what somebody likes or have asked them what they want, don’t bother. That goes for both men and women.

Novelty and gimmicky gifts are another no-no for both men and women. Household stuff and cookbooks (unless somebody has specifically asked for these) didn’t go down well either as women said that they felt cheated that they hadn’t been given a real present.  Men didn’t want power tools, car cleaning kits or DIY stuff for the same reason.

When it comes to make-up and beauty products the consensus seems to be: we love expensive pampering products but don't buy us make-up or fragrance unless you know what we use.

Women said that expensive jewellery always goes down well. A beautiful orchid or a bouquet of flowers were always appreciated. A good bottle of champagne went down well with both men and women.

If a man has a hobby such as golf and you can buy him something that is connected that is fine, but you should always ask him what he wants before you make a purchase. Avoid novelty gadgets and gizmos as men will have bought the ones they want themselves.

Gift vouchers or cash may indicate that somebody has not given you much thought, but vouchers are better than a present that somebody will never use. Other presents that go down well are special outings like tickets for the theatre or a day trip on Eurostar to Paris or Brussels, a weekend break, an adventure day out or a visit to a spa, yes even for men!

By Daralyn Danns

Monday, 7 November 2011

Destination Mexico City

Mexico City, one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities, may have a reputation as being dangerous and polluted, but the sprawling metropolis I discovered bubbled with energy and charm. 

The many tranquil parks and gardens help to mask Mexico City’s frenetic pace. The air was cleaner than I expected and kidnappers were not lurking on every corner. I felt no more threatened in Mexico City than I do in London (there are parts of London I won’t walk around even during the day). I took taxis and used the Metro and have lived to tell the tale.

Yes, at times, Mexico City, which is 2,240 metres (7,350ft) above sea level, can be chaotic and frustrating. Driving round the city can be time consuming as there is always seems to be a rush hour. Well, it is home to over 20 million people. 

Go with the flow and you will find Mexico City will get under your skin and win you over like no other city.

In common with other capitals, Mexico City has many faces. Old Atzec ruins blend with stunning modern architecture and wide boulevards – the Paseo de la Reforma, dotted with resplendent monuments, being the most beautiful.

Areas such as Polanco, home to some of the city’s smartest hotels and shops, and the boho-chic districts of Condesa and Roma, where great bars and restaurants fuse with cool boutiques and art galleries are where you can feel Mexico City’s sizzling energy.

San Ángel is a quaint colonial district, renowned for its Saturday bazaar. While Santa Fe, in the west, is the city’s newest upmarket suburb.  Here you will find the city’s largest shopping mall, Centro Santa Fe. This and its high-tech buildings contrast sharply with the nearby slums.

A highlight of my trip was spending Sunday afternoon at Xochimilco. Sailing along its canals, one of the last reminders of the Aztec era, in a traditional boat (trajinera), with traders and musicians passing by and touting their wares is definitely one for the memory books.

The Centro Historico is where I began unravelling the layers that comprise Mexico City. At its heart is the Zócalo, the main square surrounded by architectural wonders including the Metropolitan Cathedral, which has taken over 250 years to complete, and the National Palace, which holds some striking murals depicting Mexico’s history by Diego Rivera, one of the country’s most renowned artists.

Round the corner are the ruins of the Great Temple of the Aztecs, once the ceremonial centre of Tenochtitlan, their capital. It is also worth a trip to Teotihuacan, approximately 30 miles outside the capital, to see the pyramids.

Other gems are the beautiful Fine Arts Palace, Mexico’s main Opera House and the Central Post Office.

Mexico City has over 100 museums so it would be hard to see them all, but the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must as is the Mexican business tycoon, Carlo Slim’s dazzling new Soumaya Museum.

For a flavour of Mexico City’s traditional nightlife, head to Garibaldi Square and Tenampa, a lively cantina where the mariachis wait to be hired to serenade you. I'm still humming the chorus (Ay, ay, ay, ay, Canta y no llores) of the renowned Cielito Lindo.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Iberia (

Camino Real (

The St. Regis Mexico City (

Visit Mexico (

Friday, 4 November 2011

Winterising my hair colour

Over the last six weeks, since I last saw my colourist, José Molino at Neville Hair and Beauty, my hair turned slightly brighter due to being in the sun. However, I’m pleased to report that the shade wasn’t brassy, just a tad too light for my liking and, as I had been travelling, I had to go longer than I normally would without visiting the salon. In all honesty, the roots weren’t really that bad which I put down to José’s skill at using a variation of colours throughout my hair.

As there is less sunlight in the winter and we tend to wear richer and warmer colours, José said I needed to tone down the brightness in my hair and make it slightly richer and darker to give it more dimension.
“We’ll put in a few highlights in biscuit beige and do the roots in a dark sandy blonde. We will also add in some darker chunky slices and a few thinner pieces to add lift and depth to the hair. This will warm up your complexion for the winter,” said José.

“Having a variation of colour throughout the hair will make it low maintenance.  Regrowth will be less noticeable and, overall, your hair will be in better condition as you are colouring less and not having as many highlights which can be drying on the hair.”   

Over the winter, José suggests going for more natural shades and giving the hair a rest from too many highlights which will improve the condition. “Darker shades make the hair look healthier and require less upkeep,” he said. José’s tip is to start using a deep conditioner from the next time you wash your hair: “Don’t wait until your hair is dry. Prevention is better than cure.”

My hair is the best José has done so far. Eventually, the reddy tones, which I so hate on me, are almost gone, and have been replaced with more flattering sandy golden shades.

The best compliment that a colourist can get is having his work praised by other hairdressers. I have recently been receiving a lot of good feedback. The god of colour is certainly deserving of his title.

By Daralyn Danns

Neville Hair and Beauty (

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Destination Chewton Glen

Perched on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire, Chewton Glen is an oasis of tranquillity. Surrounded by sweeping lawns, manicured gardens and trees, this luxurious country house hotel, so steeped in English tradition, cleverly manages to inject touches of modernity without losing its homely feel. From the moment you arrive you are treated like a VIP. It’s easy to see why Chewton Glen has won so many awards. The service makes it stand out from the crowd.

My overnight stay at the five-star establishment started with a delicious lunch at its awarding-winning spa. I opted for the buffet which was brimming with healthy dishes, washed down with a glass of organic champagne. Well, it was my birthday!

Afterwards I had the Lomi lomi Hawaiian massage, which was so relaxing I fell asleep. I also made use some of the spa’s facilities. The gym, I thought would be too much like hard work so I went for a dip in the inside pool and then a leisurely soak in the hydrotherapy spa pool. You can even get your make-up done for the evening if you so wish. No wonder so many people come and spend a day at this spa. For golf enthusiasts the hotel has a nine-hole par three course.

Feeling revitalised after my treatments and, as the weather was beautiful, it was time to take a short walk through the hotel’s estate to Chewton Bunny, an ancient wooded river valley which takes you to the beach. There the Isle of Wight gleamed in the distance. The only sound to be heard was the lapping of the waves.

I sauntered up to Highcliffe Castle, about a 20-minute walk along the beach. It was built around 1835 by Lord Stuart de Rothesay as a coastal retreat and today is noted for its elaborate carved medieval stonework.

Chewton Glen’s rooms are well designed with a perfect mix of antique and modern furniture.  Attention to detail is impressive. The hotel had thought of everything including fruit, chocolates and champagne on arrival. There was even a good hairdryer – a rare find when travelling.

Dinner was in the recently refurbished Vetiver restaurant. Decked out in purple, green and black, it comprises five rooms including the Wine Room which is perfect for private parties. The menu is English, seasoned with international spice. The smoked salmon was just how I like it, not too salty, the Dover Sole was grilled to perfection and the mango and raspberry sorbets were really fruity. The wine list is extensive so you will be sure to find something that suits your palette.

After dinner, I retired to the lounge to enjoy my coffee and petit fours. The perfect end to the perfect day.  This was paradise. I’ll certainly be heading back here next time my batteries need recharging.

By Daralyn Danns

Chewton Glen (

Monday, 10 October 2011

Style tips from Kelly Hoppen

         *Kelly Hoppen

The renowned interior designer, Kelly Hoppen recently teamed up with Earth Couture, a luxurious organic fashion label, to create a range for women that is ideal for lounging around the house and is also both stylish and comfortable enough for travelling. Since the collection started a few seasons ago, it has, according to the FT, been worn by Cheryl Cole and Madonna.

I asked Kelly to disclose some of her style secrets.

What do you need to look out for when you are buying clothes to ensure you are not just paying for a name? 

“I always look to quality, the feel of the fabric and the craftsmanship. You can tell straight away if a garment is badly made.”  

What pieces should you invest in and what can you get away with paying less for? 

“I always invest in key pieces, coats, boots, bags etc. A great cashmere sweater mixed with a pair of trousers from the high street – it’s all about mixing it up.” 

What are your top tips when shopping for clothes?

“Don’t just follow trends. Buy items that not only suit you, but also fit you properly.” 

What key pieces should we be buying this autumn? 

“As soon as autumn arrives, for me, it is all about enveloping myself in textures. Great knitwear, layered T-shirts and, of course, clothes for the home.”

You have a unique style when it comes to interior design. How can you translate this into clothes?

“I have maintained my love of neutrals. I think that they work brilliantly in fashion, especially, in the fabrics that I have chosen for the collection. It is about being relaxed and comfortable.”

How can you look stylish without being a slave to fashion?

“Develop your own personal style and update it with new pieces that reflect your style values.”

Many women live in neutrals such as black. How do you inject colour into your wardrobe? 

“As with my interiors, I highlight with flashes of colour. Inject a little spice with a coloured top or perhaps accessories, a great bag etc.”

You have used vintage pieces in design. Do you think that this should translate into fashion?

“Of course, nothing screams style more than a well thought out vintage piece. I have so many dresses from many years ago that still to this day look modern. It’s all about choosing classics. Classics do not date.”

Why did you decide to launch Earth Couture?

 “I decided to partner with Earth Couture as I had always been interested in fashion and when the opportunity arose I was thrilled to accept. The charity element of the brand cemented the deal. With every purchase a mosquito coil is given to a child in Africa.” 

Where do you see fashion heading?

“Fashion will always keep coming around, but with a new twist.” 

*Kelly Hoppen for Earth Couture

By Daralyn Danns

Earth Couture (

Friday, 30 September 2011

Bordeaux, city of style

Elegant and seductive Bordeaux is like one of its fine wines, once experienced, never forgotten.

It’s one of my favourite destinations in France. This chic city not only has plenty of historic buildings to discover  ̶  approximately half Bordeaux is a Unesco World Heritage Site  ̶  but it is also renowned for its excellent cuisine. And there are also plenty of great boutiques to tempt you to part with your cash.

The Port of the Moon, as Bordeaux is often called due to it being on a crescent-shaped bend on the River Garonne (South-West France), has like Paris a right and left bank and is broken up into districts. As the city is much smaller it is easier to get around. I love the high-tech tram system.

One of the star attractions of the city is the Cathédral Saint-André, renowned for its superb architecture and Tour Pey-Berland, a 15th century bell tower. One of the most striking landmarks is the Gross Cloche, a big bell from the Middle Ages.

Bordeaux looks magnificent whatever the weather. As you would expect from such a sophisticated city there are some amazing restaurants.

Le Pressoir d'Argent in The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux, the city’s smartest address, and where I stayed, was my favourite. The beautiful French décor of this Michelin-starred restaurant made me feel as if I was back in the 18th century – the period known as Bordeaux’s Golden Age – reliving the glamour of this era.

Another superb eaterie is La Tupina, a country-styled restaurant in the heart of the city which specialises in south-western French cuisine. Also check out Le Gabriel in the ornate Place de la Bourse with its Fountain of the Three Graces which has superb views of the river.
This is a city where you will want to make sure that your hair is styled to perfection and that you are dressed immaculately when you go out at night.

In general French women always look so well turned-out. Their secret is how they put themselves together. By and large they wear clothes that fit them and that flatter their shape. They tend to opt for classic tailoring updated with a contemporary twist usually in the form of accessories such as the bag of the moment. They invest in key pieces in quality fabrics. Simple and elegant seems to be their mantra. Maybe this is a lesson we can learn when we next go shopping.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Eurostar ( offers connecting services to Bordeaux, return fares from £109. Tip: go via Lille, it’s an easier connection than Paris

The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux ( rooms per night from €320 (approx £300)