Thursday, 25 October 2012

Destination Windermere, the Lake District

Picture a tranquil lake fringed by craggy fells covered in lush greenery extending to the horizon. Think of an idyllic, luxurious English country hotel crammed with antique furniture and heirlooms, punctuated with unexpected explosions of modernity. Drop in well-manicured gardens and paint it at the water’s edge. There you have Lakeside, originally a 17th-century coaching inn and now one of the finest hotels in the Lake District.

Nestled at the southern tip of Windermere, England’s largest lake, Lakeside hotel and spa, at Newby Bridge, is almost a destination in itself (it is quite isolated). Push back the hotel’s doorway and you walk into a haven of tranquillity where elegance collides with tradition and helpful, happy people, mainly from the local area, are on hand to greet you.

My room, which had its own garden and looked out on to woods, was what you would expect of this genre of hotel. The bathroom was a superb size. And there was even a good quality hairdryer.

I was hard-pressed to tear myself away from the hotel’s conservatory where I was mesmerised by the drama of the backdrop. The shafts of late-afternoon sunlight highlighted the yachts bobbing on Windermere’s glass-like water and captured the surrounding trees dazzling in shades of  red, copper and gold. Only the appearance of a ferry broke the heavy stillness. 

Lakeside Hotel and Spa

It’s easy to understand why the bucolic charms of the Lake District have inspired the likes of William Wordsworth, who was born in near-by Cockermouth in 1770,  Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin.

The Lake District is all about exploring the great outdoors. So, while there was no sign of rain, (the area is notorious for its four-seasons-in-a-day climate) I embarked on a Windermere Lake Cruise. Autumn is a lovely time to experience the region, the crowds have long gone and the landscape is a magical blaze of colour.

Mountains, secluded bays and wooded islands slowly passed by on my trip to the historic market town of Ambleside. The first passenger ferry was launched in 1845 and I doubt the views have much changed since then.

After strolling around the quaint streets and soaking up the atmosphere, I hopped on a bus to Grasmere, regarded as one of the Lake District’s prettiest villages in the Central Lakes and described by Wordsworth as "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found". He lived for some years at the nearby Dove Cottage and is now buried in St Oswald’s churchyard. The draw now is the ever-so-tiny Grasmere Gingerbread shop, snuggled away in the corner.

The homely smell of baking hits you as soon as you enter the store.  A cross between a biscuit and a cake, the gingerbread is based on Sarah Nelson’s secret recipe that is approximately 150 years old. Gingerbread doesn’t get better than this. No wonder the shop attracts visitors from all over the world.

Buses seem to be few and far between, but I was lucky that one came just as the heavens opened and I made it back to Ambleside where I caught the steamer back to Lakeside. What was remarkable was that the rain only seemed to intensify Windermere’s beauty as we glided across.

Once back at my hotel, there was time to fit in a visit to the spa and a quick dip in the 17m (56ft) long pool before dinner. Only hotel guests can use the spa which is a luxury these days, so there was plenty of room.

I loved the evenings at Lakeside, cosy fires, candles flickering and a piano playing to accompany your pre-dinner drink. Utter bliss.

The Lakeview Restaurant, reputed to be one of the best in the Lake District, was my choice of venue for my first evening. The menu offers a choice of classic and Cumbrian dishes and prides itself on sourcing local produce where it can. There is also an extensive wine list.

To start, I chose the Inverawe Smoked Salmon served with pan fried scallop and pickled beetroot. For the main course, I had halibut that melted in my mouth. For dessert, I plumped for Vanilla Pannacotta served with poached pear which ended off the meal beautifully. Priced at £39 for three courses, this was value for money.

For a change of scene, the second evening I headed to the John Ruskin's Brasserie, a light airy, modern eaterie that also serves wonderful food and provides exceptional service.

I have to admit that this was my first visit to the Lake District. Getting there from London was easy. Virgin Trains provide an excellent service. (So glad, they are still going to be running for a good few months yet.) The scenery was picture-postcard perfect and Lakeside was a wonderful experience. Maybe there is some truth in that old saying: there is no place like home.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there
Virgin Trains offer standard single fares from Euston to Oxenholme from £16. Glasgow to Oxenholme from £11. For more information and to book visit

Lakeside Hotel is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. Rooms start from £159. For more information or to book visit or call +44 (0) 20 7380 3658

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Chic hair from coiffeur, Michael Charalambous

Over the summer my locks had really grown and were in desperate need of reshaping. I always put my tresses into the magical hands of Michael Charalambous, at Mayfair’s Nyumba. His cuts are amazing. Even though my hair hadn’t been trimmed for nearly three months, it still fell into place.

Michael took one look at my hair and said: “It’s time for a new look.” He is always updating and transforming my tresses. There is never any change of being stuck in a hair rut being Michael’s client.

Polished to perfection

“We need to reduce the layering which will make it look heavier but will still keep some movement in it.,” he remarked. “Autumn requires cuts that don’t need too much blow-drying, so that the hair can recover of the effects of summer. For healthy hair, I suggest, women should preferably forgo highlights until nearer the party season and tint only the roots and use a toner on the rest of the hair.”

Michael’s tip is to use products that contain little or no alcohol as they are less drying. He suggests ranges such as Aveda and Leonor Greyl – the Shampooing Reviviscence (£51.80) and the Masque Quintessence (£94.30), packed with nourishing goodies including Cupuaçu Oil from the Amazon work wonders on dry, parched hair.

Also a good treatment for restoring damaged strands to their former glory is Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Extreme (£26.25). The new Dove Colour Radiance Range, which helps keep the colour from fading, is good value for money. I particularly like the Radiance Shampoo (£2.39) as it is kind on the hair. I’m a fan of Bumble and bumble’s Color Minded Conditioner (£25).

Another gem is L'Oréal Professional Mythic Oil Colour Glow Oil (£15.95) which also contains sun protection – even over the winter, it is worth having – and is ideal for calming the hair and adding shine after you have blow-dried it.

“Hair should look natural with hardly any volume,” said Michael. “If you have long hair which needs some extra body, plait your hair at night – leave a little conditioner in the ends – and roll it clockwise into a bun and sleep on it.”

My hair looked polished to perfection but didn’t look as if I had spent hours at the hairdressers. This is one occasion when I was extremely happy to have put on weight.

By Daralyn Danns

Nyumba (

Monday, 22 October 2012

Shopping for jeans

Jeans may be a staple for every girl’s wardrobe, but finding a pair can be difficult whatever your shape and size.

The other day I popped into M&S, at Marble Arch, and was persuaded by an assistant to try its new body scanner which is geared towards individual body shapes as opposed to the standard body size. As I needed a new pair of jeans, I thought it would be an interesting exercise.

There are three styles: Eva, cut for those with a small waist and hips, Marilyn, aimed at the more curvaceous and Lana, cut for figures like mine that are straighter from waist to hip. I was brought a size 8 (£25), the smallest size, which was far too big. The waist measured 30ins (76cm). I know there are discrepancies in sizes, even in the same store, but this did seem rather generous.

Apparently, this range of jeans is supposed to flatter the majority of women, clearly I’m not one of them. “Our customers tend to be bigger than you,” was the assistant’s response.

Over the years, I have bought both designer and ones from the high street. I find the best result is going to a company that specialises in jeans as you tend to get a good fit and better quality. 

Levi's store, Regent Street, London

I headed straight to Levi’s. The company introduced its Curve ID Fit Finder a couple of years ago and I have not looked back. There are three fits: Slight, if you are straight from waist to hip, designed to define the waist and accentuate curves. Demi, for those with some curve and some definition from the waist to hip and Bold, for ladies with a defined waist and rounded hips. Prices start from £85. As the first pair I had lasted two years until I wore them out.  I thought this was value for money.

The assistant measured me and decided that I was a Slight. She then asked me what style and length I would like and asked me to choose a wash. I went for skinny and dark, a slightly different shade from what I had last time. They also have stretch in them which I particularly like.

The first pair of jeans I was shown were a perfect fit – albeit they needed shortening slightly. “Could you come back in 30mins?” asked the charming French girl who served me. “We will shorten them free of charge.” Service with a smile, such a rarity these days.

I went back to the shop exactly half an hour later and my jeans were ready. Result: one happy customer.

By Daralyn Danns

Friday, 19 October 2012

Destination Brussels, Belgium

The Grand Place

Brussels is like savouring a delicious hot chocolate that melts sensually into your mouth slowly revealing pleasures that tantalise and simulate your taste buds. It’s relaxing, yet has just the right amount of kick.

This is a capital city that is tuned into its medieval origins, embraces modernity and sizzles with creativity. It was, after all. home to Victor Horta, the inventor of Art Nouveau architecture, and the surrealist artist, Magritte as well as Hergé, creator of Tintin.

A sense of humour also flows through Brussels’ veins. A statue of a peeing boy, the Manneken Pis, is one its most renowned symbols and comic strip murals are scattered around the city.

Manneken Pis

My weekend started the moment I boarded Eurostar. Within moments I started chatting to some ladies, one of whom told me this was her first time and wasn’t looking forward going through the Channel Tunnel. The journey was so smooth and we were so busy talking that she didn’t realise that we had passed through it.

Another one of the group cracked open a bottle of champagne and kindly asked me to join them. Ah, the good life!  What better way to arrive in Brussels, a city that dribbles with bon vivant.

On Saturday afternoon, the rue Antoine Dansaert’s fashion boutiques were buzzing. This is where you can pick up some unusual pieces by Belgium’s cutting-edge designers such as Annemie Verbeke and Nicolas Woit. Also check out Hoet, this optic shop specialises in out-of-the-ordinary frames. This street and the surrounding area are peppered with interesting, quirky shops. From vintage to baroque to established European brands, you can while away hours here.

One of my favourite stores is Hunting and Collecting, on rue des Chartreux, where culture mingles with contemporary fashion. When I saw Parisians shopping there, I knew I was on to a good thing.
Avenue Louise and boulevard de Waterloo are also good hunting grounds, but they tend to have a cluster of the usual upscale international brands you can find anywhere. Rue Neuve is dominated by chain stores.

After all the hard work of flexing the credit card, it was time for some light refreshment and so it was off to Place du Grand Sablon. At the weekend there is an antiques market at the centre of the square. There is also a beautiful church as well as chic boutiques, wonderful pavement cafés – the ideal spot for people watching – and scrumptious chocolate shops.

You couldn’t be in the city of chocolate and not have a fix. Pierre Marcolini is good. I’m also a fan of Laurent Gerbaud, especially the dark chocolate 70 per cent which is based on a couverture from Domori, a company famed for its quality.

Brussels has a reputation as one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities and also for its friendliness. I was told a conversation at one table in a bar or restaurant can easily be picked up at the next. Yes, it does happen. At the Belga Queen, a former bank and now one of the city’s finest restaurants (the seafood is superb), a gentleman from Uzbekistan who, within seconds of sitting down, was only too happy to discuss life etc. 

Galeries Royales St Hubert,

For me Sunday mornings should be lazy, so what better way to see the sights than by taking the hop-on-hop-off tour on the ubiquitous red bus. Although you can walk to most places, you do get a brief history and explanation of the main districts of Brussels and you probably see a bit more.

No matter how many times you see Brussels’s historic landmark, the Grand Place fringed by the impressive Town Hall, decorated with statues, and guild houses in an eclectic mix of architectural styles, it never fails to impress.

Saunter through the elegant Galeries Royales St Hubert, Europe’s first indoor shopping mall built in 1847, which is nearby. Meander along the surrounding cobbled streets, eat a waffle, sip a beer, indulge in some mussels or buy some frites on a street corner. 

If you want culture, the city has around a 100 museums which will keep you well and truly occupied.

On Monday, there was time to take a walk in Parc de Bruxelles, one of Brussels's many green areas, and then enjoy the pleasure of getting lost in some of the city’s side streets where I discovered more of the city's eccentricities and surrealism. A delicious lunch at the trendy Bonsoir Clara was a fitting end to the perfect weekend.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Eurostar operates up to nine daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels. Return fares from £69. Tickets are available from or 08432 186 186.Connecting fares from more than 300 stations in the UK are available.

Tip: Check out Eurostar Plus Culture for special offers into paying exhibitions and Eurostar Plus Shopping for discounts at leading brands.

I stayed at The Dominican (

For more information on Brussels call Tourism Flanders-Brussels on 0207 307 7738 (Live operator line, Mon – Fri.) or visit