Friday, 25 January 2013

Wines for Valentine’s Day

“Valentine’s Day is a time of indulgence,” says Oscar Malek, head sommelier at the luxurious hotel and spa, Chewton Glen, at the edge of the New Forest. “Richer foods call for richer wines.”

And, according to Oscar, you don’t have to go for red. If you prefer white, try some of the more robust styles from Germany and Austria which are not only elegant, but are bursting with ripe fruit and have a mouth-filling texture. Grűner veltliner is Austria’s white grape. The good wines are aromatic and brimming with spicy flavours. Grüner Veltliner 2011 Liebenberg Smaragd Weingut Prage (£29.95, is a good one to try. 

Oscar Malek at Chewton Glen restaurant

Also look out for rieslings, which tend to be fruity and range from sweet to dry. Gewürztraminer, renowned for its exotic aroma, produces rich wines and, says Oscar, they tend to be low in acidity. As well as Germany, this grape is grown in the French region of Alsace. Gewurztraminer d'Epfig, 2009, Domaine Ostertag (£21.75, This Gewurtztraminer from Alsace is a well-made extremely drinkable wine.

Oscar also suggests trying Australian wines as they are inclined to be beefy. Grapes he recommends are viognier which is reminiscent of peaches and apricots, and pinot gris, an explosion of peaches and pears with crisp acidity. Also look out for the other New World variations.

Worth trying is Yalumba Organic Viognier (£8.99, from Australia.

If you do prefer red wine, instead of the usual merlot or cabernet sauvignon, go for Les Vignobles Foncalieu Les Ilustres from VDP Coteaux d’Ensérune (£19.99, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah with a touch of merlot and marselan. This wine delivers a powerful punch, yet is beautifully balanced.

By Daralyn Danns

Monday, 14 January 2013

The View from The Shard

Tower Bridge and The Shard
© The View from The Shard

After being whisked up in two separate lifts at 6 metres per second and climbing a flight of stairs, I found myself standing on the 72nd floor (244m high) on the highest level on The View from The Shard, the name given to the publicly accessible viewing spaces on the eponymous skyscraper. Out in the partially open gallery, I saw beneath me the star attraction: London.

It was as if I was looking at a model where somebody had pressed a button to make boats sail down the Thames, trains run along tracks, cars drive across Tower Bridge and pedestrians look like an army of ants as they hurried along. Even though it was dull and cloudy, the light kept changing which kept altering the impressive 360 degree panoramic view. 

See the Gerkin from the window and on screen
© The View from The Shard

As the mist cleared, I could see the Thames snaking through the city, its most renowned landmarks appearing from what seemed out of nowhere. Using the Tell: scopes – state-of-the-art telescopes,with touchscreens, you can learn about fabled buildings within your sight. It is easy to while away the hours here. Make sure you visit to the toilets. These are rooms with a view!

Having watched the Shard's splinters of glass shooting into the air as it was being built,  I couldn’t believe that I was actually here at London’s newest landmark and Western Europe’s tallest building. It will be opening its doors to the public in February.  

There has been much discussion about the admission price for The View from The Shard, £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children for pre-booked, timed and dated tickets, so you won’t have to queue or contend with crowds. (You can pay £100, on the door, if you want to go up straight away.) Is it worth it? 

The EDF Energy London Eye charges £20.28 for adults and £14.07 for a Flexi Standard Ticket, booked online, which entitles you to arrive any time on the day you select. You’ll pay more if you want priority boarding. Your ride lasts 30 minutes.  

A room with a view

At the Shard, there is the touristy, element, being greeted by fun caricatures of the likes of Boris Johnson shining Ken Livingstone’s shoes lining the way to the lifts and specially composed music played by the London Symphony Orchestra to accompany you on your journey to the top. You can spend as long as you like there and it is higher than the London Eye. The unique and amazing perspective of London the Shard offers is an unforgettable experience. So, in a word, yes it is worth it.

By Daralyn Danns

Ticket for the date and time of your choice can be booked in advance.  For more info visit

Friday, 11 January 2013

Destination Galilee, Israel

View from the Golan Heights

Standing on top of the Golan Heights looking down at the glistening waters of the Sea of Galilee surrounded by hills and the lushness of the Beit Tsida valley, I felt as if I had been thrown into a spectacular painting. The back track of birdsong made me realise I hadn’t.

Whether you are religious or not, you feel as if you have been transported to a sanctuary for mind and body, a place where time really has stood still for thousands of years. If only the mountains could have revealed their secrets about the stories from the Bible.

Sea of Galilee

Arriving at my Hotel Spa Mizpe Hayamim, swathed in acres of land accompanied by views that epitomise the perfect picture-postcard setting, I saw that this sense of well-being was about to continue.

I sauntered down to the spa for an aromatherapy massage, which my therapist explained used oils produced at Mizpe Hayamim. After having the last drops of stress squeezed out of my body, I felt as if I had discovered my inner energy and peace, despite having been up all night.

Eating in this country is an experience in itself. Israeli breakfasts comprising fruits, salads, yogurts, cheeses, nuts, eggs, fish and so much more are legendary; they are more like brunch than breakfast. At Mizpe Hayamim, it was as if food had been reinvented, the flavours kept on tantalising my taste buds. It was healthy, as it came from its own organic farm, I told myself, as I managed to consume more in one meal than I would usually in a day.

Dinner at the hotel’s Muscat, a chic Galilean country-styled restaurant was also exquisite. My fish was sea-to-fork fresh. Israel also has some extraordinary red wines. The Yarden merlot I had, which apparently came from the Golan, was a surprisingly complex wine that was velvety smooth on the palate.

A point worth noting is that most hotels in Israel keep kosher dietary laws. As milk and meat can’t be eaten together, hotels such as Mizpe Hayamim have separate dairy and meat restaurants. Fish and meat can be eaten at the same meal, providing they are separate courses.

I could have stayed in the hotel all weekend, but for the lure of the Galilee and “taking the waters” at Hamat Gader, one of the Roman Empire’s largest bath complexes.

Israel’s oldest spa resort was buzzing as it was the Jewish Sabbath as well as a Muslim holiday. After bathing in the mineral-rich hot waters of the Spa Village pool (worth paying the extra money to use this area) it was easy to understand the continuing popularity of Hamat Gader. 


Another interesting place to visit is the quaint and scenic village of Amirim, a unique community of vegetarians and vegans. It is an idyllic way of whiling away a few hours. Besides restaurants and cafés, there is a wide array of alternative therapeutic treatments on offer from spa treatments to spiritual workshops.

Not to be missed is a visit to Safed, a small mysterious mountain top town, one of Israel’s four holy cities, and the centre of Kabbalah.  I was intrigued to find out a bit more about this Jewish mysticism – the teachings of which began here over 500 years ago – as so many Hollywood celebs have adopted a version of it. Where else could you hear music wafting up from below ground to the pavement? Walking round, I did just that.

Kabbalah “investigates and explains the codes of both the universe and the soul of man”, which it says, helps you to lead a more spiritual and meaningful life. No, I did not sign up, nor did I find any bottles of Kabbalah water, but I did love Safed’s special atmosphere, discovering the narrow alleyways, exploring old synagogues, delving into artists’ studios and workshops and seeing the biblical jewellery sold by New Agers.  

Israel may be small (roughly the size of Wales) but it is a country that energises and inspires you with almost every twist and turn you take.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

Contact the Israeli Government Tourist Office or call 0207 299 1100

El Al offers flights from London Luton to Tel Aviv from £399 or from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv from £426. To book call 0207 121 1400 or visit or contact your travel agent

Hotel Spa Mizpe Hayamim (


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Eat well with the help of Chewton Glen

If you are still feeling bloated and overweight from the holidays, chances are you are thinking about heading to a spa or changing your eating habits.

My favourite UK spa is Chewton Glen on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. It has recently joined forces with nutritionist Amanda Griggs, based at the Balance Clinic in Chelsea, London to create two cleansing programmes. If you can’t get on one of those, a day trip to the spa or, better still a weekend, is a wonderfully, indulgent treat.

Chewton Glen Spa

The spa “lunch” menu has been geared more towards an alkaline diet, with the help of Amanda.   

I’m sure you have all heard about this diet as it was one of the most talked about last year. Gwyneth Paltrow was reportedly a fan. But, just in case you haven’tthe theory is that eating certain foods can help maintain the body’s pH balance and alkaline fanatics claim that it helps to give you more energy and is protective of bone health.

“The ideal alkaline diet would heavily feature antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits and salts with a mineral content that neutralises excess acid,” says Kerry Hudson, Chewton Glen’s spa manager.

In short, on this diet you eat mostly vegetarian foods, choosing wholegrains over processed foods and cutting back on acid-forming foods such as meat and dairy.

Kerry told me that Amanda suggests that 70 per cent of what you eat should be alkaline foods and 30 per cent acid, so you can still eat your oily fish and meat. The spa’s mouth-watering buffet has dishes such as cottage cheese or salmon, so you don’t have to be an alkaline aficionado to enjoy it. 

Here is a delicious recipe from Chewton Glen’s executive head chef, Luke Matthews to bring a touch of the exotic to your lunch table whether you follow the diet or not.

Morrocan spiced courgettes

1kg courgettes, sliced lengthways
2 lemons, juiced and zested
6 tbspn spice mix
1 bunch  chopped coriander
Drizzle olive oil

Morrocan spice
1 orange zested,
½ cup  ground cumin
½ cup ground coriander
½ cup ground ginger
¼ cup hot chilli powder
¼ cup cracked black pepper
1/8 cup turmeric
1/8 cup ground cinnamon
1/8 cup salt,
1/8 cup sugar
¼ tspn ground cloves

Mix all ingredients. Weigh total amount then mix in the same of raz el hanout.


Marinate the courgettes over night with the lemon juice, spice mix and a little olive oil. Next day, roast courgettes in the oven for 12 minutes basting throughout. Finish with the coriander and more olive oil.

By Daralyn Danns

For more information about the spa and treatments visit