Monday, 28 October 2013

Destination Bovey Castle, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

There is nothing like the beauty of the English countryside, especially when bathed in golden sunlight. I was watching the drama of the setting unfold from the window of First Great Western’s train to Exeter St Davids.

“This is so relaxing. Much better than taking the car,” I overheard a lady say to her husband. I could not agree more. It is so therapeutic!  

You can get up when you want to stretch your legs or visit the buffet car. There is plenty of space to spread yourself out. There is no sitting in traffic jams or getting lost. There are plugs so you can use your computer or whatever gadget you like. You end up at your destination feeling as if you have already started your break. It is such an excellent way to travel. 

Bovey Castle

At the station, there was a driver and car from Bovey Castle, the hotel where I was staying, waiting for me. It was a 40-minute drive through winding country roads and pretty villages to get there.

Nestled in acres of the stunning wilderness of the Dartmoor National Park, Bovey Castle is a quintessential luxury English country house hotel with an 18-hole championship golf course meandering around the estate.

After driving through the iron gates – it is such a low key entrance you could easily miss it – past the gate house and a couple of holes of the golf course, I finally arrived at the front door to be greeted by porters dressed in plus fours, the country gentleman’s attire of a bygone era. 

In 1890 William Henry Smith (aka WH Smith) who later became Viscount Hambleden, bought 5,000 acres of land from the Earl of Devon. But, it was his son Frederick who built the neo-Elizabethan styled manor house to add to the family’s collection of country retreats. 

Cathedral Room

Eventually it was sold to the Great Western Railway which opened it as a hotel and golf course in 1930. For several decades the Manor House Hotel as it was known, prospered, but then slowly fell into a state of disrepair. Along came Peter de Savary and the manor house became Bovey Castle in 2003. Since then new owners have come and left their marks on the hotel. Today it has 64 individually-designed bedrooms and 22 lodges.

Once inside, I began to appreciate the understated quality of the fine workmanship. It was like entering somebody’s country home. Any minute you expected a character from Downton Abbey to pop up and greet you.

Welcoming touches such as hand-made fudge left by the bed and a good choice of teas and coffee on hand in the room so you could make yourself a cuppa  as you drank in the vistas of the restored Edwardian gardens and  the rolling hills and rivers of the beautiful surrounding countryside. If there was ever a definition of picture-postcard views, this is it. So tranquil, a stark contrast to the frenetic pace of London, this is a place where you can instantly find your inner energy and peace.

Besides interesting walks on the moors and leisurely strolls around the grounds, there are a host of other activities such as falconry displays on the terrace, archery, fly-fishing, horse-riding and wine tastings to fill your days. It won’t be a hardship to be a golf widow here as the wonderful spa has a whole gamut of treatments to try. Or you can take a dip in the pool and enjoy a leisurely English afternoon tea in the oak-panelled Cathedral Room or simply relax and read some of the many papers or magazines which you can find scattered around the hotel.

For dinner, try the art-deco styled Edwardian Grill. At night the atmosphere created by candlelight is simply magical and the service was impeccable. Dartmoor Beef is the speciality, but there is also a good choice of locally-caught fish. The wine list offers a good selection. 

To round off your evening, head to the Oak Bar and enjoy a nightcap besides a roaring log fire.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

First Great Western. Advance Single fares from London Paddington to Exeter St Davids start from £15.50 each way. Or take advantage of Group Save tickets where four can travel for the price of two (subject to terms and conditions). For the best value tickets and fares buy before you board at ,via the mobile application or telephone 08457 000125

For further information visit

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Destination Alentejo, Portugal

Imagine a stunning landscape of never-ending golden and green plains carpeted with vines, cork-oak trees and olive groves. Pepper with pretty whitewashed houses and medieval towns. Add unspoilt sandy beaches coupled with large dollops of sunshine and sprinkle with irresistible culinary aromas and flavours. Blend all together and you have Alentejo.

Pronounced alan’terzu, Portugal’s agricultural heartland, covers almost a third of the country. It stretches from the River Tagus in the north to the hills of the Algarve in the south.

Its name is derived from além do Tejo which translates as beyond the Tagus. This region is a treasure trove full of sparkling gems. In this bucolic habitat stress oozes from your very being as you get caught up in the pace of life which beats to a rhythm of a long-gone world. 


At the Arte e Sal restaurant in St Torpes overlooking an inviting blue sea lapping away at golden sands, I had my first taste of bacalhau, a traditional Portuguese dish. Salted and dried cod did not sound exactly appetising. However, it is soaked in one or two changes of water to remove the saltiness, and was so succulent it almost melted in my mouth.

There were so many small appetisers - “petiscos” - including cold meats, cheeses, olives, octopus salad and sardines, that you were spoilt for choice. The main course was grilled fish. I had a melange of sea bream and sea bass. Every mouthful was a sensory experience. What makes the Alentejo cuisine so special is that it only uses simple and home-grown products. A must to try while on the coast is a caldeirada, a fish stew.

Another revelation was the superb wines from Alentejo which we had to accompany the meal. I am not normally a fan of sparkling wine, except for champagne, but since tasting a couple of numbers produced in this region, I am hooked. 

If this was a sample of the region’s gastronomy, I would understand if TAP Portugal were to charge me excess baggage on my return journey. Alentejo is my food heaven.

The fishermen out on their boats

A long, leisurely lunch was the perfect way to relax after a hectic morning. We had got up early to see the fishermen out on their boats and visit a local fish market before exploring the centre of Sines. Its most famous son is the navigator Vasco da Gama, the first person to sail from Europe to India. 

History shrouds Sines like a mist. From prehistoric times to present day, the municipality and its people have been shaped by the sea. The star attraction is the 15th century castle where Da Gama is said to have been born and spent his childhood.

After doing the educational bit, we refuelled at a café. Another treat for the taste buds is the rather scrumptious pastel de nata. This custard tart is one of the country’s most renowned specialities. 

The place to stay in the Alentejo is the Convento do Espinheiro near the city of Évora. This 15th century monastery, where the royal family and nobility often used to stay overnight, has been transformed into a magnificent hotel that definitely gives you a sense of occasion. 

Following its chequered past, it has now been painstakingly restored and is a compelling combination of old and new. If your idea of a break is lazing by the pool, chilling out at the spa and being surrounded by beautiful gardens while savouring exquisite food and wines spiced up with a dash of culture, you will adore this place.

Templo de_Diana
©rui cunha_08
Courtesy of
Turismo Alentejo

Steal yourself away from the hotel to visit Évora, known as the Museum-City. It is a cultural hotbed dating back thousands of years. Everybody seems to have been here except, thank goodness, busloads of tourists. From pre-historic times, to being fortified by the Romans to being a Christian city in the Visigothic period, being conquered by the Moors and to its Golden Age in the 15th century when it was the residence of Portuguese kings, Évora resonates with influences from Romans, Arabs, Christians and Jews. 

Saunter along the quaint cobbled streets, past pretty houses many decorated with ceramic tiles - “azulejos” - and through the enchanting squares and you will hit upon plenty of fascinating places to visit. Stars of the show are the Roman Temple (Templo de Diana), one of the best preserved in the Iberian Peninsula, and the cathedral. If you fancy reflecting about the meaning of life, head to the renowned 16th century Chapel of Bones which lives up to its name. The walls and pillars are plastered in bones from the city’s cemeteries.

After a tour of the Cartuxa winery savouring wines and olive oils and, of course, discovering more amazing restaurants and eating plenty more sensational meals, heart-wrenching  though it was, it was almost time to leave for our two-hour or so journey back to Lisbon Airport.

However we could not leave the Alentejo without squeezing in a visit to the ancient town of Arraiolos, world-renowned for its beautiful embroidered carpets, a centuries old tradition.

For getting to India, Vasco da Gama claimed Sines as his reward. Feeling like an explorer who had just discovered a whole new world, I would like mine to be a return trip to Alentejo.  

By Daralyn Danns 

Getting there

TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932, flies from Manchester, London Heathrow and Gatwick to Lisbon up to 9 times a day. Return fares start at £116 including all taxes and surcharges


Hotel Vila Park, Av. de Sines, Apartado 146
7501-909 Vila Nova de St. André
Tel:+351 269 750 100

Double rooms including breakfast from €68 to €110
For more info visit

Hotel Convento do Espinheiro, Bairro dos Canaviais,7002-502 Évora.Tel:+351 266 788 200, Fax:+351 266 788 229,
Double rooms including breakfast from 250
For more info visit

Herdade da Amendoeira, Santana do Campo Arraiolos, 7040-130 Arraiolos.Tel:+351 266 847 498
Double rooms including breakfast from €65
For more info visit

Pousada Arraiolos, 7044-909 Arraiolos,Tel:+351 266 419 340
Double rooms including breakfast from
For more info visit


Restaurante Arte e Sal
Praia de Morgavel
São Torpes
7520-089 Sines
Tel:+351 269 869 125
Average price without drinks, €16 to €24 per person 

Adega da Cartuxa
Quinta de Valbom
Estrada da Soeira
7000-769 Évora
Tel:+351 266 748 380
For more info visit

Restaurante Dom Joaquim
Rua dos Penedos 6
7000-537 Évora – Portugal
Tel:+351 266 73 11 05
Average price without drinks, €20 per person
For more info visit

For more info on Alentejo visit

Monday, 21 October 2013

Hair colour to dye for

As the end of summer abruptly approached, my hair had started to look rather worse for wear. It had faded and especially, in daylight, I could see too much yellow in it.  I was not duly concerned as I knew my trusted colourist, Liz would fix the problem. So, it was quickly on the phone to Daniel Galvin to book an appointment.  

You can imagine how I felt when I was told that Liz wasn’t going to be available, but Daisy, who Liz recommended when she wasn’t in the salon could sort out my problem. As I was about to go away and as Daisy came with Liz’s seal of approval, I set a date.

Daisy took one look at my locks and said: “You need to be two shades darker.” Chatting to Daisy, I knew I was in safe hands. The butterflies in my stomach disappeared rapidly. Anybody who knows what it is like to go to a new colourist when you have been really pleased with your present one knows that feeling. 

After a through consultation, Daisy began work. She mixed a darker shade than I had previously and started by doing the roots. Afterwards, she took the colour through the ends for about 5 minutes before applying a gloss.

Daisy had told me that, for this autumn, brunettes should be deeper and richer than they were in the summer. “Darker hair also has more shine,” she added. 

For the winter, Daisy advised brunettes to go slightly warmer. “Think chestnut or hazel. If you have a neutral or cool skin tone, richer does not mean having to add red to the hair. To keep your hair looking natural, ensure the hairline and ends are lighter than the roots.”

As the days grow shorter, Daisy advises blondes to keep the front light but add some warmer tones to their locks. Redheads should go richer and deeper. “Just remember, there is a fine line between looking natural and artificial,” she cautioned.

My hair looked amazing. I really was pleased. It is probably the darkest I have been in a long time. As Daisy pointed out, my eyes were the first thing you noticed. And, as Daniel would say:” If you’ve got the perfect hair colour, the first thing that people should notice should NOT be your hair colour, it should be your eyes.”

By Daralyn Danns

Daniel Galvin (