Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Destination Beja, Alentejo, Portugal

Climbing up Beja’s Castle’s Keep was well worth the effort. Stretched out before me were endless plains of golden wheat punctuated by the occasional whitewashed house. As the sun bathed the picture-perfect landscape with a heartening glow, I took some time to savour my surroundings.

The castle, which has played an important part in defending Portugal’s borders and is now the Beja’s landmark, dates back to the Romans and, over the centuries, has been modified by its varying occupants. The Keep, arguably the most outstanding feature, said to be the highest in the Iberian Peninsula, was built for Dom Dinis, King of Portugal in the 13th century.  

Beja’s Castle’s Keep

Beja, once called Pax Julia, was founded by Julius Caesar and was declared the regional capital. Renamed by the Moors, this city is saturated in history. Archaeological evidence shows that Beja was inhabited since the Bronze Age and probably the pace of life has not altered much since then. If delving into yesteryear is your bag, you will find lovely little churches such as the Santo Amaro which has some parts presumed to date back to the 6th century as well as museums to enlighten you.  

Near to the castle are the cathedral and the spectacular Convent of Our Lady of Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceição), where years ago nuns from Portugal’s noblest families concocted amazing types of sweets. Their legacy lives on and you can enjoy their confectionery made according to these ancient recipes in many restaurants. 

Decked out in carved wood and gold leaf

Beja-museu REG©TVB
Courtesy of  Turismo de Portugal

Decked out in carved wood and gold leaf, with cloisters decorated in beautiful centuries-old tiles - “azulejos”, this convent, now a museum, houses one of Portugal’s most important Visigothic collections. 

As I tried to find the castle I got lost wandering around a labyrinth of narrow cobbled medieval streets. But, I found plenty of helpful, happy people who pointed me in the right direction and I made some great discoveries such as Rua Dr Afonso Costa, known as the shopping street, which has a plethora of buildings to gaze at. Not to be missed is the double window, at number 38, adorned with traditional Islamic and Christian motifs. Although it was put in its current location at the end of the 19th century, it is believed that it dates back to the 16th century and comes from an old convent.   

In some ways you feel as if Beja has been cocooned in an ancient time warp. If it were not for some lovely boutiques and lively cafés, you could easily imagine that you have been transported back in time to when life was not a race against the clock. 

The real magic of Beja

My base was the Pousada de Beja, São Francisco, which started out life centuries ago as a Franciscan monastery and is now a luxury hotel run with easy charm. It manages to balance traditional features of the old building with 21st century necessities. You can easily while away a couple of hours here exploring. It also has its own Gothic chapel 

The restaurant, once the refectory, with high vaulted ceilings, dishes up local cuisine that gives your taste buds a real treat whether you want a bowl of soup, or something more elaborate like the lamb or fish. And being in the Alentejo, renowned for its wines, you know that there were going to be some rather special tipples to relish.

A trip to Beja is like taking a glance into another world. It is a place where strangers say “Bom dia!” when they bump into you – a completely different culture experience from London.  It is also too easy to see why people like living here. There is a quality of life that is hard to imagine exists when you come from a big city. Magnificent in its simplicity, the past fuses with the future. And that is the real magic of Beja.

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. A great flying experience. Even in economy you will get complimentary meals and drinks. And you also get 23kg baggage allowance!

Pousada de Beja, São Francisco
Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira
7801-901, Beja, tel: (+351) 284 313 580
Double rooms including breakfast from approximately €90
For more info and promotional rates visit

For more info on Alentejo visit Turismo do Alentejo,

For more info on Portugal visit

Monday, 25 November 2013

Shades of brunette

When I last visited Daniel Galvin in September, colourist Daisy Twyman had taken me darker than I had been for a long time and I have to say I liked it. I could wear more colours and black was back in my wardrobe. I also loved the fact my hair seemed glossier.

Fast forward a few weeks and the sun (I had been away a couple of times) and general wear and tear, my locks had faded to a more coppery brunette. Those kinds of warm tones clash with my skin tone, so I asked Daisy to make me darker. I wanted to add depth and dimension to my barnet. 

Daisy was reluctant to take me too dark and she said it would look too heavy. We also talked about my hair texture. “Darker hair can make frizz look less obvious,” she said, so she suggested we apply the same colour that we used on the roots last time all over the hair and leave it on for longer to take down the yellow. “It will get better each time we do it,” she said.

“Colour can change the texture of the hair,” she added. “If you have thick, curly hair, fine highlights will get lost, so you need to have them made thicker. You should also be careful not to over process the hair. If you have fine hair, you should have them more feathery. They can also give it more body.”

Daisy kept checking my hair every few minutes, so I knew I was in a safe pair of hands. After 15 minutes, she announced that the formula had got rid of the yellow tones and she would not use a toner (neutralises any brassy shades). Instead, she would apply a clear gloss.

The result was stunning. “I can’t wait to see you again to see how this fades,” she said as I left. 

But, for the next few weeks, I will be swishing a beautiful dark mane. Being now close back to my natural colour, I feel more me.  My mother, whom I was meeting for lunch, as soon as she saw me remarked: “Now, you look like you!”

By Daralyn Danns

Daniel Galvin (

Friday, 22 November 2013

Destination Stoke Park, country club, hotel and spa, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

The soft golds of the autumn leaves, interspersed with russets and lit up with a splash of red, shimmered in the sunshine. So serene yet so dramatic. This was the backdrop to the 27-hole championship golf course, acres of gardens and parkland that I saw before me as I sat staring out of the windows while enjoying afternoon tea in the Orangery at Stoke Park.  

It was hard to imagine that this amazing country hotel was only 35 minutes away from London. The hotel’s impressive guest list which has included the likes of Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, Anne Hathaway and One Direction, shows if I am not the only one who has discovered this gem.

Being close to Pinewood Studios, the British Film Industry too seems to have fallen in love with Stoke Park. It was where what is probably the most memorable golf scene in movie history, the duel between James Bond and Goldfinger was filmed. It also was the setting for the unforgettable “mini break” in Bridget Jones’s Diary with Hugh Grant, Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth. More recently, it appeared in the final scenes of Layer Cake, with Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller appearing on the Mansion’s front steps.

Stoke Park

Stoke Park has history oozing out of its very essence. From being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085 to having being owned by Elizabeth l and Thomas Penn, son of William, the founder of Pennsylvania,  it is now an impressive “resort” which became Britain’s first exclusive country club in 1908. Nick “Pa” Lane Jackson, the owner, commissioned the renowned course architect Harry Colt to design the golf course. Today it attracts some of the world’s golfing elite.

The main building on the estate is the 18th century imposing stately mansion designed by "Mad" King George III’s architect, James Wyatt. It manages to meld old-world elegance with private home intimacy. It’s the sort of place you feel comfortable curling up in an armchair in front of one of its roaring log fires.

Stoke Park also boasts an incredible spa, which is in the Pavilion – next door to the Mansion – where I stayed.

If you like contemporary bedrooms you will prefer to stay in the Pavilion. The rooms are stylishly furnished with sleek furniture and plush carpets that your feet sink into. There is a nod to Hollywood glamour in the form of film posters and elaborate rugs. The star attraction has to be the marble bathroom with heated floor and a spacious walk-in shower.  


Another benefit of staying in this building is that you can pop on your robe and head down to the pool and spa, which has a menu of extensive treatments delivered by excellent therapists or to the gym and fitness studio. There are indoor as well as outdoor tennis courts. Nobody will mind being a golf widow here. There is so much to do and, if sport is not your thing, you can take an invigorating stroll around the estate. I took the Heritage Walk, passed a few interesting monuments and learnt a few facts along the way.

After lots of walking and a relaxing pedicure and manicure, I was ready for dinner. If you don’t want to go across to the Mansion for dinner, you can go to San Marco, which dishes up great Italian food.
I chose to go the few hundred yards by shuttle bus (it was raining) to the Mansion to experience Humphry's, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant which is a compelling juxtaposition of modern British cuisine with the glamour of a bygone era. 

To start with I plumped for scallops washed down with a glass of Ochagavia 1851, Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Chile, oozing flavours of gooseberries which complemented the dish really well.

For the main course I had a rather delicious grilled fillet of sea bass with potato purée, samphir, clams and teign mussels nage, accompanied by a glass of Palliser Estate Pinot Gris 2011 from New Zealand.

For dessert, it had to be the indecently decadent chocolate soufflé which just melted in my mouth. This meal was superb. No wonder Humphry's under the under the auspices of head chef Chris Wheeler has won 3 AA Rosettes.

Excellent service, relaxing atmosphere, wonderful food, a dose of pampering in the spa and a beautiful bedroom that was hard to tear yourself away from, this is a lifestyle that I could get used to. Will I be going back? You bet.

By Daralyn Danns

For more info on Stoke Park, visit

Monday, 18 November 2013

Keep your hair in good condition

The winter weather and change in temperatures going from the warm indoors to the cold outside can have an effect on your hair. So, here are some goodies to help protect and replenish it.

The Daniel Galvin Hair of the Dog Package, £55
When Christmas becomes all too much and you need to take time out to relax for some “me-time”, treat yourself to this great value package (a 20-per-cent saving on regular prices) which includes an intensive hair repair masque, a shoulder massage and blow-dry. After this you will be ready to face the world.

Redken Diamond Oil Shatterproof Shine, £31.99
Lovely and light, this silicone-free oil is quickly absorbed into the hair, leaving no residue. Whether you use as a pre-shampoo treatment, an overnight leave-in treatment or as a protectant before you blow-dry your hair or use as a finishing product, you can be assured your locks will look glossy and healthier. This oil comes in two formulations, one for fine and the other for thick/coarse hair.

L’huile de Leonor Greyl, £27.54, from Nyumba and Josh Wood Atelier
Leonor Greyl is a highly-regarded haircare range from Paris. If your tresses are in urgent need of an injection of moisture, try this superb product containing botanical oils. Used as a pre-shampoo treatment dry, frizzy hair, will be protected from the elements and left silkier and smoother. If your coloured hair  is really frazzled leave on all night.

Moroccanoil Intense Hydrating Mask, £24.75,
When your hair is feeling particularly dry, apply and leave overnight and rinse off in the morning and then shampoo and condition as normal. Helps tame frizz and leaves hair feeling super soft and silky.

Kiehls Creme with Silk Groom, £18
Stylists adore this product and once you have used it, you will see, if you have frizzy hair, why.  Protects and conditions without making the hair feel greasy. Great for defining curls. A little goes a long way.

Wella Professionals Enrich Self Warming Treat, £12.05
Enhanced with apricot oil and shea butter, this is a treat for parched hair. It is a fast-working treatment that will help replenish and restore your hair making it feel super soft.

Aussie Miracle Recharge Frizz Remedy, £4.49
Keep this spray handy for when your hair gets a frizz attack. This lightweight conditioning spray will help to calm it. Can be used on wet or dry hair.

Cloud Nine Magical Potion,£6.95
Perfect  for fine hair, this lightweight multi-tasking  conditioner protects hair from heat, helps cut down on drying time and helps prevent static. It is ideal for holidays as it contains a UV filter.

Color Wow Speed Dry Blow-Dry Spray, £16.50
If you have coloured hair, you should give this a whirl. This alcohol-free quick-dry formula helps to lock moisture inside the cuticle and strengthen hair.

By Daralyn Danns

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Levi’s revolutionises buying jeans

Every woman is on a never-ending mission to discover the perfect pair of jeans. One of the most useful items in our wardrobe, it always seems to be the hardest to find.

For years I used to spend hundreds of pounds on designer jeans. Most of the time, I realised that I was buying for the name and not much more. The brand I was buying at the time changed the fit and I desperately needed a new pair as I was going away on a press trip. Jeans are great for daywear. They also take care of the problem of having to put sunscreen on your legs, which invariably ends up on your clothes.

As I exhausted all the brands in Harvey Nichols – none fitted – I decided to head for the Levi’s store on Regent Street. With the help of an amazing sales assistant who has now gone back to Spain, we found a pair that looked great on. They shortened them free of charge and told they would be ready for me by the end of the afternoon. They were half the price of my normal brand and they lasted longer. Over the last few years the fit has got even better.

Levi’s now claims to have launched the perfect pair of jeans that is revolutionary and flattering to all shapes and sizes around the globe. The company’s website says Liquid Shaping Technology, which has been fused into the denim, provides hold and comfort that lifts, shapes and defines a woman’s body.  The new Revel jeans (from £90, are said to be set to change our lives. Are they? Will a pair of jeans really shape me and make my butt look better and my legs appear longer? There was only way to find out – try them.

The jeans come in three different fits, Slight, Demi and Bold and in a variety of finishes, washes, colours in skinny or straight leg.

According to Levi's, “While other brands have jeans with shaping panels or inserts that many women find uncomfortable, the magic of Revel jeans is in the liquid, which holds you in at the same time as being super comfortable.”

I was told as I was a between a Slight and a Demi, I could choose either. I went for black skinny in Demi. They did fit well. I liked the pocket placement which made my hips looked slimmer.

As they act like shapewear, I feared that having them on all day would feel like something was pulling at me to hold me in, especially after eating, and that I would be conscious of the fact I was wearing them.

Not the case, I just felt and looked better.

By Daralyn Danns