Friday, 30 August 2013

Tucking Into The Feastival

Tomorrow I'm heading off – with what appears to be most of the Cotswolds – to Alex James' of Blur fame's farm for The Big Feastival, the foodie music weekend gig he hosts 
in conjunction with Jamie Oliver. 

In typical Gloucestershire fashion though, this is more of a boutique, clean boots, Farrow&Ball-hued affair of a festival. Less Portaloos, more Pret-a-Porter. 
When I went a couple of years ago, David Cameron was hanging out at the bar so that should give you an idea that this place is a little more genteel than say, Bestival. This weekend, I feel, he's probably a bit tied up.

I've been very spoilt and I'm going as a guest of a friend (check out her blog here) and I am super excited – less about the food, more about catching Leanne De Havas, Duke and Basement Jaxx. I am going to situate myself and my Barbour jacket by that main stage, scrape together some pounds for a Birra Moretti and pray that the rain holds off. 

So, you'll know where I'll be, but what about what's on offer for you? Well as you're in the Cotswolds, take a look at the Daylesford Market Garden where you can wander through a grazing garden, sample the goods and then hemorrhage some money at the checkout. Then there's Table Sessions which features demonstrations and Q&As with some chef champions so grab your chance to ask Valentine Warner something really knowledgeable and foodie – like whether he would like to join you for supper at The Chequers in Churchill nearby. There's bring your own BBQs, a Pommery VIP area, celebrity cook offs and a vintage fun fair; it's going to be great. 
Check out the website here, follow them on Twitter (@thebigfeastival) and scrounge some tickets, it's going to be a feast of a weekend and you don't want to be left out and starving. 

 Credit where credit's due: The Big Feastival; David Loftus, George Powell, Tara Fisher, Chris Terry, Simon Dean

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Take Me Down To The Sea

Ah, Bank Holidays. The bliss of that extra 24hours making all the difference to the weekend. 

I headed home to the coast for a little R&R and for some time out. Yes, whilst most people were heading to Ibiza/a festival/the nearest pub, I was hitting the M4 – my yellow brick road – to have some time with the parents and the puppies and the problem-free world of my very own Oz. Yes, at 20-something I still head home to be looked after by my Mum; don't tell me you don't enjoy it either.

The New Forest is a beautiful area where we're spoilt by having the best of both worlds – acres of National Park to ride and walk the dogs in and not see people and the freedom of being near the sea. Haven't been? Quick tips: Head to Lymington for bloody marys at The Haven looking at the yachts; check out achingly cool hotel, Limewood for, well everything, especially it's music festivals Smoked & Uncut (blog post here) and drive into the depths of the Forest to check out a pub called The Royal Oak at Fritham – it's literally a living room with a bar and it's brilliant.

When I get home though, the first thing I want to do is head to the sea and on a sun kissed evening, we head off, wine-in-hand to a little not-so-secret stretch of beach called Tanner's Lane. 

There isn't a great deal there – which makes it perfect. In fact it's so perfect, some lucky person has their house right on the front, flirtily gazing over the stretch of water to the ever-so-close Isle of Wight. 

It was a popular inlet during the area's chequered smuggling past and you can imagine the glamorous figure of Tom Johnston who was adored "by women, children and animals" (clearly a bit of hero of the Beckham mould of his time) unloading 'free goods', shaking his black pirate curls out of his face and ruthlessly dodging the authorities.

You can wade into the shallow waters, walk in the surf with the dogs and bravely look for adders in the sun traps closer to the fields which almost run down to the sand. And there's a rope swing, which I can never resist. It is pure Famous Five innocence – well apart from the bottle of bubbles sustenance that Family Stilettos In The Sticks has in their knapsack.

If you're local, then you'll know all about Tanner's Lane, but if you're not then...well I'm not too sure if I want to give you the exact location. As with all treasure, it's not worth its weight in gold bullion if you don't need to sniff out a map to find it. But do find it, because X does mark the spot and it really is worth it.

'Space and time' is exactly what you have. X

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Timeless Travel

I have wanderlust. Itchy feet. A very real need to reach for the passport and follow the sun. Sadly my bank balance is severely in the red; in fact my account looks like Carrie Bradshaw just ran rough shod through Manhattan buying up Manolos left, right and centre. I bet even Greece's coffers look better than mine at present; I wish I had a European older brother who could bail me out too. Ergo, the only exploring I'll be doing this month/year/infinitum, will be on the Internet. But that's OK, because I can relive my Miami exploits from earlier in the year.

The season is on the turn, so I'm getting wistful for the summer. There's talk that another heatwave is just around the corner, but that's just wishful thinking – like presuming only one workout a week will turn you into Cindy Crawford or that sex will always result in orgasms. So I can feel the chill in the air; the rain is back with its heavy clouded cape and summer madness seems like a distant spell in paradise. But you know where the sun always shines? Miami. 

During my vay-cay back in April, I was very spoilt and stayed at the glorious Betsy, the most beautiful hotel on South Beach. 

SoBe, as this little strip of Art Deco Miami mania is known, is famous for those looking for too good a time; a week or weekend of life-on-hold escapism, wearing very little and dancing your way around the sexiest, most fabulous clubs in the world. There's the late Gianni Versace's over-the-top mansion a mere saunter down the road where the building has been positively groped by Midas' touch, a drag show on the corner featuring some of the finest legs south of Collins Avenue and The Beautiful People cruising the Ocean Drive straight in their Hot Wheels cars. It's brash. It's colourful. It's very Miami. 

And then in the midst, sitting ever so cooly amongst the try hards, is The Betsy. This Georgian-style colonial mansion is like Lauren Bacall amongst a party of Marilyn Monroes; still uber sexy, just not with all it's secrets front and centre. Walking into this hotel is like stepping into a Dean Martin movie, where you can imagine peering around the potted palm fronds stacked in the lobby and looking to the bar to see Frank Sinatra alternately crooning whilst leaning on the grand piano or predatorily chatting up lucky dames as they knock back whiskey sours. 

This place is old school but, like a leather jacket, never ever goes out of style. The striped ticking sofas, the bell boys in their smart uniforms and the renowned wine cellar would have you think that this place is just for grown ups, but you'd be wrong. There's a little furtive impression of rock n roll just reclining beneath the plush exterior. 

During my trip, the hotel was acting as a gallery for ex-Rolling Stones tour manager, Bob Bonis' behind-the-Jagger-pout photographs of the Stones at work, rest and play. Seriously cool.  Then there's the speakeasy style bar to the rear of the hotel which is low ceiling-ed, dark and has the ghost of blues and jazz nights smokily hanging in the air. 

The current owner's father was a Pulitzer prize finalist, so this boutique hotel is also a writer's Mecca. Books line the walls, with each room coming equipped with their own library and every night a poem is left on your pillow – a nice little skinny extra as opposed to the standard chocolates. There's even a writer's room, which I readily fantasised would be the ideal place to pen my masterpiece, feeding off the energy of past novelists who had come to stay.

The spa is fabulous and the restaurant, BLT, is mouth watering; the staff are charming and the location unbeatable. There is a beautiful pool, where the only inconvenience is getting up to retrieve your iced cucumber water and the white sands and tanned bodies of Miami are a quick stumble across the road. All in all, it's understandably quite hard to narrow down an Ultimate Moment. 

Looking back, it's a toss up between enjoying champagne on the roof top day beds, feeling on seventh heaven away from the heat and noise of the SoBe tarmac; and enjoying pre-dinner drinks on the street-level veranda, revelling in a balmy evening and indulging in my favourite pastime; people watching. [Should I be concerned that both memories involved refreshments with a percentage?]

I am in love with Miami as a city; I adore how unashamedly full-on it is. It's not shy or retiring, demure or serene. It's big and ballsy and a huge serving of the American Dream. And The Betsy is the perfect balm; the ideal mixer which makes this hard liquor city exciting and energetic and incredibly palatable, but won't leave you feeling the post-night blues when you fly home. 

Doesn't it sound fantastic? If I close my eyes, I can almost feel like I'm back there, shaking sand from my hair and enjoying a sundowner with The Housemate.

PS: Good little tip, always charm the bell boys. Most of them work the club promotion scene in the evenings and not only will they know where the hot night is that particular moment, but they'll enable you to queue jump. You're welcome. 

For further info: The Betsy website
I stayed at The Betsy to write a travel feature for The Day Job (The Polo Magazine summer 2013)

Credit where credit's due: The Betsy and I