We've teamed up with Boux Avenue in this fabulous Valentine's competition
C'est L'amour! With Valentines Day just around the corner we’ve teamed up with Boux Avenue, purveyors of lovely lingerie, to give you the chance to win a two-night stay at the stunning Legend Hotel in the heart of Paris – including Eurostar tickets for two!
New to the Room for Romance collection, the Legend Hotel in the heart of Saint Germain oozes designer decor. Stepping inside this stunning hotel is like entering another world, with its huge murals and statement-making lighting. You can take a look at the beautiful rooms – petite but perfectly formed in true Parisian style – and enjoy fantastic rates too, with rooms costing from just EUR 120 per night, including breakfast.
And if you’re looking to add a little extra va-va-voom to Valentine's Day this year – or want to point your grand amour in the right direction! – Boux Avenue is the place to go.
Boux Avenue is a luxurious shopping destination born out of a love for lingerie, nightwear, swimwear and all things romantic. With a passion for gorgeousness, bags of design flair and an unrivalled eye for detail to bring a slice of seduction to your boudoir, Boux Avenue aims to make love happen with a blend of nostalgic and contemporary design.
Fancy whisking that special person off to the city of love for two nights? ENTER OUR COMPETITION to win a two-night stay at the Legend Hotel, including breakfast and two return standard tickets on Eurostar at www.stylist.co.uk/win/win-a-luxury-weekend-in-paris-with-boux-avenue-and-room-for-romance where you’ll also find the full terms and conditions.
All spent out but itching to get away? We have the answer!
Ah, January! If this month was a colour it would probably be grey. Drizzly weather and post-Christmas blues add up to a miserable 31 days. Or do they?
Even if you feel all spent out after Christmas, January is actually the perfect time to have a night away that’ll put some colour back in your cheeks. You can enjoy a quiet getaway with your equally jaded other half at a time when prices drop and hotels are often surprisingly quiet.
Stay on a Sunday night and you get the best deal if all. Just take advantage of our amazing Smoochy Sunday offers and you can save £££s on usual weekend rates. Designed to brighten up January without breaking the bank, they are indulgent enough to tempt you into breaking a few New Year resolutions!
Take TUDDENHAM MILL – a chic, converted water mill set in sleepy meadows in Suffolk. On a Room for Romance Smoochy Sunday deal you can stay in a fabulous Loft suite complete with a huge curved Castello bathtub for two, for just £180 – perfect for a lazy Sunday together. All you have to do is spend £50 in the restaurant for dinner.
Wrap up and head to the coast for a cosy winter beach weekend at the Edwardian LANGTRY MANOR in Bournemouth. Smoochy Sundays here include a complimentary cream tea and romantic touches like rose and chocs on your pillow and a Sunday paper to read together in the four-poster bed – all from just £152.
When Jack Frost pays a visit to the Cotswolds the beautiful countryside sparkles and the honey-coloured houses twinkle. Curl up in front of a log fire in the centuries-old BAY TREE Hotel in Burford and enjoy our Smoochy Sunday stay that includes a three-course dinner, Sunday newspaper and full English breakfast from just £150 for two.
Catch the same deal in the quintessentially English SWAN AT BIBURY – set on the riverbanks of the pretty Cotswold village of Bibury, the Swan’s eclectic Art Deco interior takes you back to a timeless era of weekend jaunts to the country. Our Smoochy Sunday offer at The Swan includes dinner for two, a Sunday paper and a late checkout on the Monday. Bliss.
Room for Romance Gift Cards are fun, festive and headache-free
LOOKING FOR A CRACKER of a Christmas present for someone special? Room for Romance Gift Cards are guaranteed to tick all the boxes.
If your hunnybunny is tired of getting perfume – or socks – every year, a Gift Card could whizz them off to one of our gorgeous hotels for a thoroughly spoiling stay. And you get all the Brownie points.
Our cash Gift Cards can be purchased for any value starting from just £50. They can be redeemed against a stay at a Room for Romance hotel. We’ll even wrap them up beautifully for you in a silver and burgundy foil envelope.
If you’d like to buy a Room for Romance Gift Card for one of our special packages, then we're bubbling with ideas – from champagne hot tub getaways in the Yorkshire Dales to classic Parisian mini-breaks. Just give us a call and we can customise your gift with any package or extras to suit the budget.
Left it late in the day? No worries. Our E-vouchers are ready for you to print instantly at home to save the day. Your secret is safe with us!
You're in for some Thames-side treats at Henley, says Mairiona Cotter.
Grab your boaters and blazers – plus, possibly your wellies! The Henley Regatta kicks off this week with a splash – and the riverbank will be alive with picnics, hampers and lashings of bubbly, not to mention outfits to rival those at Ascot.
Even if you've left it too late to join the throngs cheering on the rowers, or to snatch tickets for the big music events staged here once the regatta ends, there are plenty of Thames-side treats in store all year round in and around Henley.
As Ratty famously declared in the children’s classic Wind in the Willows, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – like messing about in boats. And aspiring boaties who can’t wait to don their deck shoes and splice the mainbrace can have plenty of fun both on and around the river in this pretty market town.
Of course you’ll need somewhere suitably stylish to stay, and where better for a sumptuous riverside sojourn than Danesfield House, set in show-stealing surroundings a few miles away and brimming with Thames-side elegance.
You’ll find acres of manicured gardens, gorgeous views over the Thames and the Chiltern hills and a terrace just begging for an early evening Pimm's or a sunny afternoon tea.
Danesfield House also has a brilliant Spa where you can zone out in an ozone-cleansed pool, sauna and steam room or opt to be pummeled and pampered in one of the treatment rooms.
Just down the road in nearby Goring on Thames is the small and intimate Miller of Mansfield. Just 100 yards from the riverbank, this appealing old inn has been given a stylish makeover in recent years. It’s now a fun and highly affordable place to stay just 75 minutes from London.
Every bedroom at the Miller of Mansfield is different – you’ll find sleigh beds, bold foil wallpapers, double ended baths and drench showers as well as a great restaurant downstairs. Room for Romance guests get a bottle of bubbly and a tray of chocs in their room to get things off to a great start.
You’re minutes from the Thames towpath, so walking to nearby Thames-side beauty spots like Marlow and Hurley is a breeze. the River and Rowing Museum is a mine of information for all things boat-related, and you can check out memorabilia from Henley Regattas back in the 1800s. Ratty and his friends would have loved it all.
See our full destination guide to the Thames Valley roomforromance.com/romantic-hotels/united-kingdom/thames-valley/
Amy Watkins checks out the sleek and swanky Homewood Park Spa
With summer finally here (between the rain showers!) we’re getting ourselves preened and pampered ready for the hot weather. Where to start?
One of our favourite spas – small and perfectly formed – is at Homewood Park near Bath, where guests can stretch out around a wonderful heated outdoor pool sheltered by tall trees. This plush boutique hotel also has rolling gardens and a score of recently refurbished rooms with bold wallcoverings and gorgeous bathrooms.
We quizzed Lily Selvaggio, Senior Spa Therapist at Homewood Park, to find out more about the hotel’s exclusive signature spa treatments...
What does your signature facial involve?
The Serenity Garden Facial lasts 60 minutes and blends rose and trehalose with honey. Your face is prepared with a calcium-rich exfoliator, before applying a super antioxidant cream, which is packed with blackcurrant seed oil. Then a veil of hydrating mask is applied, to leave your skin looking fresh, smooth and hydrated, before you settle down to a drink of jasmine flower tea.
Sounds great. What about body treatments?
Another part of our Signature collection is the 60-minute Serenity Garden Cocoon body wrap. Using rose and palmarosa, this body ritual is designed to totally relax your mind and limbic system. Your therapist will begin with a deep body exfoliation before the body is cocooned in fragrant oil. While you take a gentle snooze you’ll be wrapped in cosy blankets. This Homewood Park signature ritual will conclude with a deep and slow massage using a rich body cream before you drink a refreshing jasmine flower tea.
What are the top 2012 treatments?
Gel manicures and pedicures are hot and trending as we speak! They are going to get even bigger, as is nail art. Spa wise, it's any treatment that is different, for example Vinotherapy – a body treatment which uses wine to help with skin vitality. The anti-oxidants help to plump skin and keep it radiant.
What's a typical Homewood Park spa experience?
We try to promote a holistic mind, body and soul philosophy. The Spa at Homewood Park is in the original walled garden, with its herbs and honey bees, so it’s a really relaxing setting. We have a champagne nail bar as well as a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room and outside swimming pool heated to 28-30 degrees all year round come rain, shine and snow! Clients love all that.
Check out all our Spa hotels at roomforromance.com/hotel-collections/hotels-with-a-spa/1/
Amy Watkins discovers the windswept delights of Essaouira.
Love kites, surfboards and fast tanning? Watersports fans should make a beeline for Essaouira, on Morocco’s breezy Atlantic coast. This old Portuguese trading post is the country’s surfing mecca and a treat at any time of year.
In midwinter, when only a beach break will do to escape the gloom, Essaouira, is the perfect place for swapping chills at home for chilling out in the sunshine. Stunningly situated around a sweep of beach hugging the Atlantic Ocean, the town is a dramatic blend of old and new that’s been a favourite beachcomber’s hangout since the hippies arrived here back in the 60s.
Nowadays it's a popular summer party destination when the clubs and the weather heat up and music festivals take over. In spring and autumn the white-washed fishing town becomes a quiet and laidback place to spend some quality time together.
Entering Essaouria is like stepping back in time. While away an afternoon walking the ramparts, wandering through the narrow streets or strolling along the windswept beach – and make a beeline for the quays of the old port, packed with fresh fish stalls where your lunch of calamari or red snapper comes straight off the boat. Those seeking more high-octane fun can try kite-surfing, quad biking through the dunes, horse and camel treks along the beach or heading inland to the mighty Atlas Mountains.
Traditionalists will love Palais des Remparts, a restored traditional riad with dazzling sea views, set next to the ancient Portuguese fort. Sip a sundowner on the terrace, or cosy up by your fireplace in one of the senior suites – you can even indulge in a novel chocolate bath in the hamman spa.
Minimalists can keep warm while keeping it cool by staying right on the ramparts in the chic urban Madada Mogador – a converted merchant's home decorated in modern Maroc style with a scenic rooftop terrace bar and tasty tapas in the restaurant downstairs.
Read more in our full Essaouira guide.
RIGHT ON THE HEEL of Italy's fashionable boot, Puglia is gloriously quiet at this time of year. Springtime comes early down here, and in early March you can often bask in warm temperatures while the rest of Europe shivers. On top of that, you'll practically have the sweeping coastline and historic hilltop towns to yourselves – all of which makes it the perfect place to shake off winter!
Puglia's colourful history has left an array of sights to explore, from Baroque churches to archaeologically important towns such as Canne della Battaglia, where Hannibal defeated the Romans in 216 BC.
Don't miss one of Puglia's most iconic sights – the traditional beehive-roofed 'Trulli' houses in Alberobello and Locorotondo. Some are still inhabited, while others have been turned into quirky hotel rooms and restaurants.
Take advantage of the early-season quiet to visit fortified old seaside towns like Ostuni, with its weathered, whitewashed houses, or the rambling old quarter of Bari, the region's capital. Even Lecce, with its air of long-faded grandeur, has an unmistakeable appeal.
Set by the sea among lemon groves and vineyards, Masseria Torre Maizza near Ostuni makes a brilliant Puglian base. Former stables now house the plush bedrooms, which are rustic with an urban twist, and a sleek spa can be found in the masseria's dazzling white tower. This luxury boutique hotel can provide everything you want – from homemade olive oil soap to a private yacht for the day.
South of Bari you'll find the lively fishing town of Polignano a Mare, whose whitewashed houses cling dramatically to the edge of vertiginous cliffs plunging straight down into the water. Have dinner at one of the cave restaurants here after kicking things off with a mean mojito at Bodeguita L'Havana de Cuba, down at the water's edge.
Golfing and beach fans will enjoy the pleasing town of Fasano off-season, when you'll have your run of the streets of both the old town and the fairway. Masseria Cimino overlooks the ninth tee of the San Domenico golf course and inside this chic 18th century masseria you'll find authentically rough textured walls, luxury fabrics and soft mood lighting.
Puglia is rightly famous for its food. If you think Italian cuisine stops at pasta, pizza and torta, think again! Watch this space for more on delicious Puglian dishes in the coming weeks.
New York in mid-winter makes an unbeatable break
Winter is the best-ever time in snow-chilled New York City. The crisp, cool air is perfect for walking the streets and checking out winter sales, or crossing Central Park and watching skaters in action. If it gets too nippy there are plenty of indoor amusements to keep you toasty, not to mention some top New York romantic hotels for bedding down.
Get into the winter spirit (take plenty of warm gear!) by skating on the ice rinks at the Rockefeller Center, Central Park or down at Chelsea Piers. You’ll find plenty of places serving up mugs of steaming hot chocolate and muffins to keep you toasty. Admire the window displays of iconic stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Bloomingdales – and pop inside to snap up some bargains when you need to warm up.
Many of New York's outdoor events move inside for winter and the Brooklyn Flea Market can be found inside the impressive Art Deco former Williamsburg Savings Bank building on weekends until 1 April.
Winter is also a great time to catch a show and it's not just the big hits on Broadway that attract the stars – Kevin Spacey will be starring in Shakespeare's Richard III, at the BAM Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn until 1 March. Even if you missed Chinese New Year – when over half a million firecrackers are set off – Chinatown makes a great place to browse in oriental foodshops and dine out.
New York is famous for its museums and the mighty Met (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) has recently revamped some 25 of its galleries. Art fans can also head to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for a retrospective of artist Cindy Sherman's work, in which she transforms herself into an array of characters, between late February and June.
Where to stay in the Big Apple? Our favourite places include Chambers Hotel in mid-town – a chic and affordable loft-dweller’s dream. You could well bump into some stars at The Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca – owned by none other than Robert de Niro, or mingle with the media set at hip and happening Soho House.
Chilly temperatures a tad too crisp? Take a trip to Park Here, an enclosed green space in Soho's Openhouse Gallery, complete with hammocks, music and food stalls, or hot things up with a trip to the Tropic Zone at Central Park Zoo. The arts scene is in full swing, too and you’ll find an array of theatre, ballet, jazz and more on offer.
Amy Watkins can’t get enough of Marrakech
Now the temperature's dropped and the cold weather has arrived, there’s nothing like a little trip to warmer climes to banish those winter chills. You can’t beat exotic Morocco, with the scent of warm spices and the call to prayer floating on the breeze – and luckily, it's not as far away as you think. Just a three-hour flight away, Marrakech ticks all the boxes for a winter break destination with added zest.
Sunny daytime temperatures are ideal for wandering around the souks, and cosying up on a calèche (horse and buggy) ride through the narrow streets of the old walled medina before relaxing by a roaring fire in a Marrakech boutique hotel when the evenings cool down. Ski-bunnies can even stay in Marrakech before heading for the Atlas Mountains for some slope action at the Oukaimden ski resort.
The city itself, with its sea of mosques and minarets, is ideal for a long winter weekend. Check out the snake charmers and street entertainers of Djemma el Fna square without the high-season crowds and (even higher) summer temperatures.
Choose one of our romantic hotels in Morocco for your stay. As far as boutique hotels in Morocco go, twenty minutes' stroll from the square is the adorable and affordable P'tit Habibi ('Little Darling') riad, perfect for budget weekends away. Try the Love Nest room covered in floor pillows and dip your toes in the petal-strewn rooftop plunge pool.
Also in the heart of the old walled medina is Ryad Dyor is a chic and contemporary Moorish style riad within two converted 18th Century merchant's houses. Stylishly decorated by its Dutch designer owners, Ryad Dyor has beautifully comfortable king-sized beds and is within strolling distance of the souks.
Venture deep into the heart of local life at Zamzam Riad, a short walk from Djemma el Fna, in an authentic Moroccan neighbourhood. It's quickly winning praise for its Moroccan fusion menus, served by a roaring fire. Elsewhere the rooftop pool is heated for winter and there's also a marble-lined hammam to warm up in.
If the hubbub of the walled city is not your style, head out to Millionaire's Row in the Palmeraie, a 15-minute taxi ride from the medina, where you'll find the atmospheric and appealing Dar Zemora, a sumptuously designed riad with classic Moorish touches and decadent double-bathtubs in the bedrooms. The perfect honeymoon hideaway!
Get Xmas all wrapped up with a Room for Romance Gift Card.
Counting down till the First Day of Christmas? If your true love is likely to present you with something as useful as a partridge in a pear tree, Room for Romance has just the answer
Our hotel gift vouchers are fun to open, and even more fun to spend at our wonderful collection of boutique suites and romantic hotels. What’s more, they look suitably festive in handsome silver and burgundy foil envelopes.
So before the 12 Days of Christmas are upon us, we thought we’d give you 12 great reasons why a Room for Romance Gift Card makes the perfect present for 25 December.
- You can buy them in any value from £50 to £1500
- They are valid for a full 12 months
- They come beautifully gift packaged, and sent directly to you or your recipient
- Your special message is included
- There’s FREE postage and packing within the UK
- We guarantee same-day dispatch if you order by 2pm
- Live outside the UK? No problem. We can deliver to anywhere in the world
- In a hurry? You can buy an E-voucher to download and print yourself (coming soon).
- You can buy any of our Special Offers as a Gift Card – whether it’s a weekend in the Yorkshire Dales with hot tub, a night in London or a week in sunny Spain.
- You don’t have to spend your gift all at once. We keep any unspent balance in your account till the expiry date, so you can spend the balance when you’re ready.
- Enjoy choosing which of the 300+ Room for Romance boutique hotels you’ll stay at using your Gift Card
- Just call us when you are ready to redeem your Card, and we’ll do the rest.
Ready to get Christmas all wrapped up? Call our Order Line now on 01225 428888.
Visit the Room for Romance Gift Shop.
Amy Watkins goes in search of seasonal gifts and Glühwein
Winter is already breathing an icy blast down our necks – but I’m getting ready for the heady smell of Glühwein and the sizzle of sausages, as cities across Europe open their Christmas markets.
Festive markets are my favourite part of the season; sipping on a mug of
steaming hot chocolate with a dash of brandy to keep warm as I explore the craft stalls; picking up a glinting bauble or finally finding that perfect present.
My hometown of Bath has one of the UK’s prettiest Christmas markets, opening in late November. Springing up in a tangle of fairy lights, the market takes up residence between the imposing Abbey and the historic Roman Baths. There’s not much room at my house, so for a quintessentially English experience of this Georgian city, I’d far sooner stay at Homewood Park Hotel & Spa, just ten minutes away.
You can’t beat Edinburgh when it comes to throwing a good party, and the city’s German-style Christmas market twinkles below the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. I like to get my skates on at the ice-rink and then put my feet up at the Bonham - a trendy Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh’s West End.
For me Christmas means excessive chocolate consumption, and where better for any chocoholic than Belgium? Bruges comes alive at Christmas time and in-between nibbling on truffles, I love browsing the Christmas market among the historic gabled buildings of the main square. The candlelit shops and little wooden chalets are full of festive spirit and the vintage waterfront Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce makes an ideal home away from home in this medieval town.
Vienna is queen of the Christmas Markets, with 11 going on between November and Christmas, creating a citywide smell of gingerbread and roasting chestnuts. From the touristy market at the Rathausplatz to the traditional crafts sold in Spittelberg, Freyung and Resselpark, Vienna’s Christmas markets are world-class. Stay at the refreshingly cool The Ring boutique hotel for your Christmas shopping jaunt to Vienna.
No Christmas market list would be complete without Prague – just the place for a wintery romantic weekend break. The huge tree-dominated Old Town Square market in Prague shimmers with stalls selling traditional Czech food, pretty trinkets and novel stocking fillers. You can stay at the very 21st century (and shamelessly chic) Buddha Bar Hotel, complete with resident DJ. Just the place for yet more Christmas treats!
Gareth Johnson honeymoons in the land of Guinness and Gaelic
I’d never been to the West of Ireland before, so where better to go on our Irish honeymoon trip? We had heard it was beautiful, and weren’t disappointed.
County Clare offers amazing wild landscapes, great pubs and top class restaurants. As it also has some of the most romantic hotels in Ireland, it’s the perfect place to combine creature comforts with wind-swept walks and nature.
Fresh off the plane to Shannon we hired a car and headed west to Kilkee, set around a perfect horseshoe shaped bay with great walks to both the south and north. The town is also packed with good pubs, and we had our first – and best – taste of the local soda bread at Murphy Blacks.
We headed the next day to the surfing town of Lahinch, staying at the beautiful Moy House. Perched above a small bay on the outskirts of the town, with a rolling green lawn which runs down to a rocky beach, Moy House proved to be the perfect honeymoon hotel.
Owned by a local family, it really does feel like a home-from-home, though much nicer than our still-to-be-done-up Hackney townhouse! We were quite happy to spend our time here just chilling out, reading books in the lounge with its gorgeous views of the sea or playing chess in the evening watching the sunset. The restaurant was very good too, with stunning views of the setting sun over the water.
We did eventually manage to tear ourselves away from Moy House to explore Lahinch. Shame we weren’t up to riding the waves, as it’s a bit of a surfing mecca, with plenty of huge Atlantic breakers. There are lots of good golf courses round here too if you’re handy with an iron – most of them right beside the sea.
Back on the road, we headed further north up to the Burren – a strange moonscape of a place: giant purply rocks that rise out of the landscape and awhole host of flowers, with views across Galway Bay.
We also drove past the towering Cliffs the Moher and through Lisdoonavarna (which has the biggest annual matchmaking fest in case you’re interested). Had we pressed on into County Galway, The Quay House in Clifden is one of the top boutique hotels on the west of Ireland.
A trip out to the Gaelic speaking Aran Islands proved a must. The largest island is Inis Mór, and the best way to explore is to hire a bike, take a picnic and head out to Dún Aonghasa, passing a bay where seals bask on the rocks.
Exploring Inis Meáin, one of the smaller islands, we hardy saw a soul apart from a man thrashing corn. It felt timeless. The island is criss-crossed with stone walls, and there’s a small village shop and a great knitwear place which sells discounted clothing. And a great pub, of course… where the Guinness was soon going down
a treat with me and my new Missus.
Clare Baranowski lingers in Solta and Dubrovnik
Hidden among pine groves and fruit-laden fig trees, Croatia's Dalmatian coast glitters beneath warm Mediterranean sunshine. But these serene turquoise waters are not the only side of Croatia. If you move inland from the tiny harbours, orchestral crickets and whitewashed stone churches, there is another face to this beautiful country.
I first found it stepping through the grand arch of Dubrovnik. Globally known for its war-torn past, the historic city has rebuilt itself with a bohemian edge. Music from buskers resonates around the cobbled streets, entertaining those sampling freshly-caught seafood in quaint outdoor cafes.
These alfresco eateries are interspersed with pop-up artisan jewellery and art stalls that line the city walls and plazas. The pink hue of the stone creates an undeniably rose-tinted environment, but the country's turbulent history is still remembered on maps showing the bombed and restored areas of Dubrovnik’s historic heart.
Dubrovnik is a city of music, staging regular open air concerts on balmy summer evenings. It’s also home to some of the best bakeries in Croatia and a walled walkway, which lets you look over the city's architectural wonders.
Another place to gain a unique perspective into Croatia is the Adriatic. Island hopping is the perfect way to do this, and skimming past the coast on the deck of a boat gives an altogether different view, especially when everything is lit up at sunset.
These waters may be calm and serene, but there’s plenty of adventure to be had. Windsurfers, paddle boarders, divers and kite surfers ride the waves, and it’s easy to arrange watersports lessons or a boat trip to some exotic sounding place. You can even learn to sail here if you have time.
Start your Croatian trip in style at Martinis Marchi, on the island of Solta. This contemporary castle hideaway boasts beautiful views of the harbour town Maslinica, so you can recline on the deck of a yacht with a gelato in hand (or a glass of very palatable Croatian wine) and watch the dazzling Dalmatian coast glide past.
Mairiona Cotter goes in search of London ghosts and ghouls.
Don’t let trick-or-treaters have all the fun this Halloween! October 31 will be with us soon – and there’s no better time to escape to London for some autumnal thrills and chills. We can’t promise bats, witchcraft and a full moon, but there are some wicked treats to be had in the capital.
Get spooked on a ghost walk – there are plenty to choose from and Jack the Ripper tours of the East End are packed with bloodcurdling tales of Victorian London. Snuggle up later under the covers later in the atmospheric luxury of The Rookery near Smithfield Market, scene of dark deeds and skulduggery in times past.
Check out the Fortnum & Mason store on Piccadilly, set to be transformed into a ghoulish den for Halloween with sweet treats, pumpkins and special menus. It’s just a witch’s broomstick jaunt from Hazlitt’s, a den of deepest comfort in darkest Soho.
Don your killer costumes and head for Ham House in Richmond, where a lantern-lit tour with drinks and canapés is on the cards at Halloween as you listen to tales of creepy hauntings. It’s just down the road from The Bingham , perched right on the River Thames and the coolest spot for miles around. Stay in one of the River rooms and you can soak in a double whirlpool bath, too.
Had enough of ghoulish goings-on? Leave your cloaks and masks at home and simply fall for the Edwardian magic spell of The Draycott, near Sloane Street. Crack open the bubbly and watch a scary movie while safely snuggled together under the duvet – fancy dress optional.
Jan Mazzoni heads back to Sorrento, scene of her novel Stones of the Madonna.
If you’re going to write a romantic novel of lust, love, illicit liaisons and broken hearts, where better to set it than on Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast? At least, that was the reasoning behind my decision to spend as much time there as I could when writing Stones of the Madonna. I called it doing research.
Not that today’s Amalfi coast is anything like it was in the 1930s, when the novel takes place. As it’s attracted a growing number of visitors from around the world, so it’s attracted all the usual tourist trappings. Now down little cobbled alleyways you’ll find shops selling trinkets made in China, burger bars, and the ubiquitous internet cafes (useful, yes, but so not the Italy of my imagination!).
Don’t be put off. The Real Italy is still there, the one that makes you gasp with wonder, or laugh out loud, or simply think wow, isn’t this just perfect. The Italy of romantic novels. You just have to know where to find it.
Here’s my list of Amalfi Coast Top 10 treats:
1 – Make your way up the long palm-lined driveway to one of Sorrento’s grand hotels, glimpsing the overblown grandeur that enticed poets like Caruso and Byron in their heyday.
2 – Try melt-in-the-mouth pumpkin ravioli - my absolute favourite and a speciality of the area.
3 – Finish off with some Amalfi coast fruit – fat, warm, honey-sweet figs or maybe nespoli – small yellow fruit that’s a cross between a peach and a plum.
4 – Find the right place to stay. I loved the lush Villa dei D’Armiento , with its palm-shaded gardens and beautiful bedrooms, and the ultra chic Maison La Minervetta, with its fabulous views over the bay and private beach.
5 – Wander along Sorrento’s backstreets past banks of jasmine - little white stars that could have come straight from a perfumery.
6 – Sit in the square up in Nocelle, the tiny village above Positano that’s only recently been opened up to road traffic (before that it was donkeys!). It’s still like stepping back in time.
7. Sit at the end of one of Sorrento’s piers, feet dangling in the greeny-blue water, sipping an ice cold Aperol and prosecco aperitif.
8. Watch a wedding. They’re everywhere, and one of the most atmospheric places has to be the San Francesco cloisters in Sorrento. I was there when the place suddenly filled with the advance party of a group of men and boys, all immaculately dressed in their dark suits. The contrast with the pastel flowers, the weathered stone and the shafts of sunlight coming through the pillars was somehow breathtaking.
9. Spot the cute kittycats. I watched a little white kitten up in Ravello one hazy autumn day as it played tag with a pigeon. Eventually they both settled down side by side, the kitten cleaning itself, the pigeon dozing. A lesson in friendship!
10 – Soak up the faded grandeur - like the flower shop just off the main square with a domed ceiling that had been beautifully hand painted many years ago. Anywhere else it would have been made into a feature. Here it’s just taken for granted!
Jan Mazzoni is the author of Stones of the Madonna, set on the Amalfi coast and available from Thornwood Books, price GBP 7.99.
Amy Watkins goes in search of the real Rome.
Ah Rome, the Eternal City. It might have all the big classic sights, but how can you head off the tourist track and sink your teeth into a real Roman experience?
Graffiti-covered and slightly ramshackle San Lorenzo is the student district done good. When the sun goes down it becomes the hippest area of town and although it has retained its edgy atmosphere it still costs under EUR10 to get a taxi there from most major attractions and it’s home to some of the city’s most authentic eateries.
I headed to Pommidoro, a simple family-run classic trattoria on Piazza dei Sannitti where hearty plates of delicious meats and pastas – mainly from the Lazio region – are served up at bargain prices. Buzzing with passionate Italian conversations, this is the place to get a real taste of Rome.
When the sun goes down the coolest place to head for a thirst-quenching cocktail and some entertaining people-watching is Bar del Fico. Only a few steps from well-known Piazza Navona, this tastefully trendy bar, with its twinkling fairy lights on the ivy-covered walls, is constantly hopping and is the place to relax with a chilled bellini on a summer’s evening.
In the daytime go back to the Piazza to fall in love with Petrocchi’s handmade leather shoes – the shop was established in 1946 near the Spanish Steps but still attracts movie stars and fashionistas ready to flex their plastic.
After a day of hardcore shopping it’s good to have somewhere to relax and Crossing Condotti, just around the corner from the Spanish Steps, is a gorgeous townhouse apartment style hotel that’s perfect after a day of designer couture credit-card damage.
When I want some peace from the bustling city I head out to the Villa Doria Pamphili park; Rome’s biggest public landscaped park in the grounds of a 17th century villa. Take a quiet stroll here from the tranquil hideaway of Hotel San Anselmo on the Aventine Hill.
One of my favourite things to do in Rome on a Sunday is to head to Porta Portese for the flea market and mingle with the locals as they haggle and push through the stalls. Ignore the tat and head for the antiques for an exquisite Roman souvenir. Not far from the market is the tucked away former convent Hotel Santa Maria in Rome’s central Trastevere district.