Category Archives: Travel

What’s it like to drive a £150,000 Aston Martin DB11?

It’s the car marque of dreams (and Hollywood folklore): Aston Martin cars have been super-cool ever since James Bond fired up an Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger. While Britain’s top spy has also driven an Aston Martin DBS, an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish and even the Aston Martin DB10 (made specially for Spectre) he’s so far yet to drive Aston Martin’s latest super car, the DB11.

So move over JB – it was time for me to ditch my £1,000 Fiat 600 and head to South Devon for a week in what is most definitely the coolest (and most expensive) car I’ve ever driven. So what’s it actually like driving an £150,000 Aston Martin DB11?

For a start, I’d never driven a car that roared before.

‘It’s all about that sound,’ said the man from Aston Martin as he delivered the DB11. He was only half-joking. ‘People know about all the specs of a car like this and what it can do, but what what really gets them is that sound.’

drive an aston martin DB11
The Aston Martin looked incredibly cool, even in the windswept Dartmoor countryside

With the Aston Martin DB11 coming with a starting price of £150,000, that’s a lot to pay for a roar, but when I heard it for the first time, I too was hooked. (Aston Martin itself calls it a howl, but it’s definitely a roar). The DB11 is too cool for car keys, of course, so with your foot on the brake pedal, you press the big button in the middle of the car with the Aston Martin logo on it, and the car will start. With a ROAR. There’s first a pause – which builds up the anticipation – and then it roars like a tiger. Or a jet engine. Or anything which is cool and exciting.

drive an aston martin DB11
Thankfully the sun soon came out and it was time for some serious posing

I did this so often on my driveway that I thought my neighbours would start complaining. Still in the driveway, I filmed the roar, hoping to turn it into my ring tone. (I haven’t yet). And then, best of all, I discovered that the engine cuts out in stationary traffic to save fuel, so when the traffic moves and you put your foot on the gas, the engine comes back to life and the car will roar again, but this time where everyone can see and hear you. Heads will turn. You start seeing the upside to bumper-to-bumper traffic. Continue reading What’s it like to drive a £150,000 Aston Martin DB11?

14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

Halfway through our meal at The Vineyard hotel and spa, Newbury, I was beginning to wonder if I knew as much about wine as I thought I did. Not only could I not guess what grape variety I was drinking or what country it came from, I couldn’t even work out what colour it was, this particular wine being served in a black glass which made the wine inside completely invisible. Was it rosé…? Or maybe it was red? No, it was definitely rosé.

The answer was white. This was worrying. If my judgement was all over the place now, what on earth would it be like after I’d tried all 14 wines scheduled for the evening? Thankfully by the end of the meal I was so replete and content that my success or otherwise in identifying the wines no longer seemed important – the evening had been so interesting and memorable that my lack of wine knowledge could be safely overlooked.

Vineyard hotel Newbury Judgement of Paris
The Vineyard, Newbury, site of a nightly recreation of the Judgement of Paris wine-tasting

The Vineyard – which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year – is a hotel serious about its wine. Privately owned by the Michael family, which also owns the highly-regarded Peter Michael Winery in California – it has an award-winning cellar (with a mere 30,000 bottles), offer 100 wines by the glass in its restaurant, hosts wine-tastings and wine courses and even wine-themed treatments at its spa (including its Red Grape pampering body wrap).

However it really stands out for its epic ‘Judgement of Paris’ wine-tasting dinner which aims to replicate the notorious (for wine buffs) event in 1974 when Californian wines went up against French wines in a blind tasting. To the shock of the French, and indeed much of the wine world, the Californian wines won the day, and oenophile Sir Peter Michael has recreated the experience at his hotel. Continue reading 14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

Make yourself at home at the grand but friendly Lewtrenchard Manor, Devon

Lewtrenchard Manor is one of those classic country house hotels which actually feels like someone’s home (a rather impressive stately home, that’s true) rather than a hotel. Tucked away in the Dartmoor hills between Tavistock and Okehampton, Lewtrenchard Manor is a grand, historic building and has grand, historic rooms to match: there’s a sweeping staircase, wood panelling, stained glass windows, open fireplaces, tapestries and even a vast upstairs gallery full of books, antique furniture and a piano but which is long enough to serve as an indoor bowling alley.

luxury hotel devon Lewtrenchard Manor
Lewtrenchard Manor is a Jacobean manor house dating from the 1600s but the site was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086

That it is actually a hotel rather than a private home comes in little hints such as a reception desk, but even that is hidden out of sight when you first arrive at Lewtrenchard (there’s a lounge instead) and there is no bustle of staff here, no official notices, none of the paraphernelia of hotel admin which means you are left completely to your own devices.

luxury hotel devon Lewtrenchard Manor
There is a welcoming lounge with a log fire to greet you when you arrive

If you fancy a drink then wander into the empty bar and someone will soon arrive to take your order before leaving you to it – and if you think there’s something familiar about a room featured in one of the magazines left lying around you’ll soon see it’s because you are sitting in that very room.

We arrived in style, in an Aston Martin DB11, and the ultra-modern car looked rather good at the gates to the Manor and outside the building itself, a Jacobean manor which dates back to the 1600s.

luxury hotel devon Lewtrenchard Manor
The Aston Martin DB11 at the gates of Lewtrenchard Manor
luxury hotel devon Lewtrenchard Manor
When classic British design meets… well, more classic British design. The Aston Martin DB11 outside Lewtrenchard Manor

Having taken several hundred pictures we finally checked in and found our room, which was on the first floor just off the upstairs gallery. It was a good size, with a separate lounge/study, and was furnished in a classic if not overly luxurious style. The window seat was a great perch to admire the gardens and the bathroom was on the moderate size but still managed to fit in a jacuzzi-style corner bath and separate shower.

Continue reading Make yourself at home at the grand but friendly Lewtrenchard Manor, Devon

Stanwell House hotel, Lymington: a New Forest welcome

While I’ve explored all over the New Forest for, visiting hotels such as Chewton Glen, Lime Wood, Montagu Arms, Burley Manor and The Bell Inn, I had yet to make it all the way through the National Park to Lymington, right at the south-easterly corner of the New Forest where the Lymington River meets the Solent.

New Forest hotel Lymington Stanwell House
Stanwell House is right in the centre of pretty New Forest town Lymington

Thankfully I have now remedied this with my stay at the 29-bedroom Stanwell House hotel, which is right in the heart of Lymington. Even on a wet weekday in January, Lymington turned out to be a lively, bustling town with plenty of shops to browse in – both chains and independents – and a lovely cobbled area down by the quayside where yet more shops are to be found selling everything from scarves and earrings to pictures and touristy trinkets.

To book directly with the hotel, go to:  Stanwell House hotel 
To compare the latest prices for Stanwell House go to: – Expedia – Trivago
To read more reviews and for the latest prices click here to go to Stanwell House on TripAdvisor

After a long bout of retail therapy, there’s nothing quite like a cup of coffee or stiff drink to restore energy and it was here where Stanwell House played its main role: its glass-topped conservatory was busy both mid-morning and afternoon with people laden down with bags and desperate for a restorative drink.

New Forest hotel Lymington Stanwell House
Rather than take pictures of people having afternoon tea at Stanwell House’s pleasant conservatory, I thought it was more polite to just have a picture of the tea…

Continue reading Stanwell House hotel, Lymington: a New Forest welcome

Charming, boutique luxury at Daisybank Cottage bed and breakfast New Forest

I’ll be honest and confess I wasn’t entirely sure about reviewing a B&B for – not out of reasons of snobbery but because I usually write about hotels with massive restaurants, spa, acres of land and all the paraphernalia that comes with that kind of stay: I was worried that there just wouldn’t be enough to write about. Having stayed there, I’m now worried that I’m going to blether on for far too long about what a really lovely place Daisybank Cottage was.

daisybank cottage new forest
Daisybank Cottage is just 10 minutes walk from the New Forest village of Brockenhurst

From the friendly welcome to the immaculate and vast rooms, the excellent breakfast and the general feeling of being invited into someone’s lovely home and being really well looked after, Daisybank Cottage didn’t put a foot wrong. I can’t recommend it highly enough and have already been telling everyone I know that they need to look no further if they want a perfect New Forest weekend away.

daisybank cottage new forest
My bedroom was huge, light and airy and was an instant home from home

Basics first: my room was larger than your average hotel room, with a huge double bed, wardrobe, large mirrors, plug points everywhere (including an extra one each side of the bed for your mobile so you didn’t have to unplug the digital radio or light), a separate lounge area with a sofa, fridge, coffee machine and TV and an immaculate bathroom with free-standing bath, cream shutters, walk-in shower and all the fluffy towels you could want.

To book directly with Daisybank Cottage click on Daisybank Cottage
To compare the latest prices for Daisybank Cottage click on Expedia –
To read more reviews af Daisybank Cottage and get the latest prices go to TripAdvisor 

It felt incredibly cosy and welcoming in a way that a hotel room isn’t and I instantly felt very at home. Each of the sevens rooms (four with bath, three with wetrooms) is individually styled with original artwork and excellent taste and leaves you thinking: ‘Why doesn’t my bedroom look like this?’

daisybank cottage new forest
Daisybank Cottage is decorated with unique works of art by local artists

Run by the lovely Cheryl and Ciaran who are happy to invite you into their kitchen to warm yourself by the Aga with a cup of tea and a chat but are equally good at leaving you to your own devices, Daisybank Cottage is full of thoughtful little touches which you wouldn’t usually find in a hotel. I found little packets of ear-plugs in the bedside tables (you couldn’t hear the traffic anyway), homemade cupcakes, fresh milk, a massive DVD selection in the hallway for you to help yourself to, a pot of bath salts by the bath and even a bathboard to prop yourself up with should you wish to read while you relax in the tub. Continue reading Charming, boutique luxury at Daisybank Cottage bed and breakfast New Forest