Tag Archives: travel

A spookily moving 48 hours in Derry Northern Ireland

If it’s ghouls, ghosts and goblins you’re after, then you have to visit to Derry in Northern Ireland at the end of October for its epic Halloween festival. Derry was voted ‘Best Halloween destination in the world’ by American newspaper USA Today and the entire town goes Halloween-crazy for an entire week leading up to the big day itself.

But there are plenty of great reasons to visit Derry anytime in the other 364 days of the year and you can fit a lot into just 48 hours in Derry: its beautiful location for one: perched on the banks of the River Foyle and just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic ocean and some stunning beaches. Derry is closer to Glasgow than Liverpool and visitors flying in from the British mainland will – weather permitting – get spectacular views of the Scottish coast including the Mull of Kintyre.

ALadyofLeisure.com 48 hours in Derry
The curving Peace Bridge which connects the two sides of Derry across the River Foyle
ALadyofLeisure.com and 48 hours in Derry
Derry is the only fully walled city in the whole of the island of Ireland and the walls are an integral part of the town centre

Then there is the sense of history, both ancient and more recent, which has shaped the character of the city. Derry is the only completely walled city in the island of Ireland and its 17th century walls – nine furlongs round, just over a mile – are a delight to walk, run or cycle around.Its more recent and turbulent history as a city torn apart by sectarian violence in the long and costly war between unionists and loyalists now forms a part of Derry’s more moving sites: the curving Peace Bridge crossing the river and symbolising hope for a once divided city, and the murals painted on the walls of the terraced houses in  Bogside, just outside the city walls and the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972.

ALadyofLeisure.com and 48 hours in Derry
Murals on the side of houses in Derry’s Bogside, site of much conflict over the years but now a great symbol of the peace process

While the name Derry echoes down through history, the name itself is still a source of contention: is it Derry, Londonderry or its Celtic name of Doire? The choice of name is a political one, with Irish nationalists traditionally using Derry and unionists Londonderry, the name Derry was changed to in 1613 after investors from London financed the building of the walled city. The choice of Derry/Londonderry/Doire have led some to call it Stroke City and some – not all – signs to Londonderry have been graffitied over to leave just the last five letters. To add to the confusion, the airport is called City of Derry airport, the railway station is called Londonderry and the city is still officially called Londonderry while the city council is not. However as Councillor John Boyle, the current Mayor told me, ‘I don’t care what people call it, as long as they come and visit.’ Continue reading A spookily moving 48 hours in Derry Northern Ireland

It’s Oscar time – but who is going to triumph in my very own ALadyofLeisure.com awards?

Last year was a hectic one for ALadyofLeisure.com with 50 fabulous places reviewed, and with so many to choose from, it’s hard to pick out the best. However some were so memorable that I wanted to single them out for special praise – and hopefully encourage many of you to discover them for yourselves. Do let me know what you think of my choices – and what you think I should be reviewing in 2016.

Most memorable meal

Winner – Judgement of Paris tasting menu at The Vineyard, Newbury

The eight-course menu made for a stand-out evening of its own, but hotelier Peter Michael’s idea was to replicate the infamous wine-tasting in Paris in 1976 when for the first time, Californian wines beat French wines in a blind-tasting. Each course comes with two wines for you to taste – so if the course calls for a sauvignon blanc, you’ll get one French and one Californian, and you just have to decide which is which. Fiendishly, some wines are served in black wine glasses so you have to guess the colour too – far more difficult than it might sound! The whole evening was a delight for the senses and a must-do for wine-lovers everywhere.

The Judgement of Paris at the Vineyard, Newbury, is a truly memorable evening
The Judgement of Paris at the Vineyard, Newbury, is a truly memorable evening

Runner-up – Dinner at Gravetye Manor, Sussex

From the canapes to the amuse-bouche watercress soup, hand-dived Orkney scallops with miso glaze, to the Cornish turbot with black rice and girolle mushrooms and herb-crusted saddle of lamb with roasted garlic and haggis and onto a wonderful cheese trolley, the food at Gravetye Manor is a foodie’s delight. Lunch in the garden and breakfast the following day were also first-class – small wonder that shortly after my visit, the Sussex hotel was awarded a prestigious Michelin star. Continue reading It’s Oscar time – but who is going to triumph in my very own ALadyofLeisure.com awards?

A life of luxury for A Lady Of Leisure: The 2015 Review

From Michelin-starred dining to London’s most decadent pancake, grand country houses, brand new cruise ships, boutique hotels and celebrity hangouts (not to mention cocktail classes, private cinemas and hot tubs in the Cotswolds), it’s been a life of luxury for me and ALadyofLeisure.com.

I’ve reviewed just under 50 amazing hotels, restaurants, bars and holidays – which were read by several thousand unique readers a month, plus shared across Twitter and Facebook – and have loved writing about the very best of the British hospitality industry, from Llandudno to the English Channel and all points in between.

Huge thanks to all the venues that made such an exciting year possible (full list of reviews below) and looking forward to reviewing the best in hotels, restaurants, holidays, bars and all things leisure-related in 2016!

All the best,



Gravetye Manor

Old-style charm in a perfect country setting – Bailiffscourt hotel and spa, West Sussex
Impossible not to love it – The Pig near Bath, Bath, Somerset
Relaxed country living Huntsham Court, North Devon
Location, location, locationCompleat Angler, Marlow
A home rather than a hotel: Cheval serviced apartments
A relaxing stay in Queen Elizabeth I’s bedroom: Spread Eagle, Midhurst, West Sussex
A classic country retreatAshdown Park, East Sussex
Calm behind the commuter chaos: Amba Hotel Charing Cross, London
Fine country living: The Grove, Hertfordshire
A stay with the Downton Abbey factorHartwell House, Buckinghamshire
A classic country house with Hollywood glamourLuton Hoo, Bedfordshire
Friendly, fun hotel on a budgetQbic London City hotel, Aldgate
Fine dining and an £1,600-a-night suiteSt James’s Hotel, London
£20,000 wine and the Judgement of Paris tasting eveningThe Vineyard, Newbury
Discovering hidden treasuresThe Stafford hotel, St James’s London
Fabulous foodie heaven in a beautiful settingGravetye Manor, Sussex
An oasis of loveliness miles from anywhereYnyshir Hall, Powys, Wales
An imposing building with impressive viewsBodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Wales
A Capital place for a cocktail masterclass The Capital Hotel, Knightsbridge, London
Unshowy but smartThe Arch hotel, Marble Arch, London
A wonderfully cosy Cotswolds hideawayBarnsley House, Gloucestershire
A family-friendly escape in the Cotswolds countrysideCalcot Manor, Gloucestershire



Lunch with a view – Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, South Bank, London
A Hidden Culinary Gem – Bourne & Hollingsworth, EC1, London
High quality Italian food in Covent Garden – Four to Eight, London
Lacks Gordon Ramsay’s fireHeddon Street Kitchen, central London
Hop this way for good food – Rabbit restaurant, King’s Road, London
Posh pancakes for Shrove TuesdayThe Botanist, Sloane Square, London
New England comes to Fitzrovia – Lobster Kitchen, London
Art and food at the Saatchi Gallery – Gallery Restaurant, King’s Road, London
The friendliest tapas in Mayfair: El Pirata, Mayfair, London
Pisco Power! Getting into the Peruvian spirit – Senor Ceviche, Soho, London
A lunchtime favourite revisited: Olivo, Belgravia, London
A hat-trick of Konik’s Tail martinis at London’s best hotel bars – Duke’s, the Connaught and Claridges
An indulgent evening – Jimmy Garcia’s Secret Garden in Clapham
Lunch at London’s latest hotspotsKitty Fisher’s and Ham Yard Hotel
Smart, modern food with style – Percy and Founder’s, Fitzrovia, London
Hearty, meaty, boozyOne Sixty City, Liverpool Street, London
Loud, brash, bling and funSexy Fish, Berkeley Square, London

Holidays and spas


Forget gambling in Las Vegas, it’s all about the food and drinkLas Vegas Uncork’d annual food festival
How to go solo without being lonely Mark Warner holiday, Rhodes
My first cruise – a week on P&O’s new cruise ship Britannia
A holiday for the mind and the bodySkyros holistic holiday, Greece
First glimpse of Britannia, P&O’s new cruise ship
The Queen launches Britannia
A hard day’s relaxingNirvana Spa, Reading


Blue Steel and an Ikea room of pain: Fifty Shades of Grey
Bond is back! He’s bold, brilliant and bloody loud – Spectre

Interviews published in The Mail on Sunday

Travelodge chief executive Peter Gowers

‘My £125 million Travelodge transformation’ – Travelodge chief executive Peter Gowers
A coffee and a chat with Sir Rocco Forte on religion, politics and hotels
Sir Richard Branson on stunts, sky-diving, launching Virgin Hotels Chicago and being a grandfather

Travel pieces published in Mail Online

Photo of Paradise Beach Resort in Nevis, British West Indies.

A relaxing stay in Nevis, an exquisite island paradise
Why Gravetye is fast building a reputation as one of best foodie hotels in the UK
No coffee, no sweets, but a lot of hiking on the NuBeginnings bootcamp in Devon


St James’s hotel, London: fine dining and a £1,600 suite

St James’s Hotel in London might be five-star luxury but thankfully it has none of the formal starchiness you might expect from a super-posh hotel. The staff are so cheerful and relaxed that I found myself having all sorts of random conversations with bartenders, doormen and managers during my stay, which made the hotel feel more like a very friendly club.

st james's hotel
My rather plush suite at the St James’s Hotel in Piccadilly
St James's Hotel
St James’s Hotel in London’s Piccadilly

However there’s no disguising that St James’s is a seriously high-end hotel in one of the most expensive areas in London. While London is hardly famed for its cheap hotel rooms, the £1,600 price tag of my suite managed to top my previous record, the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite at iconic country house hotel Cliveden. However the 300-year old Cliveden comes with 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens, a maze, a spa and two swimming pools (including the famous outdoor pooll), while St James’s, well, doesn’t.

But if you want to stay in a luxury five-star hotel in the heart of London, a mere stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, then you do have to pay a premium. Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac off St James’s Street, the 60-room hotel does have cheaper rooms, with prices starting at £300 a night. Continue reading St James’s hotel, London: fine dining and a £1,600 suite

Epic diving, blue iguanas, stingrays and deserted golden beaches in the Cayman Islands

‘The thing about the Cayman Islands is that the best sights are underwater,’ said my taxi driver as he drove along the dusty road from the airport. ‘There’s just not a great deal above sea level.’

After a week in the Caribbean exploring the trio of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman islands which make up the Cayman Islands, I wasn’t sure I agreed with him.

While the Cayman Islands – the name comes from the word for crocodile, although they were originally named Las Tortugas by Christopher Columbus due to all the turtles he saw swimming there – lack the ‘bling’ factor of their Caribbean neighbours such as Barbados and St Lucia or the flamboyant night-life of Jamaica or Cuba, it is certainly not just a diving-only destination.

cayman islands holiday reviews
The sights underwater in the Cayman Islands are incredible – but it’s pretty good up on the surface too
cayman islands holiday reviews
The beaches are certainly not overcrowded

With spectacular beaches plus luxury hotels, a vibrant restaurant scene including a ‘Flavour Tour’ on Grand Cayman where you can visit four or five different restaurants in a night, sampling the menu of each, and the deliciously warm Caribbean climate, there is certainly more than enough to keep landlubbers happy. Continue reading Epic diving, blue iguanas, stingrays and deserted golden beaches in the Cayman Islands