Book & hotel pairings: Top 5 reads and where to stay for a UK weekend away

With the world in lockdown, I thought I would write something a little different. I am hoping this post will inspire you to take seek out some UK weekend adventures when all this passes, and we are free to venture past our own front door. I also hope to steer you in the direction of some fabulous books, because in the words of Mason Cooley “Reading gives us someplace to go, when we have to stay where we are.”

We’ve all heard of wine pairings to accompany your food, so why not the perfect book to bury your nose in during your travels.

One of the most thrilling parts of travel in my mind is the opportunity to get lost in a good book. Life is so busy and despite my worthiest efforts to read every night, sometimes, I just need my bed. However, with all this working from home malarkey, I have to say I am finding more time to read which is a lovely thing. But, in the confines of normality I approach every travel experience as an opportunity to raid the Kindle store, delve into my paperback stocks and consult my personal librarian; otherwise known as my mum.

I am a firm believer that some books better suit certain types of travel or experience. If you are staring down the barrel of a long-haul flight then I’m game for settling down with a good series. Alternatively, a cosy weekend holed up in a country pub definitely calls for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my favourite titles with you. Books which I feel are perfect for a weekend tucked away at an English country pub; I’ll also throw in a few choice recommendations for fabulously snug country pubs.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson & The Devonshire Arms

After being a devout kindle reader for many years it was this book that brought me back to the joy of reading a real-life paperback. Something about the feel of a real book in your hand is, I think, rather lovely.

IMG_1142A Death at Fountains Abbey is the third instalment from Antonia Hodgson. However, not having read the previous two it didn’t matter or have any disastrous effect on the plot or my understanding. My only caveat to that would be I might have liked a deeper understanding of the protagonist’s backstory. However, understanding and storyline hinge on this knowledge.

The story is set in 1728; John Aislabie is the victim of a malicious campaign to terrorise him and his family. Amidst the murderous threats, Thomas Hawkins and his ward Sam Fleet join the fray. Thomas is led into a lethal game of revenge in a fast-paced page-turner which definitely had me hooked and holding my breath from chapter sixteen.

But where to stay if this delightful thriller is in your bag? I would recommend The Devonshire Arms in Wharfdale. With luxury rooms, spa facilities, exquisitely cooked food and locally sourced produce, this country hotel on the Bolton Abbey Estate has a lot to offer.

The location of the hotel means that it is perfectly placed to offer a range of country pursuits. Activities include a 10-day luxury walking break following The Dales Way to tracing the path of the Tour De Yorkshire. Alternatively, if you want to take things a little easier you can relax on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.

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The Devonshire Arms is only a thirty-minute drive from Fountains Abbey where the story is set. I took a wander around the abbey and the gorgeous water gardens at Studley Royal this Christmas. My little jaunt gave me a whole new perspective on the story. It was particularly thrilling to envisage the characters holding whispered conversations in the dark shadowed corners of the ruins. I found myself seeking out narrow paths in the woods trying to find a secluded glade where private conversations might be overheard. In fact, I was absolutely lost in my surroundings and imagination.

The Muse by Jessie Burton & The Methuen Arms

Jessie Burton produces beautiful books. We all know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. But when it comes Jessie Burton novels the façade is as beautifully intricate and well crafted as the writing. A visual delight for your bookshelves.

The Muse is the second offering from Jessie Burton. The story centres on the hidden tale the museand history of a painting by the Spanish artist Isaac Robles. Isaacs’ work and mysterious death have left the art world mystified for decades. The narrative is split between 1967 where a young typist, Odelle Bastien, who has struggled to find her place and purpose since moving to London from Trinidad has been recruited by the mysterious and enigmatic Marjorie Quick.

The parallel narrative is set in 1936 in a substantial manor house in rural Spain where the truth of the painting is concealed. Olive Schloss, the daughter of famed art dealer harbours secrets, ambition and consummate artist talent. Olive befriends the family housekeeper, Teresa and her revolutionary brother Isaac. As tensions build and the country on the brink of civil war the relationship and secrets between Olive, Teresa and Isaac come to a heart-wrenching climax.

This story entranced me and truly felt as though I was a fly on the wall of this grand Spanish house. My hotel choice for this novel isn’t quite a palatial Spanish manor but a beautiful Georgian coaching inn, The Methuen Arms, Corsham. Don’t be fooled by the cosy country exterior as inside you are in for a luxurious treat. The hotel has 16 luxurious and recently renovated rooms. There is even accommodation for mans best furry friend. One of the main attractions in my view of the Methuen Arms is the food. Home grown and locally sourced produce which is creatively cooked and well presented, it’s hard to go wrong. My top recommendation is the breakfast omelette, with all the added extras. Brunch perfection.

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Image from Trip Advisor

The hotel is situated in Corsham in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside but only a stone’s throw from the Roman city of Bath. With undulating hills and sun-bathed sandstone, it’s not a million miles from rural Spain.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver & The Blakeney Hotel

Yes, it’s another manor house thriller, except Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is much more subtle than a classic thriller. The story is as much about the protagonist, Maud as it is about the wild and eerie fens where the house ‘Wake’s End’ is located.

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After Maud’s mother dies in childbirth, she is left to the care of her father, Edmund, a strict and tyrannical disciplinarian.

The story tracks the isolation of Maud and the unravelling of her father. Maud gains an wakenhyrstinsight into his rapidly deteriorating mind through stolen moments with his diary. Edmund is stalked by scratching noises. Unseen eyes in the darkness and a religious and significant depiction of hell that draws the iridescent stench of the fen into every orifice of his being. Michelle Paver beautifully blurs the boundaries between reality and the ghostly. This story leaves you hung somewhere adrift with little pieces of the narrative returning to you every so often. I found myself turning those little pieces over and over. The sign of a good story in my view is one that doesn’t leave you after you finish the final page

I took my hotel inspiration here from The Blakeney Hotel. The hotel sits on the edge of the salt marshes and estuary of the North Norfolk coast. The hotel is comfortably and stylishly decorated, very Farrow and Ball chic. Situated right on the coastal path, the views are wild and expansive. On a squally day, you can well imagine you are looking out of the study windows at Wake’s End. The hotel has 60 rooms catering to couples, families and solo travellers. Many of the rooms have picturesque views over the estuary and salt marshes. One very welcome addition to the hotel’s facilities is a spa and swimming pool. I can thoroughly recommend positioning yourself on the sun terrace post-swim, book in hand and a cold beverage nearby. The afternoon tea is also a real treat.

 

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Image from the Honeymoon Project

 

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver & The Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk

I first read this little ghostly delight on a late train from Edinburgh to London. The carriage was empty, rain lashed the windows, individual torrents tracing their own path as we sped through the black. Honestly, it was  ghost story perfection. It’s a story I’ve come back to many times. Each reading grips me within the first, few pages, my consciousness held captive till the last page.

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My very well loved copy…

The Arctic, an expansive tundra full of secrets and possibility. When twenty-eight-year-old Jack gets the chance to embark on an Arctic expedition, he has nothing to lose. A motley crew of five men and eight huskies head north from Norway. As they cross the vast expanse of sea, they reach the bay where they will devote the next twelve months. The land of the midnight sun is enchanting and dangerous. Light fades and darkness reclaims the land. Restlessness, unease and a sense of foreboding grow whilst the escape route of the sea freezes over, something is out in the dark and the crew are not alone. Even revisiting the first pages of this gorgeous thriller gives me goosebumps. Michelle Paver successfully manages to hook you instantaneously all the while reeling you in page by page as the tension builds.

Failing a long winter train journey or a trip to Norway, I would recommend the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk to hunker down in and bury yourself in Dark Matter. I have chosen the Rose and Crown as a bedfellow for Dark Matter as I remember so clearly driving up to the hotel in the dark and the rain through twisty, turning, lanes. Trees creeping over stone walls and vast expanses of nothing. It’s quite the dramatic drive in the dark. Something about the feel of the place links quite nicely to the book.

Set on the edge of the North Pennines the Rose and Crown is a coaching inn not far from Barnard Castle. The Inn is a family-owned and runs a business with a real focus on being eco- friendly, sustainable and sourcing locally for supplies. The Rose and Crown’s remote location makes it an excellent spot for hiking, biking, sailing, fishing. Classic car hire is even an option for pootling down those country lanes and taking in the view.

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Image from Country Hotel Breaks

Choosing to stay at the Rose and Crown presents you with a range of room options. You can opt for rooms in the Main Inn, The Courtyard or the Monk’s Cottage. All the rooms are well styled with a contemporary take on rustic country charm. With Molton Brown toiletries and good linen, you are guaranteed a relaxing stay and a good nights’ sleep. I also reckon the incredible food, and modern takes on the classics will have you staggering into a food coma.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield & The Old Bell, Malmesbury

My mum is a literary hero and my go-to girl when it comes to reading material. Every Christmas she carefully picks out something she thinks I’ll love. Christmas 2007 was no exception when I tore the wrapping from The Thirteenth Tale.

The story is a rich tapestry of mystery set again a backdrop of Vida Winter’s literary 13thimaginings. Now at the end of her life, Vida wants to expose the truth of her extraordinary life. After hiring a biographer with her own shadowed past the story takes on a gothic peculiarity where the reader is introduced to the Angelfield family, their governess and the devastating fire that altered everything.

The threads of the story flow seamlessly, characters lives intersect and the dialogue cuts from the past to the present. It is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. Now with the setting of a once spectacular house, I would recommend the Old Bell, Malmesbury for a spring week away.

The Old Bell is England’s oldest hotel. Set in the quaint Wiltshire market town of Malmesbury you cannot miss its historic wisteria clad façade on the main thoroughfare. The hotel is a luxurious escape with modern, stylish rooms, well-appointed bar area and exceptional Sunday roasts. The roaring log fire in the sitting room is the ideal place to cosy up with The Thirteenth Tale. Also if you fancy a weekend break with your four-legged friend then the Old Bell is dog friendly.

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The Old Bell – England’s Oldest Hotel

With a 12th Century Abbey next door to the hotel and the world-famous Abbey House Gardens, this place is laced with history and mystery. A faultless match for ‘The Thirteenth Tale.’ Looking around the hotel there are snippets of times long since passed. The hooded stone fireplace in the brasserie dates to 1220 definitely makes me think of the centuries of stories that have been told around its hearth.

Stay safe, keep well.

Happy reading & happy travels

Jess

Hotel Review: 4* Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz, Berlin

“I’m only there for less than 48 hours, the hotel doesn’t really matter right?” Wrong!

Weekend mini-breaks are a firm favourite of mine when it comes to travelling. I love the feeling of skipping out of work at 3.15 in the afternoon with a weekend of adventure stretching out before me. However, with less than 48 hours to experience a whole city do not underestimate the importance of selecting a good hotel for your trip.

We chose the Hotel Indigo for our recent weekend jaunt to Berlin, and it proved to be a great base for our weekend.

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Getting to the Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is about a half-hour taxi ride from Tegel Airport. We landed late on Friday night, so a taxi was the easiest option. The taxi rank was located right outside the terminal building with an abundant supply of cars. The fare cost €35, which we were happy to pay for door to door service. However; if you’re after a cheaper alternative then the public transport options are plentiful. The TXL bus, S41 finally changing to the U8 will get you from the airport to Alexanderplatz in around thirty minutes.

First Impressions

Quirky. Clean. Perfectly appointed. I always enjoy staying in a hotel that has given some thought to design. Bright colours, interesting bespoke furniture in the communal areas and the most gorgeous use of old paperbacks behind the reception desk.

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Check-in was quick and efficient; such is the beauty of the British Airways flight and hotel deal. As first impressions go, I was definitely feeling slightly smug with my choice.

Which Room?

IMG_0791There is a choice of four room types at the Hotel indigo; standard, deluxe, executive or suite. Although comfort is IMG_0793enormously important for a hotel room, we always spend so little time in the room on a weekend break I would always opt for a standard room. In this instance, the standard room was just right. A king-size bed, clean en-suite with Aveda toiletries and a killer view of the TV tower. We genuinely couldn’t have wanted much more. I particularly liked the Trevi fountain vibe emblazoned onto the glass wall of the bathroom. Yes, that’s right the back wall of the shower was glass. As I said, this place is a little quirky. However, fear not, there was a carefully placed trident/Roman God thigh covering the sightline from the bed to the toilet. So, no need to avert your eyes whilst your nearest and dearest go about their morning ablutions.

Hotel Facilities

For a weekend break, the need for extensive hotel facilities is to my mind somewhat limited. If you’re looking for a gym, spa or pool then the Hotel Indigo isn’t the right choice for you. But, if you’re all about a good breakfast, somewhere safe to leave your bag after check out, good Wi-Fi and reasonably priced taxi services to the airport the Hotel Indigo most certainly ticks these boxes.

IMG_0795As part of our flight and hotel deal with BA breakfast was included. I genuinely think a hearty breakfast as part of your stay is always worth it. If you’re anything like me, I’m up early plate loaded, tea in hand and itinerary at the ready. Breakfast at the Hotel Indigo consisted of the usual hot selection of bacon, eggs, sausage and pancakes to continental breads, pastries, cold meats and cheese. With less than two days to explore, I always want to cram as much in as possible. Therefore, not having to find somewhere for breakfast or stop mid-morning for a pick me up helps us cram just a little more into the weekend. Opting for an included breakfast is also a great way to keep the additional costs down.

Location

It can be tempting to opt for a cheaper hotel much further from the city centre. HoweveAttachment-1r, this is often a false economy as you could potentially spend that additional cash on public transport in and out of the city each day. For me, weekend breaks are all about getting the base location right. The Hotel Indigo Alexanderplatz is about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate and only a five-minute walk from the infamous Berlin TV Tower.

If you don’t fancy the walk, the Hotel Indigo is two minutes’ walk from the bus stops for many of the main tour buses. Owing to the biblical downpour, we bought a weekend ticket for the Big Bus Tour which has two routes red and blue. Alexanderplatz is the first stop on both routes making the Hotel Indigo a great choice and starting point for discovering the city.

Final thoughts

Our weekend in Berlin was brilliant in spite of the perpetual heavy rain. By choosing a hotel with a central and well-connected location, it made it possible to squeeze a huge amount into such a short time. If you are planning a weekend in Berlin, I can thoroughly recommend the Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz.

Happy travels

Jess

 

Hotel Review: 5* Ritz Carlton Abama, Tenerife

Hotel review: Ritz Carlton Abama, Tenerife

I like to think of myself as a finely honed hunter of hotels, and a wanderlust predator keen to experience all the world has to offer whilst maximising my limited and precious time away from the 9-5 grind. So, in my continual quest to absorb the offerings of our beautiful planet, few places captivate me enough to continually return to year after year. As I frequently tell my husband “It’s a big world…I need to see it!”. In spite of this familiar mantra, the 5* Ritz Carlton Abama in Tenerife keeps pulling me back and I am more than happy to oblige!

Getting to the Ritz Carlton Abama

IMG_5632Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands located off the coast of West Africa. The Canary Islands enjoy almost glorious sunshine all year round. Year-round sunshine has made the Canaries a premier destination for holidaymakers for some time. Flights operate regularly from London airports to Tenerife South with carriers like British Airways, Easy Jet and Jet2. If you are looking to stay at the Abama then you should fly into Tenerife South rather than the northern airport. Be sure to confirm this as it will affect your transfer time.

The average flight time from London airports to Tenerife South is four hours, plenty of time to relax with a drink and a good book. We have always opted for a private transfer from the airport to the Abama. If you contact the hotel prior to arrival, they are happy to organise a transfer for you or I use www.suntransfers.com, who have consistently provided an excellent service. Transfer time from the airport is approximately twenty-five minutes. Alternatively, if you want to wing it on arrival taxis are in plentiful supply at the airport.

Having travelled to the Abama many times I would say the ideal arrival time is late afternoon. Arriving around 5 pm gives you plenty of time to wash up, grab a drink and enjoy a proper dinner on your first night.

First impressions

The hotel rises up out of the hillside like a glorious pink Kasbah, nestled amongst lush vegetation and tumbling down in sweeping terraces towards the sea. On first sight it is breath-taking. Yes, this term is a cliché but trust me on this one, it’s like nothing else when you first catch a glimpse. Nothing blows the cobwebs away than the juxtaposition between pink and cloudless azure sky to get you in the holiday mood…cue the cocktails!

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Clean lines and cool marble make up the entrance and your eyes are drawn to the intricate and striking floral displays presented for your arrival. Check-in has always been quick and efficient and a cold drink or a glass of fizz is always on offer to help get you in the holiday spirit.

Which room?

As a guest at the Abama, you have the luxury of choice, no more so than with the impressive array of rooms you can opt for. I have stayed in some spectacular rooms at the Abama and have a firm favourite with the Tagor Villas.

Tagor Villas: An adult-only escape

The Tagor Villas are situated slightly further down the hillside away from the main citadel making them a blissful couples retreat. The villas have their own concierge service, pool area and some even come with their own golf cart, making travel around the luxury resort a piece of cake. I have to say a private golf cart is a real perk and super fun to drive!

Our deluxe room in the villas was immaculately clean, well-furnished and complete with a welcome fruit plate and bottle of wine. Our room looked out on to the tranquil ocean and manicured gardens. We also had direct access to the Tagor Villa private pool.

Another bonus of the Tagor Villas is the option to breakfast at the El Mirador restaurant. The El Mirador serves an adult-only breakfast, so, if you are looking for a peaceful child-free retreat then this calm breakfast option is perfect.

IMG_2736Nothing beats a warm peppermint tea, omelette, the gentle lull of continuous waves lapping the mighty cliffs below and stillness in the air only punctuated by birdsong. In my opinion, there are few more pleasant ways to begin your day than this one.

 

 

Deluxe Ocean View – Citadel

I always feel that an ocean view room is the only way forward as they often tend to have more natural light compared to a garden view. The Deluxe Ocean View rooms in the citadel are bright, airy and well-appointed. The clean, sleek feel of the lobby extends to the rooms lending a tranquil and calming feel, which is often just what’s needed to help you unwind. The Deluxe Ocean View rooms all have large comfortable beds, balconies with chairs for catching those late afternoon rays and shower and bath facilities.

This last one might seem odd to note but my lovely husband and I differ considerably when it comes to washing! He is an ardent shower fan, however; I love to wallow in warm bubbly waters until I am sufficiently pruned and will only venture to the shower when I need to wash my hair. The option of both and being separate bathroom entities is a real plus for the rooms at the Abama. Finally, on the topic of luxurious bathrooms, the Abama generously provides a gorgeous range of toiletries courtesy of Asprey: Purple Water collection.

Suite – Citadel

During our stay in 2016, we were given a gorgeous suite in the Citadel. The suit occupied the top floor of one section of the Citadel and boasted unparalleled views of the sea and the Persian Garden. To put into context how special this room was is a remarkable testament to the Abama team and the splendid service they offer. Our stay in 2016 was for the purpose of our wedding. I had requested that some of our pictures be taken in the Persian Garden as it had always captured me and was visually gorgeous. The fabulous reservations team had taken this on board and made sure that our room overlooked something I found so special.

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The suite itself opened into a large sitting room with a balcony. We had a table and chairs for in-room dining and plenty of entertainment options with TV and internet access. The bedroom also had a substantial balcony as well as a gloriously comfy bed. As with all the rooms at the Abama the housekeeping team keep them spotless and their attention is detail is excellent.

We found the space perfect for hosting a drinks party with family and friends who had stayed after the wedding.

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Hotel Complex

The Abama resort complex is extensive, with a championship golf course, tennis courts, private villas, fitness centre and spa, the main Citadel and pool areas down to the Tagor Villas and the beach. Despite the sprawling expanse of the resort, it is remarkable how unique and secluded each area is.

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The resort has become increasingly busy with families during school holidays however as a teacher I would nonetheless choose to visit with my husband as there are so many areas where we do not have to around children. The Abama is extremely good at catering for adults only and family needs.

The spa is worth a mention as the treatments are excellent and the use of the water circuit is well worth an afternoon of your time. There have definitely been a few occasions where I’ve snuggled down on a warm stone bed listening to the gentle trickle of water creeping stealthily over the edge of the infinity pool only to fall sound asleep. As with all good things booking ahead is advised.

I wouldn’t say I’m a golfer by any stretch of the imagination however I like playing andIMG_3883.JPG can just about hack my way around a course. My family however including the hubby are pretty proficient when it comes to accurately swinging a club at a small ball and getting it into an even tinier hole 400 yards away. The Abama has always provided a spectacular golfing experience. The course is a tricky 72 par 18-hole course with water, sand, trees and vastly varied terrain; a day spent tackling this beast is well worth it. I would recommend a post-round beer and burger at the clubhouse with views over the complex and the sea it’s a pleasant way to dissect your round and reflect on the game.

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Pools & Beach

IMG_3845As guests of the Abama, you can freely use the beach and sun loungers. Views from the beach particularly at sunset are stunning.

The large hotel complex makes it possible to have multiple pools. If you are travelling as a family then the main pool is where you should head. It does get busy, and it is very much a family area so if you are without children, I would recommend seeking out the adult-only pool. To the left of the main pool, a smaller pool area can be found, often popular with families with smaller children. This area has lots of shady spots and a lovely shallow igloo area perfect for small ones to splash about.Attachment-1.jpegAs a resident of the Tagor Villas then you needn’t look further than your own private pool area. This area is just for residents of the villas so make the most it! The beds are well separated, so you don’t feel crammed in and due to the length of the pool, there is plenty of space for all. The Tagor Villa pool is well attended. The staff are always on hand to help out regardless if it is a new towel, cold drink or even helping you make dinner reservations from your sun lounger.

Wide cabanas, infinity pool, expansive ocean views, another adult-only paradise. The adult pool is located by the El Mirador restaurant and provides spacious seating for around eighty guests. The loungers and private cabanas are large and comfortable and all are positioned to make the most of the panoramic views of the sea or the hillside and banana plantations which surround the resort. The adult pool has a bar and lunch area available, meaning you don’t have to stray too far from your lounger to procure a cold beverage.

Regardless of where you choose to park yourself for a day in the sun, the pool staff at all locations are keen to ensure your experience is as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.

Food & Drink

If you travel with the British Airways deal that includes bed and breakfast it means that lunch and dinner are additional costs. The Abama boasts two Michelin starred restaurants Kabuki & MB and a host of other fabulous eateries. You don’t want to have your dinner reservations defined by the package you booked; meaning you miss out on the culinary experiences on offer.

The Abama has worked hard over the years to update and ensure the utmost quality of the restaurants they provide. With such high-quality food offered at the hotel, booking is imperative. Regardless if your trip coincides with a school holiday or you are blissfully unconstrained by term dates; book your dinner ahead of schedule! I would recommend making your dinner reservations before your trip and the reservations teams are incredibly helpful via email and phone. You can, of course, visit the concierge when you arrive however your ideal dining time may be unavailable. I have been stung with this one too many times and have ended up eating far too late in the evening.

If it’s culinary theatre you are after then take an evening to enjoy the tasting menu of the MB. It is a true gastronomic experience. The food pushes your senses to redefine your preconceptions of traditional flavours and unique textures. Absolute genius.

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Kabuki is my all-time favourite restaurant in the world. I love Asian food, in particular sushi. Kabuki offers Japanese fusion cuisine and with every visit to the Abama, I make sure I snag a reservation here. I have found the best option for ordering is to go with the chef’s recommendations. Let the experts provide you with a worthy feast. I have never been disappointed.

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The Abama restaurants cater for every taste with the 20/20 steakhouse serving succulent cuts of meat and perfectly paired wines. Verona offers Italian cuisine. El Mirador serves up freshly caught fish and Txoko presents a modern take on traditional Spanish gastronomy. But if it’s a low-key night with a burger and beer then the sports bar is great for a chilled evening.

Final Thoughts

It is safe to say I am an Abama regular with around nine visits and counting! The Abama offers everything I need for a holiday; whether I am with my husband and we need an adult-only escape or I am travelling with family and young children. Fabulous food, drink, service, amenities and a host of additional extras. This is a truly special place and one which I will continue to return to.

Happy travels,

Jess