Souvenirs de Paris

Heavenly scented treasures from Diptyque and Annick Goutal; the obligatory mini Eiffel Towers (which I will dot around the house beside candles and atop books)

Today is an enforced lazy day (as in; breakfast at 11, a refusal to leave the house all day, and lounging around in silk pyjamas with endless pots of tea), so I’m delighting in finally unpacking my souvenirs from Paris. After a trip, it always seems to take me a full week to unpack – partly out of busyness, but also because I want to delay the gratification of having brought home new treasures from my journey abroad.

Even though I was only in Paris for a long weekend, and I didn’t set aside any time specifically for shopping, I still managed to sneak plenty of wonderful souvenirs into my Lulu Guinness case. Here are a few of my favourite Parisian momentos:

Fleur d’Oranger candle (I will re-use the porcelain holder afterwards), Marie Antoinette tea and a jewel-like box of macarons from Laduree; vintage postcard and a menu from Cafe de Flore (which I may have snuck into my bag in exchange for a large tip)

French perfumes, beauty and gorgeous scented candles: I love the beauty hall at Le Bon Marche or the tiny perfumeries around Le Marais district (I always make a point to stop by Diptyque, Annick Goutal and L’Artisan Parfumeur when I’m here). Don’t forget to visit a French pharmacy for excellent beauty products that are mostly unavailable (or significantly more expensive) elsewhere.

Gourmand delights: A trip by Laduree (for a box of macarons, a coffret of tea and a scented candle), Pierre Herme (heavenly artisanal desserts, wonderfully adventurous macaron flavours, and gorgeous jams), and the department store food halls (I always stock up on chocolate and tins of orange blossom pastilles) is a must.

Vintage treasures: Rummage around the Parisian flea markets (Le Puces is the best) or the little stalls that line the Left Bank of the Seine. This time, I collected turn of the century hand-coloured postcards (I determinedly hunt these down in each of my favourite cities), old books at Shakespeare & Co, and a vintage Chanel military badge and early No. 5 bottle.

French fashions: Most of my favourite French brands (Carven, Sandro, Maje, Isabel Marant, Petite Bateau) are naturally much cheaper  in Paris. But I also love discovering new (to me) French designers that are yet to arrive across the Channel. This time, I learned of Claudie Pierlot – an old French house that is now being led by the sisters who design for Sandro and Maje respectively. I love the French coquette -meets-each chic vibe, and picked up an adorable ivory silk peplum-waisted top which I can’t wait to wear. I also love to buy French silk lingerie (Chantal Thomass, Princesse Tam Tam and Mimi Holliday are fun), a tiny jewel (usually a brooch) from Chanel to add to my collection, and a copy of Vogue Paris at the Eurostar terminal (the funnest way to use up my Euros).

Vintage treasures, Chanel brooch, Claudie Pierlot sillk bow top and beautiful silk lingerie

What do you love to souvenir when you travel? Do you have any favourite Parisian treats?

Love, Miss B xx

London’s Best Afternoon Tea, pt. 3: The Royal Tea at Harvey Nichols

It’s official: England has gone Royal Wedding crazy. And I’m not going to lie… I love it! (Much to the Clever Boyfriend’s horror). Between the Union Jacks currently fluttering above the entire length of Regent Street, the bunting which fills every shop window in the land, the unashamedly kitch souvenirs, being able to see the venue itself (Westminster Abbey) from the window of my office in Parliament, and the prospect of an entire day off work when it will be practically obligatory to eat scones and drink Pimms while planting oneself firmly in front of the BBC’s coverage of the event, it’s impossible for me to resist the lure of the young royals and this modern day fairytale.

And other than standing outside Buckingham Palace (though believe me, there’s nothing glamorous about willingly sleeping in a tent on a public roadway – the measures one would have to take to secure a spot on The Mall on the day), if there’s a more English way to mark a Royal occasion than with Pimms and afternoon tea, I’m yet to find it.* So for the next week, Harvey Nichols are throwing a super fun Royal Afternoon Tea in all their cafes and brasseries. For the princely sum of £30, you will get an assortment of tea, sandwiches, pastries and scones. The only downsides are that it seems to be de rigueur for the Harvey Nicks waiters to be grumpy, and it took several phone calls to successfully book a place (none of the ladies who answered the phone seemed to know what I was talking about and had to go off to investigate – though this could have something to do with the fact I was surely the first person to book a place, such is my wedding excitement). That said, there is an awful lot of bunting (which pleases me greatly, and which somehow compensates for other failings), and taking a seat on the little grassy terrace to have tea is really rather lovely.

And the very best bit? Just look at the fabulously silly souvenir mug which the lovely people at Harvey Nicks will give you to take home a swill Pimms out of? Hurrah indeed!

Love, Miss B xx

* On the actual day, I myself will be eschewing my Parliamentary ticket to watch the wedding live from Parliament Square (in the rain) and instead donning some red lipstick and heels and having a day-long tea party with my girlfriends.

The Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea is available until the end of April in all Harvey Nichols stores. £30 includes tea, sandwiches, cakes and a souvenir mug (normally £20).

Stuffing Australia in my Suitcase

Vintage brooches to adorn a summer blazer lapel: Australian native flowers, rhinestones and bejewelled glasses that remind me of Dame Edna Everage

Despite my best attempts to travel light, I somehow managed to return from Australia with 15kg more than I had arrived with (this was also despite offloading several kilos of English souvenirs to family along the way, and not having time to go shopping for clothes for more than a single hour…). To say this was a point of tension between the Clever Boyfriend and myself en route to our departure gate is a serious understatement.

And so, to save my lovely readers the same luggage-induced relationship anguish, here are some of my favourite souvenirs from my trip and a guide to a few of the things I think are worth the excess luggage dramas.*

Blush and petal silk to make my wardrobe (and lingerie drawer) smile.

Sartorial treats: Australia boasts some truly exceptional fashion labels, as well as a focus on niche boutiques that you just don’t find in the UK. Aside from the obvious things I miss, I’m forever mourning the fact that in Australia you can buy a gorgeous dress from an established designer for a fraction of the cost of a comparable designer label in the UK. I don’t know how I would have survived my early twenty-something years there without brands like Lover, Zimmerman, Karen Walker (who, if you want to get technical, is actually a New Zealander), Sass & Bide, Camilla and Marc, Alice McCall, Fleur Wood, Willow, and Nicola Finetti (plus pyjamas from Peter Alexander, whose stores all look like marshmallow pink boudoirs, and gorgeous lingerie from Elle Macpherson) .

MOR candles that smell like a summer’s morning, Kit cheek stain to maintain the holiday glow, a haul of Aesop and Jurlique rose shower gel that smells like an explosion of garden roses and turkish delight on a cold winter’s morning.

Beauty: As a self-confessed beauty addict, I can honestly say that I’ve tried a lot of products. And in my opinion, Australian beauty brands are on par with the French as being the best in the world. Between an obsession with avoiding sun-damage and the laid-back, healthy lifestyle, the Australians are all about anti-oxidants and organic ingredients. My bathroom shelves would be completely naked (and my skin tortured) were it not for the wonders of Aesop and Jurlique skincare, organic rosehip oil (does wonders for the skin) from Trilogy or Kosmea, divine body creams and scented candles from MOR, and cult items from Kit and Mecca Cosmetics.

A new chunky pearl necklace from Mimco.

And finally, I’d throw a tantrum if these things didn’t find their way into my suitcase on an outbound flight from Australia (such are the frivolous cravings when one is an expat living abroad): beautiful pearl necklaces, acetate cuffs and accessories from Mimco; Haighs chocolates (simply the best you will ever try); Cadbury Cherry Ripe bars; Allens Chico Babies (chocolate-flavoured jelly babies); luscious red wines and summery pink moscatos from the Barossa Valley; crisp copies of Australian Vogue, Rush and Frankie magazines; cookbooks by Bill Granger, Donna Hay, Kylie Kwong and Maggie Beer; a giant jar of Vegemite (love it or loathe it) to be spread on hot buttery toast on grey English mornings; a small handful of sun-bleached shells collected from the perfect beaches; and enough proper coffee (to be drunk while lazing about at alfresco cafes with a spot of people-watching), gelato and fresh mangoes that my cravings for them don’t induce homesickness for the next year.

Souvenirs for the home: an antique French map of Australia from the 1800s; seashells collected from walks along endless stretches of white sandy beach.

What do you love buying as a souvenir when you travel to a new place (or conversely, what do you have to cram your suitcases with when you return home)?

Love, Miss B xx

* Most of these brands can be found in the UK (through their own stand-alone stores, at Selfridges, on Net-a-Porter, or via My Catwalk, who ship to the UK), though, as with anything, are always significantly cheaper in their country of origin.

Rock the kasbah, part II

One of my favourite things to do when visiting a new place is to hunt down the perfect souvenir to take home and treasure in my everyday life. I despise typical tourist souvenirs, preferring something that I can genuinely use and love. Though I now wish i’d bought more in Marrakech, I did come home with a gorgeous golden Moroccan teapot (that looks lovely and battered) and matching green and gold tea glasses in which to have mint tea, some beautiful coloured Berber bowls, kilos of spices, tea and dried fruit, and some of beautiful soaps and potions that will remind me of Marrakech with their smell of jasmine and fleur d’oranger.

In addition to bringing home the perfect set of treasures, one of the things that makes a trip truly luxurious is finding the perfect accommodation which typifies a place (in fact I obsess and spend weeks researching the best places before I go anywhere – something which frustrates the Clever Boyfriend no end). If you do manage to visit Marrakech – and I strongly recommend you do at least once in your lifetime – then I cannot rate the Riad Meriem any higher on the luscious accommodation stakes. Set in one of the oldest parts of the Medina which dates back to the 12th Century, the area around the riad is a marvellously chaotic warren of tiny, high-walled back alleyways where children play beside donkeys carting entire stalls on their backs. But entering the riad is like stepping into an Aladdin’s cave. Styled by renowned NY designer and photographer Thomas Hays, it is a beautifully artistic Moroccan oasis lit by hundreds of candles and lanterns, dripping in bouganvilleas, and attended by the friendliest staff I have ever come across. I was so enamoured by our suite’s jasmine scent and afternoon tea on our private terrace that the host sent us home with a litre of jasmine body wash and a kilo of arabian pastries (which i’ve been trying to savour, rather than scoff, with copious glasses of strong mint tea to maintain the holiday vibe).

What is your favourite thing to bring home from your travels?

Love, Miss B xx