After this worrying start to the trip, I set off to shoot some Caribbean gardens. This is what happened.
The tiny Puerto Plata Airport on the north coast of DR was barely more than a cheery steel band bashing out a welcoming tune, a relaxed chap holding his hand out for $10 for a visa, and a gaggle of grinning Immigration men hanging around the luggage carousel. With no checked luggage, I was off the plane and into sunshine in 8 minutes. (If only Heathrow was like that.) Then it was a two-hour drive down a coastal road so quiet that often the only 'traffic' was a herd of cattle and some chickens. A few hours down the coast, my driver and I finally landed here, at Playa Grande; one of the most beautiful, most extraordinary places I've ever been. It was, quite simply, astonishing. Let me show you.
Conceived by New York designer Celerie Kemble, Playa Grande is a remarkable place -- more of a private estate than a resort -- which is made up of collection of exquisitely designed beach houses that are so sweet, so irresistible, it's as if Tim Burton had gotten together with Karl Lagerfeld to create a Chanel show for the Caribbean. It's also so well hidden that not even the chap next door, whom we asked for directions, knew it was there. I mean, how often do you find a place like that? Where not even its neighbours know it's there?
Now the architecture here is eye catching, but it's the interiors where the exclamations really begin. Everything at Playa Grande is inspired by gardens and botanical motifs, so lights are shaped like palm leaves, lanterns look like exotic tropical pods, and even the smallest light switches resemble sweet lily-of-the-valley bouquets and new spring buds. Most were made by a local metalworker, and most are done in copper, so that when they age and patina turns to green, they'll look even more like leaves. It's ingenious.
There was also, surprisingly, a lot of timber, which must mean a lot of maintenance given the tropical weather. Even the table 'tassels' were done in timber. Like so:
Another interesting aspect to the estate was that the gardens were allowed to grow wild in some places, particularly over the verandahs, leading to a kind of 'lost in time' feel that didn't feel messy or unkempt but fantastically, memorably romantic.
All in all, it was gorgeous. Gorgeous and glorious, and oh so Instagrammable that I could have flooded my feed. But I didn't. Cos I had to go to the next photo shoot. Which was also spectacular ...
The second place I shot was older but no less beautiful; a small hideaway called the Casa Colonial, which was in fact an ode to the grand, colonial hotels of yesteryear. With acres of white louvres and ceiling fans inside and gardens full of tropical palms and foliage outside, it was a dream of a place, and even though I was the only guest there by the end -- hurricane season had emptied the rooms -- it still felt cosy and intimate and elegant and welcoming. There were other places on the Shot List too, but after three days in the Caribbean heat with no G&Ts (it doesn't pay to drink while working), I was well and truly ready for something stiff in a tall glass.
So I packed up, took one last look at the beautiful beaches, and boarded the plane back to New York.
Back in Manhattan, the heat was like nothing I've experienced in that city; raw and angry and full of honking horns and irritated people and on-edge traffic. (The queues to get up to Connecticut one weekend were insane!) But there was one place where calm and civility reigned; The Beekman, an amazing new hotel carved out of an equally amazing historic building in the previously-dull-but-now-buzzing district of FiDi. (Vogue has also moved into this area, as has Cos, so you know it's officially cool.)
The opening of The Beekman Hotel is one of the year's most anticipated New York hotel unveilings. Its amazing, semi-derelict, nine-story atrium was for years used in fashion shoots and parties (Jay Z had a brill soiree here) until Thomson Hotels swept in and restored it. There are some beautiful images here. The rooms are exy (and not particularly sexy), but the restaurant by Keith McNally is hot, so just go for dinner and enjoy the interior. Inspiration is a-plenty here.
From there, it was off to the cool, green countryside of Sussex in England, and what a welcome change it was. There were a few garden shoots here too, including one at one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen; a gentle, enveloping embrace of a place that reminded me why I loved gardens so much. And how lucky I am to do the job I do.
Owned by two of the kindest, loveliest, funniest, and most gracious men I've ever met, Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen (for those who don't know them, they are the design talents who bought Nicholas Haslam's legendary store / business in Pimlico and made it into their own, and now do the interior design for dozens of extraordinary estates over the world), this country retreat is the kind you always hope to own one day. It's a perfect blend of country house and garden, where both merge into the other in such a way that you're constantly wandering from room to terrace to greenhouse to courtyard to parterre to pool and back to the library and parlour / sitting room again in a happy daze. What's more it's all so chic that it just about redefines the word.
Look at the blue-and-white library. And this sophisticated but still cosy guest room. Imagine sleeping here?
We had a long and memorable luncheon here on the terrace, which lasted for far too many glasses of wine! (I always have trouble remembering the right words to use in England; words like 'pardon' and 'lunch' are non-U here, but -- incredibly words like the F word and 'loo', which my Catholic grandmother always hated, are very U.)
Paolo and Philip told a great story of how Princess Diana came for lunch(eon) one day, which made me laugh until I had a stitch. Then I had to get up -- after all the laughter and stitches and wine -- and continue shooting! Not sure how those shots went, but it was nonetheless a wonderful day, and I was reminded again of how nice some people are. Here were two men who have met just about everyone I idolise (they even stay in Oscar de la Renta's old estate in the Dominican Republic), and who don't need to spend time with a stranger from Australia (who was weary beyond belief and trying desperately to remember her social skills through the haze of jet lag) and yet they did -- and they made it an afternoon to remember. Courtesy and chivalry are not dead, after all.
There were a few more gardens, such as this dahlia-drenched one in Dorset...
And this gorgeous castle and its grand farmyard and kitchen garden in Oxfordshire... (I loved the onion drying rack the best).
But that's enough stories for one blog post, I think
I'm home now for a little while -- and how happy I am too, after three round-the-world trips in three months! There are books to be designed, edited, expedited through the production process. But there are also beautiful ones to be ordered for Christmas. Have you seen all the lovely new titles out there? I can't wait for On The Fringe, by Colefax and Fowler's doyenne Imogen Taylor. And of course my new biography about Joan Lindsay, the author of the famous novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is due out early next year. It is being wound up as I write this, ready for printing. And it is beautiful!
As well, the new fashion collections for Spring / Summer 2017 are appearing in the media, and they're heralding a glamorous new year. Just look at Jasper Conran's designs, above and below. Thank goodness glamour is still in fashion.
Until next time, happy travels, happy reading, happy frock shopping, and happy gardening, wherever you are.