Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Finding Inspiration from Grand Travels and Quiet Corners

A few weeks ago, I went to the Dominican Republic for three days, to look at some gardens for a new book. It was my first time to DR. 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 carefree 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 even its neighbours don't 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.

The second destination 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 Reccy List too, but after three days in the Caribbean heat, travelling on remote roads, with few tourists around, and no G&Ts (I never drink while working, and even while not working, but the tropics makes you long for it), 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 expensive (and not particularly sexy), but the restaurant by Keith McNally is beautiful, so just go for dinner and enjoy the interior. 

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 to look at 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. Look at the blue-and-white library. And this comforting guest room. 

We had a long and memorable luncheon here on the terrace, which lasted for far too many glasses of wine. Paolo and Philip told a very funny (but still respectful) story of how Princess Diana visited one summer's day, which made me laugh until I had a stitch. As they chatted, I was reminded 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 didn'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 written, 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?) 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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

LONDON SECRETS: A new book for architecture, design, fashion and garden fans

I'm delighted to write that my new book LONDON SECRETS: STYLE, DESIGN, GLAMOUR, GARDENS (Images Publishing) is being prepared for a publication date that's not far off.  One of the loveliest books I've ever had the pleasure of producing, shooting and writing, LONDON SECRETS attempts to uncover many of the city's most fascinating design destinations, from hidden streets full of extraordinary architecture to memorable National Trust properties, beautiful historic houses, fantastic design-focused museums, glorious gardens, glamorous hotels, wonderful stores selling everything from textiles to antiques to vintage fashion, and intriguing restaurants and bistros.

I lived in London for many years in the 1990s, and still return (with a sentimentalist's heart) several times a year for work. And each time I arrive here, I relish the chance to wander down the cobbled mews and quiet side streets to discover the city's urban treasures. In fact, no matter how many times I visit, the place continues to surprise and delight.  I hope this book offers some great ideas for your next trip, whether you're an architecture aficionado, a design fan, or simply a lover of gardens, textiles, fashion and style.

(Note: One of my fellow authors, Driss Fatih, has also done a London book, so check the author on the cover if you want my book, as there's a little confusion. Driss' book will focus more on architecture and restaurants, while mine covers fashion and style, bookstores and gardens, historic houses, and other glamorous things.)

LONDON SECRETS is due out soon (date TBC), so do look for it in bookshops and online, but in the meantime, here are a few places worth noting:


Soane Britain in Pimlico (which is different to the similar-sounding Soane Museum) is a wondrous aladdin's cave of rattan and wicker, fabric and textiles, prints and lamps, and all kinds of furniture, from elegant desks to cheerily chic side tables. But it's far more than just a store of sophisticated, irresistible homewares. Co-founder and creative director Lulu Lyle set out to save many dying British crafts by either buying factories, such as the last rattan manufacturer left in England, or employing British craftspeople to create special goods using skills that go back to the 18th century and beyond. Fabrics are woven in Suffolk and printed in Kent, while furniture is made by blacksmiths, carpenters, upholsterers and gilders in the far corners of England. Even the wallpapers are hand-blocked by expert English printers.  But it's perhaps the traditional crafts, such as iron forging and leatherwork, where you can really see the skills being utilized in modern forms. Lulu commissions unusual leather desks, ornate iron lighting and other unique pieces to reinvent these materials for contemporary living. Alternatively, clients can chose their own materials and finishes from Soane’s in-house collection of timbers, metals, textiles and leathers, using Soane's furniture styles or their own designs.

There's a lovely article on Lulu's own London home here, which is a carnival of colour  --  LINK HERE 
Or you can browse the website here -- SOANE BRITAIN


Many people already know about Firmdale Hotels and their wonderful London hideaways, including Number Sixteen and the much-talked-about Ham Yard. But what isn't as well known are their impeccably decorated suites and townhouses, which not only accommodate a family or group of friends, but offer interior design that is even more glamorous than the famously sophisticated 'standard' rooms. The Covent Garden's suite (above, with whimsical watering cans), and the Haymarket Hotel's townhouse (top) are two of the most beautifully designed hotel rooms in London and they're ideal if you need to spread out (such as for a company presentation) or require a kitchen for a long stay. Many fashion companies book the Covent Garden Hotel's suites to do presentations, and then stay the night. Not a bad 'office' to be in for your London stay.

More details may be found here -- FIRMDALE HOTELS


If you're after a hotel that offers stunning spaces for small groups to have get-togethers, cocktails or other functions while in London, some of the prettiest are those rooms offered by The Pelham Hotel in South Kensington. The Pelham was actually one of Kit Kemp's (Firmdale Hotel's creative director) first hotel designs, and still reflects her attention to detail in textiles, furniture, antiques and bold patterns and print. The Pelham is perhaps my favorite hotel in London and not just because it posts the fabrics and trims in framed mood boards outside many of the rooms. Its front desk is a welcoming dream of a space, its parlour and honesty bar a relief after a long day of walking the streets for work meetings, and its rooms are quiet havens of luxury for very little money.  Best of all, it's right opposite the South Kensington Station, so you can jump straight on a tube in less than five minutes! Look for the understated facade; it's difficult to see because it's so discreet.

Details here -- THE PELHAM


New York Times' T magazine recently published a superb story on Rebecca Louise Law's 'flower studio' in London; a romantic, poetic, flower-and-book-strewn space where she creates her famous flower installations. Louise LawBut London is home to a scented plethora of petalled florists, many of whom offer superb classes in everything from flower arranging to event styling. Judith Blacklock is one such florist. Her classes are held in a pretty building in Knightsbridge, but it's her tours of the New Covent Garden Market that you should aim to get a place on. The day begins at 8AM with a long wander around the various traders of the famous flower market, and continues with breakfast and a flower workshop back at the store.

Petersham Nurseries has also started to offer wonderful horticulture courses, with the Scented Gardens being one of the most popular. And in the West End, the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers offers all manner of floral classes in an airy, light, easy-to-reach boutique that's brimming with glorious blooms.


London is dotted with gardens and parks, but few visitors realize there are also dozens of restaurants, bistros and pubs that are designed for fans of horticulture and greenery. Maggie Jones in Kensington is a lovely little place relished by locals for its cosy, romantic atmosphere as much as its baskets of flowers (dried and fresh). The place is designed to feel like a rustic barn, complete with faux beehive, but the food is anything but rough. Farmhouse-inspired, yes, but it's still delicious and beautifully prepared. ( 6 Old Court Place, London, Kensington,

The Ivy in Chelsea is another that's pulling in the green-thumbed crowd. Athough it's more sophisticated than Maggie Jones, it's no less charming, with menus designed to look like garden plans and a courtyard full of wicker chairs. The interior, meanwhile, is punctuated with botanical prints, and the colour palette is a summery combination of tangerine and green. (195 King's Road, Chelsea, )

Finally, Bourne & Hollingsworth has been popping up on blogs and Insta posts for a year or two now, but it's still sweet, especially the petite conservatory full of ferns and floral armchairs.  (42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell,


London will see some stunning new museums opening in the next few years. The Museum of London is one, with a spectacular design for the museum's new location that features a monumental domed atrium, spiral escalators, and a sunken garden.  But the two that will really prompt designers and decorators to queue are Sandycombe Lodge and Sir John Soane's home, both of which are currently being restored to their former glory.

Sandycombe Lodge is the home of the celebrated painter JMW Turner, and was, in its time, a blissful hideaway hidden away in the bucolic setting of Twickenham, where the wealthy were building grand homes amid the pastoral scenery.  Twickenham was “a place of experimentation” for Turner; somewhere he could escape his life in London to paint in peace. Turner’s father, a retired barber who was also his son's studio assistant,  also lived at Sandycombe Lodge, and made the 10-mile commute to London daily to open his son’s gallery, initially by foot, then by hitching a lift on a vegetable cart in exchange for a glass of gin. (!)  The house is a small gem that recalls the 19th century in much the same way as the London-home-turned-museum of the architect John Soane does. Soane was a friend of Turner, and visited him often, so it is fitting that Soane's own rural home nearby, Pitzhanger Manor,  is also being restored. An illustration for the restoration of Pitzhanger Manor is above, but work has started on the building and all its glorious interior. The bold paintwork is especially beautiful, so particular attention is being paid to the walls, ceilings and frescoes.

Details on the restoration of Turner's house can be found HERE And details of Pitzhanger Manor can be found HERE .

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Books, Gardens and other Quiet Delights

Having just come off the back of a year of intense writing for not one but three huge book projects, I have been spending a few quiet July days in our small garden before the next lot of publishing deadlines and work trips. Like my mother -- who has just returned from seeing some extraordinary gardens and landscapes in Alaska and Vancouver -- I'm always grateful for the chance to be in a garden. I always think that gardening is underestimated as therapy: it's not only beneficial for the weary mind and body but it can also inspire and energise the creative spirit. Out among the new seedlings and parrot tulips, I've been working on lots of new ideas for 2017; some of which -- like my clematis -- may never flower! But hopefully a few of them will bloom. That's the thing with both gardening and life. You never know what's going to emerge in the future...

And so here, in tribute of the northern hemisphere summer and the southern hemisphere spring, is a small ode to the quiet delights of horticulture.

As always, feel free to follow on Instagram here -- LINK


One of the most beautiful gardens in England is the wonderfully named Seend Manor in Wiltshire. I was alerted to this beautiful English estate by a friend, and immediately told a few other garden-loving friends about it, one of which replied straight away to tell me that she knew the owners. (Such is the world of social media!)  Apparently Seend Manor's owners are just as charming and gracious as their glorious flower beds. ( If you don't yet follow Amanda Seend on Instagram, her link is here -- Amanda Seend  ) 

The garden is open to the public once a year, but designer Amanda Bunt has written a moving post to its many horticultural secrets here -- Seend Manor I love the fact that it moved Amanda to tears. 


Some of you may have seen this gorgeous garden room in the May issue of British House and Garden magazine, but if you missed it, here's the link -- Emma Burns Garden Library  Emma Burns is the senior decorator at Colefax & Fowler, but it seems her talents extend to architecture and landscaping, too, if this remarkable garden shed is anything to go by. Formerly a rustic barn used to house garden tools, it was converted to a garden library-cum-guest-cottage that's also filled with Emma's precious collection of books. One part of it is a mezzanine work area; another an indulgent bathroom. But the most beautiful part is undoubtedly the library, which extends along an entire wall. As Emma explains: 'It used to be a glorified garden shed, and though it seemed daft to have so much space and not do anything with it, we couldn't decide what. Then we moved from our old house in London into a much smaller one and ended up with all these books sitting in storage, so we decided to make it into a book room.'  

It's so lovely that it's a wonder Emma's guests ever leave. Link is here -- Emma Burns' Garden Library


We are constantly looking for the next property to buy and restore or renovate. (Well, I am; my partner just rolls his eyes now, especially when I present him with run-down estates with overgrown gardens and neglected architecture that would take a bulldozer to fix.) While our future home remains a question mark (we may have to move into our tiny investment property on St Kilda Road, after all!), someone will be assured of a extraordinary life with this historic 1854 house and garden called 'Wickham', currently for sale here -- LINK  

It's actually located just around the corner from where we live, in a beautiful part of Victoria called Harkaway. (Yes, we looked at it, but the price tag and heritage overlays were too prohibitive.) It's one of the prettiest properties I've ever inspected, with a grand carriage drive, a coach house, a summer house (a very cute octagonal retreat), pool, stables, even a historic smoke house. But while the outbuildings may need restoration, the house is immaculate, and is a rare example of an untouched floorplan from the mid-1800s. The highlights include a beautiful drawing room, an enormous kitchen with servery, and a gorgeous enclosed conservatory with a brick floor and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to an elegant arbour. 

Imagine ripping up the worn old tennis court and putting in an Edwardian picking garden? Let's hope it goes to a garden lover.


Have you seen Dolce and Gabbana's new botanical garden-inspired collection for A/W 2017? There are dresses imprinted with garden parties, skirts emblazoned with bold palm prints and bags made of pretty wicker. My favourite is the pair of shoes designed like trellis, and the whimsical handbag that looks like a miniature version of the Petit Trianon summer house at Versailles. The collection is a magnificent tribute to the grand gardens of the Victorian era, but it's all done with Dolce and Gabbana's endearing whimsy and eye-catching drama.


Hermès has also been bringing out a number of exquisitely ornate garden scarves each year. The latest is the beautifully ornate Au Pays des Oiseaux Fleurs (above), which comes in various colourways, but Le Jardin de Leila, which was part of last year's collection (and which I bought to celebrate a special occasion), was heavenly, too. LINK HERE


Finally, if you're looking for something to enhance your sun room, Canopy Designs in the US creates these sublime porcelain chandeliers that look like something you'd find in an enchanted forest. There are various designs, but this is perhaps the prettiest; a tumbling, wondrous delight of intertwining vines, leaves and buds. They also do bespoke work, so you can create your own botanical-inspired lighting. The link is here -- CANOPY NATURE-INSPIRED CHANDELIERS

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Snapshots from a Tour of Homes and Gardens around the World

If you follow my Instagram feed -- LINK, you'll know that I've been living out of a carry-on suitcase for a while, travelling around the world to look at gardens, houses, and cities for several new books. I'm now home for a few weeks, and I have to say, after endless airports, being home has never made me so happy!  For those who aren't on Instagram, here are some of the places and spaces I've been privileged to have visited. Many of them are open to the public (some every day; others only on a few days each month or year), and so if they pique your interest do bookmark their links. That's the best thing about social media: discovering all these fantastic destinations. I'm back on the road in late July, so feel free to follow on Instagram. Wishing you a wonderful week, wherever you may be. 

Confession: In between all the books and work, I've been trying to design a line of luggage. (A long-held dream after I lost a favourite Armani jacket to a toiletry spill.) Part of the R&D has been in Milan, where elegant bags are a way of life. These pix are from a research trip to Como, squeezed in between photo shoots in Milan, although the highlight of the day was not the textiles but a fleeting visit to the famous Villa del Balbianello. I wanted to do a formal shoot of this garden for a future book on Italy, but the rain was relentless, so it turned into a tourist visit -- which is often the best way to see a place. In fact, rain makes you put down the camera and really see the landscape with your eyes.  Unlike most of the other villas on Lake Como, Balbianello is set on a promontory, so its garden has been created from curving paths and magnificent views, rather than long, formal, Italian-style allées. The best way to reach is by ferry to the pretty village of Lenno, then a walk along the waterfront and through the villa's private parkland (rear gate open Tues/Sat/Sun only). Alternatively, the water taxi, although pricey, offers magnificent views of the villa from the lake.  It's one of the most famous villas in the world and remains one of my all-time favourite gardens. Even in the rain.

WHERE TO STAY:, a romantic hotel at Laglio, right on Lake Como. Or its neighboring estate -- just as beautiful.

WHAT TO READ: The just-published Gardens of the Italian Lakes (May 2016).

I've always wanted to visit Portofino after seeing the film 'Enchanted April'. So we squeezed a weekend here for a romantic escape and this was the view (middle pic) that we opened our window to at 6AM, as the sun rose over the Italian Riviera.  Even though a posh wedding had pulled into town (the father of the bride had paid for an airline to transport all the guests), the gentle port was still idyllic, especially on Sunday when the 200 wedding guests all wore white for the after-party in the village square! Leaving the partygoers, we hiked along the coast to the glorious monastery garden at Cervara Abbey (bottom right), which is open once a month, and then later walked the trails and terraces behind the castle to peek into the villagers' veggie gardens. I don't know which was more beautiful: the abbey's parterre, or the tiny potagers planted up the mountain? If you've avoided Portofino so far, do see it. The romance clearly worked because it's now my favourite place in the world.

WHERE TO STAY: The Hotel Piccolo is reasonably priced, and has its own cove for swimming. Try to time your visit for when Cervara Abbey is open ( ); the garden (bottom right) is rated one of the best in Italy.

A night's stopover in Paris was just enough to race around and see the latest places. My favourite was Tory Burch's new and much-talked-about flagship boutique on the Rue Saint-Honoré. It's designed with a coolly sophisticated colour palette that cleverly references Paris' famous architecture and sky. (Even the pale blues seem to match Paris' famous doors.) Its designer Daniel Romualdez (who lives in Bill Blass' former home -- LINK) is adept at creating spaces that feel luxurious while still being understated, and his work has made this beautiful boutique a must-see for design fans, whether you buy anything TB or not.  412 Rue Saint Honoré, Paris.

WHERE TO STAY: The stylish new Hotel Providence, 90 Rue René Boulanger, Or the classically beautifully Hotel Castille, next to Chanel at 33-37 Rue

If you ever get the chance to see the South of France in late April, grab it, for there is nothing like Provence in spring. The light, the flowers, the fragrances, the flavours... I always feel fortunate when I come here, and the four days I spent in late April was no exception. I shot two remarkable gardens for forthcoming books: Le Louve in Bonnieux , and Pavilion de Galon in Curcuron.  The former garden was designed by Hermès' former head of design Nicole de Vésian, and is a spectacular green and white garden designed to look like a tapestry. It's still private but it's open to the public, although you need to book a tour through the website — (And if your French is rusty, like mine, just use Google Translate to convert your email before you send it; it's courteous  to write in French and their reply will be quicker.) La Pavilion de Galon, which is nearby, is a former hunting lodge that's now an exquisite country garden done entirely in purples and blues created by noted French photographer Guy Hervais and his beautiful wife Bibi. You need to stay there to see it, but it's worth it; wandering the enormous iris garden at first light is an experience I'll never forget. The garden is best in either mid-spring, when it's blanketed in irises and wisteria, or in summer, when all the salvias are out. The landscape in this part of Provence is truly extraordinary; gentle roads meandering through villages and around mountains, with views that make you want to stop the car at every turn. No wonder Peter Mayle has returned here to live.

WHERE TO STAY: Pavilion de Galon

For two brief few weeks in May and June each year, London erupts in flowers. Streets are garlanded with embroidered trims of pale pink and purple wisteria, front gardens explode with roses, and of course the huge Chelsea Flower Show pulls into town; like a giant scented circus. Some of the best places to see gardens, particularly the wisteria, are the little streets and mews lanes around Launceston Place, although Notting Hill and Chelsea are good wisteria-hunting grounds too.  

I have to admit I love wandering the streets of Chelsea, Pimlico and Kensington in May, where the flower-filled boutique windows are often just as good as anything you'd find at Chelsea.  Of course, the famous flower show is still a great insight into the newest horticultural trends, but it's increasingly impossible to see (or shoot) the gardens with the crowds, and the ticket prices have skyrocketed to the point of ridiculous. A better option is to grab a map of all the entrants in either the Chelsea in Bloom or Belgravia in Bloom festivals (usually available from any store with flowers out front), and do your own free walking tour. Many streets, particularly those in Pimlico, are a veritable festival of petals. Furthermore, some boutiques offer fantastic classes.  This year, David Linley put on a willow weaving workshop (above), to match the giant willow displays that were in front of his store. You can see easily why these various fringe festivals (there are several others in London at this time beside the Bloom ones) are overtaking the Chelsea Flower Show in the popularity stakes.

WHERE TO STAY: My favourite London hotels are still The Pelham (Kit Kemp's interior design without the Firmdale price), The Ampersand, and Blakes (opt for the Designer Double rooms),  which are all in South Kensington and thus close to the museums, parks, and bookstores and fabric shops of King's Road. However, the newly renovated Flemings in Mayfair (above, with green banquettes), is a pretty and ideally located bolthole for those who want to be closer to the West End.

If you go to the Cotswolds a lot, you may think you've seen it all. But this trip I discovered several places I never knew existed. One was Chastleton House. Scene of the BBC series Wolf Hall, it's a perfectly preserved Jacobean mansion filled with extraordinary period rooms, many featuring superb tapestries and furniture. But the most fascinating thing about Chastleton is its families. Each generation became poorer and poorer until the last owner lived in just one room. But the lack of modern updates meant that poverty actually preserved the house. (There's a wonderful article here.) Some critics feel that it's a bit too 'lost in time', and that perhaps a bit of furniture polish and some flowers wouldn't go astray. But I saw only beauty and dignity and grace: a house that has lived a thousand lives and is still looking fine for her age. Just look at this tapestry, which covered a whole wall of the bedroom. Even the long walk to the house, through a pretty field, was part of the charm. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

WHERE TO STAY: The Wild Rabbit, a chic hideaway with a famous restaurant. Or The Wheatsheaf, an upmarket pub with luxurious rooms  at affordable prices. Temple Guiting is another swish place; a grand manor with a superb garden, but rates are high. (You have been warned.)

If you saw last year's film Far From The Madding Crowd, and loved the Dorset landscape in which it was filmed, then put this place on your To See List. Mapperton House (above) was the setting for Bathsheba's farm although the best part, the garden, wasn't featured in the film (I would have included it!), probably because Bathsheba's farm was meant to be run down and this amazing garden may have cast doubt on that. Set in a deep valley behind the manor house, it's a formal garden of topiaries and terraces that extends from a stunning conservatory (above) to a series of grand swimming pools (bottom left). I only had an hour here and wished I could have spent longer. It's magnificent. Completely and utterly magnificent. Don't miss the secret corners, including the two-story summer house.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed in a tiny pub in a tinier fishing village called West Bay (where Broadchurch is filmed), but if we returned we'd try and stay at Lyme Regis, specifically Belmont House, which is one of the prettiest places in the south. LINK

Manhattan is always magic in spring, and on this visit I made sure that I made time to see the New York Botanic Garden, which my friend Lee had said was a 'must see'. Inside the gardens, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden was not only peaking, it was the best rose season they'd ever had. But the famous conservatory was enthralling too, especially the 'Impressionist' garden  that had been recreated as part of the American Impressionism exhibition. A fundraising ball was held the afternoon I was there, and this was just one of the arrangements. If you're heading to New York, jump on a train at Grand Central and head here, before the roses fade. It's a spectacular part of Manhattan than many tourists (myself included) miss.

WHERE TO STAY: I usually love The Roger or The Nomad, but this time I stayed in a new and very cute boutique hotel called The Gregory, near Bryant Park. Themed around books and fashion, it's  incredibly cheap, and has lovely staff and a superb restaurant next door that's reminiscent of a historic old New York bistro -- high ceilings, huge fireplace, timber panelling, crips white tablecloths.  The suites at the front are best. A truly gorgeous little Manhattan hideaway.

A quick flight from JFK takes you to Nantucket, a dazzling island off Cape Cod that's becoming renowned for great design. This has long been one of my favourite places in the world. This gentleman above is Gary McBournie, a gorgeous designer I've known for years who has a weekender on Nantucket with his lovely partner Bill. (You may have seen their house in the May issue of House Beautiful). There is a lot of new construction going on all over the island, but the influx of money means there's also a lot of beautiful new boutiques and hotels and bistros. Here are some of my favourite new places from the weekend:

WHERE TO STAY: 74 Main, a sophisticated boutique hotel with glamorous rooms Or The Roberts Collection, a recently renovated hotel with several buildings -- I stayed in The Gatehouse -- The former has better service and better rooms, but is more difficult to book because it's so popular. The latter is cute but perhaps be patient with the 'casual' attitudes. 

WHERE TO EAT: I loved Met on Main (two photos on right) for the beautiful wallpapers and banquettes, but the cutely named 'Cru', a yacht-club-style hangout at the very end of the wharf, had a great vibe, gorgeous staff uniform, and of course that inimitable view that only Nantucket can do.

Then it was back to New York, flying low over the Hamptons, and a final few days of R&R in New York before heading back to Australia. 

More gardens and homes are scheduled for July and August, so do join Instagram if you'd like to follow. And -- as always -- email me for any travel tips -- or just to say hello.

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