Wine and walks in Sussex

Rathfinny great british design

Steeped in a hazy morning mist, between the rolling Sussex downs, between Alfriston and the sea the sun is twinkling on Rathfinny’s vines, which cover the valley like a blanket, as we drive in. They seem to go on for miles, but then Rathfinny is no hobby vineyard – Britain’s youngest sparkling white wine also happens to be its most ambitious. You won’t have heard of Sussex Sparkling yet, as it takes several years for the first vintage to mature, but five years from now Rathfinny’s owner, Mark Driver, hopes that it will be a household name as familiar as Champagne.

aloof-rathfinney-0254_22470091343_oAnd it’s easy to see why, driving into this vast 600-acre estate, with its incredibly modern building and wine room that sits among the swathes of vines. You could be forgiven for thinking you were at a big winery in South Africa or New Zealand, not a tiny village on the South coast. But the soil conditions – the terroirs as the French call it – and the climate are directly comparable with Champagne, if not better, so the question should really be: why has it taken so long for someone to get serious about making decent wine in the UK?

aug15_5_largeTucked away at the very end of the vineyard are the Flint Barns – the original farmhouse of the estate built in the 1860s, they have been immaculately restored from a ruin and now house a large dining room, a snug lounge room and 10 ensuite bedrooms, some arranged for couples or families, and some bunk rooms that are ideal for larger groups of up to eight. But unlike other walker’s retreats there’s no Ikea furniture to be seen here. Every detail has been considered, with bespoke beds made to complement the building, the finest linen and cosiest woollen blankets – it’s not grand or fancy, but it is polished and of the highest quality. Evening meals are family-style dining of locally-soured, crowd-pleasing dishes such as lasagne or shepherd’s pie.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-stay-2@1xThe manager and chef Adrian is local to Alfriston and a font of knowledge about local walks and visits. A good one to start with is the Rathfinny Trail, which will take you up to the top of the downs for a birds eye view of the vines on one side and the sea on the other, and you can stop at the end at Rathfinny’s Flint Barns Café – an old H van serving delicious cakes and coffees that only walkers can reach – a local hidden gem, and soak up the warm English sun while gazing out at grapes and wild poppies that are doing much the same thing.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-stay-1@1xWhat started as a rambler’s rest and hostel is evolving. This spring, as Flint Barns is becoming more discovered, they are opening up at weekends offering Sunday roasts and are hosting their first weekend yoga retreat in May, I can’t imagine anywhere more tranquil to salute the sun.

img_0777_25793416523_o-1280x853In Alfristion, Rathfinny has a tasting room and shop, selling local art and produce as well as the first bottlings from the estate, but the rest of this pretty, artist-friendly town is well worth an explore, with its mix of antiques shops, galleries and tea houses.

rathfinny-flint-barns-main-1At the moment, this is one of Britain’s best-kept secrets, but in 2018 when the first Sussex Sparkling corks are popped, Flint Barns and Rathfinny will be to Sussex what River Cottage is to Dorset. And the news that Taittinger has bought a vineyard in Kent is further proof that Rathfinny is onto a winner. Get there now so that you can gloat at dinner parties about how you stayed before Sussex Sparkling was ‘a thing’.


Rooms from £110 a night B&B, bunk beds from £35pp, /

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Wedding flowers trends 2016 from Bloomologie

Did you know that a third of all proposals and engagements happen at Christmas? And given that next month is a leap year (get ready girls!), I thought a post about this year’s hottest wedding flower trends, might be handy…



IN – Relaxed, wild, garden-gathered bouquets

Over the past few years there has been a shift away from the very stiff, formal bouquet of all one or two types of flower, towards something freer and more loose. The roundy-moundy dome bouquet of roses is dead. Instead it’s about a wilder look, that feels more romantic and mixes up foliage, wild flowers, even foraged branches, with heritage tea roses and old fashioned blowsy blooms, such as dahlias, zinnia, chrysanthemums (the proper, old fashioned ones), and vintage dianthus. these are the kind of flowers that you can’t buy in Sainsbury’s – they’re truly special and deserving of a place in a one-of-a-kind bouquet.

OUT – structured, dome-y bouquets of all one flower.

assymetric bouquet bloomologie BFA

IN – wide and asymmetric hand-tied bouquets

I’m not talking about the traditional wired shower bouquet or tear-drop here, but about something that is much more idiosyncratic. The look is unstructured and wild, but each bloom has been very carefully placed to create a horizontal bouquet rather than a round one. Some flowers “break out” from the bulk of bouquet for a very natural look. Ferns, trailing stems and twisted branches add to the asymmetric style, which at first glance looks like it has been scooped together, but that has actually taken a great deal of styling (much like the “no make-up, make-up look that takes longer to do than ordinary make-up).

OUT – wired shower bouquets and round hand-ties.


IN – trailing ribbons v garden twine

In keeping with the loose, relaxed bouquet style that is so on-trend, long, romantic trailing ribbons, often more than one type, even sequins, are very popular. Alternatively, stems wrapped in natural garden twine or subtle ribbon that is short, exposing the natural stem ends are also replacing the traditional satin ribbon ‘handle’ style that covered the stems completely.

OUT – satin ribbon covering the stems completely and fixed with diamante or pearl pins.

IN – blush, peaches and cream

White and ivory is on the wain, as warmer blush, peach, apricot and cream shades are on the rise. These antique colours combine really well with dark burgundy or bright oranges to create a painterly palette of shades and tones with more depth and texture than white. I expect to see more coffee shades, from latte to mocha, coming through this year, too.

OUT – white and ivory

shower bouquet bloomologie 5

IN – Violet and purple

Brides who do choose colour are REALLY going for colour, looking for sumptuous jewel tones that can hold their own against metallic or beaded gowns – especially for bridesmaids where darker dresses are increasingly popular. Dark, almost black tulips, peonies, dahlias, hellebores and scabious are on the rise, as well as white or ivory hellebores and anenomes with deep-purple to black centres. This can give a classic bouquet a cool, modern edge.

Out – sugar-y sweet pastels.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 19.25.56

IN – The clash

Riotous shades of orange, yellow, pink, blue and purple – all in one vase, crate or urn – collide to create a look that’s eclectic and vibrant, but as colourful as the garden at Great Dixter. Not one for the fearless, this look is fun, bold and playful, which more brides are going for.

OUT – “theme” colours for a wedding.


IN – Food

Yup, mini pineapples, grapes, cabbages (as shown above), globe artichokes, pumpkins – increasingly floral arrangements are becoming more like an artist’s still life that mixes up fruit, vegetables and flowers.


IN – garlands, groups, and mix-and-match arrangements

The classic “centrepiece” is out, and increasingly it’s more about a collection of mini vases and tea lights, a long garland with candles and some satellite arrangements dotted through it, or a mix of long, low arrangements and taller, bold statements. Why? Well, for a start the types of tables are changing with more long tables becoming a trend, but also it feels less formal and more modern to have clusters of flowers rather than one focal point, repeated.

OUT – the traditional table centre.


IN – Foliage and trees

Flower walls undoubtedly look ‘wow’ but unless you have the budget of the Kardashians, they’re not for everyone. And, dare I say it, it feels too “done” for me, too tight and twee. Instead, I’m seeing lots more trees to make dramatic statements (and you can hire them for the day), especially inside churches, as well as flower curtains (strings of hanging flowers), and foliage walls and arches, that have impact and interest – adding texture as well as colour.

OUT – flower walls


IN – Metallics

Gold and silver sequinned tablecloths, copper and brass vases and urns, metal lanterns and mercury class tea light holders. Metallics are a huge interiors trend that are filtering through to weddings, both as a glam look and also for a more eclectic take on vintage.

OUT – jam jars and Mason Ball – yes I really said that!

I’d love to know your thoughts – what am I missing? What would you add or change? I’m all ears…

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Snowdrop spotting

For that first glimpse of spring, there’s nowhere better than the places cared for by the National Trust, which have beautiful displays of snowdrops across the country. The delicate white flowers transform woodland and garden floors in early spring and are one of the first signs of life after the winter months

Pleasure Ground Wood Chirk

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens for the National Trust said, “Beautiful drifts of white snowdrops are one of the great pleasures of visiting gardens at the end of winter.  But look closely and you’ll soon discover variation among the carpet of white flowers. At Anglesey Abbey there are over 300 different snowdrop varieties growing in the garden. 

“Snowdrops are promiscuous plants, they cross-fertilise easily, producing new varieties.  The differences are very subtle and it’s always a challenge to spot them but this is what makes snowdrops so fascinating to collectors.”

From stunning bulb meadows to the UK’s largest winter garden, here are the special National Trust places to enjoy a family day out surrounded by snowdrops:

South West


Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Snowdrops, 1 – 29 February, 10am – 4pm

Kingston Lacy welcomes a dazzling blanket of snowdrops each year. The garden wakes up to spring in January and February when thousands of flowers burst through the soil, transforming areas of the garden into a sea of white. Special snowdrop openings have long been a tradition at Kingston Lacy so visitors can wander through the displays and salute this first welcome sign of spring. Keep an eye out for the estate’s fine herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle and explore the Japanese Garden which is sure to look even better with a dusting of frost.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01202 883402

Make a weekend of it: With pink walls and a thatched roof, 524 Pamphill Green Cottage is a delightful semi-detached cottage tucked away in a quiet part of the Kingston Lacy estate.

Newark Park, Gloucestershire                   

Snowdrops Season, 13 – 15, 17 – 22, 24 – 29 February, 11am – 4pm

At Newark Park there are snowdrop drifts throughout the garden and they mingle with aconites and cyclamen to give an impressive show. Grab your walking boots and a camera and head to Newark where the carpets of snowdrops provide dazzling photo opportunities. Afterwards, warm up with a hot drink and well-deserved slice of cake in front of the fire in the Tudor sitting room.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information, please call 01453 842644

 Kingston Lacey

Saltram, Devon

A walk amongst the snowdrops, 4 – 31 January, 10am – 4pm

Standing high above the River Plym with magnificent views across the estuary, Saltram’s 500 acres of rolling parkland and woodland provide the perfect setting for a stunning snowdrop display. As the snowdrops frame the pathways take a stroll and explore the tranquil garden, 18th-century orangery and magnificent lime avenue. Return in February to plant a snowdrop with the garden team.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01752 333500

London and South East

Mottisfont, Hampshire

Open daily, 10am – 5pm

Snowdrops thrive along the banks of the Font stream, where the warming effects of the water creates its own microclimate, teasing them into bloom a week or two before their companions in colder corners of the garden. Elsewhere, the open acres of the river garden are magically transformed by drifts of purest white.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01794 340757


Nymans, West Sussex

Open daily, 10am – 4pm

This 20th-century garden is famed for its amazing collection of rare and important plants. At the start of spring, spot wonderful displays of snowdrops followed by camellias and magnolias underplanted with a host of daffodils and grape hyacinths. The bulb meadow in the walled garden is full of snowdrops and early narcissus and there are rare hellebores all around the garden. By Valentine’s Day, over 150 different types of plant are flowering at Nymans and the snowdrop drifts offer cool contrasts to fiery witch hazel oranges and the rich red stems of dogwoods.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01444 405250.

Make a weekend of it: For people who love being close to nature, a stay at Woodlands Cottage is a great way to discover Nymans. The perfect retreat, the pretty cottage is surrounded by beautiful lakes and woodland walks.

Stowe, Buckinghamshire

Open daily, 10am – 4pm (from 13 February onwards 10am – 6pm)

Snowdrops are so cherished at Stowe that they even have their own season. The beginning of the year is ‘Stowedrop’ time as the delicate peeping blooms develop into white drifts in the Elysian Fields, Sleeping Wood and Lamport Garden. Take a walk amongst the snowdrops in this magical landscape of myths, lakes and temples.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For information please call 01280 817156

East of England


Anglesey Abbey, Gardens & Lode Mill, Cambridgeshire

Snowdrop Season: 25 January – 28 February

Anglesey’s garden has over 300 different varieties of snowdrop scattered across 114 acres. Meander through the paths and soak up the fabulous show that the garden offers during this time. But snowdrops won’t be all that you see: the Winter Garden packed with vibrant colours, textures and the heady scent of winter flowering shrubs can brighten-up the darkest of winter days.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01223810080

 Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 18.00.52

Ickworth, Suffolk

Open daily, 9am – 5.30pm

Throughout Ickworth Park, along the oak walk and the trim trail, snowdrops are complemented by the golden glow of aconites. Geraldine’s and Erskine’s walks are woken from their winter sleep by Galanthus ‘S Arnott, a relatively large snowdrop with a strong honey scent providing a feast for the senses. Discover amazing views of the estate or warm up in the West Wing restaurant with delicious food and drink (Friday to Tuesday).

Price: Free event (garden admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01284 735270.

Make a weekend of it: Stay at the heart of the estate in one of Ickworth’s four cottages: there’s the quirky round house set in an enchanting woodland glade, two redbrick Victorian cottages in the parkland and the former head gardener’s cottage with its own walled garden.


Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Snowdrop Walks, 30 January – 16 March, 11.30am and 2pm

Feast your eyes on the stunning sights of Oxburgh, a huge moated Hall surrounded by 70 acres of gardens and woodlands. Join the team for a guided walk, or wander independently around the woodlands and take in the stunning carpets of snowdrops, aconites and other spring flowers.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01366 328258




Attingham Park, Shropshire

Open daily, 8am – 5pm

Watch the woodland floor transform into a stunning carpet of snowdrops during Attingham’s snowdrop season. Take a stroll around this grand estate and discover over 200 years of history, acres of parkland and a beautiful walled garden. Keep an eye out for deer as you go.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01743 708123

Belton House, Lincolnshire

Open daily, 9.30am – 4pm

With delightful gardens and lakeside walks, Belton is a pleasure to explore all year round and never more so as the early signs of spring creep in. Don’t miss the delicate displays of snowdrops that melt away all your thoughts of winter.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01476 566116


Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire

Open daily, 9am – 4pm (from 13 February onwards 9am – 5pm)

Baddesley Clinton’s intimate gardens feel like a personal winter wonderland during the colder months. In January and February the snowdrops will be out in full bloom, both in the gardens and around the church. Enjoy a gentle stroll around the gardens and lake, and discover some of the estate’s late medieval and Tudor history along the way.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01564 783294


North West

 Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Open daily, 11am – 4pm
Throughout January and February, thousands of snowdrops will bloom in Britain’s largest winter garden at Dunham Massey. The garden contains almost 700 different plant species and a further 1,600 shrubs specifically bred for the seven-acre wonder. January heralds the first signs of spring, where clusters of over 100,000 double and single snowdrops and 20,000 narcissi begin to bloom amongst the trees.

Garden admission charges apply.

For more information, please call 0161 941 1025

Yorkshire and North East


Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Yorkshire

Open 10am – 5pm
Set in 323 hectares of beautiful countryside, this World Heritage Site offers an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate Britain’s heritage and natural beauty. Early spring is the perfect time to explore the picturesque Abbey ruins and amble through the beautiful Georgian water garden, surrounded by white carpets of snowdrops. This is a stunning sight that dates back to the 19th-century, when Earl de Grey planted snowdrops to spell out his name along the backs of the river Skell.
Normal admission charges apply.

For more information please call 01765 608888

Make a weekend of it: Turn a visit to this magnificent site into a long weekend in a unique cottage. With eleven holiday cottages on offer, including apartments in the luxurious Fountains Hall and five cottages converted from a group of 18th-century farm buildings, there’s something for everyone.

Wallington, Northumberland

Open daily 10am – 6pm

As well as the common variety, Wallington’s snowdrop display includes a few specials. The less common varieties include the Northumbrian G. ‘Sandersii’ group which has sulphur yellow markings instead of green, and the pretty G. ‘Flore Pleno’ with double flowers. Don’t forget to visit the winter garden where purple Iris will brighten up any winter day.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01670 773600




Chirk Castle, Wrexham

Open 30 January onwards, 10am – 4pm
Chase away those winter blues with a bracing walk around the beautiful gardens and woodland at Chirk. Glimpses of snowdrops can be found throughout the garden, scattered between clipped yews, shrub and rock gardens, as well as drifting along the woodland floor.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01691 777701



Northern Ireland


The Argory, Co. Armagh

Snowdrop walks, 6 – 7, 13 – 14, 20 – 21, 27 – 28 February, 12pm – 5pm

This spectacular riverside estate has a stunning display of snowdrops and other beautiful spring bulbs throughout February. Snowdrop self-guided walks run every Saturday and Sunday in the month, where the scenic walk shows off the garden as the frost thaws, with a stunning backdrop of sweeping vistas. There are also delicate snowdrop plants available to buy in the shop and children can enjoy the adventure playground.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information, please call 028 8778 4753

 Snowdrop walk at The Argory Bernie Brown

Springhill, County Londonderry

Snowdrop walks, 6 – 7, 13 – 14, 20 – 21, 27 – 28 February, 12pm – 5pm

Explore the grounds of this beautiful 17th-century family home where blooms of snowdrops welcome in the springtime. Short walks around the estate are perfect for a leisurely stroll, and kids will be kept busy by the Natural Play Trail. Afterwards, enjoy some hot soup or a delicious tea and scone in the Servants’ Hall tea-room and take home your very own snowdrop plant, lovingly cultivated at Springhill.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 028 8674 8210

To plan a family day out with the National Trust visit:

To book a holiday cottage visit:

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Property trends 2016

Last year’s housing market was shaped by optimism – house prices rose by 5.6 per cent nationally (10.6 in London), and above the 2007 peak for the first time, to reach new record levels (£186,350 nationally, and £503,431 in London), encouraging developers to build more homes and councils to approve record levels of new developments.


Helios Top View

But it was also one of despair for many, as record numbers of potential buyers and middle-class families gave up on their dream of owning a home. New research from the Bank of England revealed that half of families who don’t own a home never think that they will – that’s some 4.5million households. The rate of home ownership has fallen from 73 per cent in 2007 to 65 per cent today.

And next year? Recognising the crisis, the government used its Autumn Statement to announce a raft of new measures to try and increase the amount of new homes being built, and to help first-time buyers even more. But the pressure on supply is still likely to keep pushing up prices – at least until interest rates start to rise and push up mortgage costs, which is predicted to happen by the end of the year. So if you have a home, sort out your five-year fixed-rate deal now, and if you’re thinking of buying, get in before those rates rise.

New hot spots to watch out for

Agents are tipping Victoria as a new ‘prime’ location thanks to its proximity to landmarks like Buckingham Palace.

Likewise, The Lancasters in Bayswater redefined W2, doubling values achieved north of Hyde Park for the first time in 2015.

“At the moment, a similar sort of thing is happening in Marylebone with The Chilterns development – upcoming luxury schemes in Nine Elms and Liverpool Street look set to have the same effect in other parts of the capital,” says Charlie Willis, Head of London Residential at Strutt & Parker

Other areas of growth will be in Fitzrovia and Kings Cross ,which are rapidly changing out of all recognition, tips Andrew Ellinas, Director at Sandfords.

“In terms of potential hotspots for 2016, we predict that outer London areas will continue to rise more rapidly than prime markets as buyers continue to look for value and investors for better yields. Areas such as East London, Canary Wharf, Camden, Islington, and new markets like Croydon will all outperform prime. Additionally, overlooked parts of the capital, such as Tooting and Streatham in south London, are expected to become more popular,” suggests Camilla Dell, Managing Partner at property buying agency, Black Brick.

Last year Walthan Forest and Lewisham were London’s best performing boroughs for rising prices, because they were comparatively so affordable to start with – we expect first-time buyers to continue to look further out in zones three and four for better value, as well as areas on the edge of zone one that offer better value, such as Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall, and Pimlico.

The Crossrail effect will also start to kick in – places you’ve never heard of, like Shenfield and Abbey Wood, will suddenly be worth considering once the high-speed rail connection becomes a reality.


Developments to watch for 2016


The Stage – A new Shakespeare museum, his original theatre dug our from the mud, and new homes and the first designer shops in Shoreditch, this development will mark Shoreditch’s coming of age.

 Dusk View

Television Centre – Stanhope’s development of the iconic BBC Television Centre in White City will launch in April 2016, reviving a huge area of west London.


Chelsea Barracks – the first phase of this long-awaited £3billion super-prime development on Chelsea Bridge Road launches this year, with apartments and a café designed by Squire and Partners.


Old Oak Park – if you’ve ever been to Car Giant in London, you’ll know it’s vast. Now try to picture it without all of the cars… The canalside site will be transformed into hundreds of new homes, restaurants, shops and even a new tube station, with Crossrail nearby.


Chelsea Waterfont – this vast new development centred around a Victorian power station will link up the hinterland between the Kings Road and Chelsea Wharf and includes residential, retail, restaurants and new parks.


Greenwich Peninsula – There’s been plenty of hype about Nine Elms, but not much chatter about Greenwich Peninsula, which will offer almost as many homes (15,000), waterfront bars, restaurants and shops, and a mini Southbank for south-east London, all just one tube stop from Canary Wharf.

Chelsea Waterfront CGI


Mortgage rates – the Fed has put up the interest rate in the US for the first time since the crisis, will the Bank of England follow suit? We think so.

House prices – in 2015 average house prices in London broke through the £500,000 barrier for the first time. We can’t see demand fading, although prices are reaching unsustainable levels, which will reduce the amount of potential buyers, causing the rate of growth to slow – especially if interest rates rise.

The study – thanks to the internet more of us are working from home, so a dedicated work space is now a must, developers are only just waking up to the fact that everyone has a computer, printer and scanner, and we need a space for them.

First-time buyers – The government has introduced even more new measures to try and help new buyers into the ladder – a 20 per cent discount for first-timers buying below £450,000 in London; doubling the value of Help to Buy to a 40 per cent equity loan in the capital; increasing shared ownership, and a new Help to Buy ISA, plus and increase in the amount of 95 per cent mortgages will all help to get more new buyers into their own homes this year. 

Garden and outdoor rooms – Any outdoor space is a precious commodity and more of us are turning our gardens into “outdoor rooms” with elaborate kitchens and furniture, and installing posh sheds and studios to extend our homes outwards without the cost of moving or building an extension.

Rented, reinvented – The PRS – or private rental sector – is one of the fastest growing new-build areas as developers realize that young people who cannot buy will pay for quality, new-build, long-term rental properties. The developer not only gets the capital gain of the property, but a steady rental income, while tenants can expect a higher standard and quality of contract, including integrated broadband and Sky TV, longer tenancies, and concierges to manage buildings, maintenance and collect those ASOS packages while you’re out.

Broken plan – think nooks for teenagers to sit with their iPads in, while the rest of the family watch TV, and break-out spaces for toys or work.

Swimming pools – going up in every sense! Swimming at altitude looks set to become a new London trend with rooftop pools, panoramic 24th floor pools, and even a suspended swimming pool bridge all being built into new schemes.



The dining room – admit it, in real life you eat your supper on your lap watching Masterchef.

Open plan – so you really want to eat curry in the same room as you dry your washing or to try and focus on work at the table while your other half watches the footy?

Buy to let – new rules on stamp duty and tax relief from George Osborne have been designed to make it less appealing, which could be good news for first-time buyers, who are often beaten to affordable homes buy investors.

Grey – There’s a certain developer look to new build homes – gloss kitchens, grey walls, white bathrooms and metro tiles – that’s getting a bit tired. Buyer are bored of bland and searching for something more personal and localised, expect a rise of British interiors, craftsmanship, and homes and interiors inspired by their surroundings and the history of the site or area.

Technology – super whizzy, remote-controlled properties that are all bling and completely confusing are seeing a backlash from buyers, who’d rather install their own tech systems or enjoy a more simplified home. Too many switches and controls add up to high maintenance and ‘messy’ walls cluttered with control panels.

Luxury buyers – almost all agents agree that the top of the housing market could falter in 2016 as new changes to stamp duty will make people think twice about buying in the £2-5million bracket.

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Truffling around in Umbria

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 22.21.05

Walking through the autumn woodland, hazy sunrays shining between the trunks, and our feet rustling through the colourful carpet of leaves, it occurs to me that this is a beautiful, meandering walk. But we’re not here to fill our lungs with the earthy smell of dewy hummus and leaf mulch and take in the gentle Umbrian scenery.

A few feet in front of us, setting the pace and leading the way is Giuliano, a truffle hunter, and his dog Leda. We’re on the hunt for the white gold that lies beneath our feet – the prized wild tartufo bianco that has a short season and can’t be farmed. Thanks to its elusive habit and the incredibly rich, umami flavour that it brings to any dish, white truffles are the most expensive food on the planet, regularly costing £2,000 per kilo.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 22.21.12

Suddenly the dog barks and rummages excitedly in the undergrowth; Giuliano steps in with his knife. He’s struck gold – we can smell it! The truffle is not much to look at, more like a dirty stone or a gnarled piece of pale clay – but we don’t catch sight of it for long. As quick as a flash it’s in Guiliano’s pocket. By lunchtime it will be on the menu at L’Antica Osteria in the tiny hilltop town of Montone, or for sale in the town square as part of the annual Festa del Bosco.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 22.19.45

The end of October marks the beginning of the white truffle season here and there are festivities to celebrate its arrival across the region. Montone’s Festa del Bosco takes place between 30 October and 2 November. Every restaurant and shop in the small pedestrian town brings out its truffles and forest foods to sell throughout the weekend.

After a slap-up lunch of tagliatelle with white truffle, venison stew with shaved truffles and a slab of steak covered in truffle, washed down with local Umbrian wine from Montefalco, we head north to Citta di Castello.

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Here, the Tartufo Bianco Festival is in full swing (31 Oct-2 Nov) and the atmosphere in the evening is more like a carnival, with dancers, street performers and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The Truffle tents greet you with their intense woody whiff, so strong that it’s almost dizzying, and at every stall you can try truffle pate, oils, truffled honey, cheese, and even buy the real thing. While you might not want to spend E500, you can pick up a small black truffle for about E10 or oils and other treats from about E5.

It’s not all truffles – new season porcini, hazelnuts, wild boar, wine and olive oil are all for sale and foodie stalls sell delicious snacks to eat now or take home for later.

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Our home for the weekend, was a lovingly restored and converted medieval farm and church, Chiesa del Carmine, nestled in a valley surrounded by olive groves, vines and its own truffle woods. The next day we sat in the autumn sun and ate al fresco, while sipping on some of the estate’s own Sangiovese. It was the perfect setting to feast on the harvest bounty from this unspoilt, authentic slice of Italy.

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Getting there

Chiesa del Carmine sleeps 14. From E4,000 a week.
Fly to Perugia with Ryan Air from £22.99 each way.


Flowers everywhere!

It’s officially autumn, which means my brain is already thinking about Christmas! No, I’m not one of those super-humans who has all their shopping and wrapping done by Halloween – I make Christmas wreaths and sell them locally.

So the arrival of autumn is my queue to start squirrelling up pinecones, rose hips and honesty seedheads; to book stalls and markets and start ordering wire, metal frames and dried oranges and cinnamon sticks.

This year I’ve decided to run workshops so that locals can come and learn to make their own bespoke design.

My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School
My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School

And it’s got me so excited that I’ve started swotting up my skills across the floristry board. Yesterday I began a Floristry for Business course at the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge, and it is heaven.

A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera
A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera

I’m surrounded by bucket-loads of flowers every day and get to while away the hours working on my wiring and arranging skills; creating wedding corsages, buttonholes and garlands; styling an autumnal table centrepiece and designing a contemporary linear arrangement for a banqueting table. And that’s just in the first two days.

A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus
A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus

I can’t wait to see what I make next…

A linear display for a banquet - not quite finished at this point!
A linear display for a banquet – not quite finished at this point!

Hello Autumn

Gosh, where did the summer go?! Caught up in a whirlwind of seaside visits, festivals and camping weekends, I have neglected the blog for the past few weeks.

But now, both of my little ones are in school and nursery school (so grown-up!), it’s time to get back to the coal-face and start posting more regularly over autumn – my favourite season.

I hope you can join me…


5 Hot Ikea hacks

No one likes to admit they go to Ikea for their furniture, even though we all do. Now, savvy shoppers are pimping their Ikea pieces to create bespoke designs at bargain prices

There’s no need to be embarrassed about buying furnishing your flat from Ikea – no one need ever know with these clever Ikea hacks that will transform the identikit items into unique, hand-crafted furniture. There are even entire websites and companies dedicated to transforming Ikea basics into brilliant bespoke furniture for a fraction of the cost. In fact, even the Swedish giant is now encouraging shoppers to customise their kit with specialist wood paints, fabric, paper and new handles. Try these hacks out for size..


Personalise with a fine pine canvas
Ikea is famous for its wooden furniture, especially solid pine, which is easy to paint, stain, collage and customise. The Tarva range of untreated pine drawers have been deliberately designed to be a blank canvas.
“Both the simple design and the untreated wood are typical for the Scandinavian furniture tradition,” say designers Knut Hagberg and Marianne Hagberg. “And because you can stain or paint TARVA without further treatment, the design becomes a collaboration between us and the person who decorates it”.
Here the Tarva six drawer chest, £125, has been painted with Ikea’s own Behandla glazing paint, 375ml, £4.20, which comes in a range of colours.


Updated door handles

This Malm chest of drawers (£49) is an Ikea staple, but add some handles and it takes on a fresh new look.

Take a selection of stones – the ones here are flint and chalk (which already had natural holes in it – that are between five and 10 centimetres in size. Glue around the middle of the stone with a glue gun, wrap twine or rattan cord twice around the glue and leave a good length of twine at either end to attach them to the drawers. Thread twine through the holes in the chalk stones.


Decide where you want to put your handles and drill two holes for each handle, 2cm apart.

Then thread the ends of each cord from your handles through the holes and tie them together on the inside of the drawer.


Relax in a reading nook

Take three Ikea Lack side tables (£25 each) and put them together to create a bench, then measure the top to work out what size your seating pad should be – leave some space at the end if you want a surface to put down a cup of tea or books.

Cut a piece of foam to fit the bench, then choose your covering fabric and cut it out with and extra 5cm in length and width than you need. Fold the fabric in half, right side in, and sew the length and one of the short sides, leaving 1cm seam allowance. Turn the cover the right side out and cover the foam, then fold the corners of the open end and stitch it closed. Then place it on the bench and accessorize it with books, cushions, and a tray. See how to do it at

IKEA belt shelf 1

A hanging book shelf

This on-trend leather and wood shelf looks reassuringly expensive, but blogger Ronja Lotte made it for just a couple of pounds. Using and Ivar (£4) shelf board (which she cut down to her desired size) and an old leather belt, the whole thing cost less than the price of a book.

First saw the shelf down to the size you want (cutting off the ends to create a neat edge), then paint the shelf. If you have two identical belts to hang at either end you’ll get the best finish, but you can also cut one wide belt in half. Cut or drill a hole at each end of the belt, about 4cm from the end, then hang it from the wall. Find her project and others on


Create a four-poster bed

Serial hacker, Hester Van Overbeek’s latest book Furniture Hacks (£14.99, Cico Books) features this striking contemporary four-poster bed with an integrated shelf and storage, which looks as though it could have cost ten times the £165 price tag of the original Malm double bed that it is made from.

It’s a bit more of a DIY project as you’ll need to build the four upright posts and top beams, but it only costs a few pounds for the wood and paint (it’s worth painting the existing bed and the new posts so that it all matches) and a bit of elbow grease.

For the full lowdown visit Hester’s blog.

3 Instant Ikea Hacks

Don’t like DIY? Then get a professional to do it for you…


Swedish design experts who take Ikea kitchens and cabinets and customise the colour, doors, tops, legs and handles, to create spectacular furniture that is still cheaper than buying bespoke.

Pretty Pegs

It’s amazing what a difference small details can make. These replaceable wooden furniture legs add instant personality and panache to your regular Ikea sofa, bed, table or sideboard.


These graphic and photographic patterns stick onto Ikea furniture to create a completely different look, that’s easy to create and to change when you get bored.


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