What to see in and around Buckinghamshire

I am often asked by my followers who are visiting England, what to see outside London. In fact, there’s so much to see that it can take a few months!

This time I’m going to take you around parts of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. Those areas are easily reachable from London and are just perfect for a weekend getaway with a bit of history.

Waddesdon Manor

If you only visit one place in Buckinghamshire, make it Waddesdon Manor. This country house was built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 19th century in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French Loire Valley château.

It is currently managed by the Rothschild Foundation and is part of the National Trust. If you are planning to visit only the grounds, you can buy a ticket at the gate when you arrive but if you’d like to visit the house as well, I’d recommend booking online in advance as the tickets get sold out very quickly, especially at Christmas and weekends.

Waddesdon Manor

Interesting to note, that Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild left his estate to his youngest unmarried sister Alice. She established a set of housekeeping rules ‘Miss Alice’s Rules’ – guidelines for the care and preservation of the collections which even today form much of the basis of National Trust conservation guidelines. She did not allow even King Edward VII to touch the furniture!

Wrest Park

Wrest Park is a country estate in Bedfordshire with a Grade I listed 19th century country house set in restored garden landscape originating from the 17th century. You can easily spend a day there admiring the beautiful gardens, the sculptures and exploring the house. I imagine it’s particularly lovely in summer.

Wrest park
Wrest park

Wrest Park was used as a hospital during the First World War. Nan Herbert (Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas’ sister) was responsible for setting and running the hospital, and under her leadership Wrest Park became recognise

d as one of the best-run country house hospitals.

Wrest park
Wrest park

Where to stay

While exploring the area, I was invited to stay at Woughton House - MGallery in Milton Keynes.

I have previously stayed at MGallery hotels in Cheltenham and Bath and was happy to stay with them again. What I particularly like about MGallery hotels, is that they are addressing the needs of female travellers. They have recently launched a special ‘Inspired by her’ offering designed especially for women.

If you are looking for a place to surprise your mum on Mother’s Day, have a look at what Woughton house has to offer – starting from cocktails on arrival to lovely in-room amenities and ladies afternoon tea.

Woughton house Mgallery
Woughton house Mgallery
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Stowe House and gardens

Stowe House is a grade I listed country house in Stowe, Buckinghamshire. It is now home to the independent Stowe School, while the gardens are owned by the National Trust. I haven’t visited the house because I didn’t book tickets in advance, but as it was a beautiful day, I had a lovely walk in the gardens.

Stowe House
Stowe house and gardens
Stowe house and gardens

Orangery of Castle Ashby

Last but not least, Castle Ashby gardens, located in Northamptonshire, but still easily reachable from Milton Keynes/Buckinghamshire. The unique Orangery dates back to the 19th century and houses a large central pond filled with fish and water lilies. It’s a very beautiful space for a photo shoot.

Castle Ashby orangery

In partnership with MGallery. All opinions are my own.

Autumn in Smaland, Southern Sweden

While we are all patiently waiting for spring to arrive in London, let me show you the wonderful autumnal colours of Smaland, a province in southern Sweden I visited back in October last year. 

This beautiful area is packed with picturesque lakes, pine and spruce forests and is just great for everything outdoors. It’s also home to Sweden’s famous children’s book author, Astrid Lindgren (think Pippi Longstoking). Some of her most well-known books are set in Smaland. 

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Our trip has started with an overnight stay at one of Smaland’s manor houses, Vastana Manor. As we arrived when it was already dark, it took us all morning to admire the house’s fascinating details.

We then headed to the old town of Granna, famous for its wooden red houses and rock candy making. You can find a few shops along the main street and have a go at making your own peppermint rock, which we willingly did. It’s such a fun process to watch and try! 

Granna Sweden

A walk around Granna to admire the red timber houses.

Granna Sweden
Granna Sweden

My favourite Swedish tradition that I happily adopted is ‘fika’ - a break with a coffee and a sweet pastry (Swedish cinnamon buns are just the best!) shared with your friends, colleagues or relatives. Of course, we stopped for a fika in Granna.

Granna is also known for its delicious organic ice cream (I opted for lingonberry, red berries common in Sweden) and crisp bread.

Granna ice cream

After savouring all the delicacies we boarded a ferry to Visingso island. 

Visingso Sweden
Visingso Sweden
Visingso Sweden

Surprisingly, there’s a muesli making facility on the island, home of Susanne Dalsatt and her family who have been producing organic muesli since 1972! 

Visingso muesli

A few more pretty red houses and autumnal hues of Smaland taken on the way to our next destination.

Smaland Sweden
Smaland Sweden

Have you ever heard about Bruno Mathsson? - I haven’t before this trip but this furniture designer and architect is well known in Sweden. His designs are really interesting and were way too modern for his time! Bruno Mathsson carefully studied the mechanics of sitting in search of the perfect sitting curve for his chairs’ designs.

Bruno Mathsson

We visited Bruno Mathsson Centre in Varnamo and saw his birth home which now houses a museum/showroom of his furniture (photos above). We were also lucky to be able to visit Bruno’s and his wife Karen’s house in Tanno. It was built in 1964 has been basically left untouched since the couple lived there.

Bruno Mathsson house

Autumn truly is the best time to visit Smaland - just look at those colours and patterns!

Smaland Sweden

This local specialty is called raggmunk - a dish made from grated potatoes, bacon and lingonberries. Not pictured here - a super fun Segway cross-country adventure we shared at Isaberg Mountain Resort.

I was a guest of Visit Smaland. All opinions are my own.

What to do in Paraty, Brazil

This autumn I had an opportunity to visit South America for the first time. I don’t need to tell you how excited I was! My discovery of this amazing continent has started with Brazil.

After spending 5 days in Rio de Janeiro (a separate post coming soon), I headed to Paraty. Perched between the sea and the mountains, 125 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, this charming town is not to be missed. Its historic centre is quite small so you can easily explore it in a day. I wouldn’t normally stay longer than a day but since I didn’t organise this trip myself, I was offered to spend two days there and thanks to this have fallen completely in love with this place.

I was fascinated by the colonial architecture of Paraty’s historic centre but the locals were the reason this experience was so special. As the town is a popular tourist destination, everyone speaks English (that’s not the case in bigger cities) and is super friendly!

Paraty

Things to do

Take the time to admire Paraty’s Portuguese colonial architecture with its 17th and 18th century buildings with colourful doors and windows dating back to the time when it was an important port during the Brazilian Gold Rush.

After the gold rush, the town became the centre of the sugarcane production and later the coffee production. Paraty is still well-known for its cachaça, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice, most famous outside of Brazil as the main ingredient of caipirinha cocktail. Make sure to visit local distilleries to sample some locally made cachaça.

Paraty

Take a boat tour to discover some of the area’s most idyllic islands and beaches. Most of the tours start at around 11am and takes about four hours. Alternatively, take the time to wander around and absorb the town’s history while the majority of its visitors are away on one of the tours.

Paraty
Paraty sea

Try locally roasted coffee at cafe Montanita and chat with their friendly baristas.

For an unforgettable local experience, learn to cook Brazilian dishes with the wonderful hosts Yara Castro Roberts, a Brazilian chef and author of the book The Brazilian Table, and her husband Richard Roberts at their Academy of Cooking & Other Pleasures. They will welcome you to their beautiful home for a magical evening of cooking, chatting and eating while learning about Brazilian culture, food and the couple’s international experience.

Paraty old town
Paraty church

Where to stay

There are a few hotels, hostels as well as bed and breakfast in the historic centre. I stayed at the Porto Imperial, a charming hotel located in a former commercial warehouse, dating back to 1804, right in the historic centre, where boats used to dock to transport goods arriving or departing from Paraty.

Porto Imperial Hotel Paraty

Paraty is also home to a lovely puppet theatre - Teatro Espaco where you can enjoy an incredibly touching performance. The puppets are so real that almost look like humans!

Teatro Espaco Paraty Puppet theatre

If I ever go back to Brazil, I hope I will have an opportunity to return to Paraty but for now I’m looking through those photos that are bringing back warm memories.

Paraty
Paraty

48 hours in the most beautiful parts of England with MGallery by Sofitel

I am often asked about the best day trips from London. This trip was slightly longer than a day but it should give you plenty of ideas for a day trip or even for a week of travel around England. As I am based in London I usually travel only for a day but thanks to MGallery by Sofitel this time we had an opportunity to stay a bit longer and explore more.

The first stop of our trip was Windsor for an afternoon tea at Castle Hotel Windsor.

Windsor Castle

On Sunday Windsor was incredibly busy so we were glad to find a moment of calmness over a delicious afternoon tea in the Castle Hotel. The pale green elegant Georgian building is located right in the centre, just around the corner from Windsor Castle. The hotel has been in service since the 15th century and has been awarded eight Royal Warrants.

Afternoon tea at castle Hotel Windsor

After savouring all the treats we headed to the Cotswolds and, of course, we couldn’t miss a quick visit to Castle Combe. The day was a bit rainy but the village looked even more authentic with an overcast sky. If you haven’t been to Castle Combe yet, you definitely need to add it to your list as it’s surely one of the prettiest villages in England!

Castle Combe

We got there in no time thanks to our trusty companion, Mini 3-door Hatch that was kindly provided to us for the trip. We had so much fun driving this little beast!

You don’t need more than couple of hours in Castle Combe as it’s so tiny.  And it’s only 30 minutes away from Bath where we were staying for the night.

We arrived in Bath just in time to see the lovely Francis Hotel in the daylight. The hotel is located in the very heart of Bath and occupies seven of the original 18th-century townhouses on the Queen Square. The city of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the hotel is Grade 1 listed. Throughout the 18th century, Queen Square remained a residential district of Bath. Soloman Francis, a local builder, first opened a hotel at No.10 in 1858. Later, the hotel has expanded.

Francis Hotel Bath

Taking the advantage of staying overnight in the city we decided to pop in the Roman Baths, a well-preserved Roman site for public bathing. It is now open as a museum, you cannot bath there anymore but there are plenty of other spas in the area if that’s what you are after.

Roman Baths in Bath

If you are planning to visit Bath you can also check out this post from my previous trip.

I can talk about Bath forever as it’s one of my favourite cities in the UK (and if you are visiting for the first time you need to allow at least a day to see everything) but it was time for us to head further.

Having initially planned to spend more time in the Cotswolds, we realised that we could also visit Frome and Wells in Somerset so we decided to make a little detour.

Packed with historic buildings and lovely independent shops, Frome is worth visiting for a few hours.

Wells Cathedral

I loved Frome but a real discovery of this trip was Wells. Most known for its Cathedral, Wells had city status since medieval times and is now considered to be England’s smallest city.

Vicar's close in Wells

After admiring Vicar’s Close, claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe, it was time to head to Cheltenham where we were staying for our second and final night of the road trip.

Cotswolds

Passing through the pretty villages of the Cotswolds we have arrived to the Queens Hotel in Cheltenham.

Impressed by the grand white (Grade II listed) building of the hotel we had a really warm welcome with cocktails waiting for us in our rooms. The hotel has recently undergone a complete restoration but it still retains many of its original features including the wallpaper designed by Augustus Pugin, a key feature in 19th century architecture and design. We loved the gorgeous Georgian staircase too!

That was the end of our exciting girls’ road trip but I will surely return to those beautiful areas of England and will hopefully stay at MGallery by Sofitel hotels again.

Queens Hotel Cheltenham

In partnership with Mgallery by Sofitel and Mini. All opinions are my own.