Author Archives: marmaladepie

A week in Avignon

Avignon

Avignon, in the south of France, is a charming place. It’s quintessentially French – from its pretty shutters, cobbles, pavement cafés to the gentle hum of Provençal conversation. This small city overlooking the Rhône is a long way from rainy England. Which is exactly what we wanted.

Last summer we had a delightful, but typically inclement, holiday in Derbyshire. After climbing to the top of Mam Tor in the lashing rain, my youngest said ‘why are we doing this?’. Why indeed. After a string of disappointingly cold UK summer holidays it was time for a change.

Why did we choose Avignon?

I had a vision of an old walled French town with lots of little winding streets and squares. The kind of place you can wander around, sit in cafés and take life at a leisurely pace – but with enough things to see to keep the younger members of the family amused.

Palais des Papes

After a bit of discussion my husband suggested Avignon, in the south of France. He’d briefly visited there years ago and loved it. It looked like the perfect combination of everything we wanted – a bustling city with an amazing cultural and historical identity. We wanted to be a part of that, so chose an apartment right in the very heart of the old city.

Avignon

A fascinating history

The city is dominated by the enormous Palais des Papes. The popes decamped from Rome to Avignon in the fourteenth century and built the enormous, fortress-like Palais – the biggest gothic palace in Europe. You can’t visit Avignon without looking inside. After a chequered history, it’s unsurprisingly an impressive place to visit.

Avignon

The best bit was climbing to the top of one of the towers and looking down to the city below – oh, and the beautiful medieval frescos. The palace also is filled with modern art, so there’s plenty to see.

Avignon

Other delights are the famous Pont d’Avignon and the gardens at the Rocher des Doms. If you have children then the pedal go-carts and ride-on horses in the park at the top of the hill are such fun (and great for tiring out small people).

A relaxed bohemian feel

Avignon is a hugely cultured place – but not in a boring or serious way. It’s friendly, relaxed and bohemian. We arrived a week or so after the big arts festival had finished, and a little of that atmosphere lingered on with performers and buskers. The children loved it.

Avignon

We all embraced a different way of life. The children were late to bed and late to rise. Some evenings we ate out together, and others we’d just go out for drinks and sorbet after cooking at home. Our apartment was just a few metres from the beautiful Place de l’Horloge, with its twinkling carousel and bustling cafés.

One of the best places to experience the food and culture is the local covered market

The stalls are overflowing with the most delicious and fresh produce – the sights and smells are intense.

The market in Avignon

Our highlights were delicious bread and pastries from Maison Violette, soft apricots, fresh figs, ripe cheese, luscious olives and the local Provençal Rosé.

French bread

It was hot, but in a good way

When we visited, the south of France was in the middle of an intense heatwave. The usual average temperature in August is about 30°C. When we arrived, it was 43°C. This intense heat only really lasted for the first couple of days though – after which it cooled down to more normal temperatures. Yes, it was hot, but it was dry heat that was much easier to deal with than the humidity of a hot day back home. We paced ourselves and avoided being out during the hottest parts of the day – it also helped that our apartment had very good air conditioning!

Avignon

Avignon is within easy reach of several stunning Roman heritage sites

This was a big draw for us. The city is easily placed for day trips to some of the most fantastically preserved Roman sites in Europe.

Nîmes is a short train ride away from Avignon and has not one, but three amazing Roman buildings.

The most striking is the amazing amphitheatre, which is right in the middle of town. It was utterly breath-taking – so incredibly well-preserved and with such history. We were all completely awe-struck with the atmosphere of the place. It was unforgettable.

Nimes ampitheatre

And it just gets better. Around the corner from the arena, is the Maison Carreé. This is the most spectacular Roman temple – the only one this well-preserved, I believe. Yet, again, we were overwhelmed by it. To sit down next to it in one of the pavement cafés, and drink a cup of coffee, is something I’ll never forget.

the Maison Carrée

And if you need anything else to bowl you over in Nîmes, there’s also a Roman watch-tower to climb with spectacular views. The town itself is also incredibly pretty and filled with beautiful fountains and channels of water.

Later in the holiday we caught the bus to the Pont du Gard – an incredible Roman aqueduct. Again, it was spectacular and has enough for a whole day out. Take a picnic and paddle in the river!

Pont du Gard

View from the top of the Pont du Gard

How did we get to Avignon?

We travelled entirely by train, and I’d highly recommend it. It was efficient, exciting and surprisingly relaxed.

Avignon central railway station

First was Ely to King’s Cross, then a short walk to the EuroStar at St Pancras. In a couple of hours, we were in Paris, and took the RER from the Gard du Nord to the Gard du Lyon. After that we caught the high-speed TGV to Avignon. We left Ely at 6.30am and arrived in Avignon at about 6pm.

Where did we stay?

A fabulous apartment in an old building in the centre of the city. It had wonderful original features, but was also stylishly modern and comfortable. It was the perfect base for exploring the city – nothing was ever more than ten minutes walk away. Full details here.

Where did we eat?

If you’re travelling with children we’d recommend Maison Nani. For simple, friendly French food, we also enjoyed La Cour d’Honneur.

I would also highly recommend a visit to the cat café, La Compagnie des Chats. It was a cool and calm retreat from the hot streets – and a great chance to meet some adorable chats! We called in here twice to have coffee and stroke the sweet cats who live there.

Avignon

So, au revoir, Avignon! I hope it won’t be too long before we visit again. 

Life lately

Avignon

You may have noticed something of a radio silence here in recent weeks.

This was partly for a very nice reason. We spent a beautiful week in Avignon, in the South of France. It was adventurous, but relaxing; chilled, yet awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to share more about it with you. There’s so much to tell.

I’d always planned on taking a break for my holiday, but I hadn’t planned on it being so long. Not long after getting back I had to have urgent surgery on my back. It was unexpected and all a bit shocking.

Some of you may know I suffer with chronic back problems. Or maybe you don’t. It’s not something I really like to talk about on here. This is my happy, inspiring space – and dwelling on long-term pain doesn’t inspire much happiness. Plus, it’s also really boring and not at all what I enjoy writing about.

Anyway, things came to a bit of head last week and my GP sent me off to A&E. Scans confirmed there was a nasty bulging disc. I ended up having the offending bits removed and now the process of recovery starts.

I’m a bit shell-shocked by it all, but I’m focussing on the positives: especially the lovely well-wishes from friends and family – plus, the community of dear friends which lives in my phone via Instagram. I’m also very grateful for the wonderful care I received from the NHS – especially all those lovely cups of tea.

Right now I’m recuperating with all the nice easy-reads I can lay my hands on – plus, a bit of online window shopping. I’ll be back soon with all the details about our amazing holiday.

Lizzie x

Dreams were made of Gingham and Broderie Anglaise

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Some things never go out of date. Strawberries and cream, bretons and blue jeans… gingham and broderie anglaise. They’re timeless summer classics that never grow old.

Last week in Topshop I stumbled across these gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top. I hadn’t been in there for years, so it was quite a revelation. I found this outfit in the first minute and knew immediately I had to try it on, even if I did have my six-year-old in tow. It was love at first sight.

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

The trousers and the top are both rather flouncy in the best sense of the word – ie. the make me feel good every time I wear them. Like Brigitte Bardot on a rainy day in Ely – or so I like to think in my dreams. Whatever life throws at you, it’s great to have an outfit like this up your sleeve. Roll it out when you need to make your own sunshine.

ASOS cherry earrings

Maybe it’s because I’m in a holiday mood, but I was also seduced by these cherry earrings from ASOS. It’s no exaggeration to say that I think these might be the best earrings I’ve ever owned. Definitely a summer impulse purchase, but one which totally floats my boat right now.

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

Oh, and I may have bought another basket. This time it’s a simple, jute one by Next which is slightly more compact and portable than my usual French market basket. It’s surprisingly sturdy and will come in handy for storage when summer comes to an end. A girl can never have too many baskets.

Gingham trousers, £39, Topshop / Broderie Anglaise top, £24, Topshop

 Basket, £28, Next / Cherry earrings, £8, ASOS

Topshop gingham trousers and broderie anglaise top

What’s your current outfit of dreams?

 

 

#OnePerfectThing in July

#OnePerfectThing in July

Life can’t always be perfect, but we can still look for something small that makes us happy. It may only be a fleeting moment, but it’s precious.

So, how was July for you?

It’s my birthday month, which always makes it feel extra special. It was also a very busy month – crammed full of sports days, cancelled sports days and other delights. It’s fair to say that the weather has been a little disappointing in the UK – especially after that glorious heatwave in June. It was certainly more puddles than picnics.

But despite the downpours, you all still found beauty and perfection by the barrowload. Which is, of course, the whole point of #OnePerfectThing. I love that you all totally get it. I also love the pinky-purple hue of all the photos – lavender is clearly the colour for July on Instagram.

#OnePerfectThing in July

Top row, left to right: @edinburghgardendiary / @amandarusselldesign / @topknotsanddaisies

Middle row, left to right: @hellomistermagpie / @sky.larking / @mrs.a.king

Bottom row, left to right: @emilyandmore / @rachaellucas / @jenilujones

Thank you all for joining in for July – I can’t wait to see what August brings. Rain, probably, but I know you’ll all make the best of it!

What have been your #OnePerfectThing moments this month?

My summer holiday wardrobe

Summer holiday wardrobe

This year we’re going to Avignon, in France, for our summer holiday. It’s going to be hot!

This time last year I wrote about my essentials for a British holiday – which, let’s face it, means taking enough clothes to cover all eventualities. My packing for France is going to much more laid-back. I’m taking just a few key pieces – which is just as well as we’re travelling down by train.

Here’s what’ll be in my suitcase…

The go-anywhere dress

Summer holiday wardrobe

Dresses are my go-to outfit when it’s hot, so it’s no surprise that I’ll be packing several simple ones for exploring the streets of Avignon.

Summer holiday wardrobe

This gorgeous Tencel dress, £35, is perfect for hot days in the city. It’s loose and cool – plus, the layered top is very flattering. It’s just as perfect for sight-seeing as it is for a casual pavement cafes.

This yellow floral number is quite far from my normal style, which is exactly what makes it perfect for taking away with me. Holidays give you chance to live a different life for a week or two – its the perfect time to try new styles and be someone else.

The knock-out holiday dress 

Every holiday deserves a stand-out dress for hot summer nights. Choose something that’s a bit brighter and fun than you might normally wear.

Summer holiday wardrobe

This yellow floral number, £25, is quite far from my normal style, which is exactly why it’s a perfect choice. Holidays give you chance to live a different life for a week or two – its the perfect time to try new styles and be someone else. Keep things simple with a pair of block-heeled sandals.

Summer holiday wardrobe

The separates 

Summer holiday wardrobe

I’ll also be packing some fun mix-and-match items – like linen trousers, vests and fun sandals. This vest, £16, is made in the same tencel material as the dress, and will look laid-back and chic with navy wide-legged trousers. The tasselled sandals, £24, will add a bit of light-hearted fun. Perfect for lunch out, a la française.

Espadrilles

Summer holiday wardrobe

If you can’t wear espadrilles on your summer holiday, then when can you? They don’t really suit our soggy English climate, so I’ll be wearing these as much as possible. This pair, £20, are very comfortable.

Also, don’t forget to pack your summer accessories like sun hats, baskets and makeup! Look back at this post for all my essentials.

Summer holiday wardrobe

A big thank you to JD Williams for inviting me to pick out my summer favourites! Check out their range of maxi dresses and sandals for easy summer holiday dressing. 

Three things I’m loving this week…

Hands holding flowers

Getting the summer holiday balance right, and accepting compromises

Working from home allows me to have fantastic flexibility during the school year. It gets a little harder in the holidays – combining fun, work and chores is a real juggling act. This week, it feels like we’ve got the balance right. I’m not saying it’s all been peachy, but as first weeks of the holiday go, it’s been a good one. The kids have had fun, been to few places and seen friends – and I’ve managed to get work done in my spare moments. Not as much as usual, but enough.

The main compromise is that the house looks like a pigsty – I don’t know how anyone maintains a tidy house in the school holidays. However, I doubt the boys will look back in a few years and say, “hey, remember than summer when the dishwasher didn’t get emptied and there was cereal on the floor everyday? Gosh, that was a big disappointment, wasn’t it!”

Rainy day baking

Spending time in the city

This week my eldest son has spent several mornings at a summer club in Cambridge. Which has meant we’ve spent more time in the city than usual – which has actually been the prefect fit for a week when they weather’s been more than a little unreliable. We’ve popped into museums, had lovely lunches out and visited all our favourite shops. Ok, well, mainly just Tiger. The boys love it in there because their money goes a long way. And I just can’t resist the lure of bright shiny things.

We’ve invested in some brilliant things to take on our summer holiday. We’re traveling through France by train, so we’ll need plenty of things to keep the kids amused on the journey. As usual, Tiger have aced it with their offerings!

Travel supplies from Flying Tiger

Jewel-like flowers in my garden

We haven’t spent much time in the garden this week as it’s been very wet. However, while we’ve been shut indoors, the garden has been putting on it’s most colourful clothes. The pretty pastels of early summer have now given way to bright yellow, orange and magenta. In between the showers I’ve been out there gathering these treasures to brighten up the house. When it rains, you have to make your own sunshine.

Jewel bright flowers

This week I’ve also been…

Cooking… from Hugh’s Three Good Things – a book full of delicious meals that are great for those of us who like simple shopping lists.

Reading… a most intriguing book called Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce. It’s really very good and I’d highly recommend it.

Watching… In the Dark on the BBC and the Handmaid’s Tale on Channel 4. Both gripping stuff.

What have you been loving this week?

Living more thoughtfully: the joy of making proper coffee

Living thoughtfully: coffee

Modern life makes it very easy for us to live without really thinking. I rely on technology for much of my existence, and I’m mostly ok with that. But recently I’ve realised it was time to claw back some parts of my life – to make them more simple and authentic. Right now, it feels important to live more thoughtfully.

Eye-roll, if you will. I promise I’m not preaching at you – I just want to inspire you.

Recently I’ve transformed the way I make coffee. What used to be a quick, mundane process, is now a daily ritual that’s both satisfying and engaging.

Living Thoughtfully: Coffee

Let’s rewind a few years: when we first bought a Nespresso machine, it felt like a revelation. Good coffee, with no mess or expertise needed. I happily made my daily coffees like this for a couple of years. We never recycled our pods. Somehow it was always easier to just throw them in the bin – out of sight, out of mind.

But recently, the guilt set in. I know the coffee pod manufacturers are keen to point out that lots of their pods are recyclable. But for me, that wasn’t the point. I felt bad about the fact that they’d even been made in the first place. There’s this huge industry in place, manufacturing and then recycling these little pods – and it’s all just so I can make a cup of coffee without getting my hands dirty.

And that just feels plain wrong.

So we have retired our machine (which was on its last legs anyway) and we’ve gone old-school. We are now the proud owners of a La Pavoni machine. It was made by old men in Italy and it’s very simple. There’s a boiler and a handle to carefully press down to make your espresso – and a steamer to heat your milk.

Living Thoughtfully: Coffee

Getting the hang of it has been a challenge. But that challenge has been good for me. Every morning I take 5 minutes out of my day to grind beans, to gently press down the lever for just the right length of time. Each time I have a little competition with myself to see how good a crema I can get (still not there yet). I then sit and drink it. It’s good, complex and authentic. Every cup is a bit different, depending on my mood. I’m still learning. And what a great thing that is. You can’t say that about a coffee pod.

And the mess? I can’t deny that my worktop now has a permanent coating of coffee grounds. But in a way I find the mess quite satisfying. I sprinkle my coffee grounds in the garden, or put them straight in the compost. It’s simple, honest and authentic.

I know this sounds clichéd, but ditching the coffee pods has been a great exercise in mindfulness. Concentrating on small, physical tasks is great way be relaxed and mindful. Taking time out to make proper coffee feeds the senses – the sounds, smells and taste. It’s therapeutic, focused and thoughtful. 

Living Thoughtfully: Coffee

I could say it’s a mini meditation in a cup, but I might be going a little far. What do you think?

If you’re interested in knowing more about our coffee machine it’s a La Pavoni, bought for us as a present by my father-in-law. Thanks for coffee inspiration John! 

Be a savvy sales shopper

Be a savvy sales shopper

I buy lots of my clothes in the sales. Usually, it’s a combination of impulse purchasing and forward planning – both clever in their own ways.

The buy-it-now, wear-it-now impulse purchase

This is where I indulge my inner magpie. Right now that means something fun and summery. Sales are the time to indulge in styles that probably won’t have that much longevity. We’re talking about the fun slogan bag for your holiday, an embroidered kaftan or some cute summer jewellery. You might not get a huge amount of wear out of it, but at sales prices, who’s complaining?

What am I looking out for? Cool dresses for my summer holiday, cute pom-poms and bright summer bags:

Summer sales picks

 Denim jacket, £18, Boohoo / Lucille Dress, £35, Boden / Tote bag, £14, Very

Why’s it clever? Buying throwaway summer pieces in the sale might be seen as wasteful, but I’m not so sure. They key is to limit yourself to a few, fun purchases. Don’t go mad. Buy a few treats to see you through till the end of the summer, but don’t waste your money on piles of things that’ll be useless come September.

Now, let’s talk about the clever buy-it-now, wear-it-later purchase

Right now, the savvy thing to do is to look towards Autumn. You’ll be surprised what you can find in the summer sales that will carry you right though to winter.

Look out for simple, transitional pieces that’ll ease you into the cooler months – navy skirts, Breton stripes and a cute coat for cooler days:

Autumn clothes from the summer sales

Sienna coat, £75, Boden / Skirt, £39.99, Benneton / Breton top, £12.50, Boden

Why not look ahead to next summer too? Choose staple items that won’t date, like jeans, linen, simple dresses and skirts. This is the time to invest in quality pieces that you can’t normally afford – things you know will be useful next year, and for years to come.

And thanks to online shopping, you can do it all from the comfort of your own home. Curated sales websites like Love the Sales, gather all your favourite sales in one place – meaning it’s now easier than ever to snap up a bargain!

Whatever you’re looking for, it pays to be clever.

This post is written via Love the Sales

 

Home Notes for July

Garden flowers

Regular readers will know that I don’t live in a show home. Far from it. Our period terrace is rough round the edges – it has pretty corners, but it also has very grubby corners. I struggle to take photos of it in its entirety. Because of that, I’m not always the best interiors blogger. However, I do love my home and every month I like to share what we’ve been up to and what’s on my interiors radar. It’s my little bit of imperfect perfection.

Home Notes for July: the bloggers desk

This month I’ve been enjoying curating the space I work in. My clever husband read last month’s Home Notes post and bought me this Jacqueline Colley screen print for my birthday. It now sits above my desk and I love looking up at it while I work.

Home notes for July: Jacqueline Colley screen print

We’re also gradually filling our newly painted hall with new pictures. Another clever birthday present from my husband, is this framed vintage tea-towel. We’ve had it for years and have always talked about having it framed. Finally, it’s up!

Fresh Milk's Gotta Lotta Bottle tea towel

Another favourite this month is this beautifully scented candle by Arum London. I really love candles on summer evenings – lighting them feels very therapeutic. The luxurious combination of jasmine and mint is perfect for summer – even when it’s not lit it fills the room with its gorgeous scent.

Arum London Jasmine and Mint candle

My garden is blooming (as are the weeds) and there’s an abundance of lovely flowers to bring in the house. Picking them and arranging them is one of life’s simple pleasures. I love this little banner from Weald Store, which sits beautifully alongside my posies.

Home Notes for July: garden flowers

So, what am I longing for? Top of the list is a freshly painted bedroom. I’m also edging closer to buying some much-needed kitchen chairs to replace our old ones (which are permanently sticky and stained after the toddler years). These Habitat chairs are my currently at the top of my list.

Habitat dining chairs

Disclosure: Arum London kindly sent me a complimentary candle of my choice. 

 

 

My essential summer accessories

Wherever this summer takes you, there are certain accessories you should never be without. We’re talking about those classic pieces that’ll see you through your day – whether you’re sitting on a windswept beach, an island paradise, or a park bench in your lunch hour.

The French basket… You can’t do summer without a French-style market basket. They’re practical and laid-back – but also terribly chic. They’re also massively affordable: my basket was £21 and has already earned its keep, and then some.

French market basket

The hat… Everyone needs a classic sun hat for the hottest days of the year. Choose a simple, wide-brimmed style for causal summer style that’ll never date. Mine is by Oliver Bonas.

The statement earrings… Liven up simple summer outfits with a knock-out pair of earrings. I love the nautical style of these rope earrings from Weald Store (a fabulous online indie that I urge you to check out).

Statement summer earrings

The Denim Jacket… is my trusty friend through the summer. It goes with everything and the stitches that hold it together are imbued with summer vibes.

The Denim jacket

The make up… Tinted facial suncream is my new summer essential. This tinted gel by La Roche Posay not only protects, it also gives a subtly healthy glow – all whilst feeling light on the skin. All you need on top is a bit of blusher and highlighter and you’re ready to go! This palette from Charlotte Tilbury is packed with flattering, glow-getting, shades.

Summer make up

Oh, and your umbrella…You don’t want to be without that, do you? This is England, after all.

Clever occasion dressing

I’d love to hear about your essential summer accessories. What can’t you live without?