Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Travel Tips, Part 5: Hotels, Flights, Luggage

I've often wondered how middle-class people (such as my parents) are able to afford to go overseas every year to places as exotic and as far-flung as Patagonia, Alaska, the Arctic Circle, the Galapagos, Africa, and remotest parts of Asia?

Answer: They're not only frugal; they're also savvy travellers.  

Here are some tips and tricks to travelling in frugal  glamorous style on a great budget.

This is one of the best accommodation websites in the world. I subscribe to their mail-outs, and often make small noises of excitment when the latest additions lob in. It's true travel porn: beautiful places at affordable prices.
 (Please note: I'm not affiliated with any of these companies.)

Particularly good for families or groups, One Fine Stay offers upmarket, multi-bedroom homes to rent in London, Paris and New York – much like, only far more luxurious. So you don't get the smelly spare bedroom in the back of the SoHo artist's loft. 

My favourite is the converted Carriage House in New York's Greenwich Village (top image), but there are amazing properties to rent for a few days or a week, from a Malibu beach house right on the sand to a gorgeous cottage with a pool in the Hollywood Hills, plus elegant apartments in London and Paris. Many of them have their own gardens, terraces or  courtyards. 

A new venture started by a couple of entrepreneurial Aussies, is a little like in that it allows you to find the cheapest flights to a destination, however it also shows you a graph of the cheapest days in a month. The only downside is that it only seems to include economy prices. 

I typed in Melbourne-Paris and it showed the cheapest dates showing up were mid-November.

(NB Skyscanner used to be a fav, but I've realised they only show their preferred airlines.)

This tip has been mentioned on the blog before. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday really are the cheapest days to travel. It's been proven that airlines discount their Tuesday flights by as much as 20–30%. Look at the difference in prices here between Sat Oct 11 and Wednesday Oct 15 – $700.
(NB Can't remember sources, terrible journalist that I am!)

The major travel hubs are London, Singapore, LA and New York. Okay, perhaps Washington DC too. If you can get to one of these cities, your flights from these cities to your final destinations will be cheaper. The idea is to use frequent flyers to get to these hubs, or cheap hoppers such as Jetstar, Jetblue or Ryanair.

For example. 
If I booked a direct flight with Singapore Airlines (one of the best airlines in the world) from Melbourne to London, it would cost around A$ or US$2200. 
But if I booked a cheap Jetstar to Singapore ($450 return), then picked up a Singapore Airlines flight for the straight-through leg to London, the latter flight is only $1000 (booked direct via the Singapore Airlines website), making the total fare $1450. (If you need to stop in Singapore, the city's gardens are gorgeous, and the Airport Transit Hotel is only $70. You also have more to spend on your London hotel, such as the new Ham Yard, above.)
Even if Jetstar's fares are $550, you're still saving a lot of money on a top-tier airline.

That said, there is an exception to the rule. Paris. 
Flights to Paris are increasingly becoming $400 or so cheaper than London. 
I don't know why? Perhaps airlines realised everyone was flying into London?

The problem with Paris is CDG (Charles de Gaulle), which – even after new renos – is impossibly difficult to navigate and clear security. 
Still, let's not complain. It's still Paris, after all.

If you're flexible, look at events that may be on, or great times to be in town, and coordinate your trip around them. 

1. For example, if you love fashion, Hermès in Paris has a great sale in January and June/July. (Dates vary; details are usually on Internet.) (I would love to find a cheap version of this Macpherson bag, above, to hold my camera!)

2. Most major fashion exhibitions begin in October each year (although a few start in May, such as the Met's Constume Institute's shows), so research to see if there are fantastic fashion shows opening.

3. If you love gardens, the various Open Garden Days and Weekends in April and June allow you to peek inside someone's home. (The best private gardens in the US usually open April; the best ones in England usually open June.) 

4. Sydney is best seen over the New Year's Eve period: the fireworks over the harbour really are the best NYE displays in the world. Similarly, Venice has an amazing atmosphere and fireworks show for Festa del Redentore during the 3rd weekend of July.

5. Paris is TERRIBLE in May (it rains constantly) but beautiful in April when the blossoms open and summer exhibitions begin, and again in late Sept, when Fashion Week peeps descend on the city and the weather is still balmy and warm.

6. Monet's garden at Giverny is perfect for one week in late May or early June, when much of the garden turns a stunning shade of purple. The beautiful mauve ladies’ rockets blend with the big rhodos, the blue lupines and the blue sages, amongst other flowers. The scene doesn’t last long, but it is spectacular. The beds turn progressively pink as summer errupts. The 'Blue Period' is a brief but memorable week between the bulbs and the summer blooms. {link}

7. New York is glorious in either April, when the blossoms and bulbs are out, or the 'fall' period during October, when the autumn leaves are changing. Christmas is also magical if you have kids: NY does windows like no other city in the world. Avoid summer like the plague.


Airlines now allow you to select your seat when you book your ticket online. Do take advantage of this, but there are tricks to choosing. There are lots of tips and reviews on, which shows you the best seat on your chosen flight, but here are few more:

1. If you're a couple, try to book either side of a three-seat section at the rear of Economy. Most people don't like the rear, and the middle seats fill up last because people naturally prefer aisle or window. Odds are the middle seat will stay empty and you'll have a spare seat to throw your things.

2. NEVER BOOK THE VERY LAST ROW. For some reason, the last seats in most airlines don't recline due to the design of the rear area. You'll be vertical the whole flight.

3. Some airlines have an odd configuration of seating in Economy where a middle row narrows or widens and one of the aisle seats in the middle has massive leg room (See 48D above). BOOK THIS SEAT for best Stretch Factor.

There are lots of tips to choosing seats in the premium classes on this website – Business Traveller magazine

The Exit Seats are great, but just remember that the Body Cupboards (used for storing dead bodies of people who die in-flight) are often located near those central areas for ease of storing the, er, cadavers. 
(NB This is a new thing on the A380s; previously dead people were often shoved in a toilet, or in First Class with a blanket over them.)

I once wrote a cover story for the Sydney Morning Herald's magazine about in-flight antics, and heard a story (which turned out to be true) of two male pilots who put the plane into autopilot and had sex in the cockpit. (Must have been a spacious cockpit?) I still think of that when the plane lurches and drops suddenly at 10,000 feet.

Jo Karnaghan is a Sydney doctor who travels the world when she's not seeing patients. Jo's started a fantastic website called Frugal First Class Travel, which covers how to travel well for cheap – link. She's one of those people who's so well informed you'd love to have her as a friend, and indeed she and I have been emailing because I'm so enamoured with her and her insights.


Packing is an ongoing learning curve, and I still get it wrong. That's just Travel Law. But here are the things I've learned, and never leave home without:

1. Only take a carry-on bag. If you want to buy things, cheap suitcases can be bought overseas for $50. In the meantime, a carry-on (with wheels) gives you greater flexibility, less waiting time, and more security/peace of mind. 

2. Cut back on luggage weight but only taking an iPad rather than a laptop, a smaller Leica camera (great camera) rather than a big DSLR, minimum toiletries (buy more there: Boots and US chemists are very cheap), and a travel hairdryer – or use the hotel's. Also, take only 2 pairs of shoes – flat walking shoes and a nice pair. (You can buy more there if you need to!) Funnily enough, some fabrics weigh more – linen is very heavy; cotton is light. Wool is heavy; cashmere is light. Also, take only x2 pairs of bras/undies – and wash them out. (Really, how many are you going to need? Most people are too tired at night to do anything but sleep!) Electronics are heavy too – take ONE multi-country international adaptor. (Apple make them for their products.) And load books and itineraries onto your iPad so you don't have to take paper (also heavy). Your total hand luggage should not weigh more than 10 kilos to be allowed through, so buy a little portable, hand-sized weigher. We use ours constantly!

3. Don't apply foundation before a flight as it's too heavy and will clog your skin. A tinted moisturiser or BB cream is great because it also moisturises the skin. If you want you can wipe it off with some handy wipes when you're seated, but I don't bother as it's so light.

4. Pack a few travel-sized Klorane Dry Hair Shampoos. Klorane Dry Shampoo not only cleans and lifts your hair after a long-haul flight, it actually makes it look like a salon blow-out! 

5. Buy compression socks. They really do stop swelling and potential blood clots. But don't buy the expensive $30 ones at chemists: supermarkets sell them for $5. 

6. Aspirin. if you're over 40, always take 2 aspirin before you board a flight to avoid clotting. Also walk around – constantly.

7. Clarins' Beauty Flash Balm. Beauty editor friends swear by this and so do I. It's an intense moisturiser that acts like a mini-mask. Don't rub in it. Just smooth it over and let it dry. Your skin will look amazing afterwards.

8. Pack a portable recharger or portable phone / laptop battery. You may need it.

9. Consider noise-cancelling headphones to cut out the throbbing white noise of the engines – Bose are good. They really do make sleeping easier.

10. Be considerate of your fellow travellers. Say hello to the person next to you and "have a safe trip" when you leave. Strike up a conversation if they're chatty. Ask where they're going/where they've been/if they had a nice time? Let them out to stretch without frowning. You're on the plane for a while. Make it pleasant.

Did you see the hilarious article about real, but ridiculous, travel complaints – here? Here are a few:

1. "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

2. "We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning."

3. "My fiance and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

4. "No one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared."

5. "Although the brochure said that there was a fully-equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers."

6. "The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun."

7. "There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners."

8. "We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow."

Some people should just never leave home...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reimagining Spring with Stripes

With spring and summer on many people's minds (we're transitioning to spring in Australia while New York Fashion Week has just wrapped up its spring/summer 2015 shows), one pattern seems to be uppermost in the aesthetic charts – stripes.

Checks may be making a bold play for the top position but stripes still appear to have the elegant edge.


Did you see Altuzzara's show at NY Fashion Week recently? It was heaven on a stick stripe. 
{link} (Above two images via Altuzzara's publicity.)


Michael Kors has also done a lot of stripes, both this season and last. I spotted this elegant navy-and-canvas tote on a stopover in Singapore but since Singapore prices are twice those of the US, I looked away and bought a cheaper version. 

Michael Kors' bags are great because they're cheap, stylish, on-trend and always well made. If you're not a bag snob, they're a great everyday option.


French designer Jean Paul Gaultier is so enamoured with stripes that he hopes the whole of Melbourne will adopt the look, as shown in his quirky video-ette here.  It's all whimsical publicity for the opening of his new exhibition From The Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria). (Oct 17 - Feb 2015) 

(On a little aside, last year I found myself, rather unexpectedly standing behind Jean Paul Gaultier in a queue at Monoprix. (The Parisian equivalent to Target.) He was not only endearingly cordial to all – and very tall – but clearly – and impressively – budget-conscious. Who would have thought?)


One of my favourite places to dine is the quirkily named Bob Bob Ricard in London. The late, great David Collins designed the interior and used both his love of blue and his love of lines to create a sophisticated but spectacularly welcoming space.

One of my dear friends is a restaurant reviewer in London, and although he tends to eschew fancy establishments with "more style than substance" (his words), he's reluctantly agreed to book a table here when I'm in town next month. He's very kind to come along to a restaurant just to take in its wallpaper, floors and banquettes? ("God, I hope nobody sees me!" he quipped, dryly.) The things you do for your friends...

PS Have you seen the new David Collins monograph yet? If you love blue, do buy it. You'll adore it.


This is the working cover for the Provence book, a co-edition by Pan Macmilan and Chronicle. (You can see the images are still being considered.) It's a gorgeous cover that clearly taps into the current trends for stripes and blue hues.

That said, you can't imagine the stress this edition has caused, with many late-night emails between two countries. The co-edition is being released in the US in 2015, but I'll keep you posted.


For a wonderful take on fashion, spring and fine lines, The Cut (a great read) has, for the past few years, been sending the talented illustrator Bil Donovan to paint the season’s runway shows. Using only watercolors, pencils, and an easel, Bil Donovan has managed to capture the ephemeral beauty and whimsy of fashion in just a few strokes. It's brilliant. He's brilliant. 

Have a look at his recent work for NY Fashion Week this month. {link}


Stripes and spring merge also at the Grand Palais in Paris this month when the Biennale des Antiquaires takes over the space against a lush, Versailles-like backdrop designed by Jacques Grange. For the show, Grange reimagined an enormous French garden under glass. "I was inspired by the groves and arabesques of Versailles," he explained. There are carpets resembling rose beds (partly inspired by Madeleine Castaing) trellises in the geometric style of David Hicks, and of course lots and lots of topiary.

The New York Times has just posted a great blog post here.


One of the masters of stripes is still Oscar de la Renta, although his recent S/S 14 show at NY Fashion Week was more of a wondrous mix of flowers, gingham checks and other spring patterns. 

If you'd like to see his collections, just go to the Instagram of his PR girl, dubbed very wittily 'OscarPRGirl' link. (She's also on Twitter.)


We've been looking forward to moving back into our beloved sunroom all winter and now the weather is warming up we're opening the concertina doors and throwin' down the coasters!

My partner made a chaise lounge for the dogs to lie on (looks so much nicer than a dog bed, and yes, we know they're spoilt; they're our replacement for not being able to have our own children), and I've been redecorating with cheap finds – a $50 rug and geraniums donated by a neighbour from her white garden (SO easy to grow). The chaise and cushion coverings, meanwhile, were knocked together with fabric remnants bought in Paris or New York's Garment District. In fact, most of these things – including the navy Ikea sofa, the cane wingback chair, the oak pedestal table and the blue and white china – were bought cheaply in throw-out sales.

If there's one kind of stripe we love, it's CHEAP STRIPES!


Finally, apologies for the sporadic posting. We're working across a few projects and planning a forthcoming OS business trip, and the past month has been crazy. Family matters and friends have become a priority too. 

Happily, one of the projects that I've been working on, along with a lovely group of people both here in in the US and UK, is a thrilling new side business called Gardenesque Tours. 


The website (very rough) has gone up, but it's still a work-in-progress, with tours being added all the time. It's only early days and we're still feeling our way, but we hope you'll consider joining the adventure in 2015! (Thanks for all the emails too: am replying to each individually.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gardens in Green and White

We've had a reflective week here with the passing of someone close to us, so to counteract that we've spent a lot of time in our garden, where the sight of fresh green shoots and new spring growth (Australia's transitioning from winter to spring) has eased the heartache. (Fertiliser is often just as good for the soul as it is for the soil.) 

Fortunately, our new gardener started work this week, so there was a 'pro' in the house.

Formerly one of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch's gardeners, Geoff is one of the quietest, kindest, most knowledgable plantsmen I've ever met. One of our family may have gone up to Heaven but Heaven has been kind enough to send a replacement. I think Geoff and my mother-in-law would have liked each other.

Here are a few favourite garden places and pieces to offer some some horticultural inspiration for the gardening months ahead. 

{Top 3 images are my own, from my kitchen garden book.}

A beautiful new book for both Paris and garden lovers is Private Gardens of Paris, by Alexandra dArnoux and Bruno Laubadère. It's set to be published in 2015, but Flammarion are considering pushing the pub date forward, so keep an eye out.
Published by Flammarion. {link}

One of Hawaii's most beautiful gardens, Doris Duke's Shangri La.
Have you see the book? It's just as beautiful as the garden.
We're considering spending this Christmas in Hawaii to have a rest from a busy year, and this magnificent place is definitely on the To See List. 
(A lovely reader recommended it, and I'm so grateful to her.)

This is one of Paris's most beautiful florists.  It was called Saint-Pères Fleurs, but now seems to be called La Boutique des Saint-Pères. It looks like the luxurious salon of a grand old home, only one filled with vases and blooms. I believe it's been renovated, so if the images you find on Google aren't inspiring, don't worry – it's remarkable in real life.
14 rue des Saints-Pères, Paris.

Ralph Lauren's restaurant, Ralph, in Paris, is one of the prettiest restaurants in Paris for garden lovers. 
It's been so successful that Ralph is opening a New York offshoot (sorry for the pun) on the Upper East Side later this year.
173 boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, 75006.

Another lovely Parisian hideaway for horticulture followers, the Hotel de l'Abbaye is tucked behind glamorous iron gates and a charming front courtyard. Its rear garden and terrace are wonderful for breakfasts and a relaxing wine at the end of the day.
10 rue Cassette, Paris, 75006.

If you can't afford a plush Parisian hotel, try a garden apartment. This one, available through the wonderful apartment rental site, One Fine Stay, has its own lush, private oasis in the middle of Paris, reached by walking through the apartment's charming conservatory. It's called Rue Lhomond, and it's in the Latin Quarter, a neighbourhood that's currently going through a revival.

I adore this quirky garden architecture store. It's part of the famous flea market in the village of L'isle sur la Sorgue in Provence, and is near the main parking area in the centre of town. (I'm not sure of the address and it doesn't matter because, like many French places, the store may move around anyway.) Just look for all the rusty-but-still-glamorous greenhouses lined up in a dignified row. You can't miss them.

Don't you love this new silk square by Hermès? 
It's based on the illustration for  Hermès' perfume Un Jardin Sur Le Toit ('A Garden on the Roof').
So simple. So beautiful.

Spotted this image on Instagram recently via Ben Pentreath's Insta posts (another garden lover). It was posted by Soane Britain and is an image of the absolutely gorgeous orangery at the Horniman Museum in London. (There are more amazing pix on Google.)
100 London Road, London.

Vita Sackville West's famous 'White Garden' at Sissinghurst launched a thousand white imitators. Even after all these years, Vita's is still one of the most magnificent.
{This was photographed in June this year, when it was truly glorious.}
Biddenden Rd, Cranbrook, Kent.

If you haven't seen Villandry, then try to see it next time you visit France. It's one of the most majestic gardens in the world. This is the topiary garden, but the estate has several gardens, including a delightful parterre and the spectacular ornamental potager – made entirely of vegetables (pictured at the top of the post). My parents and I once flew to France to do our own private garden tour and my father confessed that this garden was worth flying across the world for.
3 rue Principale, Villandry.

And finally, this was one of the most exquisite gardens I saw at Chelsea Flower Show while living in London in the 1990s. It's the Chanel Garden by Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Stuart Smith. It was, at the time, the most expensive garden ever produced for the Chelsea Flower Show, at a cost of 1 million pounds. There's a great article about it here – Link.

{All images my own, excluding One Fine Stay, Shangri La and Hornman Museum, which are from their websites and are properly credited. 
If you use or repost my images, please credit me out of courtesy.}

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Secrets of Paris, Part 3

For those who are heading to Paris soon and planning their itinerary, here are a few ideas and suggestions for memorable places to visit. I'm currently working on the next Paris guide and have included these in the 24-hours-in-Paris section. They're a little different from the usual Seine-to-St.Germain-to-Eiffel Tower stroll. I don't know about you but I like getting off the beaten (Parisian) track and seeing the city from new perspectives. These places will show you the City of Light in, well, a new light!

Finally, thank you all for your kind emails about the book offer. I've received more than 60 requests so far and have now run out of books! It was really a gesture of thanks to those who have kindly left comments on the blog or emailed me directly to say hello. However, I'll see what I can do to accommodate those more-private souls who prefer not to leave comments but would like a book anyway.

Thank you, too, for those wonderful stories. I wish I could post them but they're clearly private. I'm now emailing individual thank-you notes to everyone.

La Terrasse at the Hotel Raphael
A lovely place for a special meal, this rooftop restaurant has spectacular views over Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, plus all the charming rooftops in between.
17 avenue Kleber, 75016 (16th), Paris.

From high atop the top level of the Trocadéro gardens. If you head for the City of Architecture and Heritage (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine), you'll see a parallel line of gold statues. It's here, particularly at sunrise or sunset, where the best photos of the Eiffel Tower can often be taken.

The Radisson Blu Le Dokhan's Hotel
A former 18th-century residence, this charming boutique hotel is beloved by fashion designers (Armani books it out each Fashion Week), and the Louis Vuitton trunk-lined lift will make your ascent to the top-floor suites even more magical. The suites themselves are sublime (ask for the Eiffel Suite, with some of the best views in Paris), but if you can't afford to splurge, go to the exquisite Champagne Bar for a little bubbly instead. It's one of the prettiest bars in Paris.
117 rue Lauriston, 75116 (16th), Paris.

Newhotel Roblin
It's sometimes difficult to find style at an affordable price in Paris, but this cutie delivers. The foyer is fabulous, the rooms are elegant without being frou-fou or over-the-top, and the other spaces, such as the sitting room (above) are dignified, quite and completely welcoming after an exhausting day traipsing around town.
6 rue Chauveau-Lagarde, 75008 (8th), Paris

The Hotel Meurice
Most people wander straight past this place without realising the architectural riches that are inside. It's one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris, and the best way to see it (if you're on a budget) is to book a table for lunch. There's a fancy restaurant or the (slightly more casual) bistro. Alain Ducasse heads the kitchens so you can be sure the food is top-notch. But it's the people watching you should be going for. That, and the interior design.
228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 (1st), Paris.

I'd never heard of this place until recently, and I imagine others will be just as surprised to learn of it. It's a lovely place for a sunny day; a whimsical, slightly quirky museum that's an homage to gardens around the world.
Albert Kahn Musee et Jardins
14, rue du Port, 92100, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paris: A Thank You

It occurred to me tonight that not everybody is as enamoured with New York as our family is. (I would happily move to Manhattan tomorrow if it were not for my partner's job, our little dogs, our families, our mortgage, our friends and lives, and the other logistical difficulties.)

New York certainly isn't for everyone (and probably not for poor authors). So I thought I'd extend the book offer from the last post to Paris lovers too.

If you've kindly left a message on this blog over the past 6 months, I'd like to thank you. I know sometimes I don't get time to reply straight away – there are lots of 2am nights here and often I'm so weary I get very behind in admin – but I'm deeply grateful and I'd like to send you a small gift in return. If you've taken the time to leave a message, either on the blog or by direct email, and you'd like either of the Paris/Provence books on the sidebar to the left, please email me, at 

I will be more than happy to pay for costs and postage, in gratitude.

(Of course, you may not want one of my Paris books, and I'd understand that, too. It's just that... I can only get an author discount on those ones.)

And if you're heading to Paris soon (or Provence or the French Riviera), and would like some tips and ideas on where to stay, what to do, and where to kiss your beloved in a suitably romantic spot, please just email me. I will happily reply.

As always, thank you for reading. I love every email and kind note you send, short or long.
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