No.50 Cheyne Chelsea London + Iain Smith

Chelsea Arbour

Cheyne Walk Chelsea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

So, 50 is the new brasserie. After a nine month rework, our favourite Chelsea haunt is up and running again. Sprinting even. It came at a price: a cool £3 million. Money well spent though: Lambart + Browne (Founding Directors Freddy van Zevenbergen and Tom Browning are from the school of Nicky Haslam) have created interiors that are at once luxurious and relaxing. Let’s start with the spacious upstairs drawing room. That’s where we’re ushered for pre drinks to meet Maître d’ David Gjytetza on the last evening of summer. It’s like being at a house party – if you’ve friends who own a Georgian property overlooking the Thames. All five tall windows are gracefully dressed. It’s clearly not curtains for curtains: significant drapes are joined by Roman blinds and generous pelmets. There are plenty of Nickyesque touches: curly edged bookshelves, squashy sofas, tweedy cushions, a host of antiqued mirrors (through a glass, darkly). The drawing room meshes highbrow bibliophilia with talented mixology: it’s somewhere to slake your thirst with a Garden of Eden Cocktail (Wolfschmidt Kummel, Champagne, apple and lavender shrub) while browsing The Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Such reserve, such reticence.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In contrast, the intimate first floor cocktail bar is Chinoiserie red with midnight blue satin highlights. Such boldness, such sexiness. Drummonds sanitaryware is the ultimate sophistication signifier in the bathroom. The centuries old tradition of distractingly saucy cartoons of racy girls hanging on the walls is upheld. Downstairs, leather banquettes and stripy snug chairs are made for decadent dinners and languid lunches in the restaurant. Chandeliers with 50 shades radiate a soft glow. Such elegance, such comfort. General Manager Benoit Auneau joins us for a chat. Gosh, this place is friendlier than ever. The building was once a pub and it still feels like a local. A very upmarket local. “Cheyne is my baby,” says Benoit. “I’ve been here a long time.”

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Owner Sally Greene (who’s also proprietor of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and The Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo) lives nearby on Cheyne Walk in a house with a Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll designed garden. Splendid. Sally opened Cheyne Walk Brasserie in 2004 to great aplomb; its relaunch has gone and upped the aplomb.  She says, “My passion is creativity. My passion is looking for opportunities and just going for them.” During dinner, David tells us, “The split of guests is roughly 60 to 40 residents to visitors. We get people coming from Blakes Hotel and Chelsea Harbour Hotel too.” There are a few modelly types as well tonight. It’s a terrific British menu focused round the wood fire grill. We choose the scallops starter. Unusually, they’re served cold in a cucumber soup. Such flavour, such joy. Stuffed courgette flowers with aubergine caviar for main is a sumptuous artistic composition. Classic St Véran keeps things lively.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Exterior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Sign © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Head Chef Iain Smith © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Flowers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Cornice © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Upstairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Bathroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We return to No.50 Cheyne on the first afternoon of autumn. Head Chef Iain Smith talks to us over lunch. We’re back in the coveted corner table (the best place to see and be seen). “There aren’t that many restaurants in Chelsea,” observes Iain. That wasn’t always the case. A scan through the 1975 edition of a Discriminating Guide to Fine Dining and Shopping in London by James Sherwood, Founder of Orient-Express Hotels, identifies 22 restaurants in the hallowed postcode enjoyed by No.50 Cheyne of SW3. Two prominent survivals are Daphne’s and San Lorenzo. There are six restaurants on King’s Road alone:

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Sofa © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Al Ben Accotto, 58 Fulham Road… “plain walls, Venetian lanterns overhead”… “the crème brûlée is a triumph”
  • Alvaro, 124 King’s Road… “genuine, small Italian restaurant”… “octopus with spinach in chilli sauce is delicious”
  • Au Bon Accueil, 27 Elystan Road… “small, pretty, cheerful Chelsea restaurant”… “vegetables are prepared with originality”
  • Brompton Grill, 243 Brompton Road… “patterned wallpaper surrounds, pink tinged mirrors engraved with clouds”… “unforgettable tartare sauce on fried scallops”
  • Le Carrousse, 19 to 21 Elystan Street…“The original decorator was David Hicks; the original owner, Geoffrey Sharp”… “miraculously unrubbery escargots”
  • The Casserole, 338 King’s Road… “trendy Chelsea King’s Road atmosphere”… “avocado filled with cottage cheese, walnuts and celery”
  • La Chaumière, 104 Draycott Avenue… “the most expensive bistro in London”… “the entrée is served with baked potatoes and salads”
  • Chelsea Rendezvous, 4c Sydney Street… “white painted brick walls, a profusion of fresh plants and paintings by Brian McMinn”… “fried seaweed is a delicious addition”
  • Daphne’s, 122 Draycott Avenue… “plush banquettes, gilt framed pictures and subdued lighting”… “Elizabeth Shaw chocolate crisps are served with good coffee”
  • Don Luigi, 330 King’s Road… “modern prints hang on clean white walls”… “Scampi Don Luigi is a speciality”
  • Meridiana, 169 Fulham Road… “the dining room itself is bright, airy, spacious, clean and bustling”… “pasta is excellent”
  • Minotaur, Chelsea Cloisters, Sloane Avenue… “quiet, cool and spacious atmosphere of a hotel dining room”… “fresh vegetables are imaginatively prepared”
  • Parkes, 5 Beauchamp Place… “bright coloured banquettes line the dining room walls”… “artichoke hearts in mustard soup is a delicious starter”
  • La Parra, 163 Draycott Avenue… “darkly atmospheric in spite of white rough plaster walls and almost cloister-like Spanish arches”… “vegetables are seasonal and well prepared”
  • Poissonnerie de l’Avenue, 82 Sloane Avenue… “long red carpet, long polished mahogany bar, wood panelled walls, cut velvet banquettes”… “scampi flavoured with Pernod on pilaff rice is perfect if you like the idea of that combination”
  • San Frediano, 62 Fulham Road… “one of the most popular of Chelsea’s trattorias”… “salads are fresh”
  • San Lorenzo, 22 Beauchamp Place… “so popular is Lorenzo at lunchtime that it’s very hard to get in”… “in summer the favourite way to begin a meal is with either Mozzarella or Creolla salads”
  • San Martino, 103 Walton Street… “an attractive restaurant with a happy, bustling atmosphere”… “salads are drowned in dressing”
  • Sans Souci, 68 Royal Hospital Road… “the single long room has banquette seats down each side”… “salad dressings are, as the sauces, very very good”
  • Trojan Horse, 3 Milner Street… “freshly decorated in bright nurseryh red and blue with a few amphoras on door lintels”… “the rice is excellent and sauces are well blended”
  • 235 Kings, 235 King’s Road… “one of Chelsea’s most popular and trendy restaurants”… “vegetables are nicely undercooked”
  • Waltons, 121 Walton Street… “Louis XV chairs, stainless steel chairs, and even a beautiful canopied sofa at a table for six”… “soups are wonderful, especially one of fennel and courgettes”

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Iain is a protégé of celebrity chef Jason Atherton. He previously worked at Social Eating House Soho and The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia. “I’ve found my home here!” he enthuses. His interview was cooking a 14 course meal sampled by Sally. “One of my greatest challenges was to win over regulars as this was already an established restaurant.” That challenge has been met and surpassed: “Our 100 covers are full almost every night!” The salmon tartare with avocado starter is a new cold delight. Another aubergine main, this time stuffed with piperade quinoa, proves Iain knows his onions – and fruit. We’re crème brûlée connoisseurs so on both recent visits pudding is an easy choice, especially when served with Russet apple compote and lemon sorbet. “It’s comfort food taken to a new level,” is how Iain describes his cooking. Can this Chelsea destination get any better? “We’re adding a private dining room for 30 to 40 people,” reveals David. Even better.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Main © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Strabane + The Doors

Prints Charming

Strabane Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Strabane, 18th century Ireland’s capital of publishing and printing.

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Africa Fashion Week London + Nigeria 2019

Talks and Walks    

Live AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s the most deliciously distinguished date of distinction on London’s August calendar – the Capital’s not-so-quiet summer month. The largest annual African fashion event in Europe. Yes, for one weekend Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden plays architectural host to catwalk shows and exhibitions complemented by an African souk and food village. Welcome to the Grand Temple of African Style! A new addition this year is the Business Fashion Forum powered by EPG Media. Insightful talks and informative panel discussions feature guest speakers from the Mayor of London’s Office, Department of Trade UK and the V+A Museum not forgetting British perfume sensation Azzi Glasser. 

AFWL Africa Fashion Week Covent Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Princess Ronke Ademiluyi is the esteemed founder and owner of Africa Fashion Week London and Nigeria. Known informally as “Rukkies”, she is a London trained lawyer. So how did she gracefully make the transition from Suits (law) to suits (fashion)? Her Royal Highness: “When I was in the university whatever I wore to school used to get a lot of compliments. At some point I thought why not make a business out of it? I often bought stuff for some of my fellow students, dressed them up and styled them. That is how the whole fashion thing came about.”

Showcase AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Both London and Nigeria have been absolute runaway successes. Princess Ronke reveals, “Africa Fashion Week Nigeria has by the grace of God become the biggest driver in Nigeria for emerging brands. The London event is very mainstream in the sense we have a lot of mainstream media, fashion buyers and organisations who attend to see the latest coming out of Africa because it involves the 54 African countries. It is still promoting our culture as well because our fashion is our culture – it translates our cultural identity.”

AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Joseph Farodoye, CEO of EPG Media announces, “This is a moment in history. We are an amazing bunch of people – beautiful, resilient! My mother says, ‘If you know better do better!’ Africa Fashion Week London has celebrated over 900 designers. When Ronke set it up it was for aspiring designers who are now established designers. “It’s now the largest and longest running culturally diverse fashion and trade exhibition in Europe. Let’s begin to change the narrative of the landscape – we are a vibrant people!” There’s liquid refreshment too seeping through all this glamour: Amarula. This drink is made from the Marula fruit of Sub Equatorial Africa. The Marula spirit is distilled and aged in French oak for two years then blended with a velvety cream to create the smooth taste of Amarula. Yesterday’s dream.

Backstage AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Designers AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Vanessa Gounden Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Becca Apparel AFWL © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Becca Apparel Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Makeup AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Beauty AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Style AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

AFWL © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Model AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

South African fashion designer Vanessa Gounden believes in merging creativity and business to be sustainable. “My husband and I are activists involved in the liberation. I’ve always had a passion for fashion!” she exclaims. “What is my actual USP? It’s an activist expression of wearable art – the very essence of how we can be more feminine and responsible. I’ve created an integrated atelier proud of ‘Made in South Africa’ goods that can compete in the international luxury market.” Vanessa Gounden is now open in Soho London’s Ham Yard Village. Today’s fashion; tomorrow’s vintage.

Hairstyle AFWL Africa Fashion Week London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Elisabeth Murray, Curator of Modern Fashion at the V+A, says the museum is “an amazing resource for designers and makers”, adding, “there are around 80,000 fashion and textiles objects”. Janet Browne, Senior Producer of Audience Development at the V+A Learning Academy, predominantly works with black audiences at the museum. Her aim is to “celebrate difference and tell the difference through narratives in the collections”. There are around 4,500 objects from Africa and its diaspora. Janet confides, “My favourite is the bust of a black youth made in the 18th century which stands proudly in the Europe Gallery. He has no collar so he wasn’t enslaved. We believe he was probably a gondolier who worked for himself in Italy. The bust is made of marble with glass buttons. I love him!”

Africa Fashion © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Africa Fashion Week London is packed with other fashionable dignitaries taking part. To name just a few: Her Royal Highness Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Tshiyoyo Muata of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi, First Lady of Ekiti State, Nigeria; and Her Excellency Mrs Olufolake Abdulrazaq, First Lady of Kwara State, Nigeria. August isn’t August isn’t august without Africa Fashion Week London. And Christmas isn’t complete without Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. As for the First Lady of Fashion, Mary Martin, after triumphantly showcasing her premier menswear collection at Africa Fashion Week London she’s flying off to present the highlights of her show at Africa Fashion and Cultural Week, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Vanessa Gounden Material © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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La Divine Comédie Demeure Privée + Spa Avignon

A Sense of Theatre

Rooftop View La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A private paradise. A secret world. A hidden kingdom. Cloistered glory. The very essence of exclusivity. If luxury could be bottled… heavenly scent. A multiple epiphanic realisation of complete beauty and tranquillity. Not even a Gallic Frances Hodgson Burnett could dream up the discreet walled splendour of La Divine Comédie. Although Colette comes pretty close in Gigi: “Such a beautiful garden… such a beautiful garden.” Its only outward expression, an enigmatic public face, is an ivied arched wooden gate at the end of a laneway off Rue Sainte Catherine or is it Rue des Bains or Rue Saluces? Such is the labyrinth that is old town Avignon. Corrugations of sunshine ripple across the lawn and climb over a card table. Gigi again, “What about a game of piquet?”

Rooftops View La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We called it La Divine Comédie after the many theatrical connections of Avignon,” explains co owner Amaury de Villoutreys, a former financier. There are two theatres – Théâtre Golovine and Théâtre du Chêne Noir – within Galilean binoculars view of the house. A diorama of a stage in the dining room reinforces the theme. Distinguished architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell reckons, “As Chaucer is to English, so Dante is the father of spoken Italian. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, referenced Dante when he quipped there is a ‘special place in hell’ for certain politicians.” This could well be the beginning of always.

View La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Trees La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Terrace La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pool La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Garden Pool La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Swimming Pool La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bench La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Urn La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pond La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bust La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Table La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Swag La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bamboos La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Night Lantern La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lantern La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Perspective La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Garden View La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Exterior La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Orangery La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Upper Floors La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shutters La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Eaves La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pavilion Table La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pavilion La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pavilion Bust La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pavilion Coronets La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Staircase Hall La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bannister La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Stairs La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Night Time Stairs La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Landing La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Landing Table La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Staircase Rooflight La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Attic Stairs La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dining Room La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Elephant La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Horse La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Taxidermy La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chess La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Drawing Room Mantelpiece La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Drawing Room Statue La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Drawing Room Shadow La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Drawing Room Sculpture La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Drawing Room Door La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bedroom La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bedroom Diorama La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bedroom Chandelier La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bedroom Boat La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bedroom Mantelpiece La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bathroom La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dog La Divine Comedie Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dog La Divine Comedie Avignon Provence © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dog La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Cat La Divine Comedie Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Five guest suites breathe and stretch and spread and sprawl across three uncrowded bedroom floors, louvred shutters flung open to the birds tweeting leaves rustling church bells peeling. The Cat by Colette, “Above the withered stump draped with climbing plants, a flight of bees over the ivy flowers gave out a solemn cymbal note, the identical note of so many summers.” Last used as a school, the stone house – dating from the 18th and 19th centuries – is so tall yet not as tall as its smothering of ancient plane trees. Remnants of the 14th century palace of Cardinal Amédée de Saluces, ghostly tracery of the past, are imprinted on the garden wall. A 15 metre swimming pool lies hidden behind dense bamboo woodland. The perfumed aroma of musk and civet intensifies with the heat of a lost summer afternoon. Piquet time.

Cat La Divine Comedie Avignon Provence © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

La Divine Comédie is the outcome of a revelatory seven year conversion and restoration programme. The interiors radiate confident good taste: the other co owner Gilles Jauffret is a leading decorator. Antique pieces, vintage finds and contemporary artworks are mixed with bravura under rococo’d ceilings. There’s an elephant in the (sitting) room. Pictures in the staircase hall are hung as close as stamps in the style beloved by Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors. Light selectively permeates the spaces through internal French doors and rooflights. The Cat once more: “The zone of shadow… the zone of shadow…” Persian siblings Gaston and Simone curl playfully on matching grey chairs. Thédule the Weinheimer blends in with the suede cover of a garden seat while alfresco quail’s eggs breakfast is served. Such pedigree.

Cat La Divine Comedie Avignon Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Avignon + The Doors

French Collection

Avignon Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provençal not provincial.

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Place de l’Horloge + Hôtel des Monnaies Avignon

Minted

Place de l'Horloge Avignon Provence © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like the writer Susan Sontag, we choose to view the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. And nowhere more so than in the City of the Popes amidst the swags and swagger of such forceful architecture. A busker with a cat plays an organ in Place de l’Horloge. “Look,” the busker says pointing to the cat’s bed under the organ, “he lies on an iced blanket to keep him cool in the heat. I have 29 cats altogether.”

Place de l'Horloge Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hotel des Monnaies Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hotel des Monnaies Avignon Provence © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Organ Busker's Cat Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Avignon + Lavender’s Blue

Finding You in the Mystery

Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s known as the Golden Triangle of Roman Cities: Avignon, Arles and Nîmes. Lavender’s Blue are in Avignon, favoured of late by the Obama family, less late by the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and rather less late again, by Charles Dickens. The author wrote in Pictures from Italy, “There lay before us, that same afternoon, the broken bridge of Avignon, and all the city baking in the sun; yet with an under-done-pie-crust, battlemented wall, that never will be brown, though it bake for centuries.”

Musee Calvet Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Town Centre Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Steeple Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Tower Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Rosette Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Door Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

City Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wall Ruins Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Battlements Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ramparts Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Historic Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Crucifix Papal Palace Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Crucifix Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Cross Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Dome Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Provence + Lavender’s Blue

Less Than A Year

Provence View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A week in Provence.

Provence Riverbank © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Riverside © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Boat © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Mooring © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Church © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Tower © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Corbel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Madonna © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Cross © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Provence + Twilight + Moonlight

Sonata

Provence Twilight © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provence Moonlight © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Belmond British Pullman + Venice Simplon-Orient Express + Murder Mystery Lunch

The Snuff That Dreams Are Made of

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Minerva © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hard copy invitation cards are so dreadfully last season. This fall it’s all about (minimum 600 gsm) hard copy personalised travel journals arriving first class. Ever since George Pullman launched his eponymous coach in 1874, that surname has become synonymous with luxury train travel. The British set of sumptuous carriages dates back to the swigging swirling Swinging Twenties. The Belmond British Pullman service forms part of Venice Simplon-Orient Express’s British journey. You really can’t overdress on the Orient Express. And certainly not on this ride for it could be your last. Best looking drop dead gorgeous, so to speak. Wait, just dress to kill or be killed! Now all aboard! There’s a murder mystery to solve – although not before five course table d’hôte lunch is served on William Edwards Phoenix Blue (The Queen Mother’s favourite hue) finest bone china.

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Perseus © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Murder on the Orient Express isn’t just an Agatha Christie novel. Avoiding Istanbul and Calais, it’s a thriller of a circular route (with some twists) from London Victoria through the Kent countryside and back again in time for gold rush hour. We’re in Minerva (1927), one of 11 Pullman carriages or belles. Minerva, Cygnus (1938), Perseus (also 1938) and Phoenix (1927) are all 26 seater carriages. Six carriages are 20 seater: Audrey (1932), Gwen (1934), Ibis (1925), Ione (1928) Lucille (1928) and Vera (1932). Zena is the only 24 seater carriage. Our dining car – all marquetry panelling and art deco detailing just like The Gore (pun) on wheels – is filled with accents as polished as the overhead latticed brass luggage racks.

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Ibis © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

As the long lighted platform fades from view, we start breezing through the Garden of England. The 270 kilometre journey departs via Ashford passing Leeds Castle and on to Canterbury before following the south coast taking in Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Margate and Whitstable. Not that we’re paying much attention to the great outdoors – there’s too much action in our carriage. Amidst smoke (or at least cigarette holders) and mirrors (bevelled not crack’d), there are flapper girls sporting cloche hats, turbans, fringed shawls, boas and strings of pearls as well as dapper guys in black tie. The zesty citrus notes of Laurent Perrier La Cuvée and the fruity aromas of Terre del Noce Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2018 lace the air.

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Vera © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bang! The dashing self proclaimed wine connoisseur Van Quaffleur bombastically bursts into our carriage. He was a close friend of Nicholas 6th Lord Deville who was poisoned a few days ago at a dinner party in Knightsbridge. Van Quaffleur is now a suspect in his murder. “Nicholas face planted the semolina,” he howls. “A splurge and a splat!” Hang on, there’s something fishy and we’re not just talking about the off menu red herrings. Lunch – the Chef de Train has clearly been scouring the archives for some vintage seafood favourites – is served:

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Lucille © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Minerva Model © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Railway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Rack © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Minerva Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Marquetry © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Corridor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Goody Bag © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Lamp © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Tassels © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Curtains © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Pinot Grigio © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Amuse Bouches © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Biscuits © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Bread © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Pickled Beets © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Basil Soup © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Main © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Seared Sea Trout © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Sea Trout © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Apricot Tart © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Waiters © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Waiting Staff © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Waiter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Staff © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Van Quaffleur © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Wine Connoiseur © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Tamara Crispin-Pettipace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch TCP © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Tamara Crispin-Pettipace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Nurse B Ware © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Jezebel Horne-Deville © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Mrs Horne-Deville © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The supremely attentive exquisitely liveried marvellously mannered completely courteous waiters cater to our every caprice. All is calm, serene, peaceful. Sleuth! Strewth! A fracas breaks out in the middle of our carriage. “That nurse is a gold digging little trollop! I would’ve killed her, not dear Nicholas!” Lord Deville’s close friend Mrs Tamara Crispin-Pettipace aka TCP has arrived. Tamara’s referring to Brenda Elsie Ware aka B E Ware, a rather attractive and by now very indignant nurse from Tender Temps who has turned up unexpectedly. Awks. Brenda was engaged to the somewhat older Lord Deville and is now suspected of senicide. As the quarrelsome madams jostle their way into the next carriage, the Honourable Jezebel Horne-Deville, the 6th Lord Deville’s younger sister, rocks up, dressed head to toe in blood red. She’s suspected of fratricide. “I arranged a huge life insurance on Old Nick just for the fun of telling him he was worth more to me dead than alive!”

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Smith the Butler © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Smith the Butler, Lord Deville’s faithful manservant, joins in the melee. He cuts quite a swathe. “I have no motive! But the nurse is a flighty thing. So vulgar! She was very hands on with His Lordship!” he smirks. The frisson of intrigue intensifies but surely we’re not losing the plot? “Oh, do you know Nick? I think we’ve seen you at one of his soirées perhaps?” Flummoxed, banjaxed, poleaxed, we slink off to the bathroom. The Indian summer sunlight streaming through an oeil de boeuf window illuminates its mosaic floor. Floris, The Queen Mother’s favourite handwash, stands next to the marble basin.

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch Seyton Deville © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Back in Minerva, the final suspect introduces himself. “I am the Honourable Seyton Deville, Old Nick’s son and heir.” He’s suspected of patricide. “Ask me questions, I’ll tell you no lies. The others have all spoken complete poppycock.” Van Quaffleur reappears: “The more you drink, the easier it is to solve the murder!” We start tying up the loose ends. And then there was one. So whodunnit? Well, we couldn’t possibly say – only servants tell tales before bedtime. A rumbustious scuffle breaks out. Mercy! Such brouhaha! Somebody makes a dash for it. Is the guilty party about to escape? You really can’t overstress on the Orient Express. The Murder Mystery Lunch on the Belmond British Pullman is a day of curious tensity, filled with indulgent fun, and heaps of occidental decadence.

Belmond British Pullman Murder Mystery Lunch It's a Wrap © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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