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A rib ride, rooftop hot pools and a 360° sea view: Solent Forts

When you book a minibreak, what do you look for? A nice hotel, with plush interiors and good food, maybe by the sea? Well, what about in the sea? Like in the middle of the actual Solent, slap-bang-you-have-to-get-a-boat-there-in-the-middle-of-the-bloody-sea. Solent Forts* are a small collection of well, forts, plonked in the middle of the sea by Prime Minister Lord Henry Palmerston (probs not ‘plonked’… it’s probs really hard to build in the middle of the sea). Built initially as a means of defence, they’ve now been transformed to luxury hotels offering a uniquely unparalleled sea-life experience. 

Myself and the crew of other bloggers (see what I did there) hop on the exclusive Solent Forts‘ rib, life jackets strapped firmly round our shoulders and between our legs (this is a very important and necessary safety precaution – thanks very much lovely skipper Griff). I choose the seat at the back which was stupid because having washed my hair, completed my make-up to goddess-standard, and worn a CREAM jumpsuit (why, God, why?!), I didn’t expect the rib-ride to be quite as thrilling as it was. To say that I sailed along with ‘the wind in my hair’ was an understatement. Put it this way I had crabs legit land in my lap (this might be a lie), but, I tell you what, I absolutely loved it! Have you even been on a boat if you don’t get splashed in the face? I probably should’ve expected seeing as I’d looked up where the forts were on Google Maps that morning *eye roll emoji*.

I arrived at Spitbank Fort like I’d entered a wet t-shirt competition, and I welcomed a glass of champagne from the hotel staff like I’d won the thing. I. Was. Buzzing. 

Spitbank Fort is a delight. The entire interior is exposed brickwork with blankets, cushions, candles, globes and compasses adorning every surface. So much care has gone into furnishing it while taking into account it’s historical context – it feels like the French will invade at any moment (but preferably after my three-course meal and glass of Laurent Perrier thank you very much). The original hammock hooks where the soldiers would’ve slept still poke out from the walls, as do the sinks in which the officers used to wash. 

The views from the roof of Spitbank Fort are spectacular and literally every room has a sea view. I just kept thinking how cool it would be to hire the whole fort for a weekend and come with a massive group of friends. But before I got too excited planning my decadent sea-party (maybe it could have a PIRATE theme?!), we were back on the rib and off to fort number two. 

No Man’s Fort is much bigger and feels much more like a  traditional ‘hotel’. There’s 5 different bars on the fort, various eateries, a huge lounge, a games room, a spa and 23 bedrooms, but it only takes a glance out a window to remind you that you’re staying aboard a secluded, historical structure with no neighbours to worry about – just maybe some fish. 

Visiting Solent Forts is an experience. You have the rich past of the forts for those that like history, hot pools on the roof for those that want to chill, and there’s even a laser battle experience in the basement for those that like running around pretending to shoot each other. It’s the perfect location to ‘get away from it all’ and spend a couple of nights at sea, with the luxury of hopping back on a boat and travelling back to the mainland (unlike the soldiers who would’ve been posted there!). And if your bank balance isn’t keen on staying on one of the forts, why not do a day experience? You can have an afternoon tea, a Sunday lunch, or you can even pop over and get your nails done – FUN. 

How good would it be going into work on a Monday morning and enduring the forever dull ‘How was your weekend?’ question: ‘yeah it was great thanks Julie hun, stayed on a fort in the middle of the sea, had a banging three-course meal, and came back on a boat with a crab in my lap’. Just saying. 

 

You can book a stay or experience with Solent Forts by clicking here. Use my exclusive discount code EMMAJO10 for 10% off. 

 

*This day was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

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A Grape and Grain tour: the Surrey Hills

It’s 10 o’clock on a bright autumnal Saturday and I’m waiting outside Guildford Station trying to spot a luxury minibus and a gaggle of people that look like keen drinkers. I’m off on a Grape and Grain tour*, transported through the Surrey Hills in said minibus stopping along the way at a distillery, a brewery and a vineyard. Fortunately a hearty pub lunch is also arranged so I don’t have the worry of crawling home intoxicated full of regret for not having lined my tender little stomach. I spot a friendly face that I discover is Joel, our tour guide and owner of the Grape and Grain tours, and we pile onto the minibus ready for an exciting day of tasting.

I generally find tour guides annoying. They say the same spiel, in the same way, with the same jokes and you’re meant to laugh along and state your name and a fun fact about yourself. But Joel is wonderful. He’s not an actor trying to earn a quick buck doing walking tours round Dublin – he’s genuinely passionate about what he does.

First stop, the Silent Pool Distillery in Albury. A small gin distillery tucked away in farmland and onsite of the legendary ‘Silent Pool’. Joel, previously a distiller at Silent Pool, describes the process in which the gin is made as we sip away, letting our tastebuds encounter the variety of botanicals. Bottles are bought, and we’re back on the minibus, feeling ever so slightly inebriated (well maybe just those of us who haven’t had breakfast… whoops!).

The Tillingbourne Brewery is tucked away in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and as you drive along the country road approaching it, the Surrey Hills views are absolutely stunning. A distinctive smell of hops washes over us as we pull up to the tiny brewery, steam billowing out the roof. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ yells Steve, the owner of the brewery, ‘Lee’s new to brewing, last week it was pouring out into the gutters!’

I’ve barely sat down and I’ve a pint of ‘Falls Gold‘ in my hand. Steve chats away to us explaining the difference between ale and lager and telling us that they’ve been supplying The Oval. I’m so absorbed in the story about the ‘Dormouse’ beer, brewed in conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to protect the habitat of the Hazelnut Dormice, I’m unaware that my glass has been topped up regularly and I’ve tried 3 different beers! I clamber merrily onto the bus taking in the blissful surroundings and thinking about a) how beautiful Surrey is b) how much I love beer and c) how I can’t wait for the chicken and leek pie I’ve preordered for lunch.

And what a wonderful pie it was! The Queen’s Head is a traditional little pub in East Clandon with a classic pub menu and low beams that my boyfriend was constantly hitting his head on (he’s 6’4″ – the perils of being tall lol). Feeling full post-pub, we’re off on the minibus again to our final destination: Greyfriars Vineyard.

Firstly, who knew that there was a vineyard in Surrey (not me) and secondly who knew that English Sparkling wine was so PENG (also not me). It definitely helped that it was the most glorious day, but when I was strolling through the vines with a glass of Non Vintage Cuvée in hand, I honestly could’ve been in the South of France. The vineyards are beautiful and the wine is superb. After a few tasting glasses of Vintage Cuvée, Non-Vintage Fumé and Sparkling Rosé, I was very happy to return to our luxury minibus for the final time and soak up the wonderful Surrey surroundings.

The Grape and Grain tour is a wonderful excursion for a group of friends, a couple, or you can even book privately if you’re a stag or hen do group or wanting to arrange a family outing! I learnt so much about what it takes to produce our favourite beverages, you get a fantastic pub lunch and a more-than-adequate amount of alcohol across the day.

You can book a Grape and Grain tour now by clicking here. 

*This tour was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

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Eggbreak: a brunch to end all brunches

It’s not often that I go for a brunch and immediately want to return the next day. Eggs Benedict are Eggs Benedict ya know? Wherever you go they generally all taste the same to me, that saying the proportion of hollandaise to muffin is usually questionable (who wants a dry muffin? Certainly not me).

But Eggbreak* is in a different league. I only ever go for Eggs Benedict cause it’s a safe option and I don’t fancy weird concoctions of gherkins in omelettes with chilli flakes etc. But I would’ve been happy with anything on the menu at Eggbreak, and I can only apologise to the staff for taking 45 mins to choose (soz about that). And when it arrived, I was not disappointed: sweet potato rosti with goat’s cheese, yoghurt with dill, kale, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.

I have come to the conclusion that goat’s cheese should appear on every brunch menu, if not with every brunch dish. Porridge with goat’s cheese, grapefruit with goat’s cheese, granola with goat’s cheese. It was divine. I’ve actually had dreams about it since. Complement with an iced coffee and a pink grapefruit mimosa and you are set for the day.

Eggbreak is tinyyy but that absolutely adds to its charm. Going to the loo makes you feel like you’ve had some of Alice in Wonderland’s ‘drink me’ potion, but they don’t cram people in for the sake of it. You’ve got plenty of room to eat your breakfast, have a coffee and take your time, you just do so in a small, quaint, Notting Hill eatery.

Eggbreak is undoubtedly going on my list of ‘best brunch places in London’ and I highly recommend you take a trip there – if you only go for the goat’s cheese, it’s so worth it. 

*This brunch was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

 

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5 Reasons to go to Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden

Petersham Nurseries is a green idyll in Covent Garden; a wonderful flash of green in central London! Having been desperate to visit the new Covent Garden branch since it opened, the atmosphere, service and menu certainly didn’t disappoint. Here are 5 reasons why you absolutely must go:

1. There are flowers in your drink

Can you imagine my little face when the Walled Garden cocktail came complete with little baby carnations? I could’ve cried with happiness. Flowers in ma drink make me a happyyyy woman. In fact flowers in ma anything make me a happy woman. (nothing weird though, obvs)

2. There are 2 restaurants for all your food needs

Choose between La Goccia or The Petersham depending on the occasion. Both menus look DELISH so we went for La Goccia, the more casual of the two, but I’ll definitely be heading back to The Petersham for the Roast Florence fennel with braised greens, summer tomatoes and parmesan mmmmmm…

3. They serve 6 different types of courgette

SIX. SIX, I tell you! If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know about my love for courgettes. This year I’ve attempted to grow them from seed and I’m finally having success, yay! But that’s one variety… Petersham Nurseries serve SIX. I didn’t even know there were six different varieties of courgette?! But bloody hell, each and every one of them was glorious. Especially the little, tender yellow one!

4. There’s a hidden courtyard

Go through the shop, past the florist stand, into the restaurant and out through the French doors and you’ll find Floral Court. Ferns hide in every corner and you’re shaded by magnolia trees as you eat your meal. Right in the middle of central London. What a way to live.

5. There are plants everywhere, even on the backs of the chairs

The plant pot on the table is becoming pretty standard in hip hangouts in London, but Petersham Nurseries always seem to be ahead of the rest. Along with the classic terracotta pots on every table, there’s a wrought iron tree design in the back of the chairs which is stunning, sophisticated and won’t be spotted in any other restaurant around town. Call me obsessed, but it’s the details that matter, and these chairs couldn’t reflect Petersham Nurseries more. Seriously tho, where can I buy these chairs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A perfect Paris stay: Hotel Adèle et Jules

Sweaty, tired and hungry, I scramble off the Eurostar and into the cosmopolitan jungle of the Gare du Nord. There’s a whiff of coffee and pastries in the air and signs are plastered everywhere instructing you not to get in a fake taxi (sounds dodge whatever it is). Amidst the chaos I head for the sortie – suitcase, sunhat and boyfriend in tow. Once out and onto the streets of Paris, we decide to walk to Hotel Adèle et Jules*. It’s only 15 minutes away, and although our backs are already dripping in the 36 degree heat, we’d rather that than struggle on the metro where there’s a 90% chance our camera/phones/sunhats will be stolen (not the sunhats!).

As we get closer, the streets turn quieter, the air seems cleaner, and the buildings are prettier. It’s hard to believe you’re moments away from the hustle and bustle of the Gare du Nord. Just around the corner from Bouillon Chartier and tucked down a side street, we find Hotel Adèle et Jules. The cobbled street is tree-lined, tranquil and traditionally Parisian. It’s a welcome moment of peace amid the frantic French streets, and we both breathe a sigh of relief. We’re offered a tea or coffee as soon as we walk in (Mum, is that you?) and we await our room in the cosy, but quirky living room.

Having struggled across Paris with our luggage, we are relieved to be shown to our room: a Boulevard Club complete with wrought iron balcony. The bed is huge, the pillows are perfect, and the air-conditioning is a godsend. I start snapping while my boyfriend enjoys a complimentary coffee on the balcony, then the bed, then the sofa (one must try all the furniture in one’s hotel room). Leaning out of the balcony I imagine I’m in a film by Jean-Luc Godard: my hair wafting effortlessly in the wind as I elegantly sip on a glass of vin rouge dancing to Edith Piaf – until bam – I stub my toe on a plant pot and I’m back to reality. I wake my snoring boyfriend and clip my toenails (did Brigitte Bardot do this?).

Hotel Adèle et Jules has everything you need for a weekend stay. There’s a simple but delicious continental breakfast, complimentary afternoon tea and an honesty bar downstairs in the evening. It’s perfect if you like a hotel away from the main drag, but minutes from the main attractions. The décor is sophisticated and stylish with a modern French twist and you will undoubtedly get a good night’s sleep (not likely if you pick a hotel along the Champs Elysées). Although important to see the sights, Paris is a city for pausing: grab some bread and cheese and take it all in while sat on your balcony – just try not to stub your toe.

*This stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

 

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An Evening with Plymouth Gin

 

An evening with Plymouth Gin. Could a better sentence ever be spoken?

Dotted with elegant grey planters filled with pretty pink begonias, the Plymouth Gin Garden bar at The Wigmore was the perfect setting for a summer’s evening cocktail masterclass. A long table was set with test tubes, pipettes, funnels and decanters – reminiscent of Miss Crispin’s year 8 science class where my friend Hayley Cropper set fire to her eyebrows. Obviously no eyebrows were harmed at The Wigmore, and it was much more fun than learning about magnesium. Mainly because – gin.

We were given a tasting map to work out which of the botanicals were our favourites. We sniffed lemon peel, orange peel, cardamom pods, juniper berries and coriander seeds, all of which form the basis of Plymouth Gin. But blah, blah, blah, sniff as much as you want, we all know that I was there for the TASTING. Like any spirit, on an initial sip, it tasted like alcohol. But, with a little water added, I was surprised to taste the actual botanicals I’d spent the last 10 mins sniffing!

When it came to making our own gin I was convinced I was going to be a perfectionist. I wanted to mix the exact proportion of distilled lemon peel, with the right quantity of orris root (a binding agent) complemented with a tinyyyy dash of distilled coriander. But then I watched my boyfriend sloshing a bit of this and a bit of that all over the bloody place and that looked much more fun. The point is guys, I made my own Plymouth Gin!

I don’t know how I’ve got this far and NOT mentioned the lab coats – omg. We got to wear lab coats, with Plymouth Gin on the back, and I felt like an actual distiller, if that’s a job, I don’t even know, but basically: lab coats.

I’m not sure this is possible, but learning about it actually made me like Plymouth Gin even more. It was so interesting hearing about how it’s produced and now I desperately want to visit Plymouth and do a distillery tour. But only if I can wear a lab coat again and taste some more gin.

 

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Crabtree and Evelyn: Gardener’s Collection

 

As a gardener my hands are rough, cracked and permanently covered in mud. I’ve ALWAYS got dirt under my shellac (what a nightmare), and they’re as flaky as Mary Berry’s special recipe flaky pastry. Gross. So after a good old session of picking the powdery mildew leaves off my courgettes, I like to sit down with a cup of tea and give my hands a good old going over. And that’s where Crabtree and Evelyn’s Gardener’s Collection* comes in.

I cover my hands in the beautiful Crabtree and Evelyn Gardener’s Hand Scrub to really get rid of all the dirt and grime. (I even sometimes use an actual nail brush #oldschool) Combined with water, the pumice in it is super gentle and doesn’t feel like you’re taking off a layer of skin with the dirt, like some exfoliators do.

Then to finish off, a good old squirt of the Crabtree and Evelyn Gardener’s Body Lotion soothes and softens the hands. After a session in the garden, my Grandpa and I will regularly go through this routine together. And despite his initial concern that it would compromise his masculinity, the fragrance is so delicate and unisex, that he didn’t complain once.

The subtle fragrance of garden herbs and the soothing honey extract makes Crabtree and Evelyn’s Gardener’s Collection the only products perfect for your post-weeding pamper.

*These items were complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

 

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Photo Diary: My Best Friend’s Farm Wedding

My beautiful best friend got married recently, on her farm, in a true country-wedding style.

We drank champagne on hay bails, I had gysophila in my hair, and the married couple left on a tractor! It couldn’t have been more perfect for Hannah, who’s lived on a farm since she was born. My favourite touch was the wellies filled with wildflowers that lined the marquee, and for the wedding breakfast we even ate a ploughmans.

I’ve shared some photos below because I couldn’t resist you seeing what a gorgeous day it was.

 

 

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Room2 Hometel: a home from home

I don’t stay in hotels that often. The main reason for that is the cost of eating out. Don’t get me wrong, I love a slap-up meal as much as the next person, but when you’re eating scallops and steak every night, my lorrrrd does it cost a fortune. Staying in a hotel is a glorious experience for a night or two, but I find if you’re there any longer, I’m desperate for an apple and my bank balance is dead. But that’s the beauty of Room2 Hometel: every room has a kitchenette so you have the luxury of a gorgeous hotel and the comfort of your own home!

Although slightly odd staying in a hotel 30 seconds down the road from your flat (why not lol), Room2 gave me a completely different view of Southampton. My Master Loft room* overlooked the park, making me feel as if I was hanging out on a leafy street in New York. The huge windows flooded the room with evening light as I cooked a courgette and garlic spaghetti dish for dinner (peng), and it was super chilled sitting on the cobalt sofa watching the world go by while my spaghetti bubbled away. The rooms are huge, the bed linen soft and the bathroom spotless. It’s like being at home with a touch more luxury.

Perfect for a business trip away, Room2 is ideal for those that cba to sit in a restaurant with 100 other business men and eat a curry on their own. It is ideal for culinary wizards who enjoy cooking while travelling. The Master Loft room even had a mezzanine level with an extra double bed so it easily sleeps 4. I’m thinking girls weekend away – amiright?

It’s the added touches that make Room2 feel so unique: a recipe book on the kitchen counter, the slogan mugs hanging above the sink, the Southampton postcards on a pin board. These are the details that make your room feel more like a home than a budget hotel. After all, home really is a feeling. 

*This hotel stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

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Réalisation Par dupe ruffle dress

Réalisation Par is the fashion brand of the now and, along with 40 million other bloggers, I bloody love it. However, beaut dresses come at a ‘gotta-work-40-hours-for-one-dress’ price tag, and that I don’t love so much.

It has been my mission this summer to find the best dupe dresses on the high street and ta-dah – I’ve found the best one!

Good old Glamorous and Asos: they’re like friends that never cancel, they never let you down. This absolute beauty has just enough ruffle, a tasteful print, a corset bust and a much nicer price of only £30.

Paired with a denim jacket and some simple summer sandals, it’s the perfect day dress (worn without a bra too yasssss).

Have you found any other Réalisation Par dupes?! If so please share with the team and leave them in the comments below!

Glamorous Cami Dress with Ruffle Straps in Ditsy Berry Print can be bought on Asos for £30 here!

 

 

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