Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joyful Things In 2016

This time last year, my partner and I decided to make a Christmas pact. We decided not to waste money on myriad gifts for each other, but to spend the money visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites instead. (Last Christmas was spent at Angkor Wat and Siem Reap; still one of my favorite destinations. This February, it will be the Great Barrier Reef.) 

Writing our UNESCO Wish Lists for 2016 and 2017, which include Luang Prabang, and Praslin Island in the Seychelles (the Vallée de Mai national park was reportedly the original 'Garden of Eden') was a small thing, but it made me stop and think about life, and what makes each of us happy? (Thank goodness I have a partner who loves to travel.) Contemplating the UNESCO lists also made me realize that, no matter how overwhelmed we may become from digesting all the content we're offered in The Information Age, there are still so many things out there to discover in the world. There are still so many things to inspire and delight us; things that are so beautiful they will, like Angkor Wat and the Seychelles, linger in our memories long after we experience them.

2016 is set to be a year of such things. Here are a few lovely things to anticipate in 2016.  

As always, thank you for all the thoughtful and kind emails. I've loved reading every one of them, especially those from the Garden Tour girls, and look forward to staying in touch in 2016! Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and a happy, restful and joyful holiday season.

 (NB New additions to UNESCO's World Heritage List can be found HERE. I love that Singapore's newly restored Botanic Garden has been added to the mix.)


The new NOMAD HOTEL LA, THE BEEKMAN in NEW YORK, and BLAKES SINGAPORE are among the coolly glamorous hotels scheduled to open or begin development in 2016, but one of the most anticipated hotel openings is Six Senses' new resort SIX SENSES ZIL PASYON (above two images), in the SEYCHELLES. 

Set on the private island of Felicity (I love the name, plus that of nearby Curieuse Island), it's a short boat journey from La Digue or Praline (more gorgeous names), but miles from the rest of civilization. Six Senses is becoming as well-known as Aman Resorts for its architectural designs and remote destinations, so this will likely be One To Save Up For.

There's a great list of the Hottest Luxury Hotels in the World opening in 2016 HERE

(And if, like us, you don't have the budget for Six Senses, there are also lots of cheap guesthouses in the Seychelles too. As there are everywhere. It's difficult to find them, I know, but they're there.)


If you saw the much-talked-about documentary SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORFS (featuring some of the best quotes ever captured in a doco – LINK TO TRAILER HERE), you're going to love the next in the series by filmmaker Matthew Miele. 

It's about Tiffany & Co., the jewelry store that started as a small stationary and gift shop more than 177 years ago, and eventually, with the help of Audrey Hepburn, a film and some good branding, became an international success. It stars some big names, including Katie Couric, Baz Luhrmann, Rachel Zoe, Jessica Biel, and Jennifer Tilly. Tiffany is on board, so the archive footage will be fascinating. 

No trailer yet. Released in cinemas early 2016.

(Above pix of Tiffany Christmas windows for 2015)


THE DANISH GIRL is a beautiful film. A beautiful film. It's based on the true story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between her loving marriage and her own needs and desires. It's a timely film, coming out in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner's story (and Vanity Fair cover), and it's well worth seeing, even if artistic films like this are not your thing. 

Eddie Redmayne is superb as Lily, and up for a Golden Globe. He is even more moving in this than My Week With Marilyn, Les Miserables and The Theory of Everything. Alicia Vikander is also up for a Golden Globe. 

If you missed the previews of this film in late 2015, it will undoubtedly be re-released in cinemas in early 2016, as the Oscar buzz about it is loud. (It's released in Australia in early 2016.) 

TRAILER HERE. Released in cinemas early 2016.


If you missed the CHANEL EXHIBITIONMademoiselle Privé, at the Saatchi Gallery in London last month, the good news is it will be showing in Hong Kong early 2016 before traveling to other international cities. Billed as an 'enchanted voyage', the exhibition takes a historic look at the design of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and the contemporary direction the brand has taken under Karl Lagerfeld. 

No news of venues or Hong Kong dates yet, but keep an eye on Chanel's website for details.


There's been a spate of books and exhibitions about the beautiful symbiosis between gardens and art. Even Buckingham Palace held an exhibition on the subject last year. The newest show to display the inspiration that gardens have had on art over the years is at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, from January to April 2016. PAINTING THE MODERN GARDEN: MONET TO MATISSE will feature the usual players, including ol' Claude, but it will also highlight the works of artists and gardeners like Pierre Bonnard, Camille Pissarro and Wassily Kandinsky. It will also tour afterwards, so keep an eye out for cities and dates.

Set to be a blockbuster exhibition of paint, petals and pure joy. 
(There will no doubt be a book to accompany it, so look for it on Amazon.)

Royal Academy of Arts, Mayfair.  January 30—April 20, 2016.

Note: There's a great article about artists and gardening HERE, and another one HERE. I loved hearing about Monet's horticultural expertise. His library was filled with gardening books and  journals. Instructions sent to his chief gardener Félix Brueil in February 1900 included: From the 15th to the 25th, lay the dahlias down to root, plant out those with shoots before I get back. In March sow the grass seeds, plant out the little nasturtiums, keep a close eye on the gloxinia, orchids etc., in the greenhouse, as well as the plants under frames. Oh, if we only all had our own little Felix to do our weeding!


Finally, while this isn't new for 2016, it's something to put on your Must-Watch Lists for the new year. A lovely reader told me about it, and I just loved the trailer! She says it's well worth watching. 

It's a period drama called THE TIME IN BETWEEN (or type it's Spanish name—EL TIEMPO ENTRE COSTURAS into Google for best results), and it's about a young seamstress who rises to become an elite couturier and then a spy during the Spanish Civil War. 

The film sets are as beautiful as the fashion and the dressmaking. With the success of the Australian film The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet, and Dior and I, I predict there will be more movies about fashion, seamstresses and behind-the-scenes in ateliers and studios. Let's hope so.

TRAILER IS HERE. (It's wonderful!)
Available via Amazon and other outlets.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gorgeous Design Books for your Christmas Wish List


I didn't want to write about Paris during the recent coverage of the terrorist attacks, because I was so heartbroken for the city. (And I'm still a little heartbroken over my own father, too.) But I thought the best way to remember Paris was to celebrate her. Paris needs to be visited; it needs to be loved and embraced and remembered. If you haven't yet visited this sublime place, consider doing so in 2016. Because Paris needs you!

PARIS IN STYLE (LINK) was a wonderful book to write because it took me back to Paris, and to those places that will always remain in my heart. The gorgeous Parisian gardens and parks, the beautiful little independent boutiques and stores (including secret fashion and design bookshops), all the fantastic places to buy new and vintage designer labels, handbags and scarves (some of the vintage Hermès scarves are more beautiful than the modern versions), plus hundreds of other design secrets. (And lest you think it's all about high-end labels, there are guides to the flea markets and other affordable destinations, too. Since I can't afford Chanel either!)

However, it also features many Paris destinations that I've only just discovered these past few years, ranging from textile stores to enchanting and often tucked-away neighborhoods -- including a great neighborhood for architecture lovers that feels like a piece of pastoral France, with mini-chateaux and villas.

It's my little tribute to a city that still sparkles, even after all this horror.

A few page spreads are collaged here...

PARIS IN STYLE.  PUBLISHED BY MUP (Melbourne University Publishers). 
SEPT 2015.



One of the most popular fashion books ever published was Grace; Grace Coddington's beautiful book about her life and fashion shoots at US Vogue. It was so popular that editions have been selling on Abe Books and eBay for up to $1000. Well now Phaidon publishers, in all their wisdom, have decided to buy the rights and re-publish it. And the new copies are being snapped up just as quickly as the old ones! It's come out just in time for Christmas, and Grace has been doing book signings in New York this past week. (I believe The Strand still has signed copies available?)

What isn't as well-known is that Grace is working on a follow-up to this illustrated monograph, which will be published mid-2016, and will feature Vogue fashion shoots from 2002 to the present day. Vogue's famous September issue (2016) will carry an extensive interview with Grace to promote the book's publication.

For those who love Grace and her talent and style, there's a lovely interview on Phaidon's website, where Grace reveals her aversion to social media and other humorous insights, including how her book has become a much-thumbed reference at the Vogue offices. "Everybody around is always coming and borrowing it and wanting to look at it again; everybody’s always referencing it. It’s been useful for that, because all of the shoots are dated and there’s an index in the back.”

The Phaidon interviews with Grace are HERE and HERE. (Above images from Phaidon's website.)




2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bloomsbury Group (not sure how, but it's a great marketing tool!), and already there are books and films and TV series being rolled out in anticipation of the Bloomy 'buzz'. Recently, there was the sumptuous and much-talked-about BBC series Life in Squares, which is now available on DVD. But if you can't find that, Amy Licence's book, Living in Squares, is just as compelling. The story is too complex for me to do justice in a few lines, but there's a great synopsis HERE. (There are also other titles about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West  on the same Amazon page.)

Still as fascinating as ever. (And the sets of the BBC series are as fantastic as the storyline!)

JULY 2015



I want this book. Badly. It's beautiful. The images are lavish (many are double-page spreads), the gardens are lovely, and London, well, it has been my home and remains one of my favorite cities.

The best bit about the book is that authors Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas and Marianne Majors have managed to obtain permission to shoot many private gardens in the city, as well as some much-loved public ones. Accompanying the photographs are essays on the design and planting schemes that explain the designers’ inspiration, ideas and designs. 

Just lovely.

OCT 2015


I love Julia Reed. Her writing is witty, warm and spiked with funny stories. Her home in the Garden District of New Orleans was magnificent too. And her book on Furlow Gatewood remains an all-time favourite. 

This new book isn't out until 2016, but mark it on your Wish Lists; it's certain to be as riveting as the rest of her writing. Julia and fellow photographer Paul Costello have spent months shooting at various locations in the Deep South, including many gardens, and the images are just lush! 

Look at the cover. Doesn't that make you want to visit the South?



I can't say much about this new title as very little has been released, but the images are glorious and Lee Radziwill always makes for a great story. (Her life is one long, enthralling narrative.) What its publisher Assouline has revealed is that it follows on from Lee's best-selling Happy Times, recalling her friendships with the numerous cultural figures, from Rudolf Nureyev to Truman Capote.

Love the collage-style page spreads.

DEC 2015.


If you love the look of the JK Hotels in Capri, Rome, Florence and elsewhere (now Instagrammed and blogged to death), this is the book for you. It's a monograph of the talented designer Michele Bonan, the magnificent design mind behind these soothingly serene hideaways, as well as others such as the Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

A great one for fussy travelers and discerning design lovers. I can't wait to see a copy.


Images and Visuals: Behind The Scenes on an Illustrated Book

There's no getting around it: we are now firmly ensconced in the visual age. Where once it was all about the word, today it's all about the image. Photographs have become as much a part of our lives as the social media tools that capture them.

This is perhaps because, in a world cluttered by information, visuals simplify life.  They cut across languages and borders, not just geographically and linguistically but also aesthetically. They are the default alphabet of our modern life.  

In fact, our visual intelligence is now so refined that many of us are communicating largely by images rather than words. We are even able to recall the images we've seen, much like conversations.  An ex-Vogue friend in Sydney has a remarkable recall: she can look at an old image and pinpoint which designer / website / book / magazine / fashion collection it came from, OR the era / year / book / film / designer it was inspired by. (From what I hear, Vogue staffers had to have such encyclopedic minds. They were all walking reference libraries.)


(Top grid of images from my website. 
Second grid of images above from a forthcoming London guide book, currently in production.)

I love the beautiful and refreshingly original website / blog by former New York creative director-turned-author Amanda Brooks, who wrote the book I LOVE YOUR STYLE.  (LINK HERE) Her newly re-designed layout is wonderfully image-rich but it's the way she configures the content around the visuals that's really inspiring. Just look at her 'visual board' on writer / gardener Vita Sackville-West above. Genius.

Amanda is almost religious about images -- her photographs of life at her Oxfordshire home Fair Green Farm are pure poetry for the weary, visual-ed-out soul --  and because of this, she has just picked up a new book deal with Penguin. Clearly, her discerning eye for images has caught the eye of some discerning editor, somewhere.

A few other writers, designers and bloggers who are skillful at imagery include Ben Pentreath (LINK HERE; scroll down to his garden pix for the best eye candy), Tory Burch, Mark D. Sikes and India Hicks.

In the following paras, I'll show you just how influential images have become in our lives, particularly in the world of books. (Certainly illustrated books.) You'll see why visuals really are leading the way in the modern world.


For a long time, I was a word girl. A journalist. Visuals were something the photo editors took care of Then, I began contributing articles to Australian Vogue Living as a freelancer (not as the editor, as stated in a publisher's blurb recently). The Melbourne editor, Helen Redmond, was famously lovely, but I'll always remember something she once said to me. We were talking about Vogue and Vogue Living's high production values and she said that any intern who worked for them needed to be so aesthetically savvy that they could be trusted to go to the markets and find "ten perfect potatoes", if the need arose. (This was in the days when Vogue Travel and Entertaining was part of the Vogue stable.) Isn't that fantastic?  I've always remembered that. Ten Perfect Potatoes. It was the design version of ISO 9001:2015. 

It was then that I realized that the 'look' of something can be as important as the story and the words around it.

Now I remembered this quirky Vogue mantra recently because for the past few weeks I've been trying to design several books. And often I've felt I've not been living up to the 'Perfect Potato' standard.  

Here's how I got through.


When you're struggling with anything at all, study the best to see how the pros do it.  One of the best photographers and visual manipulators around (in my insignificant opinion) is the New York-based Australian photographer Robyn Lea. 

Robyn's book The Milan Book, above, is a visual work of art. A publishing masterpiece. 
Here are some page designs, above and below... 

There's a fantastic video about how the book was produced from Robyn HERE, but there's also fascinating post about how it was designed HERE. 

The pages of this sumptuous tome feature (wait for it) varnishes, laser cuts, UV varnishes, almond scratch and sniff varnishes, hot stamps, reliefs and bas-reliefs, black silk screen prints details, letterpress inserts and silver laminations, among other effects.

Incredible. And that's not even touching on the beautifully composed photographs.

Robyn (who is a new friend, so I hope she doesn't mind all this!) has also recently produced the bestseller Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, published by Assouline (2015).

 This is another extraordinarily beautiful book where the images have -- as you'd imagine with a book about Pollock -- taken centre-stage. 

I particularly love the juxtaposition of paints /  pastels and receipts / food. 

It's beautiful, and very, very clever.  No wonder it's been a good seller.


Now it's one thing to look at pretty pix; it's another thing to understand why they affect us so much? One of the reasons is that images tell a story, mostly through their composition but also through their layers, colours, patterns and lines. The best images are as carefully put together as any photo shoot directed by Grace Coddington.

Look at the stills for the BBC's new series on the Bloomsbury Group, A Life in Squares, above. I loved this image because it shows everything from the wicker chairs loved by the Edwardians to the pragmatic colour palette preferred by writers and artists and gardeners at this time. Images like this offer invaluable insights into how visuals are put together, whether for a book or a film. They show how the designers and producers are aiming for integrity as much as beauty.


The next step is to gather your own inspiration, for whatever project you're working on. (Or even for your own personal files.) You may think you'll never need your carefully curated visuals for anything. But I'll show you why you will.

Recently, I've been designing the pages for my illustrated biography about Joan Lindsay and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The biography covers the years 1896 to 1980, but the main section focuses on the Edwardian years, so I had to understand Edwardian aesthetics and even Edwardian colour palettes. The BBC series, A Life in Squares, above, helped to clarify the 'style' of writers and artists in this age, and the lovely Charleston magazine further confirmed the style. (Isn't this a gorgeous cover?)

I then crystallized this colour palette using roses from our garden. (I was dead-heading one morning, and they seemed too pretty to waste! This rose page eventually became the Acknowledgement page.) 

Then I came across these visuals on my Instagram feed (left image from Carolyn Quartermaine's Instagram; right via Rivkah1981's Instagram), which showed just how beautiful the colours green and yellow can be. (NB Yellow is set to be big in fashion in 2016.) I realized then that yellow would brighten some of the pages of this biography, especially those that featured old sepia photos, as sepia photos can often look 'dull' if too many are stacked together.

Yellow and green are also the colours of Australia, so they seemed fitting for a biography about a major Australian author and her iconic Australian novel. (They are also the colours of the Australian countryside in summer, which is when Picnic at Hanging Rock was set.)

But even then, the shade of yellow was wrong. This is the title page. The daisies were a reference to picnics, but it was all wrong. (The ferns are a mural in Joan Lindsay's writing room.)  This was an early page design that was relegated to the bin.

So then, I went back to that old fail-safe: the collage. 

I ended up configuring some simple, pared-back collages that featured Joan and people she knew -- Sir Laurence Olivier; the Murdochs; Dame Nellie Melba -- and the Edwardian picnics she went on as a girl to Hanging Rock. But you can see that it still featured the greens and golds, albeit in a softer way.

In the end, the book featured an unusual palette: leaf green, yellow/gold, pale pink, plum, sky blue and beige/grey (for the old photographs). I would have never thought it would work, but it does, because they're not only the colours of Joan's Edwardian childhood, when she set Picnic at Hanging Rock, but also the colours of the countryside where she lived as an adult; the sky; the landscapes, and her beloved garden and the flowers.

So you can see how images and visuals come into play in all sorts of different ways. If you really want to see how the professionals do it, however, have a look at the wonderful behind-the-scenes videos about the design of The Milan Book, by Robyn Lea, (outlined above), which show the detail that goes into designing books. Of course, sometimes it doesn't all go to plan. I hated one of my recent guidebooks, especially the headers! But you live and learn. Design is also a subjective thing. Certain images appeal to certain people, while other images take a while to like. And that's what makes the visual world so interesting. We're all on a vertical learning curve in this education of aesthetics. The Perfect Potato, indeed.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New and Old, in New York and New Orleans


Last week, I spent a few days in New York City and New Orleans for work. I've always wanted to visit Nola after reading so much about its history, its mystery (did you see the American Horror Story series set here last year with Jessica Lange?), its gracious architecture, and its cheeky, slightly wicked Southern charm and humor, not to mention its killer cocktails.

"It's like a cross between Key West and Charleston, except with more alcohol, and fewer rules," said a friend. I wasn't sure what he meant, but it sounded good? I loved Key West and Charleston. Savannah, too. So it's like a hedonistic hybrid of all three? I asked him. My friend just looked at me. "NOLA is like nothing on this earth," he said, trying to do a Southern accent but failing. "You're gonna have a whole lotta stories after you've been to Nola!"

He then told me how the city has gathered a swag of prestigious James Beard Awards for its restaurants in the past two years, including Best New Restaurant for Pêche. With the buzz about the food, the media attention on the architecture (Sara Ruffin Costello's house always seems to be in the New York Times or some other blog), and the general decadence of the French Quarter, the place seemed to be jumping like a feathered entrant in the famous Mardi Gras parade. It was time, I thought, to head down south. I could already feel the bad accent coming on.


So here are some snaps from a few louche luxe days and nights in New York and New Orleans -- and some great names for your address book. 

If you haven't been to either of these memorable cities, perhaps 2016 is the year to do it. Both of these places are experiencing a creative revival of sorts, with new and innovative restaurants, hotels, stores and businesses opening by the month. I loved them both. I just wish I had more time in them than a few days.



There are many startlingly beautiful new hotels in New York, including The Baccarat, but I loved this sweet boutique hideaway, where the staff were as engaging as the decor. Recently renovated and renamed The Gregory (it's very fashionable to use gentleman's names as hotel brands now), it's tucked around the corner from the Empire State in the rapidly changing Fashion District, which -- along with the Flatiron area -- is the hot new neighborhood in Manhattan right now, judging by the hotels springing up like bagel carts on every street corner.

The Gregory's whimsical interior reflects the haberdashery and passementerie of the stores around it, with vintage sewing machines, elegantly upholstered armchairs and prints of old Vogue patterns on the walls. The rooms feature beautiful beds with piping-edged linen, black-and-white subway-tiled bathrooms with baths, and surprisingly large walk-in closets. It's a hotel tailor-made for fashion lovers, and the location is one of the best in Manhattan. Good rates too. I nabbed a lovely room for less than $300/night, inc taxes.

The Gregory
42 West 35th Street, New York


This trip was primarily a business trip, but there is nothing boring about seeing books all day long, especially the covetable tomes lining the offices of Rizzoli's headquarters like glamorous three-dimensional wallpaper.

Both Rizzoli's head office and its new Rizzoli bookstore in the Flatiron are beautiful beyond words, but it was the Strand's tiny bookshop in the corner of the Club Monaco store that won me over. It's an irresistible space that combines a charming florist with a sanctuary of coloured spines and new design titles. The scent was intoxicating. Pages and petals together... why don't more retailers think of that? (NB They seemed to have taken out the Dior-grey hatboxes and ornate black tables and replaced them with marble-topped florist's benches, but it's still lovely, and allows more space for all the bouquets.)

I also loved visited the Flower District around the corner, where I picked up these stunning long-stemmed mauve lilies for my new editor. The Flower District has shrunk in recent years, but there is still a joyous atmosphere about the place. It's a scented way to spend an hour on a sunny morning. (Tip: Most of the stores are wholesale, but if you offer cash, they'll gladly sell you a bouquet.)

Club Monaco (and The Strand's tiny outpost bookstore)
160 5th Avenue, New York.

Flower District
West 28th Street, between 6th and 7th Streets.


The Hamptons end of Long Island tends to polarize people. Some people prefer the quieter coves of Shelter Island and Sag Harbor. But on this trip I discovered a new destination: the elegantly understated enclave of Bellport, halfway up Long Island. 

Now Bellport isn't a new thing: Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Isabella Rossellini and Thomas O'Brien (Aero) are just a few who live in this quiet, mostly rural hideaway. (Thomas O'Brien is opening a new store here in 2016, and lives in a spectacular converted schoolhouse nearby.) But recently Bellport seems to be gaining followers, many of whom are decamping from increasingly crowded Sag Harbour or Southampton up the road. 

I was lucky enough to spend some time at Tricia Foley's famous house here, which has been featured in countless magazines and also in her new book Life | Style (just out). This was her sitting room, above; a gracious space of slipcovered sofas, sofa rugs, irresistible design books, and intriguing collections of antiques. If only more hotels looked like this. Somebody give Miss Tricia a hotel to design. 

More images from Tricia's home, including her enviable flower room and laundry, above, her library and office (at top), and her enchanting boat house (below). 

More luscious images can be seen in her book Life | Style (Rizzoli).


There hasn't been a lot of media about New Orleans's hotels, perhaps because most of them fall between the classic, balconied charmers and the boring business brands. Well, the Q&C is neither. It's a new interpretation of New Orleans, and it's a design darling that's winning a lot of design fans. Named after the old Queen and Crescent tramcar, it's a superbly decorated haven that features handsome grey flannel-covered wingback sofas, piles of design books to browse through, pressed-tin ceilings, curious antiques and quirky artwork (I loved the old maps), and a palette of white, chocolate and marle-grey. 

It's in the Business District, around the corner from the equally sophisticated, all-white International Hotel, but it's a five-minute walk from the French Quarter. (The separation means it's devoid of the noise and clatter of the latter.) The downstairs parlour (above), and adjoining lounge are so comfy, most guests settle in for the evening with a drink and their iPad and never bother going to their rooms. Rooms are spacious, too. A perfect hotel, in every way. I loved it.

The Q&C
344 Camp St, New Orleans, Louisiana. 


You may think a museum set in an old French pharmacy, with real apothecary bottles, would be, well, odd. Perhaps even macabre? But The Pharmacy Museum is fascinating. The cabinetry alone is worth seeing, but it's all the old lotions and potions that will really make you go gaga (in a good way). Don't miss the upstairs area, where the white shelves are usually groaning with fantastic exhibits. The rear courtyard is lovely, too. An unexpected treasure in the middle of the French Quarter.

The Pharmacy Museum
514 Chatres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.


My favourite restaurant in New Orleans wasn't the celebrated Commander's Palace (cute striped awnings, but slightly too upmarket for a quickie lunchtime visit), or even gorgeous Galatoire's, but the cutely rustic, just-throw-those-pictures-on-the-wall-and-toss-the-chairs-around Napoleon House (above right). This place defines the word 'patina'. The walls are crumbling and nothing's straight, but the atmosphere is pure Southern charm. Even the owner wears an old-fashioned bow tie. Grab one of the tables in the courtyard or beside a French door opening to the street and watch the world go by. It's New Orleans as you'd imagined.

Napoleon House
500 Chatres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.


I've been longing to do a garden tour of NOLA's famous Garden District for years. But garden tours are very hard to organize -- I only do small tours with friends now -- and so I'm always looking for tours offered by other people, to see how they do it and to also take the easy seat for a change! 

Well, I did a garden tour of the French Quarter on the first day and it was terrible. So the second day, I tried one of Bill Noble's tours, called Le Monde Creole, which promised to focus on secret gardens of the French Quarter. What a inspiring guide! We wandered into private courtyards (with permission), sat by cooling fountains or under grand palms and learned about not only the architecture and gardens but also the women of the city, including Marie Laveau, who have all done so much to influence and create its character. There's another annual tour of private gardens of the French Quarter run by Patio Planters, but Le Monde Creole's tours are held everyday. If you love gardens, tag along: it's really special.

Afterwards, you can either find another tour of the Garden District (above, right; there are many tours of this neighborhood), or just wander the streets yourself, as I did, to see the grand mansions and impeccable grounds.

Le Monde Creole



On the way, I stopped in LA to visit friends in Los Feliz, and decided to stay at a place I'd never been before: Venice Beach

A friend had recommended the quaint, little-known Venice Beach House (above), which has rooms for $150/night, and is virtually on the beach (Australians love it). Well, I just adored it. It's one of the original beach houses of the area, and still has a wonderful old Arts and Crafts feel to it. It's more of a private mansion than a hotel (if you don't like sharing a bathroom, opt for one of the suites), but the upside is that staff are like family. There's afternoon tea served at three, free beach towels, and enticing spots to sit and read in the glorious garden.

Best of all, it was around the corner from both the Venice Canals, which feature some of the prettiest cottages in LA (they were a feature of the film Valentine's Day with Ashton Kutcher), and the up-and-coming Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which has some of the coolest shops in the city. 

Of course, there are still parts of Venice Beach that are dubious -- the section between VB and Santa Monica is one to avoid -- but the southern end of VB, around the canals and Abbott Kinney, is well worth a wander. The gardens here are the loveliest things to see; every cottage on the Venice Canals is different, and you can spend hours peeking over all the picket fences. It's a somewhat secret part of LA. And who knew there were many of those left?

Venice Beach House
15 30th Avenue, Venice Beach, Los Angeles

And now I'm back home again, back to shooting oil paintings and floral still lives for a book. The bag is unpacked, the garden is flowering after all the rain, and life seems a little gentler again...
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