As London in June fluctuates between a bit of damp drizzle and rather breezy ‘why didn’t I bring a cardigan with me’ weather with only bursts of sporadic sunshine now might be a good time to head off to the warmer climes of The Continent to seek a bit of sun – and a bit of Conran-esque culture too.
Fresh from a European Honeymoon with a difference, Mat Riches, Terence’s PR Manager, shares his Top 5 things to see and do – whether it’s inspiring architecture, great grub or just the romance of travel itself.
A wedding. Nine months of planning, a week of hectic build up and an incredible day of celebrations and dancing, we were shattered and in need of a relaxing honeymoon, right? A couple of weeks on a beach in Bermuda, like Terence, perhaps? A remote retreat in Kerala to unwind? No chance – we’d plumped for a whistle stop tour of Europe taking in seven cities in fourteen nights by plane, train and automobile.
Sunday morning we were joining the volcanic ash stricken crowds at St Pancras and heading to Paris by Eurostar, luckily with cheap seats booked months in advance. After that we took in Madrid, Lisbon, Valencia, Rome, Florence and finally back to London. We stayed at some top notch boutique hotels, rented amazing apartments in city centre locations, dined at incredible restaurants and bars and visited some fascinating museums and galleries. Here are our best, design related, bits which I know all CONRAN fans will love as much as we did.
Rome’s classical renaissance buildings and Roman ruins blew us away, especially the eerily perfect proportions of the Pantheon. Florence’s Duomo was a marble marvel and Paris’s grand boulevards stirred the heart. But Valencia and its City of Arts and Sciences left us picking our jaws up off the floor. I’m a layman of architecture, and I’m sure the directors of Conran & Partners could give you more technical terms, but my wife put it best – it’s like six massive Sydney Opera Houses one after the other with a bridge thrown in too. Futuristic, inspiring and sensitive to its location, this urban marvel was created by local architect Santiago Calatrava and is perfect in every way.
We stayed in a five star Parisian boutique hotel which was delightful but snooty. The Hospes in Valencia has seen better days and needs to learn some manners, and I could have looked at the view from our ultra modern rooftop apartment in Lisbon until our first wedding anniversary. But in Madrid we found a real gem in the Hotel Mario. Part of the Room Mate hotels group, it is a design, and art, led hotel that knows the value of a warm welcome. All the art and attention to detail really reminded me of Boundary, our boutique hotel in Shoreditch. Upgraded to a suite as newlyweds, a bottle of Cava on ice when we arrived (at ten in the morning, oops), Philippe Stark furniture and the most amazing buffet breakfast our only regret was that we only stayed for one night. Which was my fault, I said Madrid sounded boring.
The Reina Sofia in Madrid was equal to our own Tate Modern and contained my favourite painting, Guernica. The Louvre held an ominous power and it was worth queuing for two hours to see David at the Accademia in Florence. But the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, was a real find. I actually heard Terence recommend it during an interview so of course I should have known how good it would be but it still caught me by surprise. Founded in 1794 as a depository for the preservation of scientific instruments and inventions, the museum takes you on a journey through time taking in some of mankind’s greatest inventions. The tour finishes in an adjacent chapel with a stunning display of cars and flying machines (no, not just planes) as well as an original version of Léon Foucault’s revolutionary contraption for measuring the speed of light.
On Terence’s recommendation we tried steak at Benoit in Paris, delicious. Every meal we ate in Italy was spectacularly scrumptious, but a small tavern in Lisbon called Tradição o Vinho won our hearts. A tiny little place on a side street, we would probably have walked past if the owner wasn’t smoking a “special” cigarette outside and read out the menu to us. Meat (duck), fish (fresh Atlantic bream) or vegetarian (we didn’t catch that one) with some vegetables and a salad. The only other choice was red or white or “I think maybe rosé too.” The décor was minimal but homely, the food cooked simply but full of flavours you would never have guessed existed and the salad, oh what taste you can draw from fresh leaves, figs, local cheese and olive oil. At the end of the night the chef (wife of the owner) joined us and as he poured glass after glass of Amarguinha on the house, his wife explained why they would never turn a huge profit as her husband is just too generous. The €35 tip we left would not have even covered the liquer, never mind the amazing service.
The Eurostar is always a great way to travel, the bubble car to Florence was a hoot and the 12-seater plane from Lisbon to Valencia will never be forgotten. But I would encourage anybody who finds romance in travel to take the night train from Paris to Madrid and do it in style in Gran Class. A sunset with a bottle of Rioja, a three course meal in the buffet car with a white Rioja, a snug but comfortable room, beautifully lit French villages flashing by in the night and a sunrise dawning over the fields and mountains of northern Spain as you hone in on Madrid…magic.