It normally takes me about two years to get around to writing up my hotel reviews (it’s well over a year, I think, since I visited the Bedruthan in Cornwall and I still have the notes fresh in my mind, as though I visited yesterday!) but I’m trying to be more organised and proactive and – why not? – reactive and so TA-DAH! here we are with a post that’s actually fresh in my mind and not from my ever-growing backlog of drafts.
What an intro.
Great. You don’t want to miss this one, especially if you enjoy the odd luxury weekend away somewhere rural but refined. Polished rural, I like to call it. It’s a thing. It’s all the bits of the countryside that people who are not from the countryside want to see, packaged up with deep, hot baths and fifty types of artisnal gin in the bar and a boot room stacked high with Hunter wellies. Hotels that are surrounded by gorgeous countryside, viewable through huge windows from a comfy chair, but that also have paths.
Because nobody would come to the real countryside, not for a luxury break. There’s nothing relaxing about a constant barrage of mud, psychopathic tractor drivers and wifi signal so weak and frustrating it makes you want to go at your own face with a cheese grater.
Obviously there are many good things about the countryside (clean air, slower pace of life, actual space), all I’m saying is that these country hotels (the good ones) manage to parcel up the country life experience so that you’d be forgiven for believing that anyone outside of the M25 spends most of the day either leaning against an AGA or throwing more logs on the fire. Rug on lap, dog at feet, glass of gin in hand and the firelight gently flickering as you read a romantic novel.
Anyway, the Newt In Somerset is the latest polished rural country house and by God do they do it well. This isn’t a hotel, it’s a destination – you could spend an entire day just going about the gardens, which are so splendid that non-guests actually pay to visit them. As a day trip.
They are magnificent, with acres of food-providing beds and orchards, wild areas, a deer park and a cutting edge, forward-thinking garden museum that you’d pay the entry price for alone.
So you have the gardens, which are an attraction in themselves, and then you have one of the most excellent spas in existence – so quiet, so instantly welcoming, so brilliantly designed – and a whole load of different places to eat and drink. Not in a “resort” sort of way, it’s not as though the place has themed restaurants popping up all over the shop, but you can climb up to the huge garden cafe that sits majestically on top op the lands, or you can have coffee in the greenhouse or dinner in the gloriously dark and sexy dining room…
The gym looks like the sort of gym very famous people would go to. I rarely mentions gyms, because WHY you would want to exercise on your relaxing break is beyond me, but this one is notable. The glass that fronts the entire building is formed from one sheet (the largest installed in the whole of Europe last year – geek fact) and it’s just spectacular. It’s no secret that I love a bit of elegant, streamlined modern architecture set against historic buildings and The Newt just do it so well.
It’s an absolute triumph in planning and design – like entering the world’s most perfect village, but if the village had been built by a perfectionist with unlimited budget. I can imagine it must have cost tens of millions of pounds. (The Daily Mail say 50 million, but hey. Pinch of salt, etc.)
And so to the main building, which is your classic Pride & Prejudice early Georgian affair, but with a cheeky little twist. In fact the twist happens before you even get through the door, because all of the woodwork (window frames, door frames) have been painted grey. It’s always a bit of a surprise when they’re not the usual off-white. Part of me hates it, that departure from the way things should be, but the other part of me admires the boldness. And it screams “we’ve done a shitload of work on this hotel – it’s basically a new build in an ancient shell!””
Which it is. The inside is immaculate, with huge panes of glass set against exposed stone walls (sound familiar? It’s like House Reno deja vu!) and bedroom walls and ceilings that are so flawlessly plastered you’d be hard pushed to tell you’re in an old house, until you go to the windows and see that they are the original sashes. The bedroom was borderline too clean for me, finish-wise – spots set into the ceiling, shining out through peepholes cut into the plasterboard, and pristine furniture, but on the other hand there’s no denying that this gives everything a really high-end feel. There’s no shabbiness – no worn leather armchair or frayed rug, none of your ubiquitous country house edge, but if there was then perhaps it would feel a little too much like the hotels that are already well established in providing a luxurious rural bolthole.
In short: go to The Newt if you’re after a countryside break. I can’t see how you’d regret it. Plenty to do, plenty to eat (and there’s a garden-to-fork philosophy, so a vast proportion of the ingredients have zero air miles and are just about as nice as you can get them) and bedrooms you’d happily live in. Make sure you do the spa and the garden museum and absolutely factor in a trip to nearby Bruton, which has the Hauser & Wirth gallery and is cute as a button. Within twenty minutes you have the market town Frome (the most “woke” town in the UK, apparently) and Wells, which is the UK’s smallest city but has an absolutely epic Cathedral. Or, you know, just lounge about at The Newt and drink their cider and eat snacks.
You can find more info on The Newt here – rooms start at £255 per night. No dogs allowed, which is also something that sets this hotel apart. Most country offerings are heaving with dogs, which is both lovely and at the same time annoying, depending on where you stand with dogs. The Newt do accept children, which is both lovely and at the same time – oh, you know the drill.
Here are my 2019 favourites for skincare and haircare, including the latest shampoo discovery that actually changes the entire feel of my hair and the skincare that’ll make a proper difference to your beauty routine.
I was going to do a bodycare version of this 2019 roundup, as well as a “best books” video, but I’ve left it too late and all of a sudden the whole “best of last year” thing seems very outdated. It’s the video equivalent of being that person who’s still saying Happy New Year! to people they haven’t seen for a while – I mean when do you stop saying it? February? Move on.
I’m listing the products beneath each video pane for ease, but please do give them a click and a watch – the haircare one is particularly brief, which will no doubt make some of you ecstatic with joy.
Elizabeth Arden Great 8 SPF35, is usually £36 but at time of writing it’s £24 on Amazon (legit retailer) here*: https://amzn.to/2NCyNmK find it in most department stores and on FeelUnique here*: http://bit.ly/2NDbMA9
Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25 here: https://drsambunting.com/products/flawless-moisturiser
Kate Somerville Retinol Vita C serum, £85 here*: https://bit.ly/30xCK1q
Murad Retinol range, from £25 for a small serum size, here*: http://bit.ly/2TzC7CI
Arden Retinol capsules, from £42 here*: http://bit.ly/369Esas
Inkey list Collagen, £8.99 here*: https://amzn.to/38b9b8e
Hada Labo Lotion, £16.95 here*: https://amzn.to/2TwiwDs
Beauty Pie Plantastic Cleansing Balm, £11.89 + membership here*: http://bit.ly/3694HxL
My Plantastic review: https://www.amodelrecommends.com/skincare-review-beauty-pies-apricot-cleansing-balm/
The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser review: https://www.amodelrecommends.com/skincare-review-the-ordinary-squalane-cleanser/
Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Mask, £55 here*: http://bit.ly/38kXjAP
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid, my review: https://www.amodelrecommends.com/the-pmt-skin-saver-and-four-ways-to-use-it/
May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon Balm, £159 here*: https://bit.ly/2sy54E4
Cicaplast Baume B5, £7.50 here*: http://bit.ly/2FZluIS
Olaplex Shampoo, from £13 here*: https://bit.ly/38CdGsM
Olaplex Conditioner, from £13 here*: https://bit.ly/38EW2Vm
Josh Wood Uplifting Shampoo/Conditioner for Blonde Hair, £10 each here*: http://tidd.ly/17c52c40
Virtue Full Shampoo from £14 here*: https://bit.ly/37rauA5
Davines OI Oil, £35 here*: http://bit.ly/30WVS91 (this is the large bottle and it would last for years if you use it as sparingly as I do!)
Tangle Teezer Brush for fragile hair, £12 here*: https://amzn.to/3aGpPif
Colab Dry Shampoo, £3.50 here*: http://bit.ly/2RpALce
Here begins my epic task of catching up on all of the stuff I didn’t manage to post before the end of 2019, and I’m going to start with a bit of a Chanel update. Because who doesn’t love a dose of double-c luxury to kick of the year?
Before Christmas I was invited on the press trip of dreams; a visit to the Chanel skincare labs to look at their latest launches, coupled with a very swanky stay in Paris. Let’s face it, a trip with Chanel is never going to be shoddy, but this was next-level extra; bedding down at the Ritz (in a room, I should add, I didn’t just pull out a sleeping bag and lie in the lobby) and some really quite excellent dining.
Despite the fact that on the way out to Paris I was surviving on 75 minutes’ sleep from the night before (can’t ever sleep before an early wakeup call, see Early Bird) I threw myself into the Chanel immersion wholeheartedly, touring the HQ, having my makeup done at the Chanel flagship store on the Champs Elysees and even doing some Chanel-themed crafts. (Gilding my own Chanel logo with gold leaf. As you do. Crafting de Chanel.)
I sat in what can only be described as a Chanel Classroom, learning about some of the ingredients they use in the new Sublimage cleansing range (the new l’Huile-en-Gel Cleanser* is a gorgeous gel-to-oil-to-milk concoction, if you’re a Chanel-ophile and are in the market for a luxury treat!) and I went down the skincare labs to see how a few of the raw ingredients are extracted.
But my favourite part of the trip was a tour around the Chanel archives. Les Archives de Chanel. (I think I irritated the entire press group by labelling everything X de Chanel. It was all so stylish, so minimalist. Even the lifts looked nice. Lifts de Chanel. I just could’t help myself!)
In the archives they had some of the most important dresses and suits from various decades and they had loads of amazing photographs showing early designs and campaigns, but it was the vintage beauty packaging room that really tickled my fancy. It was like opening a time capsule, but a brilliantly elegant one – no mouldy parchments, broken records or rusty old sardine cans here! Instead there were teeny oil-paint tubes of moisturiser, bottles of talc, boxes of soap – all of them vintage and some from as far back as the 1920s.
What I found amazing was how many of the products that Chanel introduced in the 20s are echoed in their modern launches – in some ways the types of product and the way that they are presented has changed very little.
Glass bottles with sleek shapes and unfussy labels, minimalist black and white boxes and products that seemed more than a little familiar. How brilliant that some products available today, such as the Huile de Jasmine, were originally launched almost a hundred years ago!
It seems crazy that a product idea can work so well, be so desired and cherished, that it has almost the same look and formula a whole century later. If that’s not a masterclass in branding then I don’t know what is!
Although I have to say that the hand cream has evolved somewhat: from simple tube to what has to be one of the most ergonomic and satisfying pieces of packaging I’ve ever had the pleasure of touching. Have you seen the Chanel Creme Main? It’s housed in a perfectly smooth pebble of a bottle that fits exactly into the palm of your hand. So clever. So unusual. So well executed.
I realise I’m going down one of my rave routes (as in I’m getting diverted and praising something for ages, not as in I’m following a trail of gurning, topless, whistle-blowing dancers to a large tent in a remote field) and so I’ll stop now. I do wish I’d made more comprehensive notes on all of these archived products, though – honestly, they were fascinating. Look at the tanning products!
I can’t imagine too many people were bringing out tanning products as a range in that era – this was really thinking outside and around the proverbial box and giving people products that they didn’t even know they needed. Not just tanning oil, but self tan – get that sunshine hit without even stepping outside…
Marvellous. I’d go again, if only just to take better photos and write things down. As it happened I was too busy enjoying myself.
You can find the new Sublimage cleansing range online here* – my pick would be the Oil-in-Gel Cleanser* because it completely (and easily) removes makeup without being at all drying. Obviously the Sublimage pricetag applies, here, so please don’t faint when you see it.
Pricetag de Chanel.
Why is it that when I have an early wakeup call, I simply cannot get to sleep? And by the way, I’m talking early-early here, when the owls are still hooting and the foxes are still tearing open the bin bags and rooting for chicken bones. Witching hour early, 3.30am early, not your pedestrian kind of early. Not 6am early. Pah! I spit on 6am.
Before Christmas I had a hideously early wakeup time – 4am – and the night before I could not get to sleep no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I started packing at 11pm and couldn’t decide what to wear to travel to Paris. (Luxury problems, I know.) It was a toss-up between two terrible options; the skinny jeans that garrotte my Pleasure Garden in half with their seam, or the dress that makes my underarms overheat. And the choice of travel attire of course affected all of my other packing, because one option needed a longer coat and the other required a shorter type of coat and the whole debacle sent me into a late-night, overtired tailspin of organisational hell.
Even when I finally got into bed and closed my eyes (the kids woke up twice between 11pm and 1am) I tossed and turned for hours, unable to get comfortable or stop my brain from whirring.
And then after all of the whirring and tossing, I was too hot. Far too hot. This phase lasted for an eternity, roasting my feet and legs even though my shoulders and chest were cold. Which was a worry in itself, as I had a chest infection and we all know you have to keep your chest and back warm! God, you might get pneumonia and die! I’d already tackled death and the depressing certainty of it in the first couple of anxious hours.
It’s that first era of sleeplessness that always kicks everything off, isn’t it? The anxiety era. It starts with the worry of missing the alarm going off, then it moves to the worry of travel in general – things that can go wrong on car journeys, on trains, definitely on planes. After twenty minutes you’ve played out at least eight horrific scenarios involving masked men, suspicious packages, air hostesses with exploding tea trolleys, pilots with a death wish. Then, once you’ve exhausted all possibilities and turned your pillow over to the cool side again, you move onto life in general and all of the things that can go wrong, compiling an almost exhaustive mental list and committing it to memory so that you can refer to it again and again in times when you really need to be getting to bloody sleep.
Anyway, I finally got to sleep at three, but it could have been later because three was the last number I saw on my phone and we all know how time flies when a wake-up call is looming! And then, my friends, guess who sauntered up to the front door HALF AN HOUR EARLY?
The taxi driver. He knocked on the door at four, waking up the dog and then the toddler and then the small child who had until then been peacefully, blissfully slumbering, no worries or hijack scenarios keeping them from their beauty sleep.
I imaginary-throttled the taxi driver. Had I been living in the Georgian times and not merely living in a house from that period, I would have thrown open the bedroom sash, upturned my chamberpot and doused the man with piss. Alas I live in 2020 and we have a toilet. Also, if anyone can “throw open” a Georgian sash window I’ll give them a medal, because it takes about eleven minutes of jostling and joggling just to get them open enough to poke a hand out, even if you’ve had the frames reconditioned and all of the sashes re-weighted. Just saying.
So the kids woke up when the taxi driver knocked and – bizarrely – one child puked and the other did a poo. They were like an effluent-emitting version of a cuckoo clock, pyjama’d kids instead of cuckoos. Cuck-koo-BLEUGH! Cuck-koo-pppppllllllllllop. (That’s the universally acknowledged sound of a poo happening.)
Why could the taxi driver have not just been on time? Why half an hour early? Why knock on the door? It’s not as though we’re short of places to stop and pull over, near us. Yes, it’s dark, yes it can be slightly sinister and the trees look like witches fingers and you might get a bat flying into your windscreen, but for the love of God it’s four o’ clock in the morning! Being early is worse than late, in some scenarios – any decent person knows that. It’s as bad as turning up half an hour early for a dinner at someone’s house – you just don’t do it. They might be shaving their legs, or they could be peeling potatoes; if it’s a couple then they’ll likely be stressed and shout-whispering hateful things at each other, things about divorce and who makes all of the social arrangements and whether chicken past the sell-by date should be thrown away if it smells faintly of cheese.
If you book a taxi for 4.30AM, who in their right mind turns up early? It’s not like 4pm, when the passanger-to-be will most likely be doing that pacing, hand-wringing thing whilst waiting for their chariot to arrive. Daytime passengers are always ready for their car approximately twenty minutes before it’s due: morning passengers are not. Nobody sane chops a full thirty minutes from an already truncated sleep just so that they’ll be ready for a taxi – if you have all of your faculties then you’ll time it to a tee. Wake up, brush teeth, slide into pre-laid-out clothes, quietly creep downstairs and let yourself out of the front door – taxi idling outside, but preferably engine should be off so that you don’t disturb half the world.
You’d think that these would be basic and obvious default settings in life. Mind you, you’d also think that knowing how to pack a suitcase would be, yet I fail each and every time I do it. On this particular trip I managed to pack four different moisturisers yet only one matching pair of shoes – the other pair were both made of the same beige leather but the left foot had a 6cm heel and the right foot was a whacking great 10cm! Oh how I hobbled.
Anyway, those anxiety-fuelled sleepless nights are a total bore, aren’t they? And there’s nothing worse than finally dropping into a deep slumber and then hearing the alarm go off. I should have had one of my Epsom Salt baths (I tip five large mugfuls into a warm tub) but I was too busy hunting my wardrobe for the jeans that would leave me permanently disfigured in the nether regions.
Why don’t they make jeans with a gusset?
I’ve had a slightly longer break from work than anticipated; but don’t worry, there’s nothing sinister afoot. I’m not ill, the dog didn’t die, I’ve not had a drastic facelift that meant I needed to hide behind bandages for a month. I was just absolutely shattered before Christmas and then the school holidays (aka “the great relentless abyss of no childcare”) completely finished me off.
I won’t harp on about Christmas not being a holiday – you can read this post from the same time last year and just update the kids’ ages – but it’s safe to say that having a four and two year old is as much work (possibly more) than having a three and a one year old. At least toddlers (generally) haven’t discovered eye-rolling and chat-back. At least toddlers are vaguely amused by wrapping paper, empty boxes and the jangly bell from a Lindt bunny tied to the end of a piece of ribbon. Fast-forward a year and the children now want painting games on the iPad and festive biscuit-decorating sessions.
Anyway, to cut a long and fairly pedestrian story short, I decided to take a few casual days off when school started back last week so that I actually had more than twenty seconds to myself. It was great. On the first of the two child-free days (there were four school days in total but Ted only goes to nursery part time) I stayed in bed looking for second hand velvet sofas on eBay and browsing for vintage rugs on Vinterior. On the second child-free day, which – alas – wasn’t consecutive – I went to Bath in the morning with Mr AMR, had some lunch and then sorted out the shoes and boots in the utility room. Bliss.
So that covers the two days last week when I actually had some proper time off: what of the rest of the “holiday”? What an earth have I been up to, seeing as though I’ve been on a self-imposed social media ban which theoretically should free up about nine hours a day? Here’s a run-down: brace positions, people, it’s a wild ride.
I learnt how to use the scanner thing at Sainsbury’s. Have you used these supermarket handheld beepy scanner things? I’m not talking about the self checkout tills, which are so useless and stress-inducing they make me want to chew off my own feet, I’m referring to the handsets that you pick up at the start of your shop and take around with you, zapping barcodes as you go, so that at the end of your shop you can just pay and go.
No unloading the trolley at the till only to pack it up again and then unload it into the boot of your car. (Sounds such a ridiculous waste of time when you write it down.) No watching helplessly as your bottle of Malbec slowly rolls along the conveyor belt, straight off the end and then smashes on the floor. No performance anxiety as you try to pack your bags in front of the people waiting in the queue behind you – the pressure as you feel them judging your packing speed and dexterity! The shame as you fumble to retrieve your bag-for-life from the floor! The panic as a loose lime you’ve reached for rolls away, escaping your grasp. You can feel your audience’s eyes trained upon you – they wince as you pack heavy potatoes on top of squishy cherry tomatoes, they breathe an audible sigh of relief when you realise that the milk is leaking and ask if someone could possibly get you another.
“JANET! JANET! Six litres of full fat on checkout nine! The woman’s got a leaky one!”
None of that when you use the handheld scanner. Utter genius, it is. Although I have to say, don’t let your kids mess about with it. I almost paid for eight giant boxes of dishwasher tablets and a “Pressure King” pressure cooker.
I saved over £290 on curtain tie-backs. Yes, you heard me – £290! The one from Samuel & Sons that matched my tasselled curtain (photo above) would have been £300 inc VAT and I managed to get an (admittedly much plainer) version without the tassel but with all the same tying-back abilities in the Laura Ashley sale. Eight quid! The fact that it took me around ninety-five man hours to research alternative tie-backs is by the by. I’m pretty sure my labour costs were more than the original tie-back…
I made Yorkshire Puddings properly for the first time and they were immense. Quite literally. I put a bit too much batter into each tin and they rose to just about fill the top oven. I think one of them was almost ten inches tall. Who cares, though – more is more when it comes to Yorkshire Puddings, surely? It’s the only part of a roast dinner I’m actually bothered about. Next year at Christmas I might just make myself a giant Yorkshire and fill it with gravy. Bit of al dente broccoli. Scrap of turkey and a dollop of cranberry and I’m done.
I took the stair gate off and now Mr Bear the cat is an omnipresent menace. Honestly, life was easier when he was confined to the ground floor. Now that he has free run of the house he sneaks up on you when you’re in the shower, jumps onto your back when you’re sitting on the loo and pounces on the kids’ feet in bed. He’s having an absolute whale of a time. Although I caught him pointing his claws in the direction of my velvet upholstered Soho Home bed the other day and so the gate might have to be resurrected. It’s been so nice without it though – just walking down the stairs, freely, without having to wrestle with the lock and then risk breaking my neck tripping over the frame. We could have taken it down about a year ago if it wasn’t for the cat and his penchant for creeping about the place and using furniture to sharpen his nails…
I did a self-imposed social media ban. Which I’ve already mentioned, but it’s worth saying again: I didn’t look at any social media from the 21st of December until the other day. Amazingly, my screen time didn’t go down, but that’s because I used all of the social media time trawling the internet for furniture bargains. I reckon if you squished all of the time together, I spent a full day and night searching for stuff on Vinterior – the scrolling started to make me feel seasick! (By the way, if you want to get £50 off your first order with them use RUTH CRILLY in the code box. This isn’t a special affiliate setup – anyone who orders with them can get a code.)
Why the social media ban? I just wanted a quiet and relaxing Christmas (HA!) and to properly stop thinking about work for a couple of weeks. The thing is that I have a perpetual internal monologue as I go about my day – I almost narrate my own existence – and because of this I’m always tempted to write down every thought that I’ve had, or record every action. Quite often little things I’ve done can form the basis for a post here on A Model Recommends, or I’ll jot down a thought that will then become a bigger idea which then requires a longer sit-down with pen and paper to elaborate, and unless I absolutely switch off, one hundred percent, the temptation is always there to quickly write a caption or draft a blog post.
So I moved all of my social media apps to a different page of the iPhone menu so that they weren’t staring me in the face when I opened my phone and then I just sort of forgot about them. I can highly recommend it, at least every once in a while. I actually think I have an OK relationship with social media – I’m definitely not addicted and can easily detach myself – but still. A digital cleanse felt pretty good!
Now I’m finding it quite hard to get back to work, however – I’m dragging myself very slowly into 2020, like a giant, jumper-wearing slug. I have been setting myself absurdly basic tasks so that my brain doesn’t go into shock;
email the sofa-fixing man about fixing the sofa, ask him to fix the sofa and how much it would be to fix the sofa. Can he even fix the sofa?
How are you finding the New Year? Did you set any resolutions or do you have a masterplan for 2020? Mine is to try and be more organised with work so that I don’t feel so stressed – plan my content and commitments in advance so that I know what I need to get done, rather than just fitting in tasks at the last minute or late at night. 2020 is the year of the new, streamlined me!