• Where to go

    After the deeply sad funeral of my godfather Mark Shand, I needed somewhere cheering to stay.  My comfort place of choice, Babington House was full.  (NB. Thursdays are 'Wedding' days at Babington, when the entire house is often booked out).

    But a friend suggested The Talbot Inn, nearby in the village of Mells.  "It's run by Matt Greenlees, the guy who was general manager at Babington," he said, "So you're in safe hands."  Gold star to you my friend, as sure enough this pretty former coaching inn, was just the ticket; a fairy lit cobbled-stone courtyard, friendly bar and cosy but elegant restaurant.  Up higgledy-piggledy stairs to the eight bedrooms; mine had four-poster bed that would comfortably fit an entire family, high ceilings and not only a bath in the bedroom but a separate shower too. 

    Dinner of immaculately 'seignant' steak with bone marrow, celeriac puree, pearl barley and naughty, naughty chips was worth returning for.  Which I will be, there's a lot more exploring to be done; visits to the village Walled Garden, trips to the newly-opened Somerset outpost of London gallery Hauser & Wirth with it's own café and artist residencies.  And for cooking classes with Somerset residents Joanna Weinberg and Clare Liardet.  Their classes, are handily taught in the grill room at The Talbot Inn with 'Cooking for Teens', 'Summer Gatherings' and 'Summer Cooking for Men' happening in July before breaking for the holidays.  But classes are back with steaming hot vengeance in the autumn with 'Easy Breads' and 'Autumnal Tarts' slated for September.

    The Talbot Inn may not have the thrusting 'rich man's water' gushing from the bath or immaculate attention to detail (expensive taps, polar thick towels, inventive mini-bars) that Nick Jones freely sprinkles over his Soho House houses. But the laid-back vibe, good wine and goose down duvet were just the thing after a long emotional day.  And the full English the following morning set me up for a pensive but perky drive home.

    www.talbotinn.com 
    www.kitchentablecookery.co.uk
    www.thewalledgardenatmells.co.uk
    www.hauserwirthsomerset.com

  • What to do

    When it comes to British flower shows, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is without doubt the pinnacle.  But it's also worth considering its fragrant, sassy sister - the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. 

    Set in the grounds of the part-Tudor, part-Baroque palace, the Royal Horticultural Society arranged show runs from 8th-13th July.  But there's also a chance to get in before the crowds at a Preview Evening on 7th July, to see the show gardens, the Rose & Floristry Marquee, turf sculptures or the intriguingly named RHS Invisible Garden (an exploration of what goes on in our gardens at microscopic level) with less green-fingered hustle.  Other perks include live music, fireworks and supping options including garden picnics or a lobster and champagne blow-out.  

    Unlike RHS Chelsea, many of the exhibitors sell their blooms throughout the show.  Which proves a bounteous bonus for impulsive, inspired gardeners. 

    RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 8th-13th July, Preview Evening 7th July 

    www.rhs.org.uk/hamptoncourt

    The RHS offers all Vanity Fair A-List subscribers the chance to win a pair of tickets to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show Preview Evening on Monday 7th July.  To enter this prize draw, send your details (name, address, email, telephone number) to rhscompetition@fourcolmangetty.com by 12pm on Friday 27th June.  Terms and conditions apply. No under 16s will be admitted to the Preview.

  • Where to go

    With the opening of the Rem Koolhaas-curated Venice Architecture Biennale, the cool lunch spot to be far from the madding crowd is the garden at the new Aman.

    A little off the boat-busy mouth, head further up the Grand Canal to the elegant C16th façade of Palazzo Papadopili.  Off the boat, into an airy hall and into Aman's take on Venice.  If you're into combining old and new - then this is it.  A grand cantilevered stone staircase up to the piano nobile to the ball room, where restrained furniture poses amongst the Rococo architectural froth with bellinis waiting to be sipped. 

    But it's the bedrooms that take the biscotti.  And one particular suite that nails it, with the bed beneath a fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.  And then of course that lush green garden, so rare in Venice, that was created when Nicolo and Angelo Papadopili Aldonbrandini bought the palazzo in the early C19th - and flattened the two neighbouring buildings.  Now beneath the shady trees you'll find Naoki, a slick Japanese restaurant, and the much-longed for antidote to the general carb overload.

    www.amanresorts.com