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Westminster Review: Top Bars and Restaurants

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Hi everyone,

So I recently had the pleasure of spending the day in London reviewing bars and restaurants for a neighbourhood project that I’m currently working on for The Culture Trip. I’ve never done anything like this before, most of my write ups have been based on internet research rather than personal experience as I can’t put too much first person writing into my Culture Trip articles! As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to review some of the trendiest bars and restaurants in one of the best parts of London, the beautiful borough of Westminster. It’s no secret that I’ve always loved London and I have a particular soft spot for Westminster so was delighted to be able to take on this area for one of my neighbourhood projects.

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I didn’t have long in the capital and knew I had to plan my day as best as I could so I emailed a few of my chosen establishments in advance to set up some meetings. To my delight, managers from my top 2 bars and restaurants replied and I set up meetings with them both; Didier Agueh (Executive Host & Artistic Director) and Gregory (Restaurant Manager) of Primo Bar, Park Plaza Hotel and Sergio of The Zander Bar, part of Bank Westminster. Both interviews went brilliantly and I was able to learn a lot about the establishments as well as get an understanding of the menus and the types of customers that pass through the doors. My friend and I were even treated to some lovely complimentary drinks- thanks guys! So without further ado, here are the big interviews …

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Primo Bar, Park Plaza Westminster Hotel

When did you first open? March 2010

Most popular time of day? After work for business people, or after 9pm on events nights. Primo Bar is proud to host a number of events and music nights throughout the year, including  shows from top tribute acts and jazz and soul artists.

Who are your target audience? We attract guests of all ages, but our main target audience are adults over the age of 25. Most are of course hotel guests but we do get large numbers of locals and tourists looking for a luxurious place to relax and unwind after a hard day at work, or to enjoy their Saturday night out.

Signature drink? We run a Cocktail of the Month promotion, and October’s special is a fantastic Spiced Rum Sour for £12.95. Alternatively we run a 2-4-1 cocktail deal every weekday from 5-8pm only.

Any famous celebrity spots? Bruno Mars, Nicole Scherzinger, the cast of Fast & Furious 7 and our very own Prime Minister David Cameron!

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Brasserie Joel, Park Plaza Westminster Hotel

When did you first open? March 2010

Most popular time of day? Evening meal times between Thursdays and Saturdays.

Who are your target audience? Mainly hotel residents, it’s about a 75% to 25% split between residents and members of the public.

Signature dish? Chef Walter Ishizuka is known for his excellent Tournedos Rossini, a fillet of beef served in a truffle sauce.

Any famous celebrity spots? Jessica Wright (of hit TV show The Only Way is Essex) dined here last week actually!

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The Zander Bar, Bank Restaurant

When did you first open? 2007

Most popular time of day? Straight after work for locals, and on into the early part of the evening. We run a Happy Hour promotion between 5pm and 9pm Tuesdays-Fridays.

Who are your target audience? Business people

Signature drink? Our cocktails and our selection of Martini’s

Any famous celebrity spots? Because of our close proximity to The Houses of Parliament we often attract many politicians, one of the most well known being Nick Clegg.

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Bank Restaurant

When did you first open? 2007.

Most popular time of day? Early evening for after work locals and business people, where corporate events and meetings are often held in our private dining rooms.

Who are your target audience? Business people during the week, but we also attract tourists and locals during weekend leisure.

Signature dish? We serve a range of meats and steaks in our fantastic tandoori clay oven- they are always popular with our customers!

Any famous celebrity spots? As above, many politicians visit due to our brilliant Westminster location.

My published articles for Best Bars and Best Restaurants have just gone live, and I wrote a post on Top Things to See and Do in Westminster a while back. I’d just like to say a big THANK YOU again to Didier, Gregory and Sergio for having me- I’ll certainly be back! My next neighbourhood projects are Covent Garden and Canary Wharf so I’ll be heading back down to the capital for some more research soon and will be posting my reviews and interviews afterwards. I’m thoroughly enjoying my latest projects and cannot wait to share more of my handy tips with you and all of The Culture Trip readers.

Speak soon!

Love Jess x

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October Newsletter: Autumn Has Arrived!

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Hi everyone,

So firstly I wanted to apologise for the huuuuuge delay in writing this up and my lack of blog posts since September! I’ve been super busy since I returned from my recent holiday away to Budapest that I’ve barely had time to think! Now that the nights are getting darker and the days are getting colder, it feels as if autumn is well and truly here and its given me chance to get myself a little more organised. I thought I’d better give you all an overview of what’s been happening lately so my new blog feature, a monthly newsletter, should explain it nicely! Here goes…

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Budapest was a brilliant place to visit for my 5th European city break in the past 2 years; its full of culture, character and charm and provided the perfect getaway for me and my sister. We spent three nights and four days in the city which gave us plenty of time to see the sights, explore the little side streets and indulge in some Hungarian history. I’ll be writing up my Budapest adventure as soon as possible, so watch this space!…

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The day after I returned from my holiday I whizzed straight off to Northampton to see one of my best friends get married. She held her reception at the beautiful Dodford Manor, a converted countryside barn which was simply stunning. Everyone had a brilliant time, and the bride and groom looked totally gorgeous! Congrats Mr & Mrs Nicholson, and thank you for letting me be a part of your special day! <3

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Last weekend I headed into London for the day to review some of the best restaurants and bars in trendy Westminster. I hadn’t been to the capital since June so I was dying to go back and this gave me the perfect excuse to visit! As many of my regular readers know, I’ve been contributing for global online magazine The Culture Trip since the summer and was delighted to be asked to take part in their new Neighbourhood project. The task involves taking an area of London and posting about the best bars, restaurants, brunches and things to see and do in said area. I chose to take on Westminster, Covent Garden and Canary Wharf and couldn’t wait to get to work!

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As part of my research I set up meetings with bar and restaurant managers for a few of my chosen establishments and had the pleasure of being toured around the buildings, interviewing the managers and even being treated to a few free drinks… the perks of being a travel blogger! I’m currently busy typing up my posts for The Culture Trip, all of which are due to be completed by mid December so my works are pretty much all scheduled in between now and Christmas.. it’ll be here before we know it…scary stuff! In between interviewing lovely managers, blagging free drinks and being toured around some beautiful places I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing with my close friend and we even had time to enjoy a scrummy ice cream or two at the AMAZING Haagen Daas Ice Cream Parlour in Leicester Square. I’ll social share my Culture Trip posts once they’re live and will write up my interviews as soon as I can!

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This weekend has been a little more chilled, thankfully, so I’ve had chance to spend some quality time with my family as we strolled around one of our favourite local haunts, beautiful Blenheim Palace in nearby Woodstock. Our westie, Cassie, absolutely adores running around the grounds and we wandered around the lake with her whilst staring at the grand architecture of the Palace itself. View one of my previous blog posts to find out a little more about the birthplace of one of Britain’s most loved characters, Sir Winston Churchill.

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My final piece of news in this month’s newsletter is that I’ve been asked to write a series of Destination Guides for the brilliant ABN Save Travel Group. Travel writer Breanna Wilson has been working with me closely to edit and publish my guides and it’s been great to get another piece of my work published on a more global scale. Like The Culture Trip, ABN Save have asked me to write weekly articles on some of the hottest city break destinations. As most of you lovely readers will know, my blog focuses on European city breaks and so I’m delighted to be able to share some of my knowledge and handy tips with a much wider audience. My first post for ABN Save was published last week, click here to read my Paris Destination Guide. Next up is Barcelona and Reykjavik so I’ll be social sharing those in due course.

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As a side note, I’m also running The Big 5K Fun Run in aid of The Pituitary Foundation so I’ll be in Milton Keynes for that next Sunday. I’m running for The Pituitary Foundation as they have been a charity that have supported me since my prolactinoma diagnosis 5 years ago. Please visit my JustGiving page to read my story and help me raise lots of money and awareness for this fantastic charity. Thank you in advance to anyone that can find it in their heart to donate! <3

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That pretty much completes my first newsletter for this month, I told you I’ve been busy! I’ll be writing like crazy over the next few weeks and I have a few more little trips planned between now and the end of the year so, as always, I’ll remember to keep you posted! My next write up will be my beautiful Budapest trip… enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Love Jess x

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British Summertime Festival: London

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Hi everyone,

This week we are set for a heatwave here in Britain with temperatures in some parts of the country reaching as high as 33 degrees! I love a good old British summer, with the sun shining gloriously one day and then the skies pouring with rain the next! It looks as though we are in for a good few months of warm weather though so fingers crossed it stays that way. Luckily my family are one of the thousands that have booked a stay-cation and we will be holidaying in the UK this year. We are off to sunny Cornwall at the end of this week so I’ll be posting about that on my return, in the meantime you can check my Instagram account while I’m away to see all my seaside snaps!

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Anyway, back to this post and in line with the GB theme that’s present throughout many of my articles I thought I’d bring you a review of a summers day out I recently had in London. I headed to Hyde Park in the capital on for the annual British Summertime Festival that returned for its second year running. This year the line up was huge, with headline acts including Kylie Minogue, Blur, Taylor Swift & The Who. Spread across two different weekends, the concerts provide a fun filled day out for all the family with plenty of food stalls, bars, kids activity dens and fairground rides. I attended with one of my close friends on Sunday 21st June and our headline act was global superstar Kylie Minogue featuring disco band Chic & Nile Rodgers, pop star Mika, icon Grace Jones and the up and coming Years & Years and Foxes. There was a real festival vibe throughout the venue and it was very chilled, the weather was great and we had a fantastic time!

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General admission was at 1pm so we caught a late morning Oxford Tube from Thornhill Park & Ride direct to Marble Arch – this is a brilliant way of travelling from Oxford to London and our adult return fares were just £14 each! After we were allowed in we checked out the attractions around the park, got our faces painted for free by the Palmolive promo team & had a ride on the fairground. Just be aware that once you’re into the park and your tickets have been scanned you aren’t allowed out again so there’s no chance of popping back to Oxford Street for some last minute shopping!

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We were worried that we’d have so much time to waste before the concert that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves, but by the time we checked out the surroundings and had something to eat the music was nearly starting and the concert was in full swing! Food-wise I opted for meatballs, chips and garlic bread (£10 with a drink) and my friend had a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with chips and a drink (£13). The food is a little on the pricey side but the portions were a very good size, larger than we expected, and included a drink which was a bonus. There is so much choice with cuisine from all around the world as well as plenty of sweet treat stalls including Spanish churros and Belgian waffles – they were to die for!!

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On to the music which started just before 4pm, with newbies to the pop scene Years and Years performing first on the Great Oak Stage. They were followed shortly by Mika who really got the crowd on their feet with his famous pop tunes. After an interval dance legends Chic and Nile Rodgers took to the stage and added to the party atmosphere getting everyone to sing along to their greatest hits. Over on the Barclaycard stage we watched young Louisa  , also known as Foxes, perform some of her well known songs. Shortly afterwards the iconic Grace Jones performed some of her wacky songs back over on the Great Oak Stage in a choice of rather revealing outfits until it was time for the main event to take place. We had all been waiting for Kylie and Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills provided an entertaining countdown to her set whilst the crowds flocked towards the front of the stage. There was a Barclaycard VIP arena for celebs and people with priority tickets but we were stood in the general admission area with good views of the stage and there were plenty of big screens around aswell.

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Kylie’s set was fantastic and she was certainly the star of the show! unfortunately we had to miss the end as the Oxford Tube’s from Marble Arch finished early but we were actualyl glad to be able to get back and beat the crowds so it all worked out well in the end. We had a fantastic day out at British Summertime Festival and can’t wait to return next year! I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for the 2016 dates and line ups once they’ve been revealed!

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Love Jess x

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A Royal Day out: Ascot Races

Hi everyone,

I’ve recently returned from my very first Royal Ascot experience and I’m delighted to be sharing this with you all; I had a truly fantastic time and the atmosphere was incredible. Unfortunately my bets didn’t pay off so I didn’t win any mega bucks, but the day was brilliant none the less! So without further ado here is my Amazing Ascot round up…

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We travelled to Ascot as part of a coach trip group leaving from a local Burford pub, The Mermaid, located on the busy high street. I went with my mum, sisters, cousin and aunty and my cousin’s fiancé’s family actually own The Mermaid and they all came with us as well. There was a large group going from the pub and the coach was full so there was a brilliant party atmosphere on board!

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The journey took around an hour and a half and we stopped at a lovely village pub (The George on the Green, nr Maidenhead) on the way for a quick drink before heading towards Ascot. Our ticket price of £45pp included transport there and back, a champagne breakfast and access to The Silver Ring Enclosure at Ascot.

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Upon arrival at The Silver Ring Enclosure we split up in to our separate groups and enjoyed the day with our families. The enclosure is huge and the dress code is much more relaxed than the Grandstand and Royal Enclosures which require you to look very formal and to wear a certain attire. I chose to wear a coral coloured shift dress with matching clutch bag and comfy tan wedged heels. My dress was a bargain from Quiz clothing and I didn’t want to take it off I loved it that much! I would have liked to have worn a fascinator if we weren’t in the Silver Ring, but it wasn’t compulsory and not many other people wore one so I went without!

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The day doesn’t officially start until Her Royal Highness the Queen arrives in the Royal Procession which takes place each day at 2pm. We got a great spot on the sidelines so we could watch the carriages ride past and I got some lovely photos of the Royal family. I’d never seen the Queen before so it was super exciting!

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We placed our bets for the first race and watched the horses gallop past, they were so close we could feel the ground move and it was such a great experience. We moved around the enclosure for the other races that took part throughout the day so we could see the track from different areas. There were tonnes of betting stands dotted around so you could get the best odds on offer. Many race goers took picnics and drinks with them but, if you’re like us and hate carrying things, there’s plenty of food stalls and bars offering a range of products.. just be prepared to pay a bit more than average as it is Ascot after all!

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There are six races in total on each day of Ascot and famous jockeys from all over the world take part and compete for first place. We witnessed horse racing history as we saw the legendary Frankie Dettori win his 50th Ascot race with his horse Osalia. He was congratulated by the Royal family and cheered loudly by the enormous crowds. The racecourse was packed full of around 40,000 people on the day that we went and the atmosphere was electric!

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With a 300 year history, Ascot is a five day long world famous extravaganza best known for its sporting, social and fashion highlights. We had a truly amazing experience and I’d urge everyone to go at least once in their lives as its definitely something to tick off the bucket list! As their strapline says.. Ascot really is Like Nowhere Else..

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Have you ever been to Ascot or are you wanting to go next year? If you’ve been to the races before please comment and show me your best outfits I’d love to see them!

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Love Jess x

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Top 10 European City Breaks

Hi everyone,

Welcome to my new Wanderlust Wednesday feature.. with summer fast approaching the time will soon come for me to venture abroad for my next European city break. I’m really in to booking busy sight seeing weekends away as opposed to week long beach holidays and I want to fit in as many trips as I can over the next few years! Im currently trying to book a break away during our next UK bank holiday which falls at the end of August but I have no idea where to go! So with the help of some brilliant fellow travel bloggers (pics credited below) I thought I’d compile a wanderlust list to give me some inspiration! Here goes…

1) Rome, Italy

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Image courtesy of Emily Pearson of A Befuddled Life

Top of my list and for very good reason, Rome is the place I am absolutely desperate to visit as soon as physically possible! I’ve always loved the thought of exploring the historic coliseums’, visiting the religious Vatican area and consuming copious amounts of Gelato – authentic Italian ice cream-yum! I’ve wanted to make a wish at The Trevi Fountain and walk down the Spanish Steps ever since I was a little girl so The Eternal City is definitely calling my name!

2) Copenhagen, Denmark

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This image & my feature image of The Little Mermaid statue are both courtesy of Shelly Borga of Norway to Nowhere

The capital city lies in the heart of Scandinavia and boasts many exquisite landmarks and popular tourist attractions whilst having a very laidback feel. Home to Denmark’s Parliament and Royal Family, this city is by far the largest in the country. I’ve always wanted to go to Copenhagen to visit The Little Mermaid statue as everyone knows how much of a Disney geek/storybook fan I am! The picturesque Nyhavn Harbor and breathtaking Tivoli Gardens also look amazing places to visit. Although quite expensive this city break is definitely on my next go-to list for the summer!

3) Budapest, Hungary

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Image courtesy of Tangerine Trubiano of A Travelogue by Brock & Tanj

The capital of Hungary is split into two districts; Buda and Pest, hence the name, and is bisected via the River Danube. Home to The Hungarian Parliament Building, many museums and galleries and the largest thermal water system in the world, Budapest is a cultural paradise not to be missed! I’m so tempted to book a trip there this August and experience everything that this beautiful city has to offer.. prices are super cheap out there as well so that’s another reason it features high up on this list.. watch this space!

4) Berlin, Germany

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Image courtesy of Tangerine Trubiano of A Travelogue by Brock & Tanj

Famed for its large involvement in both world wars, Berlin offers a wealth of culture and history with plenty to do both in the summer and winter months. Well known attractions include The Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag Building, Checkpoint Charlie and The Berlin Wall. I’d love to visit during December to experience their fantastic Christmas markets but have been told it gets bitterly cold with temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees.. thermals at the ready!

5) Lisbon, Portugal

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Image courtesy of Maaike Van Kuijk of A Travellous World

A quirky alternative to Barcelona/Madrid, the coastal capital of Portugal offers a mix of a busy sightseeing break with a more relaxed beach style holiday. I’m always on the go when I do city breaks as I like to pack as much in as I can and never get a chance to relax, so the allure of a beach in the same city appeals to me a lot! Main points of interest include the beautiful Sao Jorge Castle, Lisbon Cathedral, the zoo and the oceanarium.

6) Bruges, Belgium

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Image courtesy of my good friend Stephanie Lett

This chocolate box capital in North West Belgium looks like something out of a fairy tale and I’ve been wanting to visit for years! Full of medieval buildings, winding canals and cobbled streets, the city offers tonnes of beautiful history as well as the best beer and waffles you’ll ever taste! What’s more, you can even get there via high speed Eurostar Train from London in just a couple of hours which is incredibly convenient and takes all the hassle out of flying.. there really is no excuse not to visit this beautiful city. Like Berlin, I’d love to visit Bruges at Christmas time to see the hundreds of little markets that take over the city centre.

7) Madrid, Spain

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Image courtesy of  Henar Gomez of Wanderwings

I’ve been going to Spain most years throughout my life and have visited a total of nine times so far! Spain is the perfect holiday destination for us Brits; sun, sea and sangria all within a two hour flight.. what more could we ask for?! The country boasts many beautiful beach resorts as well as plenty of interesting cities including Valencia, Marbella, Leon & Malaga and I’ve already been to Barcelona so would love to head over to Madrid to see how the two compare! Famous attractions include The Royal Palace (the largest in western Europe), Madrid Cathedral and The Bernabeu Football Stadium.

8) Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Image courtesy of Maaike Van Kuijk of A Travellous World

Best known for its colourful nightlife, elaborate canal system and artistic heritage, Amsterdam is the cultural capital of The Netherlands. Famous attractions include Anne Frank’s House, The Van Gogh Museum and The Royal Palace. In addition, The Red Light District is notorious amongst tourists with stag weekends a plenty so best to avoid this area if, like me, you’re looking for a more relaxed and cultural weekend break!

9) Venice, Italy

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Image courtesy of Sarah Gallo of The Five Foot Traveler

Perhaps the most romantic place in the world (along with Paris) is the stunning Italian city of Venice. Criss crossed with canals and pretty bridges, Venice is one of the largest pedestrian only areas in the world. I’d love to go here to experience the romance, although I think I need to find myself a boyfriend first!! This is probably one for my bucket list that I’ll definitely visit later on in life when I’m happy and settled.

10) Vienna, Austria

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Image courtesy of Menorca Chaturvedi of Europe Diaries

The enchanting city of Vienna, the capital of Austria, is well known as one of the most musical cities in the world, and was once home to the likes of Mozart & Beethoven. There are many museums, galleries and gothic Cathedrals to explore, or why not take a cruise down the River Danube for a more relaxed experience. I think I’d tie in a trip to Vienna with a weekend in Budapest and do the two at the same time, rather than booking two separate trips as the countries are quite close together.

All of the above cities are places I definitely want to visit soon so I’ve got lots of planning to do, but I think my top three are next on my immediate hit list. I’ll be researching each place in more detail before making my final decision, but I will of course let you all know once I’ve booked up… watch this space!

Love Jess x