Clues to the Neighbourhood at Hotel Indigo, Stratford

Whether I travel for a day trip or a two-week holiday, I always like to truly discover the best of a destination… from speciality coffee shops and wine bars, to unique local designers and the finest foodie establishments. So when I heard about Hotel Indigo’s ‘Clues to the Neighbourhood’ experience in Stratford-upon-Avon, I was immediately interested.

Clues to the Neighbourhood

This special campaign aims to introduce guests to the most individual and interesting parts of the destination that the hotel calls home. The concept kicked off at the Hotel Indigo Berlin and continues in Stratford-upon-Avon and Brussels. In the Hotel Indigo Stratford-upon-Avon library, you will find 20 clues – a collection of beautiful items and artefacts – each a clue to a special place, venue or excursion in the town. The clues have been chosen by artists, musicians and historians who all have a connection to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Clues to the Neighbourhood

The clues lead you to a range of itinerary options, from local perfume makers to museum exhibitions, cute historic pubs to talented hairdressers. There are a few clues that relate to Shakespeare, but the collection of 20 showcases a great deal of other ideas too. There is something to suit guests of all ages and interests, and the hotel staff are trained to help with any bookings or tickets. Every clue tells a story worth discovering.

Clues to the NeighbourhoodClues to the Neighbourhood

During the launch day we were all treated to experiences from one of the clues – a trip to the Butterfly Farm, a gin tasting at Shakespeare Gin Company or a Perfume Workshop with expert Rebecca Tracey. I headed to Rebecca Tracey’s studio for a lesson in essential oils. After smelling 16 different oils and hearing about all the qualities and properties of each, we were encouraged to mix our favourite top, middle and base notes to blend our own bespoke oil. It was a brilliant few hours picking up some great perfume tips.

Hotel Indigo

Before heading back to London, we were treated to a feast at the Hotel Indigo Stratford-upon-Avon’s celebrated restaurant, The Woodsman. This cosy eatery is known for its menu of wholesome recipes, in particular its deer dishes. The whole group sat round a grand table and tasted an array of wonderful local delicacies. The main course was my favourite; platters of perfectly cooked Venison Wellington, roast roe deer, the creamiest mashed potato and flavoursome vegetables. The meal concluded with freshly made, piping hot, strawberries and cream beignets.

Clues to the Neighbourhood

After 10 years of writing about and visiting hotels I’ve never witnessed a destination experience quite so bespoke and exciting as ‘Clues to the Neighbourhood’. I just hope this inspired idea will be on offer at more of the Indigo hotels in the future.

‘Clues to the Neighbourhood’ continues at Hotel Indigo Stratford-upon-Avon for the next three months. Book here to stay and experience the best of the city.

This is a sponsored article in collaboration with Hotel Indigo, see more from the video here.

Calixto Bieito’s Carmen, ENO

Carmen

It’s always a treat to hear the lilting melodies of Bizet’s Carmen. It was the first opera I performed in as a young child, running through the audience at the Royal Albert Hall to reach the great stage in the round. It is in fact the two sections with the kids chorus that provide the most drama and excitement in Carmen, and I have such fond memories of singing these great verses.

The ENO is currently reviving (for a second time) Calixto Bieito’s production, which was first performed here in 2012. The production is set in Franco’s Spain, a stark contrast to the 18th century setting it was written in. I found it somehow less believable to watch the leading characters navigate the dramatic storyline in this contemporary setting. Alfons Flores’ staging is simple, a few motifs heavily feature – the towering bull silhouette in the final act is perhaps the most memorable. Elsewhere the minimal props add colour and personality to the 1970s look – vintage cars and a battered phonebox are frequently used by the performers on stage.

The vocal performances were varied, I was particularly impressed by Sean Panikkar’s jealous and desperate rendition of Don José. Justina Gringyté showcases a self-assured Carmen, parading confidently across the stage, her vocals were powerful and pleasant to listen to, but I couldn’t fall in love with her, unlike the enamoured soldier’s on stage.

As always the ENO orchestra were on top form, led superbly by Valentina Peleggi. They ensured the favourite tunes soared while letting the singers shine elsewhere with subtle, sensitive playing.

Though this production feels well rehearsed and well suited to the ENO stage, I couldn’t help but miss the more traditional staging, which I feel lets you engage more fully with this French operatic masterpiece.

I was a guest of the ENO. Carmen continues until 27 February 2020, book tickets here.

Things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia

As a food and drink fanatic Georgia is a country that has been on my list to try for a while. Located in the intersection between Europe and Asia, it has an interesting history and East meets West cuisine. It is the birthplace of wine and the ancient wine-growing region Kakheti is particularly well known. The capital city of Tbilisi is centred around a sprawling old town of cobbled streets and diverse architecture.

The country is becoming more accessible with three flights a week from London Gatwick, and plenty of hip new hotels and restaurants to satisfy seasoned globetrotters.

Tbilisi

To Stay

Rooms Hotel – Found in the charming Vera neighbourhood, Rooms Hotel was the first design-led accommodation to open in the city and has become a hotspot ever since. Occupying a characterful former publishing house, rooms are chic and the common areas are vibrant and colourful.

Tbilisi

To Eat 

Shavi Lomi – Many credit Georgian chef Meriko Gubeladze as the leader of the Tbilisi food movement. She opened her fusion restaurant Shavi Lomi in 2011, an atmospheric eatery championing the country’s cuisine. Start with the famous Tushetian guda board (a meze selection) and follow with beef stew with pomegranate sauce.

Lily Vanilli – The Georgian outpost of the famous Columbia Road bakery in London is a pretty little cafe serving delicate homemade cakes and pastries and Allpress coffee.

Lolita – This al fresco brunch spot is conveniently opposite the Rooms Hotel and is always busy with hotel guests and locals alike. The lively venue serves hearty brunch dishes, juices and coffee, and in the evening feast on pizza and cocktails.

Keto & Kote – It’s not easy to find this transformed Georgian house, but once you do you’ll be welcomed in to the authentic, atmospheric dining room. I highly recommend trying the traditional meat dumplings from the menu.

Culinarium Khasheria- After a refreshing trip to the nearby city baths, this comforting and casual restaurant is the perfect pick-me-up. The restaurant is named after the Georgian version of tripe soup, which is said to dispel a hangover. Don’t worry there are lots of other dishes to choose from on the menu!

Salobie Bia – A wonderfully local eatery, where you can sample Western Georgian cuisine. The food is cheap and flavoursome and the dining room has a friendly feel. Opt for Georgian Lobio (a red bean stew) and enjoy with a glass of Georgian wine.

Tbilisi

To Drink

Stamba Chocolaterie & Roastery  – If you are after a high quality sweet treat visit the chocolaterie inside the super stylish Stamba Hotel for handmade artisan chocolates and delicious coffee roasted on site.

Milk coffee shop – Located at the very on-trend Fabrika Hostel, this beautiful little space is a lovely place to meet with a friend, or sit on the terrace and work in the sun. The coffee is made on a shiny La Marzocco machine and is smooth and rich in taste.

Skola- This coffee shop opened in 2017, hoping to bring a higher quality of Coffee to Tbilisi. They serve great speciality roasters from Camera Obscura and the space is also used for talks, exhibitions and workshops.

G. vino wine bar – Georgia is known for its wonderful natural wines and G. vino is one of the top places to try them. Sit in the homely bar and let the knowledgeable staff guide you through the list of very reasonable and sometimes unusual wines.

Coffee LAB – This expert coffee shop is a not located in the centre of town, but is worth the short taxi ride. The long menu offers all kinds and serves of coffee, from drip to siphon, espresso and more. The dark minimalist cafe lets the coffee take centre stage.

41 art of drinks – A relatively new cocktail bar on the scene in Tbilisi. Hidden away, this tiny underground bar is by bartender Roman Milostivy who serves up imaginative cocktails, setting the standard for cocktail making throughout the city.

Tbilisi

To Shop

More is Love – The More is Love store launched in 2013 . The small but stylish shop showcases young and talented designers with an emphasis on Georgian brands.

Chaos – Found upstairs at the Stamba Hotel, this stark white shop presents bold and colourful clothing from local brands and recognised international fashion houses.

Ieri- ‘Ieri’ translates to look, appearance, image, outfit, and attitude. This concept shop is in the heart of the wine district, with fashion buyer Anka Tsitsishvili selecting the finest garments from all Georgian designers. They also often show art exhibitions in the space.

They Said Books – A cool bookstore and cafe with carefully curated shelves of niche magazines, novels and other inspiring books. Pick your favourite to buy and head up to the blue and white tiled cafe for a coffee and cake.

Tbilisi

To Do

Gulo thermal spa – The Gulo thermal spa has been completely refurbished, with impressive marble interiors. It is a great place to reap the benefits of sulphur bathing from the natural springs. Soak in the water before having a scrub down… you’ll leave feeling fresher than ever.

Georgian Museum of Fine Arts – This private art museum is found on Rustaveli Avenue, and is the only building built in Tbilisi with the purpose of showing art. The museum opened at the end of 2018 and houses over 3500 artworks, all created within the last 70 years by Georgian artists.

Tbilisi

To Escape

Kazbegi – I highly recommend escaping the city for a day or two in Kazbegi. Just a few hours drive from Tbilisi this mountainous area is staggeringly beautiful. At 5,047 metres above sea level, Kazbegi Mountain is the third highest in Georgia, and is surrounded by intriguing myths and religious tradition. Stay at the lovely Rooms hotel and visit the old capital of Kutaisi, I loved seeing the medieval Gelati Monastery on the outskirts.