[FURTHER UPDATE: The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews will not reopen to the public in 2022. The special displays at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse marking the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II will not reopen.]
[UPDATE: The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are closed following the death yesterday of Queen Elizabeth II. Rest in Peace your Majesty.]
Jewellery from Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection can be seen in a dazzling exhibition at Buckingham Palace. Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession features magnificent pieces which have a special significance for Her Majesty.
These include a stunning platinum necklace set with 300 diamonds – a wedding present from the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam had left instructions with Cartier in London that the then Princess Elizabeth should select a gift there herself.
Another Cartier piece, an art deco style sapphire and diamond bracelet, was an 18th birthday present from the Queen’s father King George VI. On her 21st birthday she was given a Garrard & Co brilliant-cut diamond necklace by the Government and Union of South Africa. Originally the necklace encompassed 21 diamonds however it was shortened in 1952 and the six removed stones were made into a matching bracelet which is also on display.
The pretty Dorset Bow Brooch, part of a wedding gift from the Queen’s grandmother, dates back to 1893 when there was a fashion for diamond set brooches replicating a ribbon tied in a bow.
On the Queen’s accession in 1953 a portrait sitting was arranged for use on bank notes, coins and postage stamps but the new monarch could not wear a crown as her Coronation had not yet taken place. A suitably regal diamond diadem originally made for King George 1V in 1821 was chosen instead. Now one of Her Majesty’s most recognisable jewellery pieces, the striking headband is set with 1,333 brilliant-cut diamonds.
One of the most eye catching displays is the Delhi Durbar necklace and earrings by Garrard & Co. The necklace incorporates nine emeralds as well as an 8.8 carat diamond pendant cut from the Cullinan diamond – the largest ever found.
All the jewellery is exhibited alongside portraits by official Royal photographer, the late Dorothy Wilding, which show the Queen wearing them.
In one portrait The Queen wears the Delhi Durbar necklace with the Vladimir Tiara – the emerald and diamond headpiece that is thought to have been the one coveted by Meghan Markle for her wedding to Prince Harry.
Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession is on now until 2 October 2022. For more information visit www.rct.uk
The instructions were to arrive at “the Spies Entrance” in Whitehall at 6 o’clock sharp. This intriguing missive was not an assignation with M or Moneypenny but an invite to take a “first look” at Raffles London at the OWO (the Old War Office) – the Singapore hotel brand’s inaugural UK outpost, owned in part by the Hinduja Group.
Completed in 1906, the building was the centre of operations through two world wars and home to the British secret service. Lawrence of Arabia had a desk here and James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a regular visitor. It’s no coincidence that several Bond films had scenes shot at the OWO including Skyfall where Daniel Craig’s 007 stands on top of the building looking moodily over the rooftops. Alas the hotel will not be open in time for the 60th anniversary of James Bond in film, October 2022.
As it turns out the Spies Entrance, formerly frequented by agents, is discreetly positioned at the back of the building and is now the access for the Raffles’ luxury apartments. The main hotel entry is on Whitehall itself, the road running between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square that also gives its name to the wider area.
While the Edwardian Baroque façade of this vast building is currently hidden behind hoardings, once inside the sheer scale of the place is immediately noticeable. And although the transformation into a 120 roomed luxury hotel is still in progress, what’s already apparent is the restored original features such as oak panelled walls, grand fireplaces and cornicing on the soaringly high ceilings.
From the entrance hall leads an impressive marble staircase on which successive statesman have stepped. Overhead is a balcony where Winston Churchill would address the staff, Raffles London managing director Philippe Leboeuf (who has moved from the Mandarin Oriental Group) tells us. And on the upper floors the mosaic laid corridors – some two miles of them – were once abuzz with running messenger boys.
The former secretary of state’s office that at varying times belonged to Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George, Churchill and John Profumo is being turned into a sprawling suite. The space directly overlooks Horse Guards, the historic military headquarters and home to the Household Cavalry Museum.
We’re also shown inside one of the turrets facing Whitehall complete with huge, curved glass windows which is a spectacular space for a guest room. In the middle portion of the hotel overlooking a large courtyard another suite, The Poppy, will occupy three storeys.
On completion the hotel will have a total of eleven restaurants and bars to be rolled out gradually. Three of them – a brasserie, a fine dining room and a chef’s table – will be overseen by chef Mauro Colagreco who has a three Michelin starred restaurant in France.
A new addition is four subterranean floors underneath the existing building that will house a spa and health club including a swimming pool, gym, yoga studio, sauna and steam, partnering with Guerlain and Pillar.
Raffles at The OWO is due to open between this December and March 2023. The hotel will also be open several days a year for tours, making the building and its fascinating history accessible to the public (as well as guests) for the first time.
Netflix’s new production of Persuasion which includes Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding in its ensemble cast, has had Jane Austen purists reaching for the smelling salts. Austen’s final completed novel follows the travails of heartbroken heroine Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) who had previously been “persuaded” to reject the marriage proposal of Captain Frederick Wentworth as he had no status or fortune.
When Wentworth re appears several years later Anne is also been wooed by the charming and handsome William Elliot (Henry Golding) who as her distant cousin is heir to her family home, Kellynch Hall in Somerset, south west England. Netflix’s version has been criticised for gauchely including modern day language and breaking the fourth wall with knowing quips direct to the camera à la Fleabag.
But although the adaptation has sparked controversy over its inauthenticity, what Netflix has stayed true to is the locations. Austen’s novel was partly set in the south west England settings of Lyme Regis in Dorset and Bath in Somerset – one of the rare instances the author referenced real life places in her fiction. And both were used as filming locations for the Netflix production.
The streaming company has found that the settings of its dramas are a key part of their appeal to viewers. In a press release last month a spokesperson announced that the location of a Netflix series or film frequently becomes the destination that viewers most want to visit. The release goes on to say that viewers also have an increased interest in the well known landmarks, history and food and drink of said locations as a result and “Now we want to find new ways to connect members to the stories, and the places, that they love.”
So Netflix recently partnered with SANDEMANs New Europe Tours for a series of free guided walking tours of Paris, Madrid and London that not only shared the history of the cities but highlighted locations from Netflix shows such as Emily in Paris and Bridgerton and revealed behind the scenes insights.
Time will tell if the tours will be extended and if Persuasion will be added to the roster. In the meantime, a number of locations in the production are open to the public. Kellynch Hall, which Anne’s vain and feckless father Sir Walter (Richard E Grant) has to rent to Admiral Croft in order to make money, is alas a private house (Trafalgar Park in Wiltshire). But here are the locations you can visit.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Jane Austen was apparently a fan of “Lyme”, a picturesque and historic seaside town on the south coast of England, and its surrounding countryside. The author stayed there at least twice with her family – as her letters record – and included the location in Persuasion.
In the novel she wrote “ the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.”
The town features in several key scenes including where Anne first encounters William. Lyme Cobb – a distinctive harbour wall built to protect the town – is also central. Notably when the party are out for a stroll and Anne’s friend Louisa Musgrove falls. The exact location is thought to be the precarious “granny’s teeth” stone steps that link the upper and low levels of the Cobb.
Lyme Regis has several sand and pebble beaches and cliff top walks which also feature in the film. The scenic South West Coast Path National Trail passes through the town and takes in the Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast with stunning views over Lyme Bay.
The area is also known for its dramatic Jurassic Coastline – one of the most important sites in the world for fossil hunters.
Lyme Regis Museum, built on the site of 19th century fossil collector and paleontologist Mary Anning’s home, also includes several Austen artifacts loaned by the author’s descendants.
Austen is said to have stayed on Broad Street and a plaque on Pyne House there reads “This is the most likely lodging of Jane Austen”. No doubt it will now become an Instagram hotspot for Netflix Persuasion fans despite the brutal reviews.
Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire
For the Musgrove family’s Uppercross estate two locations were used. The scenes for “the great house” were filmed at Brympton House, Somerset which is only accessible via private hire. The interiors of Uppercross Cottage – home to Anne’s sister Mary and her husband, Charles Musgrove – were filmed at the sprawling tudor manor house, Chenies, in Rickmansworth.
Guided tours detailing the house’s colourful history – described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “a fascinating puzzle” – are available, bookable in advance. And the pretty gardens play host to plant and flower festivals in the summer months.
West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
This beautiful Palladian style house stands in for the grand residence of Lady Dalrymple and her daughter – relations of the Elliots. The bucolic parkland was also the filming location for Uppercross’s woods and meadows – setting for Anne and her friends’ frequent walks.
The house was commissioned in the 18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Hell Fire Club. Not the high school Dungeons and Dragons group from Stranger Things Season Four but the louche club for upper class rakes otherwise known as the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe.
The house is open to the public from June to August and the grounds from April to August.
Osterley Park and House, Greater London
Standing in for Bath’s assembly rooms is this Georgian country estate on the far reaches of West London (you can reach it on the Picadilly tube line en route to Heathrow). The house was originally built in the 1570s but transformed in the 1760s and is preserved as it would have been in the 1780s. Its Entrance Hall and Long Gallery (above) is the setting for Bath society gatherings in the Netflix production. Check before visiting as the property is closed for filming (rumoured to be Bridgerton season three) on some dates this summer.
The city renowned for its honey stone Georgian architecture and highly fashionable during Austen’s time makes several appearances in the film. The striking façade of Royal Crescent features in a scene of Anne and Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird) walking together in intense discussion. The two were also filmed on the colonnaded Bath Street (above) – the high street store windows propped with Regency finery and renamed Madame LeFroy Haberdasher and Milliner. Bath Street is also where you’ll find the entrance to the Thermae Spa – a modern incarnation of the ancient hot springs that drew visitor’s to the town in Austen’s day.
Gravel Walk, a footpath which links Royal Crescent with Queen’s Square, appears both in the book and the film location as the backdrop for – without giving anything away – the most important scene of all.
“I’ve come into possession of a villa in the South of France,” announces the Dowager Countess of Grantham in the upcoming Downton Abbey film. And you can too – complete with a butler and other staff – at least for a few nights or several weeks. The Côte d’Azur villa featured in the movie is just one of the exclusive private homes available to rent through Homanie, a new breed of luxury holiday leases providing equally luxurious hotel level service.
Launched in March 2021, the company’s remit is dream homes with incredible views in exceptional locations with some fifty properties across France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Added to this Homanie offers “five star service by The Homanists – women and men who are selected for their expertise.” Think chefs, housekeepers, gym trainers and yoga instructors. The whole package is yours from an average of 50 to 60 000€ (around US$53,000 to US$63,000) a week in summer, depending on the property, with some reaching 180 000E (about US$190,000) a week.
Luxury holiday rentals already exist of course but there’s a growing trend for combining the privacy and space of a unique holiday lease with the service and amenities of a deluxe hotel. “Up until now, renting a property has been synonymous with ‘self catering’ – a quick handover of the keys and service which is often cursory. Homanie is now changing all of this by offering an innovative, five star hotel service,” says a spokeswoman for the company.
Similarly from this summer fans of Mandarin Oriental will have the chance to experience the hotel brand in a new way. In a collaboration with StayOne, specialists in “the finest one per cent of holiday homes”, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has launched a collection of exclusive private houses to rent. Each of which comes with “service provided by a team who have been meticulously trained by Mandarin Oriental”.
Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes – from a Spanish private island to an English country estate – include a 24 hour concierge service, in house private chef and daily housekeeping, right down to MO robes and bathroom amenities.
“The luxury home rental market is a fast-growing segment of leisure travel,” says Luca Finardi, Area Vice President & Head of Operations at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group which became a minority investor in StayOne in late 2020. “We saw the opportunity to introduce luxury experiences that combine the best of both brands. StayOne have the perfect homes, and Mandarin Oriental has the brand reputation to deliver unique personalised service in a luxury environment.”
The inaugural selection of eight properties are based in the South of France, the Balearic islands Ibiza and Mallorca and the Cotswolds in England. “Destinations were selected based on customer demand among our Fan base in the most popular leisure destinations,” says Finardi. “Looking forward, Mandarin Oriental and StayOne will collaborate to identify seasonal collections; diversifying the portfolio and handpicking villas in other key destinations around the world.”
Other hotel brands also have affinities with luxury rentals around the world including North America and Asia. Marriott International launched Homes & Villas in 2019 and prior to that Accor hotel group bought upscale holiday rental company onefinestay.
“While no formal crossover programming or services exist between Accor hotel brands and onefinestay, we are capable of addressing needs or requests our guests or clients may have. This could take the shape of a hotel chef preparing a bespoke, private dinner at a onefinestay property,” says Garth Simmons, CEO Accor Southeast Asia, Japan & South Korea.
Members of the Fans of MO loyalty scheme will be offered further benefits and experiences while staying at the Exclusive Homes. And both Accor and Marriott allow guests to earn and redeem reward points at the onefinestay and Homes & Villas properties respectively.
On a smaller scale ÀNI Private Resorts offers four private homes for rent with full service in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Anguilla and the Dominican Republic. And in London only, Domus Stay has privately owned high end apartments to exclusive townhouses on its books for short stay rentals with the opportunity to arrange guest services such as personal trainers, VIP gallery tours, private wine tastings and art classes.
Multi-generational holidays and landmark occasions are ideally suited for the larger properties. “Customers of luxury villas usually choose them for different reasons to choosing luxury hotels and we wanted to develop this for our clients,” says Finardi. “We saw an opportunity of being able to offer private, stand-alone accommodation options in destinations we have yet to have opened a hotel. Ideally for the coming together of family and friends to celebrate key events.”
And companies have seen increased interest as the world opens up again. “We have noticed since the pandemic a real increase in demand for holidays in private mansions as travellers now favour more intimate places where they feel more secured against the risk of Covid,” says the Homanie spokeswoman.
From Sleepless in Seattle to Notting Hill, there’s a long tradition of romantic comedies referencing the locations they are set in in their titles. The latest is Autumn in Wales, a Malaysian film starring Eyka Farhana, Jaa Suzuran, Keith Foo and Wanna Ali and currently streaming on Astro First and Astro Go in Malaysia.
The film, directed by Rahila Ali, follows pampered Aira (Eyka Farhana) deciding to surprise her suave fiancé, Darwish (Keith Foo) by travelling from Malaysia to Wales, United Kingdom after he suddenly breaks off their engagement.
On arriving in Wales, Aira finds Darwish smitten with the sophisticated Marissa (Wanna Ali). Aira subsequently teams up with the quirky Jaka (Jaa Suzuran), working in a local café, to find out why Darwish has dumped her, seemingly falling in love with him in the process. The Philipino café owner, Mickey Bosstos, played by Amirul Haswendy who also wrote the script, adds another comic twist.
In typical rom com style nothing runs smoothly or as Suzuran puts it, “everything goes wrong”. The plot unfolds against a backdrop of bucolic riversides, stone walled cottages, colourful seaside houses and ruined castles.
Writer Amirul Haswendy told me over email, “The idea of setting the film in Wales came from the director, Rahila Ali, who used to study in the UK and fell in love with certain parts of it especially Wales. She likes to travel and the places that we shot in Wales were some of the places she’d been to.”
Ali previously filmed two movies in Wales one of which, Aku Bukan Gila, (meaning I’m Not Crazy) was also written by Haswendy. It was set and shot in Llandudno, a seaside resort in North Wales, most recently made famous for the goats overrunning the town during the pandemic lockdown.
For Autumn in Wales Haswendy says, “[Ali] asked me to write a rom com so we sat down and shared some ideas. We went to Wales for a recce and found so many beautiful places for the movie.”
These beautiful places include Aberaeron and Aberystwyth on the coast of Mid Wales and Beddgelert in North Wales. The latter is a picture perfect village of stone buildings with a river (in actuality the confluence of two) running through it, crossed by a double arched, stone bridge.
Much of the drama takes place in this small village in Snowdonia National Park where Jaka works as a waiter at a café, the real life Caffi Colwyn with its pretty riverside tea garden.
Legend has it that the name of the village, which means Gelert’s Grave, derives from a faithful hound, Gelert, that belonged to Prince Llewelyn the Great in the thirteenth century. There is even a “grave” for the dog which even though most probably mythical is a pretty spot, reached along a riverside path. The village also has a “Rupert Bear Garden” in honour of the cartoon ursine as the illustrator who created him, Alfred Bestall, lived here.
There are a number of guesthouses and B&Bs in the village and nearby is Llyn Gwynant campsite. Based beside a lake and a river, the campsite is at the foot of mount Snowdon (Yr Wddfa in Welsh) – you can climb the mountain, the highest in Wales, directly from there. This serene setting was a location for Tomb Raider 2, starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, transformed into a Chinese village (with the help of some CGI).
It was not the first time the area was been depicted as China by the film industry. Back in 1958, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman was partly filmed in the environs near Beddgelert. Bergman played the real life Gladys Aylward, a missionary and an inn keeper in Yangcheng, China. When the second world war breaks out Aylward volunteers to lead a group of a 100 orphans to safety across the mountains, helped by Chinese officer, Lin Nan.
A little further south in the county of Cardigan are Aberaeron and Aberystwyth. Both are on the Wales Coast Path, a scenic 870 mile (1,400 km) walking trail running the entire coastline of Wales. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Path, one of a few continuous walking routes along a country’s coastline in the world. For the energetic, the distance between Aberaeron and Aberystwyth is 18 miles with some of the terrain designated “moderate to hard”.
Cardigan Bay, which Aberaeron and Aberystwyth overlook, is one of only two spots in Britain that have a resident bottle nose dolphin population. The dolphins may be spotted all year round with peak viewing opportunities from June to October.
The fishing village Aberaeron is a cinematography dream of brightly coloured cottages and Regency houses based around a small harbour. It’s here that Wanni Ali says she filmed her favourite scene (no spoilers) on the harbour bridge. The largest of the houses is the Harbourmaster boutique hotel, painted a vivid blue. Inside, the interiors combine traditional coastal wainscotting with contemporary furniture and Welsh textiles and the inviting restaurant serves locally sourced food.
Up the coast the larger Aberystwyth, known locally as Aber, is a university town – glimpses of the Old College can be seen in the film. In another movie link, the town is where Taron Egerton star of Kingsman and Rocketman was brought up. The British actor’s earliest performances were at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a thriving theatre, concert hall and gallery space which also houses cafes, bars and shops.
Aber’s sweeping promenade flanked by pastel painted Victorian town houses, many of which are now guest houses, feature in the film. During autumn and winter the spectacular sight of starling murmurations can be seen over the pier. Thousands of the birds gather at dusk, flying in a remarkable shape-shifting mass.
Close by, and also in the movie, are the ruins of Aberystwyth Castle, dating back to the thirteenth century. Originally commissioned by King Edward 1st, it switched hands between the English and Welsh many times over the centuries as war between the two raged and fell into disrepair in the early 1400s after peace was brokered.
Aberystwyth is also home to the Michelin Guides’ UK Opening of the Year 2022 – a restaurant named SY23 (the town’s post code). The Guide notes that chef Nathan Davies and his team have “created a fun, lively spot in this quaint Welsh seaside town.”
The tasting menu revolves around charcoal grill cooking and locally sourced produce that’s “foraged, farmed or fished from the sea shore to the rolling mountains”. The restaurant is based just off Great Darkgate, a shopping street where many of the Autumn in Wales scenes were filmed.
Producer Dato’ Normashayu Puteh says she hopes the movie will give viewers “respite from their daily stresses.” Puteh adds, “The enchanting cinematography showcases the beauty of Wales that is rarely captured in local Malaysian films. We believe that this film will be able to inject audiences with a sense of wanderlust and the thrill of travelling overseas during this ‘new normal’”.