My Romance with London’s Stafford Hotel

My romance with The Stafford began, as love affairs sometimes do, with a blind date.   I’d phoned to make a reservation at one of London’s most touted hotels and when told they were fully booked, I boldly asked the reservationist “Where would you suggest your own friends and family stay in London?”  His voice became muffled as if he had put his hand over the receiver and he whispered, “The Stafford.”

Since then, I’ve never gone anywhere else – well, there was that one mistake.  A friend in Paris who frequents London knew I was scheduling a “I Know A Little Place” reconnaissance trip and said “You owe it to your readers to check where I stay; it’s listed among the chic boutique hotels, is centrally located, and offers a great value.”  After one miserable night I phoned The Stafford and they graciously welcomed me back. I did it for you, dear readers, but never again.

The Stafford describes itself as “Your residence whilst in London” but unless your home is a blend of traditional elegance and comfy charm, with people who anticipate your needs and desires before you are even aware of them and make you feel like their favorite celebrity, then The Stafford is better.

I always follow the same schedule.  After checking in, I head out in one of two directions.  Exiting the front of the hotel, I take the little passage that opens to Green Park and the shopping pleasures of Piccadilly, including the Burlington Arcade and Old Bond Street.    Equally tempting is the exit leading through the courtyard and the short walk to Jermyn Street.  Either way, must stops are Fortnum & Mason to pick up treats to savor back in my room and a book or two from Hatchard’s.

Examples of the staff’s commitment to their guests is demonstrated by the time I left my iPhone on the train the day before I was leaving the country.  I should not have panicked; I was at the Stafford after all.  They managed to retrieve it for me and send it on after I’d arrived home-– yes, they can perform miracles.

London, as we all know, is an expensive city, compounded by the currency exchange rate, but what you expend in pounds at The Stafford will come back many times over in pleasure.

The Stafford

St. James’s Place

London, SW1A INJ

Tel: 020-7493-0100

Fax: 020-7493-7121



Filed under Travel

Celeb Shopping in Paris: Joel Villard: Coifs in the Peak of Chic

Don’t we all want to know the favorite Paris picks and tips from savvy celebrity shoppers? Follow IKALP as they tell us what they reserve for friends.

Praised as the “Master Colorist,” glamorous Parisiennes keep Joel Villard, and his salon devoted to color, on their private A-list. JV tells IKALP what inquiring minds want to know:

IKALP: Your best shopping bargain?

JV: One Sunday I was wandering down a small street in Montmartre and saw a sign for APC.  I went inside just to browse but right away found some beautiful trousers that fit perfectly.  They were 50% off the regular price and I grabbed 3 pairs.

IKALP:Your worst shopping mistake?

JV: Once in Ferragamo, I saw a marvelous pair of shoes – it was a “cri du couer.”  I tried them on and thought, well they don’t exactly fit but with wear they should be OK.   That turned out to be an impossible dream.  I can’t put them on the poubelle (trash) because they were too expensive.  They are still sitting in my closet and I still love them but, I look at them now as art objects.

IKALP: Who would you most like to go shopping with – your dream shopping companion?

JV: Author and designer Carolyn Roehm because of her great eye for beauty.

IKALP:When the January and June city wide sales begin, what’s your favorite shopping destination?

JV: The Bon Marché without question.

IKALP: What’s the Parisian secret to savvy shopping?

JV: There are three rules:  Quality, Need, and Price.  First – always first — look for Quality.    Second: Ask yourself “Will I really use it or will it just sit in my closet?” “Do I need it or is it only a passing flirtation? After that, consider price.  Is it a smart value?  Is it worth more than the cost to me?

IKALP: When you need a break from shopping where do you go for some refreshment?

JV: On the Right Bank, I go to Colette, the café downstairs where the food is fresh and light, or I go to Angelina on the rue du Rivoli for anything – especially the sweets.  On the Left Bank, I go to Emporio Armani Caffe, it’s not too expensive if I have a plate of pasta and a glass of wine.

IKALP: For people coming to Paris to shop, what items do you suggest they look for?

JV: Luxury items, fashion, of course,  and fine linens, I particularly like Porthault at 50 Avenue Montaigne and Noel at 1 Ave Pierre in the Place de Serbie.   Often overlooked are the great items for cooks.  In addition to the famous Dehillerin, I also like Kitchen Bazaar.  There are several around town, I go to the one at 11 Avenue du Maine.

 IKALP: Is there something that sets Parisiennes apart on the street as opposed to other shoppers?

JV: Yes, Parisian women have a particular look – they are not really perfect.  There’s some certain little bohemian quality. In New York or London, women are always perfect: the clothes, shoes, hair, make-up – everything in place and nothing missing.  For the Parisienne, chic is not striving for perfection but has more to do with individuality.

IKALP: How do you prefer to shop, by Metro? Taxi? Bus? Or on foot?

JV:  Paris by foot is always best.

IKALP: Do you prefer the Right Bank or the Left Bank for shopping?

JV: Right Bank for clothes and shoes and Left Bank for antiques and art galleries.

IKALP: What would be your idea of a perfect shopping day in Paris?

JV: I’d start on the Right Bank and spend a leisurely morning , making sure I stopped at Prada and Ferragamo (remembering not to be tempted buy shoe that don’t’ fit,  no matter how handsome).  I’d lunch at Café Colette, and then move on to the Left Bank and spend hours walking through the Carre´Rive Gauche.  

IKALP: What do you collect?

JV: From the time years ago when I first saw one in an antique shop, I’ve collected what the French call “Pyrogène” or “match striker” in English.  I find them charming and, happily, they are very inexpensive.  I also like wine glasses of all sizes and vintages.  However, I don’t like drinking champagne from stemmed glasses and prefer using tumblers.

IKALP: What’s your greatest extravagance?

JV:  My little house in Provençe where I escape every August when all of Paris is on vacation.

Joel Villard
16 rue de Saint-Simon
Paris, 75007
Metro: Rue du Bac
Tel: 01-45-55-85-69

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Windows of Paris: Fantasy Costume Jewelry at ‘Fabrice’

Want to window shop in Paris without leaving home or spending a euro?

Come along with IKALP as we check out some favorite shop displays from Right Bank to Left Bank.

Today’s pick, “Fabrice” at 33 rue Bonaparte, 7e, Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Tel: 01-43-25-57-95.


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Chocoholics Start Packing

Chocoholics Start Packing

Just off the bustling boulevard Saint Germain des Prés in the heart of the Left Bank is a tiny street, Cour de Commerce Saint André, that describes itself as the place that made the French Revolution. Here’s where Dr. Gillotin perfected his device that launched Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. Famous revolutionary Danton (who later fell under Dr. Gillotin’s blade, as did Robespierre) lived down the street. Today, at 2-6-8 Cour De Commerce, on the very spot where Marat (later murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday) printed and distributed the revolutionary letters of Danton and his friends, another kind of revaluation is taking place – an irresistible one for all lovers of chocolate.

When Perrine, manager of “Un Dimanche à Paris” greets you with “Welcome to Paradise,” she’s right. What better way to describe the world’s only (as far as we know) concept story that celebrates chocolate in all its deliciously decadent forms. We’re not talking here about just another sweet shop; this is what chocolate connoisseurs could only dream of until now – a restaurant that offers chocolate- spiced meals from start to finish ( you may choose to leave out the cocoa if you wish – but who’d want to?), the upstairs lounge where tea, and hot chocolate, naturally, are served daily, and brunch on Sundays, when most eating establishments in Paris are closed.

There’s also a glass walled kitchen where you can watch the chefs prepare their delights on site (no trucking in here). Anyone who can leave without taking home a selection of treats from the retail shop should have their pulse checked.

4-6-8 Cour de Commerce Saint André, 6e

Saint Germain des Prés

Metro: Odéon

Te: 01-56-81-18-18


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Paris at Noon: Living your own Paris at Midnight–an homage to Woody Allen’s film

Paris at Noon is an homage to Woody Allen’s film Paris at Midnight. Even if you cannot live the magical Parisian adventures of his screen characters, you can still follow in their footsteps.



Filed under Books, Culture, Paris, Paris videos, People, Romance

3 top Places — and ways — to Propose in Paris

For the seriously romantic here are top picks for places to propose in the most beautiful city in the world, Paris, and ways to ensure the uniqueness of the moment.


Filed under Paris, Paris videos, Romance

Paris’s Lily of the Valley Thief Confesses

Today’s the first of May when Paris streets are filled with people of all ages offering sprigs of Lily of the Valley along with smiles and best wishes. The first time I saw this event, I thought ” La Fête du Muget! What a charming custom, and how commendable of the French to keep traditions alive.” I’d remembered reading how in 1561 Charles IX had been so delighted with a gift of Lily of the Valley, intended as a good luck charm, that he vowed to continue with a similar annual gift to the ladies in his court.

Smitten with all this symbolism of spring, and good will, I gathered bunches of flowers from the extended hands until they formed a sizable bouquet and happily took it back to perfume our apartment.

Later, commenting to a French friend on the unexpected generosity of passersby being pressed with flowers, he interrupted with a roaring laugh, “I’m SURE those people were more surprised than you – those aren’t gifts, those flowers are for SALE.” He explained that since 1948 the flower festival has been associated with La Fête du Travail, a public holiday celebrating worker’s rights. On this day only, anyone can sell Lily of the Valley sprigs without the need for license or paying sales tax.

I was mortified and could see that vendors must have been too astonished to protest as I swept up their wares. At least there was no subsequent knock on the door from a policeman coming to arrest the Lily of the Valley thief; but I wasn’t taking any chances. The next year I tried to make amends by purchasing from every outstretched sprig-holding hand in the neighborhood. Now, we’ve moved to a different neighborhood and today, thankfully, there were different vendors who did not witness my earlier crime. However, I’m still trying to pay my debt. One vendor with an impressive display of tattoos, holding delicate bunches of flowers in vise-like hands, was especially happy for me to take his entire inventory.

Shortly after we got back to the apartment, there was a knock on the door. But rather than the overdue gendarmes, there stood Martine, our all-caring concierge, smiling and holding out a fragrant bouquet of Lillies of the Valley.


Filed under Culture, Paris, The French

Who Could Resist a Parisienne Romance with Recipes?

Who Could Resist a Parisienne Romance with Recipes?

When Odile Heiller, owner and founder of the Village Voice, Paris’s English-American bookstore, describes a book as a “must read,” no person in their right mind would pass it up. Not only because Odile and her domain are a center of gravity for the city’s Anglophone artistic and literary community, but because she has perfect pitch for matching readers and books.

Once home with my copy of “Cooking for Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes” by Barbara-jo McIntosh, I read – actually devoured – the book from cover to cover in one evening. Barbara-jo, if you are listening, I felt I was right there with you: tasting and testing our way through some of the city’s best pastry, bread, cheese, wine and specialty food shops, sharing walks through my neighborhood on the Left Bank, savoring the lights on the Seine at evening, and always, enjoying the chic and simple dinners in your apartment. You captured it all in a book that is as much poetry as prose.

Barbara-jo shared so much of herself and her Parisian sojourn, that I wanted to know more about her life as a food professional. Her story can be viewed on her Books to Cooks website, where her Vancouver store features cook books, wine books, international periodicals as well as rare and out of print books. A food-focused reading club, events, and cooking demonstrations go on throughout the year and the store’s blog, invites everyone into the friendly conversation.

Take Odile’s advice – whether you are a cook, a lover of Paris, or just someone who appreciates a charming read, “Cooking for Me and Sometimes You” will leave you with the same warm satisfaction as a good meal with a friend. Who could ask for more?


Filed under Books, Food, Paris

When to shop at Paris’s Marché aux Puces?

When to shop at Paris’s Marché aux Puces?

ANYTIME is good shopping time at Paris’s (and maybe the world’s) best flea market. But if you want to avoid the usual crowds aim at a time, like now, when the Spring calendar in France is full of holidays and the tourists are not yet in full force. Yesterday was one of those days; my friend, Connie, and I took Metro line #4 to the Porte de Clignancourt station just north of Paris in St. Ouen . To reach the Marcé aux Puces, with its fabled 2,000 dealers covering 18 acres, we walked about 5 minutes on blvd Ornano toward the Peripherique (the ring road around Paris) turning left onto the rue des Rosiers, the Flea Market’s main street. (check our I Know A Little Place iPhone app for detailed directions).

We were limited to a few hours since Connie was headed for a chateau weekend with friends in Normandy, so we headed straight for two never-fail market stops: Paul Bert and Serpette. The best shopping always seems to come when, rather than a specific item, your mind and eye are unencumbered and you allow yourself open to possibilities.

In Serpette, we lingered and savored the new finds at old favorites: Olwen Forest for vintage costume jewelry coveted by celebrities and Alain Zisul at Le Monde De Voyage, for perhaps the best collection of Vuitton trunks and luxury luggage (see “People You Need to Know”).

Then, it happened; as the French say Connie had a “Cri du Coeur.” There it was – it called to her, it sang to her from the glass display case of a porcelain stand – a 1940s coffee set (complete with 8 cups and saucers) in a vibrant yellow with whimsical dark blue polka dots and stylized flower motif. How could she have lived so long without it? After some bargaining (best accomplished with fewer competitors) it was packed carefully and we were off. I’m thinking about going back soon to follow up on a discontinued Chanel bag I spotted at Alain’s before it’s gone – a common fate for those who hesitate. (Unless you are a dealer, the best hunting hours are from around 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday, with some stands closing earlier).

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There’s an empty seat at the Paris Fashion Week couture collections

There’s an empty seat at the Paris Fashion Week couture collections. Dodie Rosekrans, art patron, collector, philanthropist, fashion icon, and international society figure who died in November will be sorely missed for her never-to-be imitated or equaled style.

To be invited to her Tony Duquette homes in Paris and Venice was to be assured of mingling with an eclectic mix of artists, designers, Bohemians, and dignitaries – as long as they were interesting, they were friends of Dodie’s.  To know her was to be astonished, as echoed by John Galliano who remarked, “I was simply bowled over by her sense of style” or fashion illustrator, Glady Perin Palmer, who described Dodie as “By far the most imaginative, original dresser I’ve ever met.”  Let me add a few personal remembrances of my own.

Her husband John told me of a time early in their marriage when they were getting ready for a formal event and he found Dodie at work removing pink bows from a billowing while lace gown.  As they left, John complimented her dress queried why anyone would have covered it with the bows.  Dodie confessed “It was a night gown.”

Dodie’s jewelry could look like found objects and she turned found objects into jewelry.  At a soirée in Paris, Dodie arrived with her throat encased in chunks of green stones that looked like sea glass, but were, in truth, unpolished emeralds. Dodie would have enjoyed them equally and worn with the same flair had been glass. Another time at her home, she draped, and artistically knotted, a length of silk of the most delicate rose color over the front of a tweed suit.  The contrast of the sweet with the tart was captivating and when I asked where she’d found it, she said it had been ribbon that wrapped a gift she’d been given. Artists give us the gift of seeing through their eyes – a fresh vision of the world.  That’s what Dodie did with fashion – she turned it into poetry.

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Filed under Beauty & Fashion, Paris