Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Local Christmas Gift Guide

As usual, I'm not really 'feeling' Christmas. Perhaps it's a symptom of getting older, but I simply don't get excited about the prospect of boozy parties, overeating and overspending any more. While conceptually I'm totally on board - I embrace the idea of a long break from school and work and of spending time with loved ones - it's the build-up (something that starts earlier and earlier these days) that leaves me feeling decidedly Scoorge-ish; the constant Black Friday emails, the stream of texts from family members demanding to know your plans, and the worrying knowledge that money is literally draining from your bank account while a tax return awaits at the start of the new year.

But it's Christmas shopping that I find most draining and dispiriting. I hate buying for the sake of buying and I also hate the idea that someone else may be going through a similarly frustrating time trying to find a present for me. It's an area that divides people - my mum, an only child with just a few relatives, gets cross when I suggest cutting back on the present buying. For her, buying things for family members is a joyful experience that fills her with a sense of purpose. Generously-spirited, present buying fulfils an important function for her. I get this, and I don't want to be stingy; and thankfully my own relatives are pretty easy to buy for so we won't be forsaking gift giving in our family any time soon. 

But I can't help but feel that in an era of increasing financial and environmental insecurity we should be a little more mindful with our spending this Christmas. At the risk of sounding a little earnest and morally superior, I am cutting back a bit this year and trying to give experiences rather than physical gifts. And I'm also trying to buy local and independent - through writing this blog I've been introduced to some fantastic local businesses who offer brilliant products at competitive prices; you'll find them showcased in my short and sweet gift guide below, as well as some other ideas from further afield. 

Candles from Amphora Aromatics, from £9.48

A recent discovery, this lovely shop on Cotham Hill stocks a range of aromatherapy products. Founded in 1984, it's one of the UK's largest suppliers of pure essential oils, but it also stocks gorgeous natural skincare, haircare and body care products. I picked up one of their candles on my recent visit (a candle is always a good gift idea, in my opinion) and it's gorgeous - there are lots of Christmassy fragrances in the beautifully packaged range (I opted for the Mulled Pear & Spices) and they come in at a very affordable £9.48. 

Brass Spoon Set, Bombay Duck, £15

Who said spoons are boring? I think these hammered, handmade brass spoons are beautiful pieces to have in your kitchen. Just £15 for the set of four, they have a luxe, expensive feel that I think would make you feel happy every time you open up your cutlery drawer.

Panda Organic Babygrow, £17

Very little babies don't need toys or expensive presents...but their parents will appreciate a stack of baby grows - you simply can never have too many. Combining organic cotton with a super-cool panda illustration, this lovely option is designed in Bristol and even uses organic ink for extra ethical brownie points.

Spotty egg cups, £5 each

Made in a tiny little shop on Princess Victoria Street in Clifton, these super-cute ceramics make a lovely gift for the boiled egg lover in your life. They can also be personalised though you may need to visit the shop in person to arrange that in time for Christmas.

Radiance Mask, Wild Source Apothecary, £24

Or any of the products in this range - I've tried them all and they're all excellent (you can find out more on my blog post here.) I was so glad that to find that these products genuinely work and are lovely to use as I love the idea of supporting a local, small-batch beauty company. The prices compare very favourably to big brand deluxe beauty products and personally I prefer the idea of using something made by hand in Bristol to slapping something more mass-produced on my face. I can't recommend this brand enough.

Gold Geometric Architectural Earrings, Jules & Clem, £18

Handmade in Bristol, these earrings offer something a bit different from the displays of gaudy, mass-produced Christmas bling that clogs up the high street at this time of year. Also check out out their cute star pieces, available on the Mon Pote website.

D-Ring Cross Body Bag, & Other Stories, £69

I highly rate & Other Stories accessories - I've been buying all my bags here for the last few years as they look expensive and are well made but don't come in over the £100 price point. Beautifully presented in dust-bags, they make a very luxurious gift for someone special. This particular style is designed in Paris and comes in a range of colours, including this punchy red but also more neutral options. 

Dunleavy Rose Wine, £11.75

I don't believe there's a rule that says you can't drink rose at Christmas. If you know someone who consistently channels the spirit of summer, even in deepest December, then this wine is for them - it immediately transports you to warmer climes. Made from grapes nurtured in a vineyard just outside Bristol, this wine is outstanding and makes the perfect alternative to more obvious wine choices this winter. You can read more about what makes this wine so special here. 

Bishopston Supper Club Preserves Trio, £11

It doesn't get more local than this (well, if you live where I do, that is.) Every year I vow to spend a cosy weekend making my own jams or chutneys to give as gifts, imagining myself as a Kirstie Allsop who's also got a hand-poured candle on the go and has decorated the house in home-made wreaths and pom-pom bunting. Of course, none of this ever quite happens. But this is surely the next best thing - gorgeous small-batch preserves, from the same kitchen as a very highly regarded local supper club. I'd be very happy to receive these goodies. 

Personalised Cycling Prints, Graphivelo, £12.50

Everyone knows a cycling obsessive these days. If you want to avoid buying them something made from lycra, here's a great alternative - super-cool, graphic-style prints that you can personalise. A great idea for teens and adults, they make a stylish way of recording their cycling achievements. They're designed just outside Bristol and available to buy from Not on the High Street.

Moa Aphrodite Facial Oil, Fox + Feather, £22

I can't think of a nicer gift to give a fraught mum at this time of year. Christmas is totally draining and unkind to the skin - a wonderful combination of central heating, frequent wine imbibing and lack of sunlight doesn't tend to enhance the complexion; this time of year is definitely a good time to channel the goddess of beauty and I'd personally be very grateful to find this in my stocking. 

Meri-Meri Days of the Week Hairclips, Mon Pote, £10

I mean, I would wear these. Aren't they just adorable? With just the right amount of glitter to enchant little girls who love sparkle, these make the perfect stocking filler for a fashion conscious little person.

Cactus Shot Glasses, Graham & Green, £29.95

Just the right side of kitsch without being too novelty, these make a fun gift for tequila aficionados. The perfect accessory for setting up your very own mezcaleria at home.

Just My Type Mugs, Anthropologie, £10

If you're over monograming and like personalised gifts without the twee factor, these mugs are perfect if you're buying for someone with a romantic, adventurous or dreamy sensibility. 

Hampton Holistics Candles

I know. Another candle. But I fell in love with these all-natural aromatherapy candles when I tested them a short while back. Made from soy wax so they don't fill your home with toxins, they're hand-poured in Bristol and smell amazing. The Calm candle would be perfect for restoring a bit of tranquility to a loved one's home in the midst of the Christmas madness.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Win Aromotherapy Goodies with Hampton Holistics

November, a month of grey skies, over-eating and consistently frizzy hair - most definitely not my favourite time of the year. Though I try to embrace the idea of cosy log fires, fluffy blankets and woolly socks, I'm a summer person with a very low boredom threshold - I don't have the patience for hibernating on the sofa for hours on end. For me, the only good things about this time of year are soup, satsumas and the smell of a new candle.

I love candles. From ruinously expensive numbers from Diptyque to less guilt-inducing options from TX Maxx, the sight and smell of a gently flickering candle on the mantelpiece brings me pleasure. There's something very comforting and elemental about candles and at this time of year I need all the comforting I can get. 

So I was delighted to stumble upon Hampton Holistics, a locally-produced range of candles and essential oils founded by Bristol-based aromatherapist Camilla Amso. If there's a candle lurking somewhere in a shop, I will always find it - on this occasion at Reason Interiors on Gloucester Road, though you can also buy the range online here.

With her background in natural remedies, Camilla started her business making bath oils and pulse point roller-balls, but it was her research into other candles on the market that led her to a discovery - while that expensive candle might look super chic and smell lovely, if it features chemical fragrances and is made from paraffin-based wax, it's actually releasing toxins around your home. My feeling is there are enough toxins swirling around the world as it is - why on earth would you want them dispersed around your home too?

It was this discovery that led Camilla to take a different approach, using her knowledge of the therapeutic qualities of essential oils to create beautifully but naturally fragranced candles free of nasty chemicals. Using pure, sustainable plant-based waxes, Camilla's candles have a long burn time and smell amazing - I trialled the 'Calm' candle made from lavender essential oil which filled my home with a subtle but distinguishable fragrance. 

Camilla is the epitome of a small-scale, local producer - she's self-taught in the art of candle making and continues to hand-pour her small batch candles, creating products that are truly made with love. The result is a lovely collection of candles which look and smell luxurious but have health benefits too. The essential oils used in Camilla's candles have a variety of attributes: lavender, for example, boosts the immune system and can help with respiratory problems, while geranium (a key ingredient in the 'Balance' candle) can sort out hormone imbalances. 

There are candles perfect for this time of year in the shape of the festive smelling 'Peace' and 'Yule' candles; the latter features sweet orange, cinnamon and clove...quite simply the smell of Christmas. And if you're feeling the pressure of the pre-Christmas preparations the 'Breathe' candle might help restore a bit of calm to your home with its blend of Frankincense and eucalyptus (the former aids deep breathing while eucalyptus has fantastic antiviral and antibacterial properties if you tend to feel a bit low at this time of year.)

Gorgeously packaged and lovely and safe to use, if you're a candle lover like me and like to support local businesses, you need these in your life. I've teamed up with Camilla to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a candle of their choice as well as a burner oil and pulse point roll-on. 

The competition is taking place on my Instagram account - here's how to take part:

1. Visit my Instagram page at @luisa_m_sanders*
2. Like my competition post and follow both myself and Hampton Holistics (they are tagged in the post)
3. Tag a friend in the comments box too!
4. Competition closes at 7pm GMT on Saturday 18th November 2017

Winners will be announced in the comments box on the Instagram post. Good luck! 

*Please note this competition is not affiliated with Instagram. Terms & Conditions: One winner will be picked from all entrants who meet competition criteria; no cash equivalent; competition winners will be announced by Sunday 25th November 2017. Winners will be asked for their email address to arrange delivery of their chosen products. The prizes includes the winner's choice of 1 full-size candle, 1 aromatherapy burner oil and one pulse point roll-on. This competition is only open to UK residents. 


Thursday, 2 November 2017

How to Have Holidays on the Cheap

Two words which don't really inspire confidence when put next to each other: "Cheap and "holidays". Conjuring up images of half-built villas and dodgy all-inclusive buffet tables, it can be a minefield working out what actually constitutes good value and what will potentially be the worst experience of your life. Resolutely a warm weather person (I'm half Italian and spent my childhood summers under the Tuscan sun) I can't countenance the idea of a summer without sand, sun cream and salty skin. Holidays are important to me and I don't view them as a luxurious indulgence. But I don't have a very big budget when it comes to planning them.
I also have a bit of problem with the cost of holidays in the UK. While I love UK beaches I struggle with the idea of spending considerable amounts of money to sit shivering on a picnic rug, smiling through gritted teeth as the rain clouds set in. 

Our recent half term trip to Ibiza was borne out of a search for accommodation in the UK. When it costs less to spend five days in the Balearics than it does to rent a beach hut in Whitstable for the weekend, I'm afraid my patriotism runs a little dry. I just can't bear the idea of spending upwards of £700 for a weekend on the UK coast when at this time of year it's most likely going to rain for over 50% of the time.

Needless to say as a parent the odds are stacked against you when it comes to doing holidays on a budget - term time travel is a bugger and obviously you need to multiply costs across several people. But it IS possible to have a few breaks a year without breaking the bank. However you will need an open mind when it comes to accommodation; lovers of luxury hotels and chi chi villas - this post probably isn't for you. Furthermore this isn't a guide to far-flung travel either; since having our children we've accepted that travelling beyond the Northern hemisphere is something we'll have to leave till our retirement. 
Ibiza Town in the sunshine but without the crowds

So, here are my tried and tested tips for doing family holidays on a budget:

Travel out of season

A no-brainer. Travel in October half term compared to July or August will shave considerable amounts off your holiday costs. But what about the weather? Obviously it's not as guaranteed out of season in Europe but on our recent trip to Ibiza we had blue skies from start to finish and temperatures of 26 degrees; definitely beach weather. And a huge bonus of travelling at this time of year is having more options for accommodation and far less crowds to contend with. The beaches in Ibiza were blissful - the sea was warm from weeks of summer sunshine and we had plenty of room to spread out. 
Blue skies and plenty of room on the beach

Everything is much less stressful this time of year; there are no queues at the airport, you can walk straight out and into a taxi and car hire is a much less stressful experience than it is in the summer. It all makes for a much more serene experience of family travel. I can't recommend it enough.

Have a flexible approach to accommodation

I've stayed in some truly odd places over the years. From the Venetian Airbnb with a weird spiral staircase stuck in the middle of the kitchen to the Ibizan apartment missing an oven - it was pretty fun realising you can actually cook a pizza on two-ring gas stove - we've enjoyed some random accommodation on our family holidays. But having never really experienced luxury I perhaps don't know what I'm missing, and I've generally regarded our holiday accommodation as a base rather than a focal point. 
Great central location in Venice. Just slightly odd design elements

Obviously I want things to be clean and functional but I have a realistic approach to our family holidays - we simply don't have the funds to consider 5 star hotels or flashy villas. I'd honestly feel quite out of place and uncomfortable somewhere posh, and there's something uniquely funny and charming about seeing your kids in fits of laughter about some weird design element or functionality of your holiday accommodation - I reckon kids remember the random stuff far more than the luxury stuff (well, that's what I tell myself anyway.)

It pays to do careful research, though - consulting Google maps for satellite and street view photos is really useful, though I wouldn't read too much into TripAdvisor reviews. On our recent stay in Ibiza, we stayed in a very basic but spotlessly clean apartment - for £200 for four nights. It might have been positioned in a charmless suburban street, but it was close to the beach and Ibiza Town - perfect for a budget half-term break. It goes without saying that Airbnb is your friend - we've had some great experiences in both the UK and abroad using this option.

Do city breaks in the summer 

If you're more of a city person than a beach person, high summer is when prices fall on city breaks compared to spring and autumn. Of course, you need to choose wisely, though I wouldn't necessarily avoid hot weather places at this time of year - just be sure to choose accommodation with air conditioning and be prepared to get up early to do your sight seeing. Remember that lots of cities have urban beaches, perfect for breaking up a morning of trailing round the city with an afternoon of lazy snoozing. 
Verona - bloomin' hot in August but we did our sightseeing at the crack of dawn

If you're looking for another way to do Paris on the cheap and don't mind a bit of inconvenience take a look at my post on how we did the French capital by car for less than £500. Clue - it involves Tesco Clubcard points, the Channel Tunnel and staying at a Eurocamp site just outside the city.

Choose a fly and flop destination

Car hire can add serious money to any holiday, particularly in the height of the summer. In Ibiza, we specifically chose somewhere a short distance from the airport, close to a beach and close to the town so we didn't need to rely on a car or public transport. There are lots of other beachy destinations where you can do this, but two places I'd recommend from personal experience are Nice and Faro. Both are within spitting distance of the airport and have easy public transport links to the beaches. 

In the case of Nice, the beach and town are interlinked, so you really have every kind of amenity you might need on your doorstep. Nice is a colourful, vibrant place with an authentic vibe you don't get in other places on the Cote d'Azur - I'd really recommend it for a family break as the climate is mild, the beach lovely (though do note it's a pebble beach) and the old town has fabulous markets and restaurants. 
My son on the beach in Nice when he was little

Choose somewhere a little off radar

The beaches I spent my childhood summers on are barely known beyond Italy. They're not the most beautiful in the country, but they tick a lot of boxes - spotlessly clean, sandy and backed by cafes and restaurants. The Tuscan coast is very much a place where Italians (and a few Germans) take their holidays so it's a very uncommercialised  area and you're very unlikely to hear an English voice during your stay. As such, it's a far less expensive option than the famous resorts in the South and on the islands. 
And my other son when he was little on a budget trip to Sardinia

Furthermore, this stretch is close to both Pisa and Genova airports, as well as the beauties of inland Tuscany - it's a great place to combine a beach stay with trips to places such as Florence, Siena or the Cinque Terre. 

Staying with Italy, the same goes for the islands - Sardinia has a reputation for being expensive but that's only really centred around the snazzy Costa Smeralda. Other areas of the island are much more accessible, plus it's served by budget flights to both Alghero and Olbia. Then there is Elba - a bit of a faff to get too, it's a lot cheaper than Capri and is much more traditional, meaning simple, budget-friendly accommodation options are plentiful. Eurocamp has a site in on Elba in the lovely resort of Marina di Campo.

Happy holiday planning!

Me (far right) on the beach in Italy, sometime in the '80s
© Bristol Bargainista. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig