Vanessa Grall is the woman in the know regarding all things historic and nostalgic, hidden and secret, quixotic and curious. She shares her favourite bits of London and Paris with us
In Paris, it would have to be L'Hotel Particulier de Montmartre, the former villa of the Hermès family at the top of a secret stairway. This townhouse mansion turned hotel also has a private bar appropriately named, Le Très Particulier. To get in, you need to ring at two intercoms and walk through a private alley (no reservation needed). If Wes Anderson’s characters came to life, I could imagine them all gathering here for dirty Martinis and retiring to their rooms in the early hours of the morning. I’ve Christened Babington House in Somerset my “Goldilocks Getaway” because each of their 32 rooms is uniquely decorated and as inviting as the next for curling up in armchairs with bowls of porridge, before taking a nap in the most fabulous of beds. And just like Goldilocks, I want to try them all. I always daydream about going back to The Wallawwa in Sri Lanka, a restored colonial bungalow boutique hotel maintaining its old world charm. It's like honeymooning in another era.
There’s a restaurant in Paris called Le Petrelle that's been run by a sort of mad-hatter Frenchman for the past twenty years. You dine in candlelight surrounded by piles of books, heaps of fresh market vegetables that look like they’re out of a still-life painting, and curious objects like the type you unearth in your eccentric grandparent's attic. It's a very special place.
I do love a Celia Bertwell print to brighten up a room or the wardrobe. Somehow she managed to combine my two favourite things: 60s boho chic and French Provençale linens!
L'Etage de Pastavino is my favourite place to bring friends visiting me in Paris. It's a hidden restaurant that you find at the back of an Italian deli, up a narrow dark stairwell. And there, in what feels like a chic little Parisian apartment, you'll be served some of the best Italian food in the city. And in London, La Famiglia, the family-style Italian in Fulham that's been there for 35+ years. My father always took us there on Sundays and I still dream of the Mozzarella in Carrozza. I love their simple and rustic blue and white tiling; it feels like walking into Tuscany.
Miss Moss – a Cape Town-based blogger with exceptionally good taste in art, design and culture, or like she says, it's "a compendium of radness".
I love greenhouses, I have a thing for the old ones built in the Belle Epoque like the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil in the 16th arrondissement. But there's also a secret garden on the roof of the original Hèrmes building in Paris that's been there since the Second World War that I'd give anything to see in person one day. This might not technically be classified as a garden, but Highgate Cemetery in London is astounding; tumbled gravestones, crumbling tombs being swallowed by the overgrowth; it's a Victorian garden cemetery that fell to disrepair in the 60’s, and is now maintained by a volunteer organisation in a state of “managed neglect”. It's magical, ghostly and endlessly inspiring.
Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast". There's a quote from the book sort of embodies the Paris I've come to know: “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris (Museum of Hunting and Nature), probably the most underrated museum in the city. Away from the crowds of tourists, it's not your typical old pompous museum. It has very much kept up with the times, mixing quirky modern art installations, exotic taxidermy and cabinets of curiosities alongside pieces that have been held in the French archives for centuries.
Place to shop for art and furniture
The Old Cinema on Chiswick High Road is an Aladdin's cave of antique, vintage, and retro inventory housed in a turn-of-the-century picture house that went dark in the 1930s. With everything from kitsch Americana to period antique, Hollywood often calls on them to furnish their film sets and the Artist Residence Hotel in Pimlico is practically fitted out head to toe with their finds. On a crisp sunny Sunday, there really is no better place to be in Paris than les Puces (the flea market) of Saint-Ouen. It's like an ideal little society of its own, made up of village-like alleys and small streets, persevered by an intellectual and cultivated community of vendors who make it all happen. My favourite digging spots there are the Marché Dauphine for mid-century Parisian kitsch and Marché Vernaison for finding original vintage travel posters. I love it most around lunchtime when neighbouring antique dealers dine together on folding tables with the bottles of red wine, saucisson sec and cassoulets as if they were at home, discussing their latest faraway finds, playing a hand of cards and sharing gossip from their little brocante town, paying no mind to the bargain hunters strolling right past them.
Go to Vanessa’s blog www.messynessychic.com to read more on anything from an uncovered 200 hundred-year old underworld in Liverpool to wondrous Serbian bus stops.