At the top of the stairs a fat hairy ginger cat lies sprawled on its side, head propped up in the manner of a particularly lazy, disdainful Sphinx, surveying his domain: train tracks heading off towards Lyon and Marseille, the murmur of conversations, the clatter of shoes under the metal beams.

I’m perched on a banquette and my feet hover several inches off the ground. The table is vast, generous; the linen thick and crisp. Our suitcases have been whisked off to the cloakroom and we huddle, dwarfed by the arches and gilding and statues of sirens fainting.  At tables nearby the maître d’hôtel is in a constant frenzy of steak tartare: some eggs whisked in a bowl, first, then a dash of condiments, and baskets of golden fries spinning around the room. He is small and neat, alert, genuinely concerned for our comfort.

What do we talk about? The light from the chandeliers hits our glasses of wine and traces delicate lace collars on the tablecloths. We read out loud from the little brochure detailing the place’s history. On the walls we recognise Orange, the banks of the Seine mirroring Venice for the 1901 exposition, an alpine lake. We weigh the merits of butter salted, and not, before wreaking havoc with the salt grinder.

We eat in happy, drunken complicity. We take our time and mop up the rich juices with crusty bread – like peasants, my friend says. There’s fish, mine on a bed of spinach and preserved lemon, and then a fig and raspberry tart. Outside, a lone palm tree curves against the sky – so delicately blue – and the sparkling roofs of Paris. It is impossible, I know, to freeze the moment, to stay there in that grand dream of a place, in that perfect Saturday afternoon.

With a few minutes to spare we walk down the steps towards the waiting TGVs and Transiliens.  We say good bye at the edge of the tracks, and everything, it feels, is brushed with sunlight.

Where: Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon, above the old section of the train station.

The ourangutan sits slumped at the walnut dining table. It’s obviously been a bad night. There are broken plates everywhere, stuff spilling out from the slack-hinged cabinet against the wall. The geese – they’re fucking huge, the sort of thing that could peck your eyes out just by looking at you – are still partying hard. No one knows who invited them. The camels are so high they’re eating the house plants, and the lapdogs have fashioned robes out of some cashmere scarves. There’s talk of karaoke.

Drug-fuelled hallucination? Perhaps. This was the scene in one of the windows at the newish Hermès Rive Gauche store near the Lutétia. I love me a good Hermès window. I think that if I were horrendously rich I would want to live like this, in a riot of thick woolen carpets, taxidermy and leather saddles. I’d move from room to room swaddled in silks and cashmere, rinse my teeth in Champagne, and get minions to strew dead leaves and black pearls the size of my fist on my path. I would be, in fact, Leila Menchari, the designer who has been doing Hermès’ windows since 1977.

In my unspent youth I worked at Hermès, in the flagship store on the Faubourg St Honoré. Several times a year the blinds would be drawn, the windows shielded from the prying eyes of the public. “She’s here”, we’d whisper, and there was an unspoken rule that She should not be disturbed. Apparently when Leila came she would lie in the window displays, behind the closed blinds, reclining languorously with a glass of champagne in one hand. She would say:

Je cherche ma muse.

I’m looking for my muse.

This newer store is really quite lovely, a bright open space moulded by large yurt-like structures, set against the mosaic walls of the swimming pool it used to be.

There’s a florist so you’re greeted by the sweet smell of fresh flowers when you enter, a café (completely empty when I went, cakes looked delicious from afar) and a book section that featured this gem:

Bestiaire du Gange, a ridiculously beautiful bestiary screenprinted by hand in India on thick grainy paper. More pictures here and here. I wants it. I needs it. I lusts for it, still, 10 days later. It will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

Where: Hermès Rive Gauche, 17 rue de Sèvres, Paris 6ème. Métro Sèvres-Babylone

Tip: The Hermès stores are a little bit intimidating from the outside, but  the staff is always unwaveringly friendly. If sweaty American tourists in shorts with bumbags full of crumpled euros can shop there, anyone can.

Whenever the grey and cold get a bit too much, I let my mind wander back to this:

The stretch of sea between Phuket and Koh Yao Noi was smooth and still as a lake. I’d read about Six Senses years ago, somewhere in the pages of a glossy magazine. The article described villas perched high on a hill, cooling private pools to linger in, a butler to care for guests’ every need – the sort of place, in short, I could only afford in my most indulgent day dreams.

I’d been restless about the trip for weeks. I’d quit my job the week before, and it marked, for me, the symbolic end of my stay in Singapore, an end to the weeks and months of anxiety, the endless hours in the office, my wretched health. I sighed as the boat curved before the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga bay, heading for the private pier of the resort.

How can I describe perfection? The villas were beautiful, little nests of day beds and mosquito nets, hidden behind bamboo walls and lush vegetation.

Every thing was quiet and welcoming. It would be so easy to never leave the resort. There is simply too much to enjoy. I could have spent half a day selecting a pillow from the extensive menu, or trying out the scented toiletries (lemongrass? aloe vera? unscented?), or playing chess, or learning to thai box or kayak or snorkel or…

I settled for eating my body weight in charcuterie and strolls along the private beach. The water itself was a bit disappointing, silty underfoot and not the clear turquoise of my fantasies. But the view was beautiful, the perfect place to watch the large, graceful hornbills who nest at one end of the beach.

The view was at its best from the Hilltop Reserve, a luxurious private residence that had just recently been converted to a restaurant and pool area for all the guests. I’d never quite understood the term “infinity pool”, until I floated in the hilltop pool, its crystalline water blending into the bay beyond, so that I was simultaneously towering above and part of the endless sea.

On Friday night, a large screen materialised behind the pool, with the moon illuminating the bay behind it, and the smiling staff brought round little bowls of popcorn to enjoy with the film. I sipped a lychee martini and watched The Devil wears Prada, acutely aware of how utterly, utterly spoiled I was. Did I mention the all day all you can eat free ice cream buffet? There were also cakes, biscuits and macarons if delicious home made ice cream in exotic flavours is not your thing.

I could kick myself for not having taken a camera to the spa, because it was glorious. Huge stone tubs large enough to stand in, massage rooms filled with sunlight and orchids and waterfalls, expert masseuses almost managing to send me to sleep.

When I returned to the villa, the staff had left a new bookmark in my opened book. “Slow Life”, it said, and this is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever been given. I’d struggled that morning at the yoga class, my lungs constricted with the effort of clearing my head and forgetting about my daily worries, unable to fully appreciate the stunning view from the purpose built platform.

But as I sped away from Yao Noi, rushing in the dark towards the spectacular sunset, life suddenly seemed full of calm, and possibilities.


Where: Six Senses Yao Noi, about halfway between Krabi and Phuket. The hotel arranges speed boat transfers from either airport.

Tip: The list price for one night at the resort is a ridiculous £600+. I went during the rainy season in October, at a fraction of the price with an Agoda deal. The weather was stunning. If you’re a neurotic mess like I am, stay for a week if you can afford it, three days is not long enough to unwind and enjoy all the facilities.