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The Christmas Chocolate Festival, Southbank Centre, London

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Christmas is a time of year that has come to be associated with decadence and indulgence. We choose to treat ourselves to delicious delicacies that we would normally eschew at any other time of year so it’s a time to stock up on things that will delight our tastebuds and buy indulgent gifts for others.

The Southbank Centre regularly has a food market, but in the second weekend of December it is given over to the enjoyment of all things chocolate. With some of the best artisan chocolatiers and famous names in quality confectionery, you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy and plenty of inspiration for Christmas presents.

The Festival

The 2013 Chocolate Festival at the Southbank Centre is the 11th annual celebration for chocoholics and chocolatiers to take place in London. The festival runs throughout the year in different English venues but comes to London just in time for Christmas to ensure that chocolate lovers are stocked up ready for the festive season.

Churros and chocolate

Take a break from your wandering for a helping of churros and a cup of thick hot chocolate

A range of events is scheduled over the course of the weekend that will allow visitors to the Festival to indulge all their senses. With tasting sessions, cookery exhibitions and chocolate themed daily quizzes, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Getting involved

Aiming to educate as well as indulge fans of chocolate looking to enjoy some of the finest chocolate available, the Festival offers a feast for the mind as well as the eye and the taste buds. A range of tickets are available for educational and demonstration sessions at The Cookery Theatre throughout the weekend of the Festival, with tasting experts, chefs and chocolate enthusiasts offering the benefits of their wisdom on a wide range of chocolate-related subjects.

Starting the day’s activities on the Friday and Saturday of the Festival is Martin Christy, founder of Seventy% Chocolate and artisan chocolatier with over 17 years’ experience with chocolate, leads a guided tasting to experiencing the true flavours of chocolate. With tickets priced at just £5 it’s a fantastic experience for chocoholics not to be missed.

A number of master chocolatiers are expected at the Festival, many of whom are offering cookery demonstrations to offer the benefit of their wisdom on including chocolate in your cooking at home. Whether you’re interested in Rachel’s Kitchen and her salted caramel pecan brownies or would like to create their own version or would like to know Manju Mahli’s secrets of blending fine Indian spices with the best chocolate, tickets are available for just £2 each.

The finest afternoon tea

One of the most decadent events at the Festival is the creation by great chocolate house Valrhona of a perfect chocolate lover’s afternoon tea. Inspired by the best-selling novel “Chocolat,” the tea brings together chocolate-infused savoury treats, chocolate scones and a selection of cakes and pastries inspired by characters and events in the novel.

A decadent Valrhona chocolate fondant

A decadent Valrhona chocolate fondant

With tickets starting at £25 per person and rising to £35 per head for the inclusion of a glass of the finest champagne, this is an event not to be missed. Sittings are at 2pm and 4.30pm on Saturday 14th December and can only be booked in advance until 1st December on the Festival website.

Conclusion

A range of exhibitors from the finest chocolatiers in the Europe, a whole host of events to entertain and inspire chocolate foodies and connoisseurs and the best chocoholic afternoon tea ever created, the Chocolate Festival is set to be the event of the season for those who want to make this Christmas the chocolatiest ever.

Image Credits: Wikipedia and TummyRumble

The Spitalfields Winter Festival, Spitalfields, London

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In the heart of London’s East End, Spitalfields is an area of great creative and cultural diversity. As a long-time home for artists and musicians, the area brings together an eclectic mix of some of the hippest hipsters in London with old hands who have been around for many years and have been sharing their creativity through art, sculpture and music.

The London Gypsy Orchestra at the 2012 Festival

The London Gypsy Orchestra at the 2012 Festival

In celebration of this history and the vibrant future of the area, Spitalfields Music has created two annual festivals. Their Winter Festival, which runs from 6-17 December, brings together seasoned professional artists with local musicians to create intimate performances of classical music old and new.

Creating new music

One of the commitments of Spitalfields Music is to bringing new music to the people of East London. As such, they have a history of commissioning new musical pieces that can be performed in the area and are suitable for the spaces that are unique to Spitalfields.

The first of these to take place in the Winter Festival is being created as part of an event called Join the Crowd. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang has created a piece for 1,000 voices entitled Crowd Out that will be presented as part of the Summer Festival in 2014. The Join the Crowd event at the Winter Festival gives singers from all backgrounds, even those with little or no experience, the chance to join in the creation of a unique performance that will take place at the Arnold Circus Bandstand alongside performances in Berlin and Birmingham. Later in the evening, The Crowd will get the chance to perform at the Bandstand with a few pre-rehearsed pieces as part of the illumination event.

Lunchtime culture

Throughout the festival, there are lunchtime concerts that can make for a pleasant interlude in a day spent shopping or exploring around Spitalfields and its famous market. On 14December, four choirs and soloists take to the stage at the Bishopsgate Institute to explore the art of the protest song, with unique takes on political marching songs, football chants and union melodies in an event that promises to be an inspiring and uplifting hour of song.

On 16 December, Spitalfields Church is taken over by singers from local law firm Allen & Overy, who are bringing together soloists and ensembles from the company to showcase their musical talents in their lunch hour to brighten up your own.

Talk and music

In the spirit of sharing and education that comes with the festival, a number of the concerts are preceded by a talk from the artists involved in the music. The Insight series of talks gives the opportunity for festival goers to hear from ensembles from all over the world, soloists of great international standing and directors of innovative youth projects to bring fresh blood into the world of opera and classical singing.

Free to ticket holders for the respective events, these half hour-long talks give an added insight into the background to the music showcased at the festival.

Free events

While some of the paid concerts are already sold out due to their popularity and intimate locations, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved for very little money or even for free. A programme of free events includes the assembly of The Crowd for the 2014 Summer Festival performance and the switching on of the Arnold Circus Bandstand lights, designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Rachel Whiteread.

See the lights go on at Spitalfields

See the lights go on at Spitalfields

Although some of the events are free, many have allocated tickets to ensure capacity is not exceeded and the enjoyment of participants is not compromised so check on the Festival website and reserve your tickets before you go.

Conclusion

With a wonderful collection of wintery music in evocative settings, the Spitalfields Winter Festival promises to bring festive cheer throughout December to those lucky enough to attend.

Image Credits: Spitalfields_E1 and Spitalfields_E1

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas, 13th – 17th November 2013, Earl’s Court

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Christmas comes early to Earl’s Court as the Ideal Home Show arrives in November to bring festive cheer and great ideas to those who love decorating and interior design. With all you could possibly wish for in planning your ideal home for Christmas, the show has heaps of fantastic inspiration to set you up for the most perfect festive season that just oozes with style.

As well as the décor and design for which the show is famous, you’ll also find stands and sections to inspire you for the whole Christmas experience. With food and drink demonstrations and samples, Christmas gift ideas and plenty to buy and take home there’s no shortage of seasonal inspiration to get you all set for the festivities.

Trimming up

One place where the Ideal Home at Christmas show excels is in getting you prepared to decorate your house in exquisite festive style. The Christmas Decorations area is the perfect place to find all you need to “deck the halls” and express your creativity.

hand-made baubles

Pick up some pretty hand-made baubles

All you need is under one roof as you can choose your tree and pick from hundreds of baubles and decorations, many of which are hand-crafted. You’ll also find the Christmas Decorations bandstand is perfect to help you get in the mood with a brass band playing carols and Christmassy songs to fill the air with festive cheer.

Pamper yourself

Christmas is full-on party season for most of us, and while getting your home looking beautiful is the main focus of the show there’s also plenty of opportunity to give yourself a bit of a makeover too. The show has an area dedicated to fashion and beauty where you can find out about the hot trends for Christmas parties on the catwalk and get some make-up and beauty tips from experts who can provide you with everything from tutorials on creating the winter’s biggest make-up looks to pointers on following the trends in a way that suits your face.

If you want a bit of on-site pampering, there will be lots of chances to treat yourself. Stands offering manicures, mini facials and trial sizes of fabulous must-have products will be set in a space where you can mingle with a glass of champagne and enjoy a bit of rejuvenation.

Outdoors at Christmas?

It may seem crazy given the great British winter weather, but there are lots of ways you can make use of your outdoor space to enjoy the festive season in the open air. Just imagine how you could add to the Christmas festivities with some bubbles in an outdoor hot tub as well as those in your Champagne flute! There will also be lots of ideas for tasteful trimmings to put up outside your home to let your style spill over into the street as you prepare for Christmas.

Cosy outdoor christmas ideas

Get some great ideas for a cosy outdoor Christmas

Conclusion

Tickets are now on sale for the show but make sure you book quickly as they tend to sell extremely well. Getting to Earl’s Court is easy with plenty of public transport links and Earl’s Court Tube station just around the corner from the exhibition centre. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get there to make your way through the crowds as the show is bound to be popular.

With events taking place from 11am until 5pm, make sure you plan to get there early. You will, of course, need to make plenty of time to wander around the exhibition hall to pick up loads of great ideas – and a few freebies along the way!

Image Credits: Herry Lawford and wlodi

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