Before last week my idea of Notting Hill was based partly on the film, so white buildings and feature doorways, and partly on coverage I’ve seen of Notting Hill carnival. Despite many visits to London it’s one of the neighbourhoods I’ve never explored myself. While I was down there for World Travel Market last week I got up really one morning to meet a friend for breakfast and Notting Hill was the middle point between us. It wasn’t far from where I was staying and I didn’t have much time but over a coffee we had a stroll around the streets and mews of this iconic West London area.
Before I went I did a quick blog search for any posts about the area, just for some hints of where to head as I didn’t have much time and wanted to make the most of it. One of my favourites was this one by A Lady in London. For the prettiest streets in London Notting Hill is definitely up there with the likes of Lancaster Road, Portobello Road etc.
Once off the tube at Notting Hill Gate we walked across the road and into the heart of the area. You suddenly find yourself in a whole new vibe from typical London. It was quiet and serene, but unlike some of the other neighbourhoods still had that grand presence about it that you get from central London and its sights.
It is so gorgeous, and the Autumn season looked good on the sweeping white terraces, with their set back porches and columned entranceways. Golden leaves were everywhere, despite the best efforts of the occasional residents trying to sweep them off their expensive looking pathways. Apart from that there weren’t many people about.
It was a lot calmer than the London I know, really quiet actually even when the rest of London would be battling with rush hour chaos. Aside from the occasional mother pushing a pram (looking like they’d just stepped out of a White Company advert), or walking their dogs (looking like they’d just shot a fitness video) there were very few people about.
We walked for a while among the gigantic white houses that reminded me of a different Hollywood blockbuster, Mrs Doubtfire, with their symmetrical black railings and tiled steps. Dotted among the square’s were private gated gardens, accessible only by the residents. Literally exactly like the one on Notting Hill they climb into.
I find it it a bit bizarre that they have these, I mean I can see why with only concrete yards as outside space it’s their only choice for a bit of greenery. But I can’t think of anything worse than sharing a garden with all my neighbours. Then again I suppose we end up only actually using them for one afternoon a year with a BBQ so maybe they don’t notice it. Nevertheless these off limits secret gardens look lovely, from my limited view peering through the gaps in the gates.
What I didn’t expect to find was the Paul Smith shop. At first I thought it was his house and he just wanted everyone to know it with his name above the door and black chandelier. I love it when shops go quirky. And hes got some balls hasn’t he, instead of plonking his shop in the middle of the shopping area, or right next to Harrods like the rest of them, he plonks it right in the middle of one of the most affluent neighbourhoods. Fair play to him, it fit right in.
We walked around these for a bit, but then went deeper into the labyrinth of streets into the smaller mews and side streets. It was here that we found all the pastel coloured houses the area is so famous for. You’d get a sweeping curve of bright white, with one random pink or yellow or blue house popping out the middle. Those that didn’t have the whole house painted made up for it with bright coloured doors. Im a big fan of a good ‘doortrait’!
Some streets were brighter than others, and it was as though each one was trying to out do the next. They were full of character, and looking closely you’d also find additional touches that showed off the personality of the inhabitants. Some houses had plants, some had old wagon wheels painted and propped up against the juliet balconies, and some had all range of ornaments and trinkets.
The most activity I saw was by a family who were moving out. How do you leave a house like that? If I lived in a duck egg coloured house that looked like a dolls house I’d never want to leave. How disappointing would your next house be?
On the way back to the tube I caught sight of the most colourful street yet. where the houses were different again, a lot smaller and more like rows of cottages but the colours were amazing. It’s a whole street effort and each one popped out from the next. My favourite was this pink one with the unicorn above the door. Ha!
I suppose I could live in London if I lived in one of these, among the quiet calmness (and wealth) of Notting Hill.
We didn’t have anywhere near enough time to explore properly. I only got a glimpse of the quirky little restaurants with black and whitle tiled flooring – outside as well as inside a la Kris Jenner. I only saw one of the quirky little theatres the area is also known for, a few of the boutiques and retro clothing shops, and old fashioned barbers. We got nowhere near Portobello Road and it’s famous street market, but I think I’d want enough time to do it justice and this fleeting visit wasn’t going to do that this time.
What I did get from this very small insight into the area is that it is so much more than the film setting that put Notting Hill on the map. I’d love to spend a whole weekend there to really experience it, especially the market and some of the restaurants. If you get chance on your next visit to London, instead of taking in the typically tourist sights of Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the Palace, I would strongly recommend going for even just a stroll.
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