My Travel Diaries… Annoushka Ducas

Annoushka Ducas is one of the UK’s most successful female retail entrepreneurs. She founded Links of London with her husband John Ayton in 1991 and, after selling up for £50m in 2006, her fine jewellery line Annoushka was born. One of her many passions is travelling, so here she shares her favourite destinations and most memorable trips…

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Le Sirenuse

How many holidays do you normally take in a year?

Quite a few, probably up to eight. We try to get away as often as we can when work allows, but some are relatively short four or five-day breaks. We have a place in the Alps and we try to spend a lot of time there – the great thing is that I can go out in the morning, then come back and work in the afternoon. 

Where’s the most memorable place you’ve visited?

It has to be Venice when I was about seven with my mother. The reason it’s so memorable is because we arrived by train and I had no idea what to expect but, as we came down the steps and out of the station onto the Grand Canal, I remember bursting into tears. Even though I was very young, I thought this was the most extraordinary place. I don’t know what it was but I have never again been so struck by a place. 

What’s the most remote place you’ve been to?

Without doubt the Omo Valley in the south-western corner of Ethiopia. It’s home to a number of tribal communities. My husband John and I went there with two of our four children back in 2018. It’s quite a journey: you arrive in Addis, take a three to four-hour flight, then you drive for another eight hours and then, as if that’s not enough, you get to the river and take a boat for another six hours to a camp. We stayed in the camp for a couple of nights, then went further up the river to see a particular tribe – most of them had never seen a white face before. That was pretty exceptional. 

Where did you go on honeymoon?

John and I got married in September 1990 and we went to Morocco for three weeks. We travelled everywhere – the desert, the mountains, Marrakech. Staying at the Gazelle d’Or in Taroudant, one of Morocco’s oldest medieval cities, was a rather spoiling experience at age 24. Much to my husband’s horror, I suggested we just stay there instead of going on the next bit of our trip! When we got back home, my mother-in-law asked me if I’d loved my honeymoon and I answered that I absolutely did but it was a week too long! 

Your Alpine chalet is in Megève – what made you choose there?

Megève’s proximity to Geneva was certainly a factor as it’s so easy to get to. But what really did it is the pretty village and landscape – I love that there are lots of trees and you’re always in the treeline. In the winter, we do a lot of off-piste skiing and it’s just beautiful, but it’s also a fantastic place to be in the summer – almost better – as there is so much to do like canoeing and hiking. We can also base ourselves in our chalet, but within an hour we can be eating the best pizza in Courmayeur, over the border in Italy. Everyone in the village is so friendly and knows who you are. It’s packed with happy memories, as we’ve been taking the children there since they were small. One of our favourite restaurants in Megève is Chalet le Forestier – it’s a tiny mountain restaurant with great food but it’s very simple, you basically get what’s on the menu that day.

Amanpulo
COPYRIGHT AMAN RESORTS

What kind of holiday do you like best? 

I like to do something or see something, then lie down and read my book!

Where’s your favourite place for a holiday?

We go back to Greece time and time again, to various places like Skiathos and Hydra. I really love those islands and it’s very hard to beat the sea there – it’s just beautiful. I also love the welcome we get, as the Greeks are so hospitable. Greek food is delicious, and has come a long way. I like the feel of the sand in between my toes while I’m having lunch and never paying much more than 20 or 30 euros a head whatever you eat, particularly when there’s a big group of us including the children.

And your favourite city for a weekend away? 

It has to be Paris. I lived there when I was 17 or 18 and know it well. It’s so easy, you take the train and you’re in the middle of the city within two and half hours. For me, it’s probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I tend to stay in the 5th arrondissement with my friend Tino Zervudachi who is an interior designer. One of my favourite places to eat is Chez Janou in the Marais, just a few minutes from Place des Vosges – it’s a low-key yet chic brasserie serving Provençal food. We also go back to another favourite, Freddy’s in the 6th on the Rue de Seine – it’s very popular with locals and does great contemporary tapas.

What’s the best work trip you’ve ever been on?

It’s perfect if I can combine work and what I love (jewellery, stones) with a holiday. When we went to Ethiopia, I was looking at opals, but my best work trip has to be to the Philippines. Thirty-odd years ago, I used to go to there a lot when I owned Links of London because my silversmiths were based there. But after launching Annoushka, I went back to an island called Iloilo as I was doing a collection using golden pearls. I realised I knew very little about pearls really and it seemed like a perfect reason to go back. We went out on boats called bangkas to where the pearl farmers were putting down their nets and growing the pearls. I learnt so much in an incredibly short space of time – for instance, I didn’t know the oysters have to be taken out of the sea once a month and scrubbed so they don’t get contaminated. It’s a very difficult job as they free-dive with no oxygen tank. It was fascinating to witness. It was also a very special time as they had had a massive typhoon which had destroyed much of the island and many of the inhabitants had lost their livelihood. I decided to source my pearls directly from the farmers there, rather than the traditional way via auctions where the farmers are at least six people removed and get a tiny fraction of the money.

The Pig near Bath
Horse & Groom

Have you had a great family getaway with your grown-up children?

During the pandemic, in one of the gaps when travel was allowed, we did the most amazing trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya. We were practically on our own, so if we saw a leopard, it was just us and the leopard! We then went on to Lamu but, after the children returned home, travel restrictions came back and I had to stay on. As a family we also love skiing together and it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Where’s your favourite place in Europe?

I think it has to be Italy. As I child I spent a lot of time just outside Lucca, as my mother had a home there. So I know that area, and Florence and the whole Tuscany very well too. Italy has everything – and the combination of good food, culture, wonderful people and amazing style makes it very hard to beat.

What’s the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in?

Undoubtedly Le Sirenuse in Positano on the Amalfi coast, mainly for its position and the extraordinary views. But the staff are exceptional and always make you feel like you’re a long-lost friend – for me, there isn’t anything better than a hotel where you’re made to feel so welcome. The food is amazing too. There is one other I have to mention and that is Amanpulo in the Philippines – it lies on Pamalican Island, a private island fringed with white sand beaches and pristine reefs. It was the perfect beach holiday at the end of a busy working week. I loved exploring the islands, and the sea is just fabulous for swimming and snorkelling. 

Claridge’s

Where’s your favourite place to stay in the UK? 

John and I own a pub in East Ashling in West Sussex called the Horse & Groom, where we love staying, even though it’s just a short distance from our family home. Dating back to the early 19th century, it was our local but we never really went there. In 2019, we decided to buy it and gave it a complete makeover. It now has ten lovely rooms and a good restaurant, and has really become a cornerstone for the locals. However, we do love lots of other places in the UK and one of our favourites is The Pig near Bath, which we visit each year for Glastonbury. It's such great fun and is a hub of energy and familiar faces, so there's simply never a dull moment. Year after year, each visit brings its own sense of happiness. 

Do you have a favourite hotel in London?

I could happily live in Claridge’s, especially now it’s gone five floors down and has that lovely new spa! I have a shop opposite and I’m thinking, yes, let’s go there. It has a lovely old-fashioned way of welcoming you. I also love all the art deco details – it’s my favourite design period and I’ve based my latest collection around it.

Do you shop when you’re abroad?

I do. What I enjoy most is shopping in very small boutiques and shops that I can’t find in any other city. In Paris, I love the Marché aux Puces, the flea market in the suburb of Saint-Ouen on the northern edge the city – it’s the largest antiques and second-hand market in the world and the place to find eclectic things for the home. Another favourite is Palace Callas on Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe in the 4th – it’s a secret gold mine for vintage couture. And I love the newish Hermès shop on Rue de Sèvres in Saint-Germain-des-Prés – it’s housed in what was once the Lutetia swimming pool, a shining example of the art deco years and it’s just so surprising, unexpected and beautiful.

Any holiday disasters?

There are always lots of disasters with us! One in particular that springs to mind is when, as a family, we were going to spend a week on a lovely old-fashioned boat in what we thought would be Croatia. We had bid for the holiday at an auction and we were going to meet up with friends who were taking another boat. However, we were all arrested, all six of us! The authorities thought that whoever we’d rented the boat from was doing business illegally. They eventually let us go but we weren’t allowed back on the boat and had to stay in a hotel in Dubrovnik – it was far from ideal with four small children in tow, who thought they were going on a boat! The next day we went to see the harbour master and it was decided I should just cry… Eventually, they let us back on but we were not allowed to stay in Croatian waters and had to sail to Montenegro. There have been many more disasters involving passports running out and all those sorts of things! 

What have you got booked next?

Our next trip is to Tucson in February, mainly because there’s a very big gem and stone fair, the biggest in the world, and I’ve never been. After that, we are heading to Mexico and I’m doing my research on that now. Also very high up on my list is Castello di Reschio in Italy. It’s a 10th-century castle that has been beautifully restored by its owners, the architect Count Benedikt Bolza and his artist wife Donna Nencia Corsini. The estate lies on the Umbrian/Tuscan border not far from Lake Trasimeno. 

Visit Annoushka.com

The Pig near Bath

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