Insider's guide to Dublin

Author: Pippa Holt
Photography: Jane McLeish-Kelsey

Pippa Holt's Dublin story starts with a blind date. "I met a handsome Irishman six years ago in London," she says. "Conor [Roche] had just moved back to Dublin after living in New York and London for 10 years and wanted to settle in his home town." They fell in love and married.

The former Melbourne girl, fashion consultant and contributing editor to British Vogue calls the Irish capital home, though old habits die hard. She left her job at Australian Vogue at 23, and "started from scratch" in London, working initially in fashion PR, then as a stylist for The Times and as Vogue's fashion features associate, and she returns to the city every second week to work.

Her latest shoots for Vogue have taken her to New York and Moscow. "That's one of the great things about Dublin - it's so easy to fly everywhere in Europe, so we travel a great deal. And from a lifestyle point of view it's less hectic than a big city like London or New York, particularly now we have two small children."

Being a Melbourne-London expat, Holt's friends from Europe and Australia gravitate to her home in Dublin's Donnybrook, and she has customised itineraries for visitors - from the fine-diner that serves the city's best Irish coffee, to coastal walks and, for many of her friends, a trip to Brown Thomas, a boutique department store with some of Europe's most coveted brands. "My fashion friends pretend to fly to Dublin to see me but I really know they just want to see BT's."

This is a favourite haunt for a girl with a high-fashion pedigree. Holt's mother, Susie, manages Melbourne's Hermès store, her half-sister, Sophie, is the managing director of Country Road, and she counts Melbourne designer Kit Willow and US Glamour fashion director Jillian Davison among her friends.

Holt attributes the family's fashion sense to her grandmother, Dame Zara, a canny fashion designer, astute businesswoman and widow of Prime Minister Harold Holt. "I remember Zarie teaching me how to draw ball gowns with beautiful bows on the bustle at Portsea during summer, when everyone else was at the beach."

Holt still spends summer holidays at Portsea, when Dublin is in the depths of winter. "Dublin is a city with interesting food, warm hospitality and a great spirit," she says. "It's steeped in culture. There are beautiful Georgian doors next to great little coffee shops and then the countryside is right on your doorstep. You can feel the history."

These are a few of her favourite Dublin moments.

AVOCA, MONKSTOWN
Avoca is a much-loved Irish brand, a highly successful chain of food and homewares shops and restaurants under one roof. Of the 11 branches, the one in Monkstown, a seaside suburb 20 minutes' drive from Dublin, is my favourite. The food market has fabulous produce, a little fromagerie, a good butcher, great takeaway coffee and a rôtisserie man in the corner - his roast-chicken sandwiches are to die for. There's roast chicken for two with all the trimmings in Avoca's Salt, a relaxed brasserie-style restaurant - it's our regular haunt on the weekends and we always bring visiting friends here for Sunday breakfast. Avoca started as a weaving mill in 1723 and still makes lovely woollen blankets today; it's one of the oldest surviving manufacturers in the world. The Pratt family bought the mill in 1974 and have developed the brand into what it is today. 11a The Crescent, Monkstown, County Dublin

FRANCIS BACON'S STUDIO AND HUGH LANE GALLERY
What a treat to find Francis Bacon's studio at the back of this small but rather magnificent gallery. In 1998, the Hugh Lane team removed the artist's studio and all its contents from Reece Mews in Kensington, London - including dust, walls, doors, the ceiling and more than 7000 items, all donated by the artist's heir. It was moved to Dublin, Bacon's birthplace. He spent his youth living in Ireland and England and there's a real sense of pride about Bacon in Dublin. From the gallery you peer through a glass window at a scene of magical mess: Bacon's easel, paints, jars, brushes, rags, books, photos, towels and empty boxes of Krug. It's interesting to hear Bacon's posh, camp voice in the accompanying video. The gallery also has some mesmerising pieces by artists such as Édouard Manet and Irish-born painter Sean Scully. My favourites are by the two Scotts: the English William Scott and the Irish Patrick Scott. My husband has a painting by Julian Opie, so I particularly like the electronic Opie out the front of the gallery featuring a woman walking, illuminated by lights. Charlemont House, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1

BIBI'S CAFÉ
This is by far my favourite place to eat in Dublin. It's a tiny café tucked away on a peaceful street corner in pretty Portobello. I come here with my mother when she's in town, or I might meet a friend here for brunch or lunch. The food is delicious; my favourite dish is spicy Turkish poached eggs with yoghurt. A Dublin gem. 14b Emorville Ave, Dublin 8

BROWN THOMAS
This world-class department store is what entices my fashion friends to visit me. You could spend hours (and a fortune) here. It's owned by the people who own Selfridge's, but it's a more manageable size, and has excellent sales and an expansive selection of high-end designer brands - Chanel, Prada, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant and Dries van Noten among them - with pieces that are generally harder to find in busier parts of Europe such as Paris or London. My Vogue colleagues might well find that Phoebe Philo Céline coat they've been hunting for. There's also menswear, accessories, beauty products and homewares, and a nice café on the top floor. 88-95 Grafton St, Dublin 2

CHAPTER ONE
When I moved to Dublin, AA Gill told me to have dinner at Chapter One. Rarely does he rave, so I tried and tried to book but couldn't get a table. Four years later it remains one of the city's preeminent restaurants, and I finally reserved a prized seat at the chef's table. Set on Parnell Square at the top of O'Connell Street and surrounded by Georgian buildings, it envelops diners in history in this most historic city. Chef Ross Lewis uses local and seasonal produce to memorable effect. The night I visited, the entrée menu was entirely vegetarian, each component sumptuous and original - the likes of white and green asparagus cooked over charcoal, tapioca flavoured with Knockdrinna sheep's cheese with peas and broad beans, and black truffle and mushroom gel. Dining at Chapter One before seeing a play next door at the Gate Theatre is a Dublin tradition. The Irish coffee is really quite something, too. 18-19 Parnell Sq North, Dublin 1

COPPA CAFÉ
Coppa has great sandwiches, salads and soups with an Italian influence, but its location - just off St Stephen's Green and within one of Dublin's best-loved art institutions, the Royal Hibernian Academy - is what makes it special. It's a long room with floor-to-ceiling windows on pretty Ely Place, opposite a postcard row of Georgian houses with coloured doors. The café was established by the boys behind another renowned eatery, Coppinger Row - one of the two restaurants Beyoncé and Jay Z visited when they were in town earlier this year. 15 Ely Pl, Dublin 2

DALKEY, CAVISTONS AND FINNEGAN'S PUB
Originally founded by the Vikings, Dalkey is a charming village by the sea, about 30 minutes' drive from the city. It's nice to drive to the coastal villages near Dublin; it reinforces the fact that this is very much a seaside city. En route to Dalkey are coastal towns such as Dún Laoghaire and Glasthule, the latter worth visiting for Cavistons. This food emporium is a much-loved Irish institution. It has people from all over the country queuing out the door for its produce. Michelle Obama visited Dalkey last year and famously had lunch at Finnegan's Pub with U2's Bono. Like most old Dublin pubs, Finnegan's has snugs, semi-private chambers where rebel gangs, lovers, secret societies and literary types have traditionally found a little peace amid the shouty drinkers. Author Maeve Binchy used to live two doors up, and you might see Enya and U2's the Edge here. Be sure to visit the lovely lookout on Coliemore Road, with views across Dublin Bay to Dalkey Island. Cavistons, 58-59 Glasthule Rd, Sandycove, County Dublin; Finnegan's, 1 Sorrento Rd, Dalkey, County Dublin



THE DILLON GARDEN
When I moved to Dublin, a Sydney-based garden tour guide took me to meet her friend Helen Dillon. Helen is a renowned garden expert and the undisputed queen of Irish gardening. We had tea at her enchanting house at Ranelagh and watched summer rain sprinkling her magical acre-sized "town garden". I've never forgotten her spirited passion. People travel from far and wide to hear her speak and to see her garden, which has changed several times during its 40-plus years. It's open to visitors from March until September. Pick up one of Helen's six gardening books from the house before you leave. 45 Sandford Rd, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

THE 40 FOOT AND SANDYCOVE BEACH
The 40 Foot is a swimming spot, an Irish version of Bondi Icebergs, 25 minutes' drive south of the city. Concrete steps between the boulders lead into the Irish Sea, and while I'm a bit of a wimp, the brave and sporty have swum here year-round for more than 250 years. This is also the site of the Martello tower in which James Joyce set the opening scene of Ulysses. I definitely get a sense of home here, more than in any other part of Ireland - almost as though Sydney's Tamarama is around the corner. Instead, though, there's a tiny beach called Sandycove where locals crowd during the warmer months. It has views across to Howth and the towers of Dublin's disused Poolbeg power station. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, County Dublin

IRISH MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
I've enjoyed some great exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art; it's definitely worth checking the program when planning a trip to Dublin. Among the most memorable shows for me have been one featuring Alexander Calder's jewellery; a retrospective of architect, designer and painter Eileen Grey, celebrating her Irish roots and her brilliance; and a collaboration with the National Gallery of Australia featuring Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series (Kelly was Irish, after all; they love that in Dublin). The museum is housed in an elaborate 17th-century former hospital, based on the design of Les Invalides in Paris. And it has a great shop - I love a museum shop. Royal Hospital, Military Rd, Kilmainham, Dublin 8

KILLINEY HILL WALK
This is what chic locals do for an outing, a three-kilometre coastal walk with views often compared to those of the Bay of Naples and with cliffside mansions to match. Start at Vico Road (where Bono lives) and climb the steps to the obelisk 170 metres above the sea. From here are magnificent views of Dublin Bay, Killiney Bay, Bray Head and the Great Sugarloaf Mountain, stretching from the Wicklow Mountains to Howth Head. On your way back to town stop off at Bullock Harbour in Dalkey to buy mussels from the fishermen. Killiney Hill, Vico Rd, Killiney, County Dublin

THE MERRION HOTEL
The hotel occupies four restored and heritage-listed Georgian townhouses opposite the office of the Taoiseach, the Irish prime minister, and the National History Museum, which is another favourite haunt of mine. I bring visiting friends here for tea - very Irish chic - in drawing rooms with turf fires, high ceilings and a seriously wonderful private art collection. Featuring the likes of Sir John Lavery, Louis le Brocquy and Jack B Yeats, this is regarded as one of the finest 19th- and 20th-century collections in Ireland; phone ahead to arrange a tour of the Merrion collection with a guide from the National Gallery. I love to have tea seated near my favourite painting by William Scott, Still Life with Pots and Pans. I also like to have a Guinness downstairs at the old-world Cellar Bar, which offers phenomenal service and an excellent all-day Sunday brunch. The Merrion, Merrion St Upper, Dublin 2; Natural History Museum, Merrion St Upper, Dublin 2



THE PUNNET
Opposite Cavistons in Glasthule is The Punnet, a little organic fruit, vegetable and health-food shop. They make juices such as green kale with tasty combinations, and wheatgrass. The health-food movement in Dublin is only just taking shape, so this is why The Punnet is quite a novelty. I make a pilgrimage to Glasthule every Friday morning to buy produce from Cavistons and juices from The Punnet after doing yoga by the sea in Dún-Laoghaire. 11c Glasthule Rd, Glasthule, County Dublin

AFTERNOON TEA AT THE WESTBURY HOTEL
A Dublin institution, this hotel was founded by my husband's grandfather, PV Doyle, who became something of a legend in the Irish hotel world. Its central location makes it the perfect place to stay; it's on Grafton Street between St Stephen's Green and Trinity College, with the best of Dublin at the doorstep. The Westbury's lobby is a favourite meeting spot for locals and visitors. Afternoon tea is a treat, with tiny egg and salmon sandwiches and pretty tiered trays of scones and cakes. From here I recommend popping into the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College. Just above the Book of Kells - the 9th-century illuminated gospel manuscript - is the stunning two-storey, barrel-vaulted, 65-metre-long archive that houses 200,000 of the library's oldest books and marble busts of eminent writers and philosophers. The Westbury Hotel, Grafton St, Dublin 2; Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2

GETTING THERE
Etihad and Emirates operate one-stop flights from Australia to Dublin.



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