Easy Escapes for Christmas Day!

  • By this time of year properties with Christmas availability are as rare as hen’s teeth, but we like a challenge! So this month we bring you not one but 3 gorgeous getaways for the festive season: a cosy rural Dorset hotel offering lots of seasonal fun, a stunning 6-bedroom Cornish cottage, and a decadent Sri Lankan group getaway (with discount!).

    No need to thank us; all you have to do is book*. Secure your accommodation through i-escape, then follow our recommendations for travel, and voila! It’s time to start packing.

    BridgeHouse, Dorset – FROM £690 per person (3 nights, 24-27 December)

    BridgeHouse barBridgeHouse is a cosy, cottagey country hotel in rustic Beaminster, just 6 miles inland from the Jurassic Coast, with fantastically fresh, local food, plus a warm welcome for couples and families alike.

    BridgeHouse diningBridgeHouse guest roomIt’s offering a fantastic 3-night Christmas Package (valid 24-27 December 2015) with rooms starting from £690 per person, based on 2 sharing. The rates include lots of bubbly, a 7-course Christmas Day dinner, two 5-course dinners, delicious daily breakfasts and a welcome afternoon tea. Expect carol singers at the bar, and don’t miss West Bay for a bracing Boxing Day walk.

    Available rooms: Double Room, Deluxe Double Room, Family Suite

    Total cost: from £690 per person.

    More info: Getting to Dorset and other accommodation options

    Twin Tors Cottage & Barn, Cornwall – £495 per person* (7 nights, 21-28 December)

    Twin Tors diningTwin Tors Cottage & Barn is arguably the best holiday rental in Cornwall and, miraculously, the beguiling 6-bedroom Cottage is still available for Christmas week – snap it up, quick!

    Twin Tors bedroomTwin Tors shared poolA 7-night stay from 21-28 December costs £495 per person, based on 12 sharing (or £5,940 in total). You’ll arrive to a decorated tree and mantelpiece, along with plenty of logs for the wood-burning fire. The Cottage has various palatial living spaces (including a sun room with stunning valley views), as well as shared use of the property’s Pool House, which is home to an indoor freshwater pool, a steam room and an outdoor wood-fired hot tub. How very festive!

    Total cost: £495 per person.

    *Based on 12 people sharing.

    More info: Getting to Cornwall and other accommodation options

    The Last House, Sri Lanka – FROM £1,155.75 per person* (6 nights, 20-26 December 2015)

    The Last HouseThe Last House is a beautiful Bawa-designed Sri Lankan rental for 12-14, with peaceful grounds, elegant interiors and a brilliant beachside location. The ideal long-haul Christmas escape.

    The Last House diningThe Last House poolBook the property on an exclusive B&B basis from 20-26 December and get a 10% discount, making 6 nights £456.75 per person, based on 12 guests sharing (or £5,481 total). It makes a great base for a group holiday, with a good amount of privacy, no need to nominate a cook (there’s a chef on hand), and plenty of opportunity for fun and frolics. Expect to find surf boards, footballs, rugby balls, cricket and badminton equipment, board games, inflatables for the pool and even a private fishing boat!

    Fly: direct from London Heathrow to Colombo Bandaranaike International with SriLankan Airlines for £699, departing 19 December (overnight flight arriving 20 December) and returning 26 December.

    From the airport: Staff can arrange transfers (enquire when booking; extra cost).

    Total cost: from £1,155.75.

    *Based on 12 people sharing.

    More info: Getting to Sri Lanka and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through The information on travel is provided as a service to you, and must be booked through other websites, as indicated. All prices and availability are correct at the time of publishing. Published on 26 November 2015.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Escape of the Week… Babylonstoren

  • Every aspect of this stunning South African farm impresses: organic gardens, a remarkable restaurant, and exquisite suites and cottages that blend history with contemporary design. Set in the Winelands just 45 minutes from Cape Town, it’s a wonderfully peaceful base for some food-focused romance and relaxation.


    There’s plenty on offer to lead you into a state of complete tranquillity. Take a wander through the large garden (there are daily tours), relax by the pool, or indulge yourself with a Jacuzzi, sauna or treatment in the small but lovely spa.


    Rooms: The 1- and 2-bedroom cottages look as if they’re straight from a glossy magazine – not surprising considering owner Karen Roos was formerly the editor of South African Elle Decoration. We particularly love the gorgeous and well-equipped kitchens, which are surrounded on 3 sides by floor-to-ceiling glass looking out over the garden or vineyard. The suites offer the same interior style as the cottages, with vintage four-poster beds, angle-poise lamps and roll-top bathtubs – all cocooned in crisp whites and bare, pale wood. For larger groups, we love the stunning 5-bedroom Cape Dutch homestead. Since our last visit, we’ve also heard of 9 gorgeous Farmer’s House Suites with access to their own indoor-outdoor swimming pool.


    Food: You only have to look at the beautiful 8-hectare garden, which brims with  citrus orchards, giant pumpkins, aromatic herb beds and plump vegetables, to realise that something very special is on offer at Babel, Babylonstoren’s restaurant. The talented chefs spin the raw ingredients into culinary gold (bright salads, deliciously decadent mains), and veggies are just as spoiled as meat eaters. Breakfast continues the tone with tasty juices and morning treats such as granola tarts with Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit.


    Top tip: Do the morning garden tour. Being shown the orchards and plants was a highlight of our visit. If you get up early enough, you can also help herd the ducks onto their patch for the day. And a row on the dam at sunset with a loved one and a bottle of something chilled isn’t a bad way to wind down.


    i-escape gift: A free room upgrade, subject to availability on arrival

    Guest review:  “The service was excellent and delivered in an understated manner, in keeping with the setting and the accommodation.”
    Kate, United Kingdom (28.11.14)


    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,

2015 Kids Collection Awards

  • i-escape’s peerless Kids Collection has been enabling family fun for 4 years now, and its 900 hip hotels and hideaways have all been handpicked because of their wonderful hospitality towards children across all ages. That means choosing the recipients of our annual awards is a tough job indeed, but after much deliberation our Kids Collection Editor Nadine can reveal the winners…

    Best for babies and toddlers: Caserio del Mirador, Costa Blanca, Spain

    i-escape: Caserio del Mirador, Spain

    What: A farmhouse-villa hidden on a mountainside among olive and almond terraces (and brand new to i-escape!), with a choice of apartments, a casita and a funky Airstream trailer.

    Why: The whole place is geared towards families with kids under 5 and excels at catering for those under 3. A host of baby and toddler equipment is on offer, from pushchairs to changing mats to baby baths, and babysitting is available. Kids’ meals are also served, before parents sit down for a delicious feast of home-cooked fare and flowing wine (all accommodation is within monitor range).

    i-escape: Caserio del Mirador, Spain

    Best city break: Reykjavik Boutique Apartments, Reykjavik, Iceland

    i-escape: Reykjavik Boutique Apartments, Iceland

    What: A trio of Nordic-noir self-catering apartments for 2-4, located on a quiet residential street near the landmark Hallgrimskirkja.

    Why: Both larger apartments have a second twin bedroom that’s ideal for kids, and welcoming owners Hallabara and Gunnar are on hand with insider tips. You’re a 10-minute stroll from all the sights, including shops, the lake and the harbour.

    i-escape: Reykjavik Boutique Apartments, Iceland

    Best adventure: Chalet Cannelle, Alps, France

    i-escape: Chalet Cannelle, France

    What: A beautifully styled ski chalet (B&B or catered rental for 8-14 + children) with wonderful food, set in the renowned Portes du Soleil.

    Why: The region has some of the best skiing in Europe, and one well-priced pass gives you access to 650km of slopes for all levels; come in summer and spend your days wild swimming, zip-lining, cycling and even boating on Lake Geneva. What’s more, kids under 5 stay free!

    i-escape: Chalet Cannelle, France

    Best value: Muxima, Algarve, Portugal

    i-escape: Muxima, Portugal

    What: An eco-retreat with colourful casas, wrapped in a cork and eucalyptus forest near some of the Algarve’s best beaches.

    Why: The rates are excellent – rooms taking children start at EUR113 a night including breakfast, and the most expensive suite (sleeping 5 + a baby) is only EUR160 in high season. But what really makes this place special is the homespun, happy ethos created by big-hearted owners Jorge and Sofia. Our Head of Bookings Kate loves it so much that she’s returned time and again with her family!

    i-escape: Muxima, Portugal

    Best island escape: Song Saa, Koh Rong archipelago, Cambodia

    i-escape: Song Saa, Cambodia

    What: An all-suite resort spread across 2 islands in an undeveloped Cambodian archipelago – the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime family getaway.

    Why: Back-to-nature barefoot luxury is writ large here: pool villas come wrapped around trees or suspended above the sea, with sunken bathtubs and driftwood furniture. The owners have set up a marine reserve around the islands, and there all sorts of excursions and activities to choose from. Both the bar and restaurant have 360-degree ocean views, and you’re 30 minutes by speedboat from the mainland.

    i-escape: Song Saa, Cambodia

    Best kids’ facilities: Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus

    i-escape: Almyra

    What: A one-stop-shop for a wonderfully relaxed family holiday, with a superb spa, Asian-med cuisine, pools and a small beach.

    Why: The Baby Go Lightly service has everything from potties and buggies to swim nappies and waterwings, so parents can pack lightly. The excellent kids’ clubs are graded by age, catering for those up to 12 year-round and teenagers from Easter to October. There’s also a dedicated kids’ pool with awnings for shade, plus early-evening family suppers.

    i-escape: Almyra

    Best newcomer: Les Jardins de Douars, near Essaouira, Morocco

    i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Morocco

    What: A laid-back and sheltered country retreat with botanical gardens and Maghreb-style rooms and suites, just inland from the vast beaches of Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

    Why: It achieves a perfect balance between grown-up refuge and child-friendly escape, with separate areas for each – ideal for those who want to combine family time with some pampering.

    i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Morocco

    Best for older kids: South Sands Boutique Hotel, Devon, UK

    i-escape: South Sands Boutique Hotel, Devon

    What: A seaside hotel with everything you could wish for, including a sandy beach on the doorstep, beautifully styled rooms and apartments, and a sailing school next door.

    Why: Older children will be right at home here: there’s a cool vibe in Salcombe, plus the opportunity to sail, kayak, surf and windsurf. And while tweens and teens mess around on the water, parents can linger over sea views and superb food in the restaurant.

    i-escape: South Sands Boutique Hotel, Devon

    Best for families of all sizes: Fattoria Barbialla Nuova, Tuscany, Italy

    i-escape: Fattoria Barbialla Nuova, Italy

    What: A perennially popular organic farm covering 500 hectares of woodland and pasture, just an hour from Florence, Pisa and Siena.

    Why: The self-catering accommodation (7 rustic-chic apartments plus a villa for 8-10) can be configured for any size or shape of family party, from a couple with a baby to a multi-generational gathering. There are pools, cookery classes, nature walks and more – and it’s great value, too.

    i-escape: Fattoria Barbialla Nuova, Italy

    Best for Wildlife: Jaci’s Safari Lodges, Madikwe Reserve, South Africa

    i-escape: Jaci's Safari Lodges

    What: A child-friendly game lodge in the heart of malaria-free Madikwe.

    Why: The Madikwe reserve offers amazing wildlife (the Big Ten rather than the mere Big Five!), and kids get a great introduction to animals, bugs, plants and even star-gazing through Jaci’s ‘Bush Bumbles’ . There’s even a private viewing deck overlooking a stream where animals come to drink.

    i-escape: Jaci's Safari Lodges

    Find your perfect family-friendly holiday >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids, Our Favourite..., Uncategorized. Tagged , , , ,

Family Escape of the Month… Xandari Resort & Spa

  • i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa RicaColourful Costa Rica is a fantastic option for a family break and, with direct BA flights from the UK starting in May, 2016 is the year to go! The beautifully bright, private villas at Xandari Resort & Spa are just 20 minutes from the airport – a welcome sanctuary for frazzled kids and grown-ups alike after a long flight.

    Close to the capital city San José it might be, but hidden away in 40 acres of lush tropical gardens full of walking trails and waterfalls, it feels a whole world away from civilisation. Children are warmly welcomed and there’s plenty to keep all ages occupied, from wildlife spotting to heated swimming pools, river rafting to zip wiring. Weary parents can unwind at the spa, where there’s a hot tub and delicious treatments such as the ‘chocolate delight’ scrub and massage.

    Rooms: Forget bland hotel rooms; the 24 villas are bright and beautiful. Designed by architect Sherrill Broudy, they’re all swooping walls, undulating wooden roofs and floor-to-ceiling windows. They also feature bold, colourful paintings and wall hangings by Sherrill’s wife Charlene, inspired by her love of Costa Rican culture. They come in 5 categories but even the most basic (Prima) are very spacious. If you need a bathtub, go for an Ultra Plus villa; the rest have imaginatively designed showers with miniscule tiles. All have huge beds, wicker armchairs for relaxing, and wide balconies with loungers which look over the valley below. Soft drinks in the minibar are complimentary, and each villa has a handy kitchenette with basic amenities (a coffee maker, a small refrigerator, cutlery, crockery, coffee, sugar, tea and bottled water). The largest villa, The Star, has 2 bedrooms plus a full kitchen with a microwave, so you could choose to self-cater.

    i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Ricai-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica

    Food: Dinner is served in the open-sided dining room with views out over the twinkling lights of San José. There’s a choice of Costa Rican specialities and European-style dishes, and a good kids’ menu featuring sandwiches, chicken, fish & chips, pasta and smoothies. We just loved the casados – the ubiquitous Costa Rican dish of chicken or beef (or here, deliciously grilled fish) with rice, refried beans, salad and tacos. We’d also highly recommend the fresh juices and the punchy cocktails. Lunch is a lighter affair and breakfast (included in the rates) is fab – think fresh fruit, juice and hot drinks, homemade muffins and bread, cold meats, hard boiled eggs and granola. Cooked extras can be ordered for a small charge.

    i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica

    i-escape: Kids activities at Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica

    i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica

    When to go: November to April are the best months for sunshine, though note that December to March is high season and gets very busy. The ‘green’ (rainy) season, from May to September, is becoming increasingly popular. During this time it’s sunny in the mornings and rainy in the afternoons. For 2 weeks in late June or early July there’s often a veranillo – a ‘little summer’ – when the rain disappears. The showers are pretty terrible in September and October, but if you’re using this as a starting point for adventures elsewhere, it’s still cosy inside.

    i-escape: Xandari Resort & Spa, Costa Rica

    Customer review: “The Xandari was a wonderful first night in Costa Rica for us, with amazing views from our villa, great swimming pools and delicious food. The staff made our children feel really special; together with the waterfall trail, we didn’t want to leave.”
    Kate, United Kingdom (15.08.15)

    Read the full review and book Xandari Resort & Spa >>

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , ,

Spotlight on Ireland

  • Ireland may be full of mystery, myth and legend, but it also has a cosmopolitan capital that adds a zest of youth to this endearingly ancient land – a winning combo in anyone’s book.

    IrelandWhy go?

    Eire – the Republic of Ireland – is a country of lush green hills, crumbling castles, rugged granite mountains, fine Georgian architecture and sleepy fishing villages, flanked by the brooding waters of the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also home to Dublin, which has reinvented itself as one of the most culturally vibrant and energetic cities in Europe, allowing visitors to easily combine the best of both worlds.


    Ireland’s capital, the ‘durty aul town’, gleams with fusion restaurants, trendy coffee shops, juice bars, minimalist hotels and an astonishingly young population of over 1.5 million people – that’s nearly half the country. If Joyce, Beckett and Wilde were around today, they would never have emigrated.

    River LiffeyBut it’s not all glitz and glamour. Dublin’s old city – its Norman cathedral, its castle, its Georgian squares – is as much of a draw as ever. The vast halls, pretty quads and 1000-year-old manuscripts of Trinity College still attract crowds of intellectuals and tourists alike. As for its pubs (over 1,000 of them!), they’re as cosy and welcoming as you’d imagine. Through it all, the River Liffey flows placidly, (reputedly) bringing the softest water for a perfect pint of Guinness.

    TankardstownDrive north from the city and you’ll come into Leinster, which is made up of numerous well-known counties, including Meath. It’s known as the ‘Royal County’ because it contains the seat of the Celtic High Kings of Ireland: the Hill of Tara, which is just a short drive from Tankardstown. Close too, and older than the pyramids of Egypt, are the megalithic burial grounds at Newgrange, Ireland’s only World Heritage site.

    Gatsby HouseOn the northwest coast of Ireland, County Donegal is relatively isolated from the rest of the country. It’s a wonderfully rugged and mountainous region, with a wild and windswept coastline, sandy beaches, and small, friendly communities. Cultural traditions are important here, and the county is famous for its handwoven tweed and knitwear. Despite the often-wet weather, it’s very much a place for outdoorsy types, with excellent hiking and fishing. Book a gang into Gatsby House and mix a weekend of stylish indulgence with plenty of fresh air.

    The Lodge at Castle LeslieLast but not least, Monaghan is the ultimate Irish rural landscape: green, undulating, and sprinkled with pike-rich loughs. The Lodge at Castle Leslie offers outstanding horse-riding and has been managed with care by the Leslie family for generations – the beautiful ‘Glaslough’, or Green Lake, is one of the best-preserved in Ireland.

    When to go

    Ireland isn’t renowned for reliable sunny weather; instead, prepare to embrace the elements – often you’ll get all four seasons in one day, as the saying goes! Summers do see the warmest temperatures, as well as lush greenery and gorgeous long evenings. Autumn brings nature’s bounty, and winters are perfect or the ultimate country-house experience of good food and ‘craic’ in front of the fire.

    Liss Ard EstateOur top tip

    Families should head south to Skibbereen in West Cork, where Liss Ard’s amazing 200-acre grounds stretch across a lake and lawns, through romantic woods, past ponds, and over ancient and modern earthworks. American skyscape artist James Turrell created his remarkable Irish Sky Garden Crater here in the early 1990s; go through a tunnel into a huge grassed bowl and lie on the central plinth to see the sky framed by the rim; uniquely magical.

    Irish Sky Garden Crater Ready to go? Take a look at our full collection and plan your Irish escape.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged ,

Escape of the Week… The Laslett

  • The fact that this gorgeous new hotel is named after one of the founders of Notting Hill Carnival, Rhaune Laslett, points at it being as original, exciting and coolly stylish as the neighbourhood in which it sits. Comprised of 5 stuccoed townhouses and set in one of Notting Hill’s most exclusive streets, it certainly delivers.

    The Laslett

    Inside, it’s a celebration of all things local and British, from the design to the delicious food.  Best of all, it’s just minutes from the tube and London’s main sights, but it feels blissfully removed from the traffic and hubbub.

    The Laslett

    Rooms: There’s a light, clean-cut uniformity to the 51 rooms: walls are pale grey, the perfectly pressed bed linen is snowy white, and there are freshly cut flowers dotted throughout. We loved the unusual touches: a handful of Penguin classics, a wall of quirky curated art, groovy lamps by Nocturne Workshop. Everything is chic and crisp but beguilingly cosy – particularly when you add in the ‘Big Bar’ with its retro sweets, bottles of Sipsmith gin and encouragement to call down for ice and a slice. Perfect.

    The Laslett

    Food: From the moment you wake up, you’re in for a treat. We began our day with fat pastries, Bircher muesli and healthy but utterly delicious pressed juices, all washed down with mugs of speciality coffee.  For the rest of the day, The Henderson Bar offers an evolving menu of cakes, cocktails and light meals, along with a handful of signature dishes by Sally Clarke of neighbourhood-restaurant fame. If you want to strike out for dinner, you’re paces from some fantastic eateries, including popular Middle-Eastern tinged Ottolenghi  and farm-to-table The Shed.

    The Laslett

    Top tip: If you’re here on a Saturday head to Waterstone’s car park behind the tube station, where there’s a weekly farmers’ market: home-baked goodies, fruit and veg, cheeses, the works.

    The Laslett

    i-escape gift: A branded tote bag.

    Guest review: “Absolutely amazing. Moving forward this is my go-to hotel in London.”
    Simon, United States (15.09.15)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,

Top family-friendly stays for Christmas

  • Heading away for the festive season brings a welcome relief from dreary winter weather and extended family politics, and all ages love discovering a new destination. Read on for our pick of stylish places which still have availability this Christmas (for the full list, click here). And don’t forget, the miracle of Christmas means Santa will find you, wherever you are in the world!

    Villas Martinhal, Algarve, Portugal

    Villas Martinhal

    Family-friendly yet chic, these self-catering villas span all budgets and sizes. You’ll be treated to 6 hours of sunshine a day in December, as well as kids’ clubs for all ages, a choice of restaurants serving yuletide food, and a spa with treatments for adults, children and teenagers alike. Over Christmas, the resort is decorated in fairy lights and there are special activities. The big day itself brings a sumptuous brunch buffet overlooking the stunning beach.

    martinhal second 2

    La Ferme Du Lac Vert, Alps, France

    La Ferme Du Lac Vert

    Spend Christmas in the snow at this Savoyard farmhouse on the outskirts of Morzine. It’s a chic winter haven of roaring fires, fur throws and twinkling candles, with a tree to put your presents under plus a free ski pass for every one bought. You’ll also find superb food (including a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings) and lots of space to play. Nearly all rooms can take an extra bed, and it’s excellent value for the region (kids under 13 are discounted by 20%, too).


    Kasbah Tamadot, Atlas Mountains, Morocco

    Kasbah Tamadot

    This exquisite mountain hideaway welcomes children in the school holidays, and they stay for free if sharing their parents’ room. It pulls out all the stops, and the 3-night festive packages include a Christmas or New Year’s Eve gala dinner with live entertainment and fireworks, as well as a mule ride and walking tour.

    Kasbah second

    The Rosevine, Cornwall, UK

    The Rosevine

    Holidays by the sea are always special, and you and your family will love staying in this welcoming and stylish apart-hotel. All apartments and studios can take extra beds or baby cots, and the larger ones have bunk beds and twin rooms. For Christmas a decorated tree is provided for each family, and there’s a 2-course Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas Day a breakfast box is delivered to your door, and there’s a traditional lunch with all the trimmings.

    Rosevine second

    Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus


    For a spot of festive indulgence, head to this super design hotel. Rooms and suites are clean and bright, and there’s a small beach, a choice of pools and a spa. This Christmas, marshmallows roast nightly around the crackling fireplace, and there’s a Harry Potter movie afternoon on 22 December. Christmas Eve sees baking classes for children followed by carols and a huge banquet. Come Christmas Day, there’s a festive lunch, with The Snowman and Home Alone screened afterwards, while Boxing Day brings a family boat-making session in the indoor pool. On New Year’s Eve, kids are treated to a disco while adults enjoy a gala dinner.


    Chateau les Merles, near Bergerac, France

    Chateau les Merles

    This 17th-century fairy-tale chateau has been brought bang up to date with contemporary interiors, a swimming pool and golf. Choose between the hotel, which has suites with extra beds, or apartments and self-catering villas. The chateau will be specially decorated over the festive season, with special multi-course dinners and buffet lunches accompanied by live piano recitals or a Spanish orchestra. On New Year’s Eve there’s a party for all!

    chateau les merles

    Finca Cortesín, Andalucia, Spain

    Finca Cortesín

    Head to this sumptuous spa hotel, set on a 500-hectare estate, for a truly relaxing break. It’s ideal for families with older kids and teenagers; the larger suites can accommodate up to 3 children, or you can book a private villa. This year there’s a full programme of festive banquets, as well as a New Year’s Eve party complete with live jazz, a big band and traditional grapes at midnight.

    Finca Cortesin

    Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang, Nha Trang, Vietnam

    Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang

    This gorgeous beachfront hotel is perfect for a special family vacation. Gastronomic highlights include a lavish buffet dinner on Christmas Eve and a traditional turkey roast on Christmas Day, and St Nicholas visits bearing gifts. A lovely touch is the invitation to children from a local orphanage to place their wishes on the Christmas tree. Guests can then buy these wishes for them, with all leftover wishes being purchased by the resort.


    Le Castel, Normandy, France

    Le Castel

    This spacious 19th-century chateau is set in 4 acres of grounds, with only 4 suites. Book the whole house or an individual suite, and look forward to a 3-metre Christmas tree, decorated fireplaces and plenty of evergreen boughs, plus a superb festive lunch followed by an evening buffet. Each suite has 2 rooms, with ample space for a family of 3-6.

    Le Castel

    Quinta Bouça d’Arques, Viana do Castelo, northern Portugal

    Quinta Bouça d’Arques

    For a relaxed and intimate getaway just 60km north of Porto, we rate this beguiling manor house. The welcoming B&B apartments come with kitchenettes, and one has 2 bedrooms; another 2 are adjacent and work well for those travelling with older kids. There’s a family-friendly restaurant just 5 minutes away. This Christmas, stay for 3 nights or more to receive a bottle of Port, a welcome basket with chocolates, and a free hour-long massage.


    Take a look at all family-friendly hotels with Christmas availability >>

    Posted in Kids, Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Escape of the Week… The Sarojin

  • Ideal for relaxing and romancing, this secluded Thai beach resort is honeymoon heaven. It’s named after the mythical Lady Sarojin, who represents the concept of welcome, and you’ll be utterly spoilt from the moment you arrive: flowers, champagne, the works! 

    The Sarojin
    The Sarojin

    Sitting on 11km of private sand and surrounded by 10 acres of beautiful gardens, it’s far away from the bustle of Phuket (80km away). There are lots of amazing features, but our very favourite is the on-site ‘imagineer’, who organises treats just for 2 – perhaps sunset diving, lunch by a secret waterfall, or bamboo rafting down jungle rapids.

    The Sarojin
    The Sarojin

    Rooms: As you’d imagine, the rooms are romantic and elegantly styled, with hand-carved furniture, Thai silk cushions, and open-air bathrooms with oversized tubs and indulgent JUKU toiletries. They also have a deli-bar filled with drinks and snacks such as fresh fruit, cookies, bread, meats, cheeses and even smoked salmon. Of the 3 room types, the Garden Residences are the best value and come with gardens and sundecks. The Pool Residences have their own plunge pools, while the Suites (the most private rooms) have vast sun terraces with sunken onyx pools.

    The Sarojin

    Food: Breakfast is served in the Ficus Restaurant to a calming soundtrack of croaking frogs and humming cicadas. Healthy options include muesli, fresh fruit, porridge and juices, or you can splash out on beluga caviar with blinis and melba toast washed down with sparkling wine. In the evening the restaurant becomes super-enchanting, with tables set out around the ancient ficus tree. We loved the mix of Thai and Italian cuisine, and thoroughly enjoyed our pan-seared king prawns with garlic and rice. For something less formal, The Edge has beautiful sea views and serves delights like spicy soups and steamed fish dishes. Die-hard romantics can choose to have a private dinner with their own chef on the beach, by the pool or in their garden.

    The Sarojin

    When to go: Now! Peak season is from November to April, when the weather is relatively cool and there’s little rain. From March it warms up to around 35C, before the monsoon hits from May to October. If you do decide to visit during the wetter season, the best months are July and August. The Andaman Sea can get rough and the picture-perfect blue can disappear, but The Sarojin’s beach is very secluded so you can swim all year. Expect some strong but short downpours (especially in May, June and September), but keep in mind that it will always stay warm and humid.

    The Sarojin

    Customer review: “This hotel is incredible! The food, location and areas (pool, restaurants, beach and rooms) are all brilliant. I think the corn cakes with tomato, avocado and bacon is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten for breakfast (with delicious freshly squeezed orange juice too). YUM!”
    Pamela, South Africa (02.05.15)

    i-escape gift: a 30-minute spa massage per person (excluding the Christmas/New Year period).

    Read the full review and book The Sarojin >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,

Our favourite recipes… Pork vindaloo with Goan pulau rice

  • 1When our friends at Goa’s Casa Susegad offered to share their delicious pork vindaloo recipe with us, we jumped at the chance. But throw away any misconceptions you may have about this traditional Goan dish; rather than being searingly hot, it’s the perfect balance of spicy, sweet and sour.

    One of the essential ingredients for the perfect vindaloo is palm vinegar (although it can be substituted for any strong fruit-based vinegar if you can’t get hold of it). It’s made by souring Toddy, which is the sap from the crown of a coconut tree.  The sap is collected daily by a Toddy Tapper, who climbs up each tree (often the height of a 3-story building) – arduous work. Barefoot and dressed only in shorts, Toddy Tappers are often easily distinguished by their huge, well-muscled hands.  The Toddy can be drunk fresh as a health aid, distilled to make palm feni, or kept to become palm vinegar.

    Casa Susegad make their own palm vinegar. Their wonderful cook Joanita, whose own father was a Toddy Tapper, sources the Toddy, which is then stored in a huge glass jar known as a garrafao. It’s kept in a dark place for 6 months before being bottled for use throughout the coming year.

    Pork vindaloo

    This recipe serves 12, any leftover portions will freeze well.


    For the curry
    3kg piece of pork (boned leg, skinned but keeping the fat)
    3 full garlic bulbs, split into cloves (no need to peel)
    4-5 inches of cleaned fresh ginger
    1 heaped teaspoon of ground black pepper
    1½ teaspoons of cloves
    1½ teaspoons of mustard seeds
    1½ teaspoons of cumin seeds
    1½ teaspoons of turmeric
    6 green cardamom pods
    4 medium pieces of cinnamon bark
    ½ flat teaspoon of nutmeg
    30 dried red chillies (Casa Susegad uses Kashmiri chillies)
    3 tablespoons of sugar
    4 teaspoons of salt
    ½ litre of palm vinegar
    0.5kg of onions, peeled and sliced
    4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

    For the Goan pulau rice
    1kg Basmati rice, rinsed and drained
    Fresh water (set aside) of just under double the volume of the rice (1¾ cups of water to 1 cup rice)
    5 medium onions, peeled and chopped
    3 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
    6 cloves
    3 green cardamom pods
    1 medium cinnamon stick
    1 garlic clove
    4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
    2 good chicken stock cubes

    For the Goan salad
    ¼ white cabbage, shredded
    1 small white cucumber or about 1/3 large green cucumber, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
    4 plum tomatoes, deseeded and thinly sliced
    2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    ½ green pepper (capsicum), deseeded and thinly sliced
    One handful of chopped fresh coriander
    Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon
    Same quantity of palm vinegar
    1 chopped green chilli
    A little olive oil
    1 teaspoon of salt



    For the curry
    1. Cut the pork into ½ inch cubes, including as much of the fat as you want; it does make the dish better if the fat is included.
    2. Blend all of the marinade ingredients to make a smooth paste and mix through the cubed meat. Cover and leave in the fridge for 1–2 hours.
    3. Fry the onions until light golden brown. Add the pork and all of the marinade. Cover and simmer until liquid is released from the mix. This is the point at which you have to decide on the thickness of your sauce.  Most times, you will not need to add any water, but if your mix is quite dry, add just a little water for cooking.
    4. Simmer until the meat is soft and tender.


    For the Goan pulau rice
    1. Fry the onion in the oil until soft but not browned, together with the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and garlic. When the onions are soft, add the tomatoes and fry until they are also soft. Add the crumbled stock cubes and stir through.  Add the rice and stir through over a low heat.
    2. Add the measured water and bring to the boil. Simmer over a very low heat until the water is absorbed and the rice cooked. Check for seasoning and add salt if necessary (this depends on the salt in the stock cubes).

    For the Goan salad
    1. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing and set to one side.
    2. Mix all of the salad ingredients just before serving, except for the coriander.
    3. Remove the chopped chilli from the salad dressing and discard. Mix the remainder of the ingredients.
    4. Mix the dressing into the salad and sprinkle with the chopped coriander to serve.


    And finally… serve the vindaloo with pickles and curd (yoghurt). The curd will cut through the heat if anyone finds the dish a little hotter than they’re used to.

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Easy Escapes for November

  • Fancy an impromptu break from the daily grind? No problem: we’ve scouted out some last-minute treats guaranteed to give you a boost. Choose from city cool in Amsterdam, high culture in Florence or all-out-escapism on the beaches of Thailand.

    No need to thank us; all you have to do is book*. Secure your accommodation through i-escape, then follow our recommendations for travel, and voila! It’s time to start packing.

    Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam – £328.50 per person (3 nights, 6-9 November)

    AmsterdamAmsterdam in November is chilly but atmospheric – ideal for museum hopping, ice skating and Christmas shopping. ‘Dammers are known for being wonderfully welcoming and, like any great European city, there are plenty of fine restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from.

    Lloyd HotelStay: at design-led Lloyd Hotel, home to an impressive restaurant and unique, creatively styled rooms. The hotel is currently offering a long-stay discount which, when booked with their special Prepaid Rate, makes a 3-night stay in a 3-Star Room just £164.50 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Heathrow to Amsterdam with British Airways for £129, departing Friday 6 November and returning Monday 9 November.

    From the airport: A taxi from the airport costs approximately £35.

    Total cost: £328.50 per person.

    More info: Getting to Amsterdam and other accommodation options

    Riva Lofts, Florence – £418 per person (4 nights, 21-25 November)

    FlorenceDodge Florence’s usual crowds by booking an early winter jaunt to the beating heart of Tuscany. It’s home to some of the greatest collections of Renaissance art and sculpture in the world, and the shorter queues and quieter streets are well worth the dip in temperature.

    Riva LoftsStay: at Riva Lofts, a historic converted mill on the banks of the Arno River. You’ll get free bikes for cycling into town, and plenty of tranquillity when you return. Book the hotel’s Best Non-Refundable Rate and a 4-night stay in a Standard Studio will come to just £301 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Gatwick to Florence with Vueling Airlines for £102, departing Saturday 21 November and returning Wednesday 25 November.

    From the airport: A taxi from the airport costs approximately £15.

    Total cost: £418 per person.

    More info: Getting to Florence and other accommodation options

    Aleenta Hua Hin, Thailand – £1,377.50 per person (10 nights, 11-21 November)

    ThailandIt may be low season on Thailand’s east coast, but the area rarely gets more than a couple of hours of rain per day, and there are some great deals to be had. Book a ticket and spend your days discovering secluded beaches, snorkelling and diving, taking long-tail boat trips and trekking in the Khao Sam Roi Yot national park.

    Aleenta Hua HinStay: at barefoot-chic spa hotel Aleenta Hua Hin, where you can laze on the endless sandy beach, indulge yourself with excellent treatments, and watch the sunset from the intimate open-sided restaurant. The hotel is offering an impressive 40% discount on advance bookings of their Super Value Non-refundable Rate, making a 10-night stay in a luxurious Pool Residence just £800.50 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Heathrow to Bangkok with Thai Airways for £467, departing Tuesday 10 November (overnight flight arriving Wednesday 11 November) and returning Saturday 21 November.

    From the airport: The hotel offers airport transfers from approximately £110 one way.

    Total cost: £1,377.50 per person.

    More info: Getting to Thailand and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through The information on travel is provided as a service to you, and must be booked through other websites, as indicated. All prices and availability are correct at the time of publishing. The per person prices are based on 2 people in a double/twin room or an apartment for 2. Published on 28 October 2015.

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