An insider’s guide to… Porto

  • Porto is often overlooked in favour of limelight hogger Lisbon, but there’s a huge amount waiting to be discovered in Portugal’s historic second city. Its old centre is a Unesco-listed maze of cobbled streets, Baroque churches and skinny medieval townhouses, there’s a burgeoning culinary renaissance to enjoy, and it’s the traditional home of port. Bottoms up!



    Splash out: The Yeatman

    The Yeatman

    This luxurious, light-filled hotel has beautiful panoramic views of the River Douro, Porto’s red-tiled roofs and the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge from not one but two infinity pools. Dotted around the terraced layers (which mimic the vineyards of the Douro Valley), you’ll find 82 gorgeous rooms with large balconies and indulgent kingsize beds. But the hotel’s greatest triumphs are its Michelin-starred restaurant and superlative spa; both take their inspiration from the world of wine, with a 25,000-bottle cellar in the former and a merlot scrub in the latter.

    In the middle: 1872 River House

    1872 River House

    This boutique B&B is tucked into the historic Ribeira district, which is full of sun-dappled squares, crumbling townhouses and laundry-strung lanes. It’s a beguiling location for this impeccably restored building, which has been given a new lease of life through sleek furniture, sink-into beds and swish rain showers. We struggled to take our eyes off the beautiful river views from the lounge and many of the rooms.

    Econo-chic: Boutique Apartments Porto

    Boutique Apartments Porto

    You can still get a great taste of Porto without staying in the frenetic old town. These great-value apartments for 2-5 on the dramatic Atlantic-lashed seafront make a spacious and stylish alternative to the inner-city options. The district, Foz do Douro, is still wonderfully buzzy, and this converted 19th-century mansion is equipped with everything you need to make the most of the delicious produce (and port!) for sale in the surrounding streets. Or, if you prefer, you can strike out to discover some of the numerous restaurants this up-and-coming foodie capital has to offer.


    Where to begin… Porto has become one Portugal’s most exciting destinations for feasting travellers. Grapes from the nearby Douro Valley bring forth world-class wine, and there are numerous port lodges offering tastings and tours (many of them centuries-old). They’ve been joined by a multitude of new restaurants, with innovative eateries popping up all the time. Notable options include imaginative Cantinho do Avillez and iconic Bull & Bear, which will transform your opinion of rustic ingredients like Beira blood sausage and pig trotters. Alternatively, you could skip refinement and head to one of the many family-run places lining the old quayside.

    porto food


    Porto isn’t just good for food and drink – it’s also a cultural hub with interesting events throughout the year. Try the Portuguese Centre for Photography, housed in a former prison, or catch a jazz, classical or pop performance at the striking Casa de Música. There’s also the Fundação de Serralves, a world-class contemporary museum set in acres of parkland filled with intriguing sculptures. Alternatively, get out of the city and head to Portugal’s first national park, Peneda-Gerês, which offers stunning hiking, or to the mountains of the northeast, where you’ll find the unmissable prehistoric rock carvings of the Coa Valley.


    With the Kids

    With its wine, history and great culinary scene, Porto might not be the first choice for a family trip. But there are plenty of things to see and do. Kids will love boat trips along the Douro, the lively Bolhão market and the nearby beaches. Even the port cellars, with their subterranean fascination and Harry-Potter charm, will capture their imaginations (and allow you to have a glass or two!).

    Don’t miss…Rattle out to the coast on the historic tram, pick a spot at one of the glam beach bars on Praia da Luz, and sip cocktails as you watch the sun set over the Atlantic.

    Take a look at our Porto city guide >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Kids, Travel Tips. Tagged , , , , ,

Top 5 UK foodie breaks

  • If you asked any of the i-escape team about the highlights of their latest trip, we bet all of them would mention food at least once: perhaps a decadent breakfast spread or a dessert they could’ve eaten 10 times over. If you also plan breaks around great meals, you’ll love this hand-picked list of our favourite UK foodie escapes.

    Red Lion & Troutbeck Guest House, East Chisenbury, Wiltshire

    i-escape: Red Lion & Troutbeck Guest House, UK

    Owners Brittany and Guy have been deservedly awarded a Michelin star for their Wiltshire pub, combining hard work and years of experience in top restaurants to build up its culinary reputation. We loved the superb food and unstuffy atmosphere. And, the cherry on top, there are 5 enormous, contemporary bedrooms in the accompanying  guesthouse, where you can retire after your meal.

    Highlights: We loved the light-as-a-feather goujons of Cornish lemon sole, the chicken with polenta and roasting juices, and an indulgent Valrohna chocolate mousse with fleur de sel.

    The Halkin by COMO, Belgravia, London

    i-escape: The Halkin by COMO, UK

    Well-placed for exploring all London’s highlights, this classy design hotel has a chic Belgravia address and a sleek modern Basque restaurant from the team behind San Sebastian’s acclaimed Arzak. Rooms are smart, with classic Italian design and tall windows, and there’s enough marble in the gorgeous bathrooms to sink the QE2.

    Highlights: Ametsa with Arzak Instruction arrived in 2013 under the guidance of world-renowned chefs Elena and Juan Mari Arzak. We haven’t been lucky enough to sample their “new Basque cuisine”, but with 3 Michelin stars under their belt at their original San Sebastian restaurant, we expect it to be pretty special.

    Feversham Arms Hotel, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

    i-escape: Feversham Arms Hotel, UK

    The delicious and refined modern British food (which has been awarded 2 AA rosettes) isn’t the only draw at this pampering hotel in pretty North Yorkshire: the 33 rooms are filled with treats like fancy TVs and underfloor heating, and the sleek glass-fronted spa has the nod of approval from Tatler. What’s more, the vibe is so relaxed that nobody would bat an eyelid if you nodded off on one of the comfy sofas.

    Highlights: Our pudding of Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger cream had us scraping the varnish off the plate. The cheese trolley and its 30-odd varieties was another star turn.

    Monachyle Mhor, Trossachs National Park, Scotland

    i-escape: Monachyle Mhor, UK

    We found it incredibly hard to leave this gourmet bolthole at the gateway to the stunning Scottish highlands. Run by siblings Tom, Dick and Melanie, it’s a truly special place. Tom the chef is also a farmer and is always searching for the very best ingredients, be it locally shot pigeon and venison, or vegetables grown in the hotel’s own plot. The 14 modern rooms are full of clever design surprises like modern artworks or deer antlers in the bathroom; a couple also have their own steam rooms for post-walk winding down.

    Highlights: The Orkney scallops (hand-dived, of course) are unmissable, and the farm’s lamb, pork and beef are superb.

    Hotel TerraVina, the New Forest, Hampshire

    i-escape: Hotel Terravina, UK

    Founded by one of the best-known Masters of Wine, Gerard Basset, and his wife Nina, Hotel TerraVina is a stylish 11-room hideaway in the beautiful New Forest. An army of staff ensure you’re very well looked after, and all the little touches are in place: reading glasses in the lounges, wellies by the door, Nespresso machines and fresh milk in the rooms. The quality of the food and wine is that usually found in the chaos of the city, but instead you’re in a quiet hamlet where ponies roam freely along quiet lanes.

    Highlights: The lengthy wine list is helpfully split into categories such as “steely and mineral” and “smooth and nutty” for whites, and “lively and fruity” and “intense and powerful” for reds. A vast range is available by the glass, and the sommeliers give honest non-upselling advice on which will best accompany your chosen dishes.

    Take a look at the rest of our favourite hotels for food-lovers >>

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged ,

Escape of the Week… Kahanda Kanda

  • Kahanda KandaIt’s a bumpy drive, but arriving at Sri Lanka’s totally indulgent Kahanda Kanda is a wonderful reward for your efforts. The hotel’s stylish and soothing design, stunning gardens and warm welcome will immediately put you into relaxation mode.

    Breathtaking views extend beyond the palms and 12 acres of working tea estate, to the distant Koggala Lake, and are visible at every turn: behind the shimmering infinity pool, mirrored in the lily-strewn ponds around the open-sided living and dining pavilions, and from your private suite.

     Rooms: The beautiful, large suites are spread among several free-standing pavilions in the garden, giving you a quiet little oasis all to yourself. The airy interiors are beautifully designed, with canopied beds, daybeds built into window bays, and pillow-strewn rattan couches for lounging about on and enjoying the views. We love the Peacock Suite with its wraparound windows, kingsize four-poster bed and romantic private courtyard with sun beds.

    Kahanda Kanda

    Food: Eating at Kahanda Kanda is a real treat. Staff will check each morning whether you plan to stay in for lunch and dinner, and the chefs will prepare delicious meals to suit your tastes. The food is fresh, healthy and very tasty, combining Sri Lankan, Western and Thai influences. Wonderful breakfasts feature a number of local delicacies such as hoppers, fruit salad with creamy buffalo curd, and coconut pancakes with pineapple or bananas.

    Kahanda Kanda

    Top tip: Southern Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world for spotting blue whales. Ask the hotel about bespoke whale-watching trips off the coast of Galle.

    Kahanda Kanda
    Customer Review: “Beautiful property where we saw a lot of birds and monkeys. It was very relaxing and peaceful, just as we wished. Bungalow was clean, elegantly decorated, with the most comfortable beds ever. Manager was great, very helpful with any enquiry and on request organised yoga teacher who was very good. If you are looking for a tranquil stay – this is a perfect place. Thanks to all who looked after us.”
    Monika, United Arab Emirates, (24.11.14)

    i-escape gift: a free room upgrade, subject to availability; and a free massage for stays of 3 nights or more

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,

Top 5 hidden gardens

  • We love a hotel that delivers something unforgettable, so you can imagine our excitement when we stepped through the doors of these urban hideaways to discover pockets of unexpected alfresco tranquillity. These are our five favourite oases for escaping the city…

    Number Sixteen, London
     Number Sixteen

    This dreamy ode to English elegance is tucked into one of London’s smartest residential quarters. It’s bright and contemporary but still retains its historic charm, including a beautiful tree-lined garden and an airy orangery – the perfect settings for a lengthy afternoon tea (or breakfast, for that matter).

    Riva Lofts, Florence
     Riva Lofts

    This converted mill on the banks of the Arno river is the work of a talented architect who has created flagship stores for Dolce & Gabbana. But in breathing fresh life into this old building, Claudio Nardi didn’t neglect the ample space outside – a rarity in Florence. He’s created a green and groovy garden with an inviting slim-line pool – perfect for some post-Uffizi R&R.

    Canal House, Amsterdam
     Canal House

    Canalside properties tend to lack any remarkable outside space (see the Venice entry below), but sometimes there’s a surprise hiding behind unassuming doors. Located in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district, Canal House is one such surprise. Made up of three 17th-century merchant’s houses, it has a wonderfully peaceful garden which also happens to be one of the largest in central Amsterdam. In the warmer months there’s an outdoor bar behind the summer house; the rest of the year, it’s a lovely space to stroll around when the bustle of the city becomes too much.

    Primero Primera, Barcelona

     Primero Primera
    The leafy Barcelona district of Tres Torres is already a chilled escape from the frenetic buzz of the city centre, but tranquil and contemporary Primero Primera delivers the next level of relaxation. It’s a stylish home-from-home, and the pretty garden with its small pool adds a further retreat where you can while away the hours over sangria.

    Oltre Il Giardino, Venice
     Olte Il Giardino

    The garden at Oltre Il Giardino would be a captivating discovery even if it was in a less contradictory location. In its place in Venice’s San Polo neighbourhood, it’s a rare find indeed – a taste of country villa life amongst the city canals. Hidden behind a diminutive green door you’ll find an urban oasis of bamboo, lavender and (inexplicably) gnomes, with ivy-covered red-brick walls, a small window to the canal outside, and little nooks for alfresco summer breakfasts.

     Check out the rest of our city stays >>

    Posted in Top 5. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Easy Escapes for October

  • What’s your ideal romantic break? Star-gazing at inky Yorkshire skies from beneath a thick wool blanket? Wandering hand-in-hand through a sleepy Provençal hamlet? Or perhaps you want a beautiful beach on which to watch the perfect sunset, cocktail in hand? Whatever your style, our October round-up will have you head-over-heels.

    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.

    Swinton Bivouac, Yorkshire Dales – £175 per person (2 nights, 15-17 October)

    Swinton BivouacThe 20,000-acre Swinton Park Estate is a wonderful back-to-nature destination that calls for long walks discovering atmospheric castles and hidden waterfalls. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sample famous Dales produce such as Wensleydale cheese and Black Sheep beer.

    Swinton BivouacStay: in a romantic woodland shack at Swinton Bivouac. Make use of their ‘Romantic Retreat’ offer (£175 per person, based on 2 people sharing) to get a 2-night stay including a sharing board for 2 and a bottle of house wine in the rustic café-bar, as well as a bottle of Prosecco and exclusive use of the hot tub.

    Total cost: £175 per person.

    More info: getting to Yorkshire and other accommodation options

    Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, Provence – £311.20 per person (5 nights, 8-13 October)

    Les Sardines aux Yeux BleusIf you love nothing more than pottering through pretty French landscapes, a visit to Provence during the quieter autumn season could be just the ticket. Take a walk through sublime countryside at the Gorge de Gardon, and marvel at the magnificent 3-storey Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct.

    Les Sardines aux Yeux BleusStay: at Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, a beautifully rustic B&B nestled in a sleepy hamlet near Uzès. A 5-night stay in the charming Pink room comes to just £204 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Luton to Nimes with Ryanair for £45 per person, departing Thursday 8 October and returning Tuesday 13 October.

    From the airport: car hire through Rhino starts from £124.43.

    Total cost: £311.20 per person.

    More info: getting to Provence and other accommodation options

    Villa las Estrellas, Mexico’s Yucatan – £1011 per person (7 nights, 6-13 October)

    Villa las EstrellasAlthough the number of buzzy cabana hotels lining Tulum’s beach increases every year, the broad stretch of white sand retains a lovely, laid-back vibe. Hang out in your hammock, swim in the sea, and enjoy the local bars’ all-day ‘happy hours’. This area is currently in it’s low season, meaning the weather can be changeable, but there are some great bargains to be had!

    Villa las EstrellasStay: in barefoot beach heaven. Simple yet stylish Villa las Estrellas welcomes you with uninterrupted sea views, delicious food and minimalist rooms under traditional Mayan palapa roofs. With their current 20% discount (for 3+ nights), a 7-night stay in a Deluxe Room comes to £554 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Gatwick to Cancun with Thomson Airways for £370 per person, departing Tuesday 6 October and returning Tuesday 13 October (overnight flight arriving Wednesday 14 October).

    From the airport: the hotel offers transfers for approximately £87 (one way for 2 people).

    Total cost: £1,011 per person.

    More info: getting to The Yucatan and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through i-escape.com. 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 30 September 2015.

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

Escape of the Week… Casa de Terena

  • This super-cosy 6-room guesthouse sits in a hilltop village in one of our favourite Portuguese regions, the Alentejo. With views of the castle, lake and hills beyond, plus an utterly charming rural vibe, it’s easy to see why Casa de Terena is a hideaway we found hard to forget.

    Casa de Terena

    Inside, there’s something exquisite at every turn: a calçada (tiled) entrance hall, Italian sofas, voile wall hangings. But you won’t want to linger for too long, as there’s so much to explore nearby. Your hosts can organise mountain-bike safaris, canoe trips up river gorges, visits to local wineries, and even hands-on cheese-making sessions.

    Casa de Terena

    Rooms: Take your pick between a great view (rooms at the back) or a little balcony (rooms at the front) – or stay a week and swap halfway through for the best of both worlds! Inside, the rooms are all similar, with pure cotton sheets, freshly cut flowers, funky rugs and other cool details in the furnishings. Some are tiled in Portuguese style, others are more contemporary with cast-iron lampshades and round terracotta sinks. Wander at will and find West African wall hangings, decanters of Port, and angels above a bed.

    Casa de Terena

    Food: The day starts with a generous and delicious feast in the social breakfast room, whose beautiful view is framed by large windows. The buffet includes plenty of treats: a jug of freshly squeezed juice from village oranges, homemade muffins and banana bread, local honey, and strong coffee anyway you like it. Gourmet picnics can be arranged (and are highly recommended): wine, bread, smoked local ham, cheese straight from the maker. There’s no dinner, but you’re in the Alentejo region and food in the area is exceptional.

    Casa de Terena

    Top tip: Book one of manager Cesar’s special food days: you start with a walk to pick produce, then milk goats with the local cheese guru and help make the regional queijo fresco. Later, you enjoy a full evening’s dinner around a long table at Monte dos Vicentes.

    Casa de Terena

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,

Just Back From… Manchester (with the kids!)

  • Manchester is having a moment. Considered by many movers and shakers to be one of the coolest cities in the UK, this north-west powerhouse boasts a profusion of galleries, art centres and festivals, and of course an excellent music scene.


    Britain’s third largest metropolis may not spring to mind for a family city break, but our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, returned from an action-packed weekend with her children full of enthusiasm for its kid-friendliness. Here, she shares her suggestions for Manchester family fun…

    Museum of Science and Industry 

    Manchester has been awarded European City of Science for 2016, and the downtown MOSI is a great introduction to its industrial past and high-tech present. We found fascinating galleries, including one about the textile mills (“Very noisy machines,” said my youngest), as well as some gratifyingly climb-friendly engines. And we had fun in the interactive space, where the kids got stuck into the laws of physics through displays of light, colour refraction, motion and energy.


    There’s also a separate Air and Space Gallery across the road, where flying machines from the positively ancient (circa 1910) to the present day are housed. The children had enormous fun imagining themselves as fighter pilots in the war.


    The greater metropolitan area is positively bursting with sporting action (Manchester is hosting 8 matches for the Rugby World Cup). We went to see an amateur rugby match, and my daughter had some tennis coaching for the first time. We could have visited Old Trafford   or the Etihad Stadium, both of which have kid-friendly tours. Other options include the National Cycling Centre, BMX tracks, the National Basketball Centre, and the Olympic-sized swimming pools built for the 2001 Commonwealth Games. There are also cycling trails galore, plus a real-snow ski slope with a huge indoor play area (Play Factore) below it.



    This is the industrial heart of the city and, we discovered, the site of the original Roman settlement in AD79. It’s now a conservation area and an Urban Heritage Park, and it’s full of old red-brick mills, railway viaducts and canals, plus regenerated warehouses which host bars, restaurants and hotels. The kids played at being Roman soldiers, which seemed to involve lots of rolling around the reconstructed ruins and balancing on the truncated walls.

    Riding the trams

    The Metrolink network first opened in 1992 and now comprises 7 lines which stretch from the airport to Bury, Rochdale to Didsbury. It makes getting about the city a doddle, and it’s exciting for the kids. Ours really enjoyed the novelty of riding the tram, and we didn’t need to bother with a car.


    Lyme Park

    4We also enjoyed an outing to the National Trust-owned Lyme Park estate, which is easily reached by public transport. Famed for acting as Pemberley in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this stately home has extensive grounds which the kids absolutely loved tearing about. We didn’t bother with the exalted interiors, preferring the ravine garden (whose ancient trees made excellent woodland dens), playing quoits on the lawn and admiring the reflecting lake.

    Lyme Park also has an excellent sensory woodland area where children can get in touch with nature. Bird boxes have been filled with different textures such as pine cones, raw wool and bark, and my daughter loved the obstacle course of stumps and pebble pits. Best of all is the Crow Wood playscape, which encourages playtime without supervision – all structures are made of wood and test the mettle of each child. We finished with lunch in the café in the stables.


    We stayed at the brand-new and very theatrical Hotel Gotham, which occupies an unrivalled central location yet remains quiet. It has interconnecting rooms (with extremely comfy beds), plus a great breakfast buffet to suit even the fussiest of eaters.


    Our visit to Manchester barely touched the surface of all the city offers. Next time we’ll ride the steam railway from Bury to Ramsbottom, and follow the red walking-tour plaques through the city centre. And we’ll squeeze in a visit to the world-famous Jodrell Bank, which has a giant telescope and three pavilions (Space, Star and Planet), plus gardens to explore.

    Check out Hotel Gotham or the rest of our Kids Collection >>

    Posted in Kids, Our Trips.... Tagged , , ,

An insider’s guide to… Barcelona

  • Buzzing Barcelona combines the best of Spain with a distinctive and compelling Catalan kick. Home to Gaudí , Miró and the beguiling Las Ramblas, it’s an unforgettable romp of beachy days and city nights, with a feast for the eyes (and stomach) in between. Since the 1992 Olympics revitalised this coastal city, it’s become a gold-medal destination for culture-vultures and hedonistic sun-chasers alike.


    Splash out: Gran Hotel La Florida, Tibidabo Hill

    Gran Hotel la Florida

    Views in Barcelona don’t get much better than this: panoramic scenes of the city and sea spread out from the iconic, L-shaped indoor-outdoor pool. Overlooking Barcelona from Mount Tibidabo, La Florida briefly served as a military hospital but now provides respite and rejuvenation of a different kind, with an indulgent spa, garden terraces and a decadent restaurant.

    In the middle: Primero Primera, Tres Torres

    Primero Primera

    This elegant boutique hotel offers tranquil relaxation for those escaping the unapologetic bustle of the inner city. Vintage furniture and scented candles welcome you inside, and the 30 impeccably stylish rooms feel like homes from home. Crisp white linens, deep bathtubs and terraces (in some rooms) allow complete decompression after a day’s exploration. Read about i-escape blogger Lottie’s (Oyster & Pearl) stay at Primero Primera.

    Econo-chic: Pedrera Boutique Apartment, Eixample

    Pedrera Boutique Apartment

    This stunning apartment (for 2-4) is perfect for Gaudí geeks and those wanting their own space. It looks out at the iconic La Pedrera building in the heart of the chic Eixample district, and we think it’s the perfect place to wake up slowly with a cup of coffee before striking out into the busy streets below. But the real triumph of the apartment is its style: quirky furnishings include an Eames rocking chair and a penny vendor full of marbles.


    Barcelona has one of the densest concentrations of Michelin stars in Europe, and the city’s progressive outlook has been fuelling culinary imaginations for years. But there’s more to its food scene than swanky restaurants: its past lives on in the tiny family-run places that line the streets of the Barri Gòtic and the former fishing village of Barceloneta, while El Born and El Raval have spawned a string of chic café-bars offering everything from Castillian to Cantonese.


    For a romantic and upmarket dinner, we love Restaurant 7 Portes – a white-tableclothed and chandeliered affair with a live pianist in the evening. We’ve also got a lot of time for the Catalan informality (you’ll have to queue) of Ciutat Comtal – a crowded and cacophonous eatery offering tapas, carafes of wine and plenty of opportunity for people-watching.



    As blogger Lottie points out, “this city has it all – shops, beach, culture – making it a brilliant destination whatever your personal peccadillo”. Barcelona is groaning with worthwhile sights, from the world-famous La Rambla to Gaudí’s iconic Sagrada Familia. These are all a must, but we also suggest you spend some time getting lost in the Barri Gòtic – a maze of cobbled lanes, leafy squares and medieval archways.


    For a different view on the city, grab a torch and head to La Pedrera for a torchlit tour: it’s a great way to get a crowd-free, ethereal view of Gaudí’s undulating roof and otherworldly chimneys. Alternatively, head underground to the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat where you’ll find kilometres of suspended glass walkways meander over the remains of Roman Barcina, including streets, shops and mosaicked public baths. After all of this, jump straight into a fairytale at El Bosc de las Fades. The name (‘The Fairy Wood’) says it all: the rambling interior is straight out of a children’s storybook, with lantern-lit trees, waterfalls, gingerbread houses, croaking frogs and the odd old crone.

    With the Kids

    Barcelona is eminently family-friendly, particularly when you get off the busy main drags of La Rambla and the Passeig de Gràcia. From sandcastles on the beach to the famous zoo, it’s easy to remove kids from the thick of it for a couple of hours of fun. Older kids will love the bright and fun Tibidabo Amusement Park, and at the base of Montjuïc is the Font Màgica, a huge water feature which comes alive through light and music shows (7pm every Friday and Saturday from May to September).


    Don’t miss

    The city’s seafaring past is on display at the Maritime Museum, housed in the former royal shipyards (the Drassanes Reials). Its impressive exhibits include a full-scale replica of an Ottoman warship, but the cavernous gothic building alone makes a stop here worthwhile.

    Read about Oyster & Pearl blogger Lottie’s trip to Barcelona and take a look at our Barcelona city guide >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Kids, Travel Tips. Tagged , , , ,

Family Escape of the Month… Chateau les Merles

  • Staying in a castle will appeal to most kids (and big kids, too!), but add golf, gourmet food and a beautiful location in the Dordogne and you’re onto a real winner. This beguiling 17th-century château has it all, plus a welcoming family-friendly atmosphere so you can all relax.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Once you’ve pitted your skills against the fiendish 9-hole golf course or swum some laps in the pool, you’ll be ready for an 8-course feast in the stylish restaurant. Or, if you’d rather miss out the exercise bit, you can book onto one of the cookery courses and learn how to rustle up their flagship dishes.

    For explorers, pretty cobbled Bergerac is just 10-15 minutes away, with boat trips, a Saturday market and an interesting tobacco museum (where you’re not allowed to smoke!).

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Rooms: All of the rooms (bar the basement single) feel nice and bright thanks to the mostly south-facing windows. Decorated in a monochrome palette with the odd splash of zesty colour, they are eclectically accessorised with Starck perspex chairs, ornate chandeliers and period fireplaces. The bathrooms have twin mirrors, wall-mounted toilets, stacks of towels and luxury bath products. Standard and deluxe rooms are categorised according to how much space and what kind of view you get, while suites have a separate living room. There’s also a large 2-bed apartment with a kitchen and a private terrace, and 2 self-catering villas which are set away from the château. Our favourite room is suite number 7, with its sweeping views of the wooded valley.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Food: The menus (either à la carte, or 5- or 8-course set ones) in La Bruyère Blanche restaurant are full of well-loved regional recipes featuring ingredients plucked straight from the estate. Everything we ate was beautifully presented and tasty, from the duck-liver paté starter to the tender fillet of beef in a red-wine sauce and the crème brûlée served with slivers of orange. The detailed wine guide (with only local varieties) features not only information about the wine, but interesting titbits about the vineyard and its owners, too. Breakfasts are huge, with freshly baked breads and pastries. Those in the villas can self-cater or book a table in the restaurant if they don’t fancy cooking.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    i-escape: Kids kit at Chateau les Merles, FranceWhen to go: Golfers naturally tend to choose the dryer summer months. If food is the focus, any time of year is a good time to be in the Dordogne, and the area’s remarkably mild climate means that winter visits can be really enjoyable.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Special offer: 30% off 5+ night stays from 1 October 2015 – 31 March 2016

    Customer review: “Great welcome, lovely place, good food and excellent service.”
    Ard, Netherlands (18.07.15)

    Read the full review and book Chateau les Merles >>

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

Just back from… Slovenia

  • Our lucky Assistant Rates Manager Grace recently spent a serene week drinking in the breathtaking scenery of pretty Slovenia. Here, she shares some of her envy-inducing snaps.

    i-escape: Sloveniai-escape: Slovenia

    Eastern Europe is not somewhere I had explored before, but I’d always known that when I did, there would only be one place to start – the lush, green, endlessly scenic haven of Slovenia.

    The first stop on our tour was Hisa Franko, a family-run restaurant-with-rooms renowned for its experimental and creative food. People come from all over Europe just to try chef Ana’s cooking. We were treated to a set-course menu, and each dish was matched with a perfectly chosen glass of wine. It was definitely one of the best meals I have ever had!

    i-escape: Hisa Franko, Slovenia

    After an equally delicious breakfast the next morning, we headed to Pristava Lepena, high up in the Soca Valley. It’s made up of 8 stylish wooden chalets, scattered amongst a clearing in the foothills of the Julian Alps. We spent our day on one of the many walking trails nearby, heading along a river to a picturesque waterfall.

    i-escape: Pristava Lepena, Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia

    In the evening we were treated to a tasty barbecue cooked by Milan, one of the charming owners.

    i-escape: Slovenia

    To end our trip we headed up into the mountains to Nebesa, which means ‘heaven’ in Slovenian.  Its 4 individual chalets have staggering views over the Soca Valley, and their fronts are made entirely of glass to ensure the best possible panoramas.

    i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia

    We spent our stay relaxing in the wellness centre and eating out on the terrace. It was the perfect way to round off our time in Slovenia. The rest of Eastern Europe will have to wait; I’m coming back next year too!

    i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia

    Take a look at the whole of our Slovenia collection and our travel guide for more inspiration >>

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