AUG05

Off-the-beaten-track in Portugal

 
  • We’ve put together our favourite accommodation options for those who want to step off the well-trodden tourist trail and explore the ‘real’ Portugal. Encompassing coastal retreats, a secluded lakeside B&B and a tranquil guesthouse in an authentic Lisbon neighbourhood, we want to show off lesser-known sides of this beautiful and diverse country. And, with many options starting at well under £100 per room per night, it proves that a true escape needn’t put a strain on the wallet.

    Sublime Comporta, Alentejo

    i-escape: Sublime Comporta i-escape: Sublime Comporta

    Set just an hour from Lisbon yet only on the radar of those in the know, the sleepy village of Comporta has gourmet restaurants, swathes of pristine sand and a chic yet understated vibe – it’s been compared to St Tropez before the hordes descended. Tucked among fragrant pine trees just inland from the coast is Sublime Comporta, a contemporary retreat with a spa, a rim-flow pool, imaginative food and 14 swish all-white rooms. It’s the ideal base for those who want romance, relaxation and easy access to some of Portugal’s best beaches.

    From £133 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Queen Friend’s Room on a B&B basis.

    Convento – Olhão, eastern Algarve

    i-escape: Convento, Portugali-escape: Convento, Portugal

    A mere 20 minutes east of Faro airport is Olhão, an authentic fishing town with cobbled streets and simple restaurants serving grilled sardines and jarros of wine; it’s a world away from the bustling resorts you’d normally associate with the Algarve. This great-value townhouse hotel is hidden down a narrow street, between a fishmonger and a neighbourhood eatery. Inside it has a Moroccan riad feel, with a tiled courtyard and 9 romantic bedrooms adorned with antiques. Crowning it all is a split-level roof terrace overlooking the lagoons of the Rio Formosa National Park, whose beautiful lagoon beaches are only a taxi-boat ride away.

    From £72 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Double Room on a B&B basis.

    Villa Pedra – Cotas, Beiras Mountains

    i-escape: Villa Pedra, Portugali-escape: Villa Pedra, Portugal

    The stunning Beiras region, cradled between the Douro and Tejo rivers, stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border, yet few people outside Portugal would be able to place it on a map. It’s the perfect destination for those seeking deep relaxation, and this bucolic hideaway is packed with TLC. It was created from an abandoned hamlet by friends Manuel, Carla and Victor, who added ethnic art and contemporary furnishings to its old stones. It now has a cluster of self-catering cottages for 2-5, along with a restaurant, a walled garden and a lovely pool. Hiking trails criss-cross the hills around, and the fascinating Roman site of Conimbriga is just a short drive away.

    From £86 per cottage per night, based on 2 sharing. This includes breakfast delivered to your door each morning.

    Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina – Elvas, Alentejo

    i-escape: Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina, Portugal i-escape: Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina, Portugal

    Set on the edge of the Caia reservoir in a forgotten corner of the Alentejo, this traditional farmhouse has been transformed into an airy, light-filled space, with glass walls looking out to water, sky and rolling olive groves. There are no neighbours for miles. The 6 colourful, comfy rooms have bags of space, and the tranquillity is all-encompassing. Spend your days kayaking, windsurfing and picnicking on the shore, before returning for lazy afternoons on the deck. There can be few more romantic places to escape the world for a while.

    From £65 per room per night, based on 2 sharing on a B&B basis.

    Casa Amora – Amoreiras, Lisbon

    i-escape: Casa Amora, Portugal i-escape: Casa Amora, Portugal

    A great option for people who want a quieter side of the Portuguese capital, Casa Amora is an intimate guesthouse in the cobbled neighbourhood of Amoreiras, away from the hustle yet just a short walk from the city centre. Set around a pretty courtyard, its 10 rooms and studio-style suites are each dedicated to a different Portuguese icon, with vintage furniture and silkscreen portraits. Staff are keen to make your experience of Lisbon a highly authentic one and are full of insider tips; manager Juan even offers walking tours tailored to your interests.

    From £65 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Basic Room on a B&B basis.

    Imani Country House – near Evora, Alentejo

    i-escape: Imani Country House, Portugal i-escape: Imani Country House, Portugal

    Thousands of visitors flock to the whitewashed city of Evora, whose Roman temple and maze-like old town form a Unesco World Heritage site. But you needn’t stay among the throngs; just a few miles outside town, this stylish rural hotel sits among orange groves and was created from the ruins of a sprawling farm. There are 2 pools, lavender-fringed gardens strung with hammocks, and 7 chic rooms that mix designer furniture with quirky flea-market finds (vintage sewing machines in a bathroom, an old bicycle above a bed). Best of all, the only sounds are birdsong, braying donkeys and the occasional buzz of a distant tractor.

    From £115 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Standard Suite on a B&B basis.

    View our full Portuguese collection >>

    Posted in Our Favourite.... Tagged , , ,
AUG03

Escape of the Week… Clove Hall

 
  • This week we’re escaping to a beautifully restored colonial mansion on the tropical Malaysian island of Penang. Its tranquil pool and 6 handsome suites make it a real retreat after a hard day’s sightseeing and friendly hosts will ensure you feel welcome from the moment you cross the threshold.

    i-escape: Clove Hall

    Unesco-listed Penang is ripe for exploring: Clove Hall can arrange guided tours which take in the antiques markets and artisan workshops, and if your visit coincides with a local festival like Nine Emperor God or Hungry Ghost Festival, they’ll show you the highlights.

    i-escape: Clove Hall

    Rooms: There are 6 elegant suites: 3 in the Main House and 3 in the converted garden outbuildings. Saffron and Cardamom in the Main House have four-posters and rolltop desks inside, and airy balconies overlooking the drive and the pool. Similarly styled, Cinnamon doesn’t have a balcony but makes up for it with the master view out from the front of the house. All have compact bathrooms with rainshowers. In the garden, Star Anise has beautiful antique furniture including a silk-covered Chinese daybed downstairs and a generous four-poster bedroom upstairs with a rain shower that’s open to the monsoon. The biggest is Clove, which has an Edwardian partition dividing the living and sleeping areas. The huge bathroom is open to the elements with a big bathtub and a separate shower. The most private is airy studio Ginger, which has its own little garden and a double bed that sits on a stone platform.

    i-escape: Clove Hall

    Food: Served on the terrace by the pool, breakfast is delivered on delicate blue and white china. A plate of fruit is followed by a choice of eggs and bacon or French toast. If you prefer, you can order an Asian breakfast in advance. A complimentary afternoon tea is laid out from 4-5pm but you’ll have to venture out for evening meals (or order in a takeaway). The owners have put together a handy map of restaurants in the nearby lanes and their recommendations.

    i-escape: Clove Hall

    i-escape: Clove HallAuthor’s tip/ when to go: Bring an international driver’s licence, comfortable shoes for walking, and for the tender-skinned, a sunhat. Most will want to be here for a minimum of 2 days, but 4 or 5 days will do nicely; much longer and you’ll suffer some kind of syndrome. Or bracket a beach holiday in Langkawi or Phuket with a couple of days each end here.

    Customer review: “We stayed at Clove Hall for 5 nights on our way back from Australia and absolutely loved it. Jo and Jim are wonderful hosts – very welcoming and sociable but not at all intrusive. They and their team were very helpful and attentive and were always on hand if we needed anything. Our room (Cardamon) was lovely – and the super-comfortable bed deserves a special mention. The breakfasts were perfect, and we can highly recommend Erylan’s omelettes! And we loved the fact that everyone has their own little private spot for breakfast. We wasted quite a few hours just idling over tea and coffee and reading the papers. As the i-escape reviewer says, getting into the centre of Georgetown is a bit of a walk (or only a £3 taxi fare), but the massive pay-off is that you get to stay in a little oasis of peace and serenity! If you’ve been you’ll know that this is a major bonus.”
    Lisa, United Kingdom (05.01.14)

    i-escape: Clove Halli-escape: Clove Hall

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

    Read the full review and book Clove Hall >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,
JUL31

The 10 best holidays for primary-age kids

 
  • In the second of our summertime series looking at places that work beautifully for different age groups, our Kids Collection Editor Nadine has selected 10 of the best hotels and rentals for primary school-age children. Many parents and carers delight in these golden years of family travel: the kids enjoy trying out new activities, they’re mature enough to not need constant supervision, can journey for longer, and they really love holidaying as a family!

    Palmizana, Sveti Klement island, near Hvar, Croatia

    i-escape Palmizana, Croatia i-escape Palmizana, Croatia

    This bohemian retreat is everything families after unpretentious seaside holidays could wish for. It’s on a car-free island (part of the Hvar archipelago) with beautiful botanical gardens that are home to tortoises and peacocks. With a range of villas and bungalows to suit every size of family party, a relaxed and blissful week for all is guaranteed.

    Palmizana

    Fawakay Villas, near Marrakech, Morocco

    Fawakay VillasFawakay VillasIf you’re seeking to escape the ordinary, try this complex of three snazzy 2-4 bedroom cumin-coloured villas only 20 minutes outside Marrakech. The convivial English owners make you feel instantly at home in this oasis of tranquility. Heaven for families!

    Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    i-escape: Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote i-escape: Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote

    An easy family holiday with year-round sunshine is guaranteed at this great-value eco-resort just 300m from the sea and half an hour from the airport. Choose between self-catering yurts, villas, cottages and former farmhouses. And you’ll be with like-minded families for instant friendships!

    Finca

    Hotel Esencia, near Playa del Carmen, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

    i-escape: Hotel Esencia, Mexico i-escape: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

    Set on a perfect stretch of beach, with wonderful staff who cater for every whim, this is an idyllic white-on-white luxury hotel. Parents can relax in the airy spa and relish the delicious cuisine while taking full advantage of the free babysitting. At last, a grown-up hotel where children feel at home, too!

    Esencia

    St Mawes Hideaways, St Mawes, Cornwall, UK

    i-escape: St Mawes Hideaways, Cornwall i-escape: St Mawes Hideaways, Cornwall

    This quartet of swanky cottages overlooking the Fal Estuary is perfect for school-age children. All have bedrooms which can convert to twins, well-equipped spacious kitchens for self-catering, and access to helpful concierge services. The 2 larger cottages (5 bedrooms) work well for extended family gatherings.

    St Mawes

    Lalibela Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

    i-escape: Lalibela Game Reserve i-escape: Lalibela Game Reserve

    Young children are fascinated and engaged by the animal kingdom. South Africa, although several hours’ flying time from Europe, is in the same time-zone so there’s no jet lag, and is super for discovering the natural world en famille. The exchange rate is also very favourable at the moment. This malaria-free game reserve has childminders at dawn and dusk so parents can head off on adult game drives.

    Lalibela

    Monte da Vilarinha, near Carrapateira, Algarve, Portugal

    i-escape: Monte da Vilarinha, Portugal i-escape: Monte da Vilarinha, Portugal

    Our review says: ‘any kid would find staying here a joy’. Grown-ups love it for the charming staff, the flexibility of self-catering but a poolside diner (serving tasty regional fare) for when cooking feels like a chore, and the contemporary apartments and studios, each with its own private terrace. A perfect gem!

    Vilarinha

    Marari Villas, Kerala, India

    i-escape: Marari Villas, India i-escape: Marari Villas, India

    India may not spring to mind for a family holiday, but there’s something fascinating for children at every turn (from cows in the road to playing cricket with local kids), which will linger longer in the memory than a more conventional European jaunt. Kerala is a great introduction to a more exotic life. An hour from the airport are these serviced pool villas, right on a safe sandy beach.

    Marari

    Liodentra, near Kardamyli, Peloponnese, Greece

    i-escape: Liodentra, Greece i-escape: Liodentra, Greece

    Children do start to crave the company of their peers as they grow older, and there are lots of benefits to holidaying with another family. These adjoining stone villas (which sleep 4-5 each) are ideal, and could also host a multi-generational group as there’s an additional annexe for 2.

    Liodentra

    Le Portetta, Courchevel 1650, Alps, France

    i-escape: Le Portetta, French Alps i-escape: Le Portetta, French Alps

    Watching your child gain in confidence and independence is one of the joys of parenthood. No better place to witness this than on an Alpine holiday. This chic ski-in/ski-out hotel has super serviced mountain lodges, which are ideal for larger family groups (living and dining spaces, full kitchens, hot tubs, saunas), as well as family rooms for 4-5 including bunks, and lofts for 3-6 with sofabeds. Courchevel is a family-friendly resort with gentle green and blue runs.

    LePortetta

    Take a look at our full Kids Collection or our selection of top breaks for hard-to-please teens >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , ,
JUL29

Easy Escapes for August

 
  • In need of a simple summer jaunt? No problem; just take your pick. We’ve found a lavish London apart-hotel, a calming Cretan agrotourismo and a lazy Lanzarote hideaway – all with August availability.

    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.

    No 5 Maddox Street, London – £398.50 per person (3 nights, 14-17 August)

    Summer is a great time to be in the capital. London has a wealth of open-air markets, day festivals, alfresco exhibitions and street parades at this time of year, plus endless pub gardens to rest weary feet.

    Stay: in one of No 5 Maddox Street’s chic and discreet apartment-suites. Set in Mayfair, so perfectly placed for exploring central London, they offer hotel-style luxuries with all the convenience of private kitchens and spacious living rooms. Our exclusive 7-day advance purchase rate makes a 3-night accommodation-only stay in a 1-Bedroom Executive Suite £398.50 per person, including taxes.

    Total cost: £398.50 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to London and other accommodation options

    Eleonas, Crete – £553 per person (5 nights, 25-30 August)

    Minoan palaces, Venetian harbours, snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, tiny coves and bustling beaches – not only is Crete the largest island in the Greece, it’s also one of the most stunningly scenic and historically rich.

    Stay: at mountain-side agrotourismo Eleonas. Hidden from the tourist crowds and set against a stunning backdrop of dramatic rocky peaks, its clutch of pastel-painted cottages share a tranquil pool and a great little taverna. A 5-night B&B stay in a Stone Cottage comes to £228.50 per person, including taxes.

    Fly: from Glasgow International to Crete Heraklion with Jet2 for £274 per person, departing Tuesday 25 August and returning Sunday 30 August.

    From the airport: car hire through Rhino starts from £100.10.

    Total cost: £553 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Crete and other accommodation options

    Casa El Morro, Lanzarote – £688 per person (7 nights, 14-21 August)

    Travel the interior of Lanzarote and you’ll think you’ve washed up on the set of Star Wars - the landscape’s striking beauty never fails to impress. For a chilled summer break, we love visiting the spectacular Timanfaya National Park, La Geria vineyards and beaches of Papagayo and Playa Quemada.

    Stay: in one of Casa El Morro’s rustic self-catering suites. Out in the gardens, Balinese beds beckon, yoga sessions are held regularly, and the sweet smell of incense adds to the chilled atmosphere. A 7-night B&B stay in Isidora comes to £342.50 per person, including taxes.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Lanzarote with Ryanair for £306, departing Friday 14 August and returning Friday 21 August.

    From the airport: car hire through Rhino starts from £79.

    Total cost: £688 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Lanzarote 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 29 July 2015.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , ,
JUL27

Escape of the Week… The Idle Rocks

 
  • More cocktails than cream tea, more eggs Royale than Full English (and yet the kind of place you can get either, whenever you like), this Cornish hotspot is bang on the azure waters of the Fal estuary in stylish St Mawes. A youthful vibe permeates the whole place, from the chilled music on the wave-lapped terrace to the chic rooms and the deliciously adventurous food created by the 20-something chef. 

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    The Idle Rocks really is in a plum location: St Mawes is a pretty village with a busy little harbour, several beaches (including one right next door at low tide), some lovely boutiques and galleries, and a 16th-century castle with cannons and fortified sea walls. Little ferries can whisk you off to rugged headlands for coastal hikes, or to bustling Falmouth for Stein fish’n’chips.

    Rooms: The rooms are styled in an understated nautical theme, with a dove-grey and sky-blue palette offset by bright accents in the throws and bedheads. Half of the 20 rooms look out onto the harbour, and some have balconettes where you can drink in the views. Our favourite is second-floor #15 with its grand sea vista and open tub. Harbour Room #2 has a generous bathroom with both a tub and a shower, and even the smallest (#10) is fine for a weekend without much luggage. Families should opt for the attic twin, which connects to a Harbour Room to make a lovely family suite. Those looking for more tranquillity should request one of the more cottagey annexe rooms.

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    Food: A couple of early evening cocktails on the terrace set us up perfectly for dinner at our sea-facing linen-clad table. There are plenty of seafood options on the menu, like light and delicious foam of mussel soup and razor clams with aioli, as well as meaty favourites such as rack of lamb with petit pois, steamed wild garlic, pancetta and shallots in a white wine jus. Our dessert of white-choc cheesecake with zesty raspberry ice cream hit the spot perfectly. At breakfast (included in the rates), we helped ourselves to a buffet (including delicious yog-strawberry-granola in small kilner jars) and ordered hot options from a great selection (porridge, kippers, thick pancakes with syrup, eggs cooked to perfection).

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    Author’s tip: Pick up a picnic from the deli opposite the harbour, and drive or walk 2 miles to St. Just in Roseland to bask in the idyllic, magnolia-filled gardens of its church. It’s set above a secluded inlet and was justly (ho-ho) hailed by Sir John Betjeman as the most beautiful in England.

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    Press review: “The vibe at The Idle Rocks is cool but friendly. The ground floor is one large, open space, and the terrace is the place to be in the summer. The 20 bedrooms are vibrant and contemporary. It’s worth paying for a grand sea-view room: number 15 is so close to the water you can indulge private-yacht fantasies while you lie in the free-standing bath. Little details count: sailor’s hats in the kids’ playroom, and gorgeous flower arrangements that blend in with the objets d’art and furniture sourced from Paris.”
    Conde Nast Traveller, August 2014

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    i-escape gift: complimentary room upgrade (or if not available, a Cornish cream tea on one afternoon)

    i-escape: The Idle Rocks, Cornwall

    Read the full review and book Idle Rocks >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week, Kids. Tagged , , , ,
JUL24

Top 5 hiking breaks

 
  • Our Editor in Chief Mike is a keen walker who has hiked some of the most spectacular trails in Europe. Here are his top recommendations alongside some suitably relaxing boltholes where you can rest your weary legs at the end of a long day. 

    Caldera de Taburiente National Park, La Palma, Canary Islands

    Hike: La Palma is a hiker’s paradise with almost 1000km of trails zig-zagging across this stunning volcanic island. One of Mike’s most exhilarating day treks ever is the walk into the stunning Caldera de Taburiente surrounded by jagged 2000m peaks and thick pine forests and then down the ochre-coloured Angustias ravine.

    Caldera de TaburienteCaldera de Taburiente

    Rest: In La Palma’s sunny south, Casa Los Geranios is a traditional Canarian house (sleeping 2-8) with a bougainvillea-fringed terrace that’s perfect for sea-view sun-downers. Kind host Lourdes will even have a home-baked cake, wine and fresh fruit waiting for your arrival as a special thank you for booking through i-escape.

    i-escape: Casa Los Geranois, La Palma

    Mount Tahtali, near Antalya, Turkey

    Hike: Tucked between the mountains and the sea in southern Turkey, the 540km Lycian Way passes along the rocky coastline, through pine forests and past ancient ruins. Best tackled in Spring or Autumn when the temperatures are more moderate, routes are well-marked and you can choose to do day hikes or to set off for a longer self-guided walk.

    Keen hikers shouldn’t miss the chance to ascend the 2,300m summit of Mount Tahtali, the highest peak in the region. Starting in the village of Beycik, the path weaves up the side of the mountain to the summit (5-6 hours) where you can hop on the cable car for a breath-taking journey back down to sea level.

    Hiking in Turkey

    Rest: The simple wooden cabins at the beachside Azur Hotel are hidden in idyllic gardens with a cooling pool and swaying hammocks. The friendly staff welcome guests with open arms and broad smiles and excellent dinners are served al fresco at candlelit tables.

    i-escape: Azur Hotel, Turkey

    Golfo di Orosei, Sardinia

    Hike: the legendary Selvaggio Blu (‘Wild Blue’) follows the Golfo di Orosei from Santa Maria di Navarrese up to Cala Gonone. One minute you’re scaling peaks that tower above the sea, the next you’re passing wild goats as you drop down to tiny coves. You need a guide, there are some scrambles and it takes anything from 3-7 days to complete.  If that sounds too hairy, you can cherry-pick the best bits – plus the jaw-dropping Gorropu gorge – as day trips, using speedboats and jeeps to reach the trailheads.

    Golfo di Orosei, Sardinia

    Rest: Nascar Hotel is at the start of the route in Santa Maria di Navarrese, just 200m from the village’s beautiful golden beach. The 12 whitewashed rooms are very calming with terracotta-tiled floors and pretty art, not to mention excellent power showers in the bathrooms. Some have four-posters and double-aspect windows and other large shady terraces.

    i-escape, Nascar Hotel, Sardinia

    South West Coast Path, Cornwall, UK

    Hike: The South West Coastal Path stretches for 630 miles between Minehead in Somerset along the Devon coast and around the toe of Cornwall to Poole in Dorset. One of our favourite sections is the 6 miles between Zennor village and pretty St Ives with its winding flower-flanked paths and long stretches of glorious white-sand beaches. There are a few rocks to clamber over and the usual muddy sections if it’s been particularly rainy but the promise of a cold beer or a slap-up dinner will spur on even the most tired legs.

    South West Coastal Path

    Rest: The tangerine-coloured Gurnards Head is a welcoming beacon at the end of a long walk. Despite the bold exterior, this pub-with-rooms has a laidback atmosphere and 7 super rooms (2 with a sea view) with supremely comfy beds and extra treats like a Roberts digital radio and White Company bath products. The food is the real draw here, whether it’s dinner or Sunday lunch or a tasty breakfast (included in the rates), ingredients are locally-sourced and the meals are unfussy but really delicious.

    i-escape: Gurnards Head, Cornwall

    Andalucia, Spain

    Hike: Guy Hunter-Watts’ 435km coast-to-coast walk runs from Spain’s Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic Ocean through stunning mountain terrain. It follows long sections of Roman and Berber footpaths to beautiful hilltop villages, fascinating towns like Ronda with its canyon-spanning bridges and no less than 7 of Andalucía’s National Parks.

    The Andalucian Coast to Coast Walk

    Rest: Guy’s self-catering villa, El Tejar, (sleeps 2-8) is perched above a sleepy village near to Ronda. Well away from the tourist trail, it is bright and welcoming and has a spring-fed pool and stunning views over olive groves to distant peaks. You’ll receive a signed copy of The Andalucian Coast to Coast Walk and a bottle of cava as a thank you for booking through i-escape.

    i-escape: El Tejar, Spain

    Read about our favourite jaw-dropping landscapes >>

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Our Trips..., Top 5. Tagged , , , , , , ,
JUL22

Our favourite recipes… Croissants

 
  • At The Chapel's croissantsWe love a good pastry at breakfast, and our friends from stylish Somerset hotel At The Chapel (whose bakery is packed with treats) assure us this is the recipe for the perfect croissant! Rolling pins at the ready…

    Ingredients:

    335g strong white flour, plus extra to dust
    10g fresh yeast
    7g fine sea salt
    35g caster sugar
    160gms cold water
    160g good-quality unsalted butter, straight from the fridge

    Equipment:

    Plastic tray or chopping board that will fit in the fridge
    Dough scraper (available from most cook shops and online)
    Large freezer bags, split
    Rolling pin
    1-2 baking trays

    Method:

    1. Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Stir in the salt, sugar and yeast. Add water, then mix using a dough scraper. When everything comes together into a dough, use the scraper to turn it out onto the work surface (don’t flour it). Or you can put all these ingredients together in a mixer (liquids first) and mix with a dough hook for 3-4 minutes on a slow speed.

    At The Chapel's croissants2. Work the dough, stretching it and folding it over itself, for 4-5 minutes. Form into a ball and cut a cross in the top with a knife (this will help the dough relax while resting). Put in a lightly floured mixing bowl, cover with cling film, and then rest in the fridge overnight.

    3. Lightly flour the work surface. Turn out the dough then, starting in the centre of the cross, roll out the 4 corners until you have a square that’s approximately 25cm.

    4. Open the pack of butter but leave it sitting on its wrapper with a split freezer bag or a piece of baking paper over the top. Use a rolling pin to flatten the butter into a square, tapping it gently (the bag/baking paper will prevent the rolling pin from becoming greasy). Turn the butter over, wrapper and all, and tap again until about 1cm thick and the square is about 13cm.

    5. Remove the butter wrapper and set aside (use to grease the baking trays later), then use the bag/baking paper to lift the flattened butter and turn it over onto the centre of the dough square – the aim here is to touch the butter as little as possible to avoid warming it up. Remove the bag/paper.

    6. One at a time, fold the 4 sides of the dough over the butter. Using a rolling pin and rolling lengthways only, roll out into a rectangle 3 times longer than the original length, then fold the 2 ends into the middle and over again. Wrap the dough up in a freezer bag and refrigerate for an hour.

    At The Chapel's croissants

    7. Take the dough out of the fridge using the rolling pin. Roll the dough out lengthways to 3 times its length, then fold into thirds. Lift onto a plastic tray or board, cover with a split freezer bag and chill for an hour.

    8. Beat the egg with a pinch of salt to make an egg wash.

    9. Roll out the dough to a rectangle of 30cm x 50cm and 4mm thick. With a large, sharp knife, cut lengthways down the middle and trim the edges to make a neat rectangle. Discard the trimmings.

    10. Cut each strip into 5 large triangles, making the base of each large triangle about 10cm and the sides about 15cm.

    11. Roll each triangle up from the base. Don’t crush the dough. Continue rolling, then gently roll back and forth briefly with your fingertips to seal.

    12. Brush the tops of the croissants with the egg wash, brushing lightly from the centre outwards so you don’t get any excess sticking the folds together. Put on the greased baking trays, leaving space in between to let them expand.

    13. Leave the croissants to prove in a warm place such as a cupboard for about 2 hours. Twenty minutes before the croissants are ready, heat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 8.

    14. Glaze the proved croissants again with the egg wash. Turn the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas 5, then bake the croissants in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Cover with foil if they’re browning too quickly and, if they’re baking unevenly, move the croissants and/or the trays around accordingly. Avoid opening the oven door too much early on in the cooking process, though, as this may knock the air out of the croissants and affect the rise. Put on wire racks to cool, then serve.

    Enjoy!

    At The Chapel's croissants

    Take a look at some of our other foodie blog posts >>

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , ,
JUL20

Family Escape of the Month… The Gascony Farmhouse

 
  • If you’re looking for an idyllic slice of France for you and the family – and you don’t want the crowds or high price tag – we recommend heading south west to Gascony and the stunning Pyrenees. In fact, this converted farmhouse brings together all the best of French living: a pool worthy of St Tropez, a garden filled with Provencal lavender, and interiors with dashes of Parisian style.

    tresbos 2

    On top of that, its 4 bedrooms and 15 acres of pretty garden are also exceptionally family-friendly. You’ll find bikes, ride-on tractors and numerous outdoor games that make it the perfect self-catering retreat for a large family, or even a couple of families holidaying together (there’s enough room for 8 people).

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    Rooms: The 4 bedrooms (3 of which can be twins) have rustic-chic interiors with quirky, grand items of furniture: antique beds, armoires, chandeliers. Voile curtains billow at the windows (which have superb views over the Gascony countryside), and old-fashioned shutters keep things cool and dark at night. There’s an unusual layout to the rooms (one bedroom is reached by walking through another) which can make the house feel a little cramped when at full capacity, but there’s still plenty of space – particularly with the expansive gardens and lovely, candlelit communal areas.

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    Food: The large, stainless-steel kitchen is equipped with everything you’ll need for a French-themed family feast. This includes all the usual utensils, crockery and glassware, as well as a large fridge/freezer, a coffee machine and a dishwasher. And, as a thank you for booking through i-escape, you’ll be treated to a generous welcome hamper containing bread, cheese, milk, ham and wine. Best of all are the 3 great dining areas: an indoor dining room, café-style tables and a BBQ in the garden, and an open-fronted barn with a long oak table and firepit. If you can’t face cooking, you can always invite a local chef to the house to prepare anything from simple stove-top meals to 5-course dinners.

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    Customer reviews: “We had a really good time at the farmhouse, especially the kids. The location is great as it is not too far away from the airport… The farmhouse was well kitted out for people that travel with kids. We loved not having to bring a double stroller, steriliser, toys etc” Angela, Australia (05.05.15)

    Read the full review >>

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , , , , ,
JUL17

Just Back From… Mallorca

 
  • 10649995_10152881891988527_8615326884343739254_nThere’s plenty to love about holidaying on an island: easy to navigate; an abundance of coastline; and a feeling of complete escapism. But on an island with as much diversity of setting as Mallorca, you’re really spoilt – as Marketing Assistant Lyndon discovered on a recent trip.

    Mallorca has it all: sandy beaches in the south east, the dramatic Tramuntana Mountains in the north west, and buzzy, historical Palma in the south west. We landed on the sun-kissed tarmac and headed straight for the mountains, favouring the long way round along the vertiginous coastal road.

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    There are few beaches on this side of the island, but instead you’re treated to sucker-punch views and greener, jasmine-scented scenery. Amongst the tree-lined slopes, next to honey-stoned Valldemossa, sits Son Viscos, a brand-new addition to i-escape. With stunning terraces cleaved from the verdant valley, this 5-room B&B is a rural retreat with all of the charm and none of the chintz which that suggests. We stayed in the spacious ‘Menta’, a clean-lined white room pepped up with bright prints and rustic furniture. We loved its large terrace – the perfect reading spot after a drench under the in-room monsoon shower.

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    Talking of water, Son Viscos’ gardens are built around it. Ancient channels of cool, glassy water drop down the terraces and through the ruins of two hidden mills. With lawns, bamboo forests and outdoor showers too, the gardens are a veritable warren waiting to be explored. However, we’re glad we didn’t lose the whole afternoon to wandering, as taking in the view from the main terrace with a cluster of other content guests was the perfect way to full-stop the day.

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    The next morning, after enjoying one of the best Mallorquin breakfasts (read: sprawling
    seasonal feast) we had on the island, we pressed on along the coastal road, through Miramar, Deia and other villages perched high above the sparkling Med. Our destination was Soller – the jewel in the crown of the Tramuntana range.

    Following an unfavourable encounter between a bollard, our rental car and a one-way street (urban roads in Mallorca are testing), we walked through the glass-and-marble reception of town mansion L’Avenida to find a palm-fringed oasis. We decided to head poolside for sun-drenched cocktails to help us forget about our car-hire excess, but not before a quick look around our large, cool room (the huge Philippe Starck bathroom was a highlight).

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    Come evening, when the sun had dropped behind the surrounding mountains, we ambled along to the main square. It was easy to find dinner among the cobbled, labyrinthine streets, lined with families and groups eating long into the warm evening. Then it was back to the hotel, where we sat on the balcony, drink in hand, watching the sky darken and the pool lights glow.

    11167857_10152881890783527_5683682094058538534_nAs with many of Mallorca’s coastal towns, Soller proper sits behind Puerto de Soller (historically, gold was stored in the higher, inland town to protect it from pirates and marauding hordes landing on the shores below). A quaint 10-minute tram ride had us down on the water (beside popular Esplendido Hotel), where we dragged our sea legs yachtward (L’Avenida can arrange charters) and headed up the coast for lunch next to Cala Tuent, one of the few sandy beaches in this part of Mallorca. It was well worth the hour-long salt-spray churn into a tiring headwind.

    Sun-burnt and tired, we then circled back to Palma for a night at pampering Puro Hotel, hidden within the old town. I’d suggest tagging a stay here onto the beginning or end of a Mallorca visit; the airport is nearby and you’ll save on car hire while also getting to enjoy everything this fantastic city has to offer.

    Puro has grown up since our last visit (thanks to a new wing with a small spa and extra Jacuzzi), but it still retains the youthful and exuberant hedonism that makes it so popular. It does everything with a flourish, whether wine on the terrace, dinner in the superlative Asian-Med restaurant Opio, or a soak in the cavernous baths. It’s also perfect for guests who want to see and be seen, and those with a yearning for buzzy nights (it often hosts live DJs) and trips to its popular beach club (free shuttles can be booked in advance).

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    After our delicious dinner (duck with coconut cream and blueberries, and sesame Thai salmon), we headed to the roof terrace. It was the perfect spot to reflect on our trip. It was a whistle-stop tour, but an island as varied as Mallorca is supremely forgiving to those short on time.

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    Check out our full Mallorca collection >>

    Posted in Our Trips.... Tagged , , , , , ,
JUL15

Spotlight on… Malta and Gozo

 
  • Get ahead of the crowd and check out our newest gems in this fascinating corner of the Med, where world-class history and azure seas abound.

    Fort-of-St-ElmoWhy go?

    Surrounded by the twinkling Mediterranean Sea, this tiny archipelago – one of Europe’s smallest countries – has an enormous amount to see and do. From amazing prehistoric sites and a UNESCO-listed capital to dramatic diving hotspots and golden beaches, everything is within easy reach. Best of all, we’ve recently added a bevvie of beautiful new boltholes here – just take your pick.

    Highlights

    Malta is so small that you can visit everywhere with ease, but your first port of call should always be the fortified capital of Valletta. Terraced townhouses line narrow lanes fronted with beautiful wooden and glass-panelled balconettes, and dotted around are wonders such as the Grand Master’s Palace, Renzo Piano’s City Gate and baroque marvel St John’s Co-Cathedral (complete with 2 Caravaggios in its oratory).

    And it’s not just the city’s historic buildings that have the wow-factor. Wunder-architect Chris Briffa has overseen some of Valletta’s most stunning conversions, including Casa Ellul (just a few doors from Europe’s oldest theatre) and Valletta Vintage (brand-new for 2015 and practically next door to the Fort of St Elmo). Though each of these townhouse hotels is utterly unique, they both marry original features such as exposed stonework and marble staircases with striking modern design – think poured concrete walls and contemporary photography by local artist Ritty Tacsum.

    But there’s more to Malta than its capital. Venture inland and you’ll find many a quiet, characterful town. We particularly like under-the-radar Naxxar, where we recently discovered Chapel 5 Suites – a rambling townhouse B&B with a warm welcome and a small courtyard pool. The almost-adjoining village of Mosta is famous for its huge domed church (in WWII a bomb fell right through the roof but didn’t explode!), plus it’s just a short drive from the hilltop town of Mdina and the catacombs of Rabat.

    Want somewhere even sleepier? Cross the narrow sea (there are regular ferries) and you’ll find yourself on diminutive Gozo. Its enchanting landscape of rural hills, rocky coves and peaceful villages moves at a glacial pace, with the citadel of Victoria at its centre. But, in this instance, sleepy certainly doesn’t mean dull. The picturesque town of Xaghra has some of the archipelago’s best eateries – head to the main square for fresh seafood and traditional Maltese dining – and is home to the famous megalithic Ggantija Temples, built between 3600 and 3200 B.C.

    Stay at great-value Xaghra Farmhouse and you’ll also be just a 10-minute drive from Ramla Bay, a rare stretch of terracotta sand amid the island’s many rocky outcrops. Gozo is also home to some of the archipelago’s most dramatic coastal formations – Ta’ Cenc and Dwejra Bay are popular with walkers, while the nearby natural limestone arch of Azure Window is a big draw for divers. Just inland, chic Thirtyseven Gozo is a haven of prettily flower-laden courtyards, with 2 swimming pools and beautifully decorated rooms.

    When to go

    April, May, September and October are good for their balmy weather and lower prices, but for a party atmosphere, visit in July and August. Gozo’s finest hour is spring (May-June), when the wild flowers run riot.

    GozoOur top tips

    Don’t forget the beautiful, barren islet of Comino, halfway between Malta and Gozo. Measuring just 3.5 square kilometres, it’s a favourite for day trips and swimming in the flawless waters of the Blue Lagoon.

    Want to find out more? Check out our full Malta and Gozo collection.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , ,