If you’re feeling a bit short-changed after the disappointing UK summer, why not dust off your beach gear and start planning some exotic winter sun? Here are our tips for the sunniest escapes over the winter months. From a slice of glamour on Miami’s South Beach to a floating tented lodge in Cambodia and spa bliss in Sri Lanka, there are plenty of opportunities to expand your mind and reward your body with some much-needed vitamin D.
Florida is an all-new destination for i-escape. The sunshine state is rising above its reputation for retirement condos and theme parks and is packing a punch when it comes to stylish winter sun. Take your pick from the urban glamour of Miami or the laid-back Caribbean feel of the Florida Keys.
Miami’s Townhouse Hotel is a fresh, no-frills hotel in buzzy South Beach, with brilliant service and a hip, happy vibe. Steps from the shore in the Art Deco district, and within walking distance of glitzy Ocean Drive, it offers great value and 69 cool rooms, with a mixed crowd of fashionistas, party animals, film producers, business travellers and young families (those under 18 stay free of charge). Dating from 1939 but renovated in the Noughties by Parisian designer India Mahdavi, it has sleek white décor, with a dash of playfulness provided by the swing on the porch and the inflatable beach balls on the beds.
From £76 per room per night (plus 13% tax), based on 2 sharing and including breakfast.
Casa Morada in the Florida Keys is a relaxed hideaway set among the mangroves of Upper Key’s Islamorada. This is the most scenic part of the Keys island chain, with a distinct village vibe, and the 16-suite beach house-style hotel is romantic, tranquil and refreshingly un-styled. Its many nooks and crannies (a hidden pond here, a lovers’ bench there, a lone hammock at the end of the pier) make it utterly charming. Rooms are airy and spacious with Mexican antiques and private outdoor spaces, and some have Jacuzzis.
From £157 per room per night (plus 12.5% tax), based on 2 sharing and including breakfast, parking, non-alcoholic minibar drinks, and use of kayaks, bicycles and snorkelling equipment.
Mexico is becoming increasingly accessible thanks to more direct flights from the UK (British Airways started flying to Cancún earlier this year and Virgin Atlantic starts flights in 2012) – and i-escape has expanded its collection across the country. The perfect recipe this winter is to fly into Mexico City for some fast-paced Hispanic culture, and fly out of Cancún after some serious beachside chilling on the Yucatán Peninsula…
El Patio 77 in Mexico City’s bohemian San Rafael neighbourhood is the city’s first eco-friendly guesthouse. But eco hasn’t compromised elegance – original fittings from this aristocratic 1890s home, including a spiral staircase and oak beams, are on display; what you don’t see are the solar panels on the roof and the water recycling system in the basement. With a convivial terrace for breakfast, plus restaurants and galleries nearby, it’s a classy mix of sociability and sustainability. Best of all, it’s excellent value.
From £42 per room (plus 19% tax), based on 2 sharing and including breakfast.
Set in the Yucatán’s laid-back Tulum, Villa las Estrellas, a beachside hotel opened in 2010, has idyllic sea views from every room. Imagine white linen curtains blowing in the breeze, hammocks swaying on private terraces, delicious seafood from the on-site restaurant, and blue, blue water just metres away. It’s the epitome of barefoot chic.
From £91 per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast and tax.
Other Mexican hotties:Vibrant candy-coloured hotel Room Mate Valentina in Mexico City’s buzzy Zona; RosaBeautifully restored Art Deco mansion Villa Condesa, which opened in 2010; Villas Carrizalillo in Pacific surf spot Puerto Escondido; Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal, close to the ancient ruins of Palenque
Sandwiched between Argentina, Brazil and the vast Atlantic, Uruguay doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of winter sun destinations, but the pretty towns and pristine beaches along its Riviera have long been a hotspot for hip South Americans, with stylish retreats, beautiful beaches, fabulous boutiques and restaurants run by top chefs. And, with regular flights from Uruguay’s capital Montevideo and Buenos Aires in Argentina, it’s more accessible than you might think.
La Posada del Faro is an Aegean-style villa overlooking virgin beach in the shadow of former fishing village Jose Ignacio’s historic lighthouse. The relaxed ambiance makes it feel like a friend’s home, and the 13 rooms have private decks or balconies overlooking the pool and ocean. Expect rustic-chic comfort – whitewashed walls, plank floors, loveseats and cushioned sun loungers – punctuated with sleek marble and bold splashes of colour.
From £153 per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast, tax and use of bikes.
Just outside Jose Ignacio, Estancia Vik Jose Ignacio is a sophisticated ranch-style boutique hotel, set amid 4,000 acres of wild pampas and bird-filled lagoons. It has 12 artistic suites, organic food and a host of activities to choose from, including polo, kayaking, tennis and golf.
From £396 per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast, tax and on-site activities.
i-escape has expanded its Southeast Asian collection to include some fantastic cultural, beachside and country escapes across the region. With the local cost of living so low, you can afford to go super-chic in Thailand, camp in style in Cambodia or push the boat out in Laos…
Ping Nakara Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a tranquil and romantic hotel with superb service, just steps from the heart of this cosmopolitan city. A relative newcomer to the local boutique hotel scene, it has already won prestigious awards for architecture and design. The elegant white mansion feels like the private home of royalty but oozes style and taste in a very subtle way. There are just 19 spacious rooms, as well as a poolside restaurant and the superb Nakara Spa with its full range of Ayurvedic treatments.
From £100 per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast and tax.
The simple yet stylish tented lodge 4 Rivers in Cambodia opened in 2010. Floating on the crook of the Tatai river, it’s only accessible by boat. ‘Glamping’ here is an exercise in total seclusion, and each tent has comfortable beds and a bathroom with a wooden Hinoki tub. You can step down a ladder from your deck straight into the river – the largest freshwater pool in the world. Exploring is done by kayak, allowing you to observe the surrounding scenery in total tranquility.
From £72 per tent per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast, tax and boats.
Green Park Boutique Hotel in Vientiane, Laos, is a peaceful hotel with traditional architecture and an enticing pool, only minutes from the Mekong river and cultural Vientiane. Leave behind the steamy noodle stalls and beeping tuk-tuk drivers, and enter a world of calm, order and comfort without sacrificing local charm or authentic style. The 34 rooms have sumptuous beds, antique furniture and balconies overlooking the hotel’s centrepiece – a shimmering pool surrounded by frangipani trees that drop fragrant flowers into the jade water.
From £85 per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast, tax, a shuttle bus into town and use of bikes.
Other Southeast Asian gems:
i-escape’s Malaysian portfolio has also been boosted to include luxury Langkawi beach resorts, historic Penang and Pangkor hideaways and stylish city boltholes in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s hard to beat the Latino warmth of Brazil – it’s the perfect tonic to the UK’s wintery grey skies. With direct flights to Rio you can be sipping caipirinhas in Ipanema within 12 hours, and it’s only another short hop to the glorious beaches of Bahia in the northeast or Santa Catarina in the south. With Brazil getting set for the FIFA World Cup in 2014, why not slot in a visit before the crowds arrive?
Fazenda Sao Francisco in Bahia is a gloriously remote retreat with white sand, warm hospitality and 10 simple but beautiful rooms dotted among palms along the seafront – paradise found! Watch the sky change colour as the sun comes up, swim through aquamarine waters with shoals of fish darting beneath you, stroll through mangroves, and feast on organic Brazilian food in the restaurant.
From £420 per room per night (plus 5% tax), based on 2 people sharing on a full-board basis.
Ponta dos Ganchos in Santa Catarina is a luxurious, secluded beach hotel, with huge private decks giving magnificent views of Ganchos Bay. It’s one of the country’s most exclusive hideaways – a thatched restaurant stands 10 feet from the beach and you can paddle across to an island bar that’s illuminated by torches at night. The contemporary interiors of the 25 cabanas blend seamlessly with the idyllic landscape of emerald sea and forested hills, and many have private plunge pools, saunas and Jacuzzis.
From £477 per room per night (plus 3% tax), based on 2 sharing on an all-inclusive basis.
After a tough year in the Middle East, Morocco has some top deals to tempt tourists back. Just a few hours from the UK, it’s a great place to escape the European winter without having to take a long flight.
Dar Tamazerte in the Ourika Valley is a fully-staffed private villa for 2-8 in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It’s set in peaceful subtropical gardens, with stylish interiors, a roof terrace, a sparkling pool and use of a shared tennis court, hammam, spa and exercise room. A live-in cook and housekeeper provide an extra dash of luxury, leaving you with more time to laze around and enjoy the mountain views, explore nearby Berber villages, or go shopping in the souks of Marrakech, just half an hour’s drive away.
From £350 per night, with a 3-night minimum stay. This is based on 6-8 sharing and includes tax, breakfast, daily maid service and use of facilities.
i-escape has an ongoing soft-spot for this Indian Ocean island, and has expanded its collection with new hotels and villas covering the best of the country’s safari, beach, countryside and cultural destinations – meaning you can easily mix seeing the many sights with a few days chilling out in total serenity.
Ulagalla Resort in the Cultural Triangle is a pioneering eco-hotel with top-of-the-range chalets enclosed by nature and wildlife. Opened in 2010, it’s the perfect place to relax after a day exploring the 2,000-year-old Buddhist rock temples and historic citadels nearby. The 58-acre grounds provide fantastic views at every turn: unfeasibly green paddy fields, sparkling reservoirs and untamed scrubland.
From £226 per room per room per night, based on 2 sharing and including breakfast and use of bikes.
Dolphin Beach in the island’s northwest is Sri Lanka’s first tented hotel. Opened in 2010, it’s set between a lagoon and a golden beach. Custom-made by outdoor living experts in Rajasthan, the 7 sleeping tents are shaded by coconut thatch and make use of natural materials such as wood, rope and bamboo. The cool, airy interiors are decorated with mirrored fabrics, and the large sea-facing verandas with padded sofas provide restful spots for reclining. Hot showers, air con and proper beds ensure plenty of barefoot luxury.
From £45 per tent per night (plus 12% tax), including breakfast.
Amanwella near Tangalle in the south is a contemporary resort offering upscale R&R along a private 800m crescent beach. If you have several good books to devour and a tan to top up, then a few days unwinding here is a must. In fact, if there wasn’t so much to explore in this beautiful part of Sri Lanka (turtle sanctuaries, traditional villages, Dutch forts), you could easily kiss goodbye to the outside world for your entire holiday and absorb yourself in gazing at the ocean view from your vast suite, having massages in the spa, feasting on lazy lunches at the restaurant, and sipping cocktails on the terrace.
From £273 per room per night (plus 16.2% tax), based on 2 sharing on a room-only basis