JUN10

Spotlight on… Cyprus

 
  • With stunning seas and 300 days of glorious sunshine a year, Cyprus is our hot tip for early and late-summer sun.

    CyprusWhy go?

    As the third biggest island in the Med, Cyprus appeals on many levels. There are charmingly sleepy stone villages, picturesque terraced hillsides, the lofty, forested Troodos Mountains (great for keen hikers), and some of the warmest and clearest seas in the Med. Being so close to the Turkish coast, its balmy summers last well into October and availability stays good at many of our boutique gems.

    Highlights

    A former British colony, with Middle-Eastern and Ottoman influences, Cyprus is divided into 2 parts: the Greek-speaking south, which is more accessible and developed (this is the region we cover), and the smaller Turkish-speaking north, which we recommend for day trips.

    For a peaceful getaway, head inland to the undulating, vine-rich foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Apokryfo (meaning ‘hidden’) is our favourite Cyprus guesthouse, sitting halfway between the pine-forested summits of Chionistra and the buzzy coastal town of Limassol, in the pretty village of Lofou. We whiled away our days by the turquoise, herb-lined pool, feasting on the most delicious mezzes of our trip. Wine lovers can head to the nearby Ayia Mavri winery, where great Muscadet can be sourced.

    Up past the mountain town of Platres (where colonial Brits had their summer capital), signed trails and mountain-biking tracks lead to hidden waterfalls, graceful Venetian bridges and imposing Orthodox monasteries, such as Trooditissa.

    Down in the working harbour city of Limassol, you’ll find a palm-lined promenade, covered market, medieval castle and a buzzy nightlife in the Carob Mill area. Londa Beach Hotel is the en vogue meeting place for Limassol’s bronzed and beautiful, and a great boutique option for couples who want a beach and city-chic holiday.

    Luxurious Anassa has the most picturesque location on Cyprus, a secluded hillside spilling down to the blue waters of Latsi Bay, where you can snorkel amongst schools of colourful fish. This ultra-luxe 5-star resort has everything you could want from a Med beach holiday: an all-ages kids’ club, an award-winning Thalassotherapy spa, and 4 restaurants.

    Nearby you’ll find hiking trails crossing the rugged, juniper-dotted Akamas peninsula, passing the imposing ruins of a Byzantine monastery. Falcons wheel over sea-washed rocks, lizards scamper through prickly undergrowth, goats stare quizzically down at you from crags, and the millpond sea is broken only by the triangular wake of a passing speedboat.

    Equally tempting is Almyra, an unpretentious design hotel in sunny Paphos. With 4 pools to choose from, lawned grounds to sunbathe in, a small patch of beach to swim or sail from, a superb spa to pummel you into glorious submission, and Asian-Med cuisine served alfresco at low cushioned benches, this is the island’s coolest family hotel. Just look at those Instagram-worthy rooftops!

    When to go

    We’d recommend spring (April-May) or autumn (September-October) – pleasantly warm and not too busy – or March / November if you don’t mind taking a chance with the weather. We stayed in early November and enjoyed 30-degree sunshine for a week.

    Our top tips

    For a great-value family holiday, book a self-catering stay at Modus Vivendi. Set in the sleepy hamlet of Psematismenos, its rustic-chic cottages share a sunny pool framed by tall cypresses, shocking-pink bougainvillea and fragrant rosemary bushes. Families with older children could take both bedrooms at bijou B&B Little Lodge – there’s a small pool, beaches nearby, and friendly English owners to give advice and provide breakfast.

    Fancy grabbing your own slice of Cypriot sun? See our full Cyprus collection.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , ,
JUN08

Escape of the Week… 1872 River House

 
  • This tall, salmon-pink mansion stands majestically on the banks of the River Douro in the historic Ribeira district of Portugal’s second city. Like a phoenix from the flames, it was born from the remnants of a fire-damaged 19th-century building and is now an 8-room B&B with a gorgeous stained-glass walkway, light rooms and a serene atmosphere.

    1872 River House in Porto

    1872 River House is perfectly positioned in the centre of the action, with sun-filled courtyards to discover, Baroque churches to admire and plenty of Port to taste nearby. What’s more, Porto’s famous antique tram stops right outside, so you can trundle along the river to the coast for some sea air and sunset cocktails. The smiling staff love their city and will happily give you tips on getting the most out of your trip.

    1872 River House in Porto

    Rooms: The 8 beautiful rooms look out over the river or the city rooftops. Those facing the water are a little more expensive, and a couple have balconies; the City View Rooms are slightly smaller but no less lovely. All have original features like wooden shutters and exposed stone walls, plus a clever combination of old and new furniture. The comfy double or twin beds are piled with cushions and have fancy TVs that rise out of a box at their feet.

    1872 River House in Porto1872 River House in Porto

    Food: A lie-in-friendly breakfast is served with a river view between 8.30am and 1pm. We loved the spread of pastries, cheese, fruit and cereals, alongside eggs cooked to order and frothy cappuccinos. No other meals are available, but there are plenty of dining choices nearby, including sushi joints and family-run restaurants.

    Author’s tip: Wander up to São Bento, the city’s main station, which is covered in tiled panels depicting Portuguese history. It’s worth a look even if you’re not taking a train.

    5

    Customer review: “We had a lovely stay at River House Hotel. The staff were lovely and always had a smile on their faces! Thank you.”
    Charlotte, United Kingdom (15.02.15)

    i-escape gift: a free bottle of wine during your stay.

    Read the full review and book 1872 River House >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Escape of the Week. Tagged , , , ,
JUN05

Cheap & chic pampering breaks

 
  • We all need a bit of “me” time, but sometimes a full spa break just isn’t an option. A stay at one of these cheap yet chic places might do the trick, though: all offer relaxing treats, from yoga and massages to Jacuzzis and hammams, alongside bags of personality and excellent rates.

    Hotel da Vila, Ponta do Sol, Madeira

    Sun, sea and sand: this small, informal hotel has them all. It sits just a 20m flip-flop away from the beach in Ponta do Sol, the island’s sunniest spot, and fantastic Madeiran/Mediterranean food is served in the waterfront restaurant. Rooms are on the petite side, but all are airy with sea views and interesting decorative touches like plastic and wheat headboard pillows. If you’re after more facilities, a short walk uphill is sister hotel Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, where you can use the infinity pool, sundecks and spa.

    Hotel da Vila in Madeira

    Treat yourself: As a gift for booking through i-escape, you can enjoy a complimentary hydro-massage spa experience with mineral oil (1 per person) at Estalagem da Ponta do Sol.

    Maison Felisa, near Avignon, France 

    Maison Felisa in ProvenceMaison Felisa in Provence

    This pretty stone B&B sits in a 12th-century village in an unspoilt corner of Provence. Inside, the vibe is easy-going and the rooms, with their colour-mixed concrete floors, mohair blankets and super-comfy beds, are positively Zen-like. Outside is a pretty walled garden with a shimmering pool. Breakfast is a buffet with an array of homemade jams, baguettes and croissants, muesli, fruit and juice, best enjoyed on the sail-shaded terrace.

    Maison Felisa in Provence

    Treat yourself: Downstairs is a Wellness Room for yoga, massage and exercise. There’s a menu of treatments to choose from, including warm stone massages and facials, which can be arranged with local therapists (extra cost).

    Borgo San Marco, Fasano, Puglia, Italy

    Built by the Knights of Malta to guard the Adriatic coast, this Puglian masseria (fortified farmhouse) has a 500-year-old tower, vaulted rooms with pretty décor and brightly quilted beds, vast grounds with shady lawns, and a beach-edge pool surrounded by fragrant bougainvillea. The staff are warm and generous, and the restaurant just fabulous – Chef Peppino rustles up delicious traditional fare such as baked pepperoni with mussels and oven-roasted sea bream with black olives.

    Borgo San Marco in Puglia

    Treat yourself: You can enjoy a Turkish bath for 2 as a gift for booking through i-escape.
    The small wellness centre also has warm and cold Jacuzzis, and a visiting therapist offers massages, Ayurvedic treatments, foot reflexology and Reiki (extra cost).

    Montenegro Stone Cottages, near Herceg Novi, Montenegro

    Montenegro Stone Cottages

    Rescued from ruin in 2006, this village of beautifully restored self-catering cottages near Herceg Novi has stunning views over the valley to the Adriatic. We’ve hand-picked 5 houses for you (each sleeping 2-8). Four are contemporary in style, with smart open-plan living areas and light and bright bedrooms; the other is more traditional, with a terracotta-tiled kitchen-diner and a cosy living room. All have outdoor space, whether it’s a small garden or a terrace for romantic nightcaps, and there’s a large communal infinity pool with loungers.

    Montenegro Stone Cottages

    Treat yourself: The communal reception has a spa area with a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a steam room and treatment rooms.

    Riad Sapphire, Marrakech Medina, Morocco 

    New in 2014, this gem of a riad was created from 2 family houses by skilled local artisans. Owners Beryl and Barbara had a stylish Zen-chic vision, and the result really is a haven amidst the sensory overload of Marrakech’s medina. There’s a plunge pool to cool off in, and a rooftop dining area with views over the city. The 8 suites are named after jewels, the colours of which feature in their décor. They vary in shape and size, but all have four-poster beds and wraparound sofas; you might also get a courtyard or a pretty domed ceiling.

    Riad Sapphire in Marrakech

    Treat yourself: The ground-floor spa has a hammam and treatment rooms for facials and massages (extra cost).

    If you’re in need of some pampering take a look at our top Spa picks >>

    Posted in Spa, Top 5. Tagged , , ,
JUN03

Just back from…Mexico’ s Pacific Coast

 
  • Bookings Consultant Sarah and her husband recently escaped the UK drizzle for some sunshine, tacos and margaritas on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

    Ever since my first visit to the Riviera Nayarit in 2009, I have wanted to return with my husband – and there’s no better time to trade the cold and rain for gorgeous weather and perfect temperatures.

    The region is easily accessible from Puerto Vallarta’s international airport but, as is the
    i-escape way, we skipped the built-up strip of all-inclusive resort hotels and headed out of the city for an authentic jungle and beach experience.

    Our trip began with an exhilarating, spine-jolting boat ride from Boca de Tomatlán to hillside retreat Verana. After an energetic uphill climb to the property, we were welcomed with a refreshing drink and a relaxing neck massage before being led to our palm-thatched casita, Palapa. We loved sleeping in a breezy, open-air room, and the view from our private terrace of the bay below was stunning. Like all the other accommodation – a mix of traditional houses and open casitas – it was very private and ideal for a romantic getaway.

    Boca de Tomatlán Verana

    A bit of jet-lag meant we woke up early each morning, but we didn’t mind: it meant we could watch the sunrise from bed and listen as the jungle cacophony took over from the quiet of the night. After lazily transitioning to the sofa to enjoy coffee (discreetly delivered to the birdcage outside our casita), we warmed up for the day ahead at the morning yoga class.

    Verana

    Having worked up an appetite, we feasted on a late breakfast of huevos rancheros and tacos accompanied by fresh fruit and juice. Once our tummies were full there was only one thing to do – relax by the pool with a margarita!

    Breakfast at VeranaVerana Verana

    In the afternoons we occupied ourselves with cooking classes (where we learned to make horchata, tortillas, salsas and mole), snorkelling off the jetty amid brightly coloured fish, and walking down to Yelapa beach to watch the pelicans and catch the last rays of the day.

    Dinners were a real treat, our favourite night being Taco Tuesday (beef, pork and fish tacos to indulge in, with 15 gourmet salsas to top them off). I also recommend trying some of the fine tequilas from the bar – no shots with lemon and salt here, but serious sipping tequilas with unique flavours to savour.

    Cooking lessons and tequila

    To end our trip, we headed north of Puerto Vallarta to another lush jungle hideaway, Playa Escondida (‘Hidden Beach’) – a new addition to the i-escape collection. It’s conveniently located 45 minutes from the airport, yet it feels worlds away.

    Playa Escondida

    For us, this place has it all:  a private, west-facing beach with gorgeous sunsets; a heated pool and Jacuzzi; plenty of hammocks and loungers; a good restaurant and bar with reasonable prices; lots of activity options; friendly staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. The grounds have a wild look with funky indigenous statues, and twinkling candles line the paths at night.

    Playa Escondida

    There’s a range of accommodation styles – go for a villa right on the beach, or stay in one of the stilted bungalows for optimal bird-watching from your deck. Whatever you choose, the proximity of the sea means you’ll be lulled to sleep at night by the sound of waves – glorious! We stayed in the Studio casita, which had colourful sculpted windows, a kitchen, and a terrace with an open shower and ocean views.

    Playa Escondida

    The restaurant has an extensive menu of excellent food, ranging from traditional Mexican dishes to international classics. You must try the ceviche, referred to by staff as ‘Mexican sushi’. We ate it every day!

    Playa Escondida

    We could have happily hung around at the property all day, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore nearby Sayulita, only 10 minutes away by taxi. The town is very laid-back, with shops, restaurants and a hippy vibe – don’t miss the Friday farmers’ market (Mercado del Pueblo) for fresh, organic food and artisan handicrafts, including colourful rugs and ceramics. But the main attraction is the surfing – the conditions are perfect for novices and children because the water is calm and shallow.

    Sayulita

    All in all, we thought Playa Escondida offered the perfect mix of secluded relaxation and activity. Staff can organise boat trips, hiking, horse riding, biking and ziplining, and there’s a beachfront spa and a free morning yoga class. It’s the kind of place where you can do as much or as little as you please, and you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time. We certainly did!

    Check out the rest of our Mexico collection >>

    Posted in Honeymoons, Our Trips.... Tagged , , ,
JUN01

Escape of the Week… Artist residence Cornwall

 
  • You may be familiar with the London and Brighton incarnations of Artist Residence, but did you know you can also head west for a dose of its colourful treatment? Located in Penzance, near the toe of England, Artist Residence Cornwall is a funky boutique guesthouse in the same inimitable style as its South East sisters. 

    UK127_Artist_Residence_Cornwall_144533_230KB_070415 (1)

    Just moments from  cafés, pubs and galleries, you can sleep in your very own work of art, as each of the hotel’s imaginative rooms was designed by a different artist. On our last visit we also loved the new clutch of apartments, all equipped with comforts such as top-notch bedding, ensuite shower rooms and eco-chic toiletries.

    UK127_Artist_Residence_Cornwall_144539_155KB_070415

    Rooms: All of the rooms are utterly unique, and you can even learn about the artist who conceived yours during your stay. The proportions can feel a little small, though the lofts have an added sense of space thanks to their high ceilings. We loved the Picture Loft, which is the only room with a tub (a roll-top one at that). The Gallery Loft (complete with a mezzanine) is the largest, and the Attic Loft has a handy kitchenette and a novel floating bed. If you want to get away with the family, the 1- and 2-bedroom apartments are ideal.  All have spacious living areas and full kitchens, but we’d opt for one of those with a sea view or courtyard garden as they’re particularly charming.

    EOTW - rooms

    Food: At the heart of the hotel is The Cornish Barn, an informal, industrial-style restaurant that’s big on sharing and socialising. The delicious menu is simply divided into meat, fish and veg, and focuses on Cornish fare with a Deep South twist. We loved the tender buttermilk chicken, sweet pulled pork, fresh whitebait and peppery crab, all rounded off with a perfect mac ‘n’ cheese. The fruits of Cornwall are evident in the fantastic breakfasts, too – we started with cute jars of yoghurt and compote (everyone’s favourite), followed by a tasty full English and some (slightly tart) blueberry pancakes. If you want to self-cater, the apartments have everything you need to cook up a treat.

    EOTW - food copy

    Author’s tip: A lovely – and unusual – way to explore this area is to combine your stay with a foraging course. The Fat Hen Cookery School, run by ecologist Caroline Davey, offers wild food weekends near St Buryan.

    EOTW - end

    i-escape gift: free daily breakfast

    Read the full review  

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,
MAY28

Meet our bloggers: Lottie of Oyster & Pearl

 
  • lottie

    We’re extending a warm welcome to Lottie of Oyster & Pearl, who’s the latest addition to our fabulous line-up of family and lifestyle bloggers. She’s in great company amongst Fritha from TigerlillyQuinn, Lucy of Dear Beautiful and Lori of Wild and Grizzly, and over the next year they’ll be getting the insider scoop on the boutique gems in our Kids Collection.

    How would you describe your blog in one sentence?

    Oyster & Pearl is like a flower press for memories, carefully collecting and preserving our days with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

    1

    How did you get into blogging?

    I started a (terrible) LiveJournal blog back in 2005, just as a place to exercise my writing muscle. I’d dabbled with journalism in my early twenties before being sidetracked into the world of film PR. I picked it up again in 2011 when my youngest son was a baby, as I needed an outlet for my creativity. Since then, Oyster & Pearl has grown into a family and lifestyle blog that contributes so much to our lives and has taken us on many an adventure.

    What are the three top things you look for in a destination?

    1. Weather. That’s not to say I’m a sun-worshipper, but the local climate is such an evocative aspect of any travel. If we’re going somewhere cold, I want snow, ice and shivers. If it’s a hot holiday, make it scorching, please.

    2. Beauty. Travel brings out the nosey in me and I become magpie-ish, peeping through doorways, clocking new colours, shapes and smells, and capturing it all with my trusty camera.

    3. Food. Last year, I wrote the recipes for a diet book based on the food eaten by the clean-living monks of Mount Athos in Greece. But I couldn’t stick to Mediterranean ingredients alone and introduced culinary influences from all over the world. I see travel as research, and I bring as many ideas home with me as I do memories.

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    Where is on your wishlist for 2015?

    Amalfi is somewhere I’ve never visited but have always dreamt I would. Italian food is the pinnacle of flavour and quality and history, and the idea of eating my way around that beautiful coastline is pretty special!

    Amalfi

    I’ve never been to Scandinavia, either, and I would love to visit Copenhagen. Danish design is just perfection.

    Copenhagen

    Further afield, I think Sri Lanka would be a good way to gently introduce the kids to a very different culture. Plus, the coastline looks incredibly beautiful, and I’m more than a little obsessed with curry.

    Which i-escape hotel would be your dream stay?

    Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives looks like heaven!

    Gili Lankanfushi

    If you could only visit one country for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

    I am a true Francophile so it would have to be France. It holds such a special place in my heart (despite a couple of rather torturous French exchange visits as a teenager!), in particular the south coast – the Fondation Maeght art gallery is my favourite in the world. And I adore Paris. It brings out my inner flaneur.

    What’s your favourite or earliest travel memory?

    In 2000, three friends and I spent three months travelling across the United States, flying into Seattle and out of New York. We had no idea how we’d get from one side of the country to the other, but we did and we had the best time doing so. All the big cities and sights were explored, but the off-the-beaten-track places proved to be just as interesting. And we went up into Canada and down into Mexico. We covered a lot of ground, and brought home snow globes from every destination.

    What do you never leave for holiday without?

    My camera. It’d be so incredibly frustrating not to be able to snap our adventures. Having said that, I take so many pictures on my phone that maybe I could cope without a DSLR.

    6

    Any top tips for travelling with kids?

    My kids have visited France a couple of times, and the Canary Islands last year. So they’re okay on planes, although we’ve had to ply them with devices to keep them occupied on longer journeys. My seven-year-old has his own camera and likes to record his own snapshots of our travels, so batteries and memory cards (and, when home, scrapbooks and glue) tend to keep him busy.

    Read Lottie’s blog or take a look at our Q&As with Fritha from TigerlillyQuinn, Lucy of Dear Beautiful and Lori of Wild and Grizzly >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , ,
MAY27

Easy Escapes for June

 
  • Ready, steady, summer! Dust off your flip-flops and grab the SPF15: we’ve found some super-easy, sun-drenched getaways to slot into your June schedule.

    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.

    Monte da Fornalha, Portugal – £305.30 per person (7 nights, 17-24 June)

    Despite being one of the biggest and loveliest regions in Portugal, the Alentejo remains blissfully undiscovered to all but the Portuguese and is miraculously untouched. If you want to know what Tuscany or Provence looked like before the tourists invaded, come here.

    Stay: at Monte da Fornalha, a 200-year-old farmhouse surrounded by vines and olive groves, with gorgeous gardens and an elegant pool. We’re offering 25% off stays of 3+ nights, making a 7-night break in a Double / Twin room just £186 per person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Lisbon with Ryanair for £93 per person, departing Wednesday 17 June and returning Wednesday 24 June.

    From the Airport: We recommend hiring a car to get to the hotel and explore the area. Car hire through Rhino starts from £52.61.

    Total cost: £305.30 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Portugal and other accommodation options

    Ca Na Xini, Menorca – £589.50 per person (7 nights, 2-9 June)

    Criss-crossed with walking trails and dotted with quiet little villages serving up tasty tapas, Menorca’s rural landscape is known for offering pure relaxation. Best of all, its coastline is littered with stunning beaches, from tiny sheltered coves to sprawling surfer-friendly sands.

    Stay: at award-winning, modernist agroturismo Ca Na Xini, where outstanding wines and cutting-edge design go hand in hand. We’re offering an exclusive 10% discount for stays of 5+ nights, making 7 nights in a Standard Room just £469.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Luton to Mahon with easyJet for £104 per person, departing Tuesday 2 June and returning Tuesday 9 June.

    From the Airport: You’ll need a car to make the most of the area, particularly as you’ll have to drive out for dinner most evenings. Car hire through Rhino starts from £32.

    Total cost: £589.50 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Menorca and other accommodation options.

    Gajah Mina Beach Resort, Bali – £1,356.50 per person (10 nights, 4-14 June)

    In Bali you will find a splash of colour and a piece of heaven. The south of the island centres around Denpasar, the party heart of Bali; expect top eats and hip nightlife, hill-top temples, and a sprawl of white-sand beaches with world-class surfing.

    Stay: at secluded Gajah Mina Beach Resort on Bali’s dramatic southwest coast. Take advantage of their 5-nights-for-4 offer and get a 10-night B&B stay in a Honeymoon Suite for £804.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Bali Denpasar (via Amsterdam) with KLM for £527 per person, departing Wednesday 3 June (overnight flight arriving Thursday 4 June) and returning Sunday 14 June (overnight flight arriving Monday 15 June).

    From the Airport: the hotel offers airport transfers for approximately £25 one-way.

    Total cost: £1,356.50 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Bali 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 27 May 2015.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , ,
MAY25

Escape of the Week… Misc eatdrinksleep

 
  • Misc eatdrinksleepWe love Amsterdam – a vibrant city of canals, culture, and more famous sites than you can shake a clog at. With this in mind, you can imagine our delight at finding not only a gorgeous central bolthole, but also one with a family-run vibe that makes it feel like staying with friends.

    This 6-room B&B next to the iconic Nieuwmarkt is ideal for those who want a short stay in Amsterdam and don’t want to miss any of the fun. The beautifully furnished, thematic rooms sit above an informal cocktail bar (the ‘Red Light Delight’ tasted great!) and are surrounded by quintessential Amsterdam cobbles and canals.

    Rooms: Behind its classic 17th-century façade, the building houses 6 themed rooms that the owners have meticulously decked out with super-comfy kingsize beds, large windows and a number of spoiling extras, including Nespresso machines, flatscreen TVs and free minibars (non-alcoholic). Interiors vary, from the woven chairs and rustic wooden furniture in Afrika to the dramatic chandelier and ornate mirrors in Baroque. The 3 rooms at the front look out over the pretty canal, but if you want to avoid the noise of central Amsterdam then plump for one of the smaller but equally pretty rooms at the back, with views of the garden and rooftops.

    Misc eatdrinksleep

    Food: This small guesthouse doesn’t offer lunch or dinner, but you can bookend your day with a lovely gastronomic treat. In the morning you’ll find a generous and delicious buffet of pastries, Dutch cheeses, bread, eggs, smoothies and fresh fruit. Come evening, you can return to the cocktail bar, whose menu offers classic Margaritas for the traditionalists and a number of adventurous specialities for those after something more unusual. As for the meals in between, you’re in a fantastic part of town and the staff will be more than happy to point you in the right direction for dinner.

    Misc eatdrinksleep

    When to go: Any time you fancy a break. The city is pleasantly quiet during the summer months of July and August, when many of the locals are away on holiday. Or you could try a winter break for some Christmas shopping and ice skating on the frozen canals.

    Misc eatdrinksleep

    Customer Review: “Very kind, helpful hosts, perfect location. Cool, comfortable and clean with welcoming chocolates and Prosecco. Complimentary beers and snacks were also much enjoyed. Excellent breakfast. In all, another great find through i-escape – thank you!”
    Rowena, United Kingdom (28.07.14)

    Read the full review >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , , ,
MAY22

Just Back from…. Country Kids (With the Kids!)

 
  • Our Head of Bookings Kate recently spent a blissful week at one of our favourite French family-friendly hideaways. With her husband and 2 young sons in tow (aged 4 and 1), she discovered that sometimes luxury is less about the infinity pool and more about reminding harried parents how to relax.

    After the ordeal of getting 2 overtired adults and 2 hyper under 5s to the airport with the appropriate amount of luggage, passports and boarding cards, as well as enough stickers, snacks and superheroes to get us through the flight, we were sorely in need of a break.

    On arrival in Toulouse we faced a long drive to Country Kids, but built-in sat-nav and excellent directions meant we got there in less than 3 hours (mostly motorway). At the very top of a very narrow road near the village of Brenas, owner Tracey, Manager Christophe and Assistant Manager Nancy were on hand to welcome us – and boy were we glad to arrive!

    They led us to our apartment where the kids were shown their bedroom, complete with big toy chest, book box and various puzzles. The children also received a personalised envelope with colouring pencils and a Country Kids travel diary to fill out each day – a lovely touch. My 4-year-old was instantly under Christophe’s spell and couldn’t wait to play on the slide and run around the grounds.

    Country Kids toys

    The converted farm has endless play facilities, and each apartment is well-equipped with huge TVs, iPod docks, comfy beds and full kitchens. Guests self-cater during shoulder season, but in summer rates are all-inclusive. Either way, you essentially don’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to. The staff-to-guest ratio is very high, the bar serves drinks all day long, there’s a little shop / wine cave for easy suppers, and everyone gets together for the sociable daily afternoon tea.

    Welcome hamperThe Cave

    Day one and the kids were following Christophe to the farm for feeding time – the joy on their faces was a picture! They have donkeys, pygmy goats, chickens, rabbits, a horse and pigs. Kids are actively encouraged to get stuck in, helping to feed all the animals and collect eggs. Best of all, my eldest got to help Christophe drive the tractor! Afterwards, Kids Club welcomes them with open arms for daily activities. The boys loved ‘Pirates and Mermaids Day’, making pirate hats and mermaids crowns, baking cupcakes and doing treasure hunts.

    IMG_85493 IMG_8650

    Soon afterwards, we met Alice, the concierge, to ‘plan’ our stay. ‘Planning’ actually means deciding when you fancy a massage at the little spa, or what restaurant you want to book for babysitting night. In between such a rigorous schedule we relaxed by the adults-only pool and Jacuzzi (set well away from all the kids’ areas). Lying in the sun, I heard the boys charging past on their treasure hunt and just smiled before going back to my book, content that all of us were in our respective happy places!

    Country Kids adults pool

    And yes, there are heaven-sent complimentary twice-weekly babysitting evenings. Over anxious parents are gently ushered out the door while one of the lovely ladies from the crèche takes over for 3 hours. Just a 15-minute stroll away, we enjoyed a fantastic (and great value) supper at La Palombe restaurant. It was such a treat to be out together on a week night, safe in the knowledge that the kids were happy and secure with a babysitter.

    CK1

    Another brilliant idea is the Friday morning kids PJ party. Rebecca came to pick up the kids at a pre-agreed time (8am) and we got to go back to bed! AMAZING!!

    There are also lots of additional activities on offer for the whole family, including pony rides, zip lining/climbing, and pedalos at the Lac du Salagou (20 minutes away). We took the opportunity to go wine tasting at a beautiful local chateau and visit Clemont L’Herault market (while the kids built a Frozen castle in Kids Club!). One of my favourite things that Country Kids provides are their laminated directions cards. Seriously, this is a godsend for people like us who almost always have a row on holiday after getting lost!

    Country Kids

    The beauty of Country Kids is that they really have thought of everything. Luxury is redefined here. It’s not about 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets or someone to clean your sunglasses when you dive into the infinity pool. It’s more about gently cajoling harried parents into remembering how to relax. Christophe and his team make sure that the kids are happy and well looked after, and then us parents can start naturally to unwind, too.

    I am sure we weren’t the first to arrive and, after a day or so, stand around wondering, “What do we do?” Our kids were off making friends at the kids club, there was no cleaning or tidying to be done, no dinner to cook, and no shopping to be purchased. It was an odd but very indulgent feeling.

    CK3

    Come Friday I definitely had the last-day blues, but the Country Kids team soon fixed that with a fabulous lunchtime barbecue. It felt like we had wandered into a Jamie Oliver show: a perfect setting under blooming wisteria, cold wine, great company and happy kids running amok. At 4.30pm the children performed a little show they had been preparing in kids club and then it was time to head off, most of us vowing to return. I am converted.

    Take a look at the rest of our Kids Collection >>

    Posted in Kids, Our Trips.... Tagged , , , ,
MAY20

Our favourite recipes… lemon and ginger chicken tagine

 
  • For the second of our favourite recipes, we’re heading to Marrakech and to intimate riad Dar Zaman, set in the quieter reaches of the northern medina. Our mouths are watering so much at the sound of this tagine that we’re already googling the next available flight!

    Lemon and ginger chicken tagine with olives

    Dar Zaman tagine

    Chicken with preserved lemons and olives is a favourite on menus across Morocco, but not all tagines are created equal! At Dar Zaman, chef Karima enhances the taste by adding ginger.

    Ingredients:

    2 chicken legs (or slightly more if you’d like)
    1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
    ½ a preserved lemon (already preserved or home-made)
    1 teaspoon of black pepper
    2 teaspoons of powdered ginger
    1 teaspoon of saffron powder or a few shakes of dried saffron leaves (enough to colour)
    1 tablespoon of olive oil
    1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
    1 pinch of salt
    3 grated garlic cloves
    2 diced small onions (red or white is fine)
    ¾ cup of water

    Garnish: rind of ½ a preserved lemon sliced into ½ cm slices, and 8‐12 olives

    Dar Zaman tagine

    Method:

    Firstly, you need to prepare the chicken. Rub it thoroughly with salt and leave to stand for a few minutes. Rinse off the salt with water, then rub the chicken all over with a piece of lemon to cover it in juice. Leave to stand for a few minutes ‐ the chicken will turn white from the juice. Rinse again with water.

    Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium saucepan, and simmer over a medium heat until the onions have become clear.

    Once the onions are clear, add enough water to just cover the chicken, then place the lid on top of the pot. Simmer at a low/medium heat until the water has reduced to about 1/2 cm. At this point, remove the chicken and place it into a tagine while you continue reducing the broth at a low temperature for 1 minute.

    Add your garnish to the chicken and then the reduced sauce.

    Place the tagine in the oven at the lowest warming temperature for 20 minutes.

    Serve in a hot tagine with a side of green beans.

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , , , ,