MAR24

Escape of the Week… Val de Grace Apartment

 
  • Typically Parisian, Val de Grace Apartment is a stylish and understated 1-bedroom bolthole in one of the most exciting corners of the City of Light. This immaculate pad has been cleverly refurbished by owner Olivier and features a well-equipped kitchen, a sleek double bedroom and 2 sofabeds – perfect for a romantic weekend or a short family break.

    Val de Grace Apartment

    Tucked away in the famous Latin Quarter, Val de Grace Apartment is surrounded by what was once the bohemian centre of Paris. Today, it remains a vibrant and fascinating neighbourhood with an arty vibe, a great sense of humour, and some excellent bars and restaurants for foodies.

    Val de Grace Apartment

    Rooms: The apartment is surprisingly large for this space-starved city.  We loved how bright and airy it felt too – even on a gloomy day light floods in through the tall French windows. The double bedroom is understated but comfortable, with plenty of cupboard space and spoiling touches like Egyptian cotton bed sheets, Ralph Lauren towels and a sprawling memory-foam mattress. In the living room, you’ll find 2 sofabeds (a double and a comfortable single), and the chic, sand-coloured bathroom has a deep tub as well as an overhead shower.

    Val de Grace Apartment

    Food: The kitchen in this apartment is – refreshingly – incredibly well stocked. On top of a dazzling array of culinary utensils you’ll also find lots of handy gadgets like a fryer, a Nespresso machine, and a state-of-the-art food processor.  Handily, you can pre-order groceries ahead of your visit so that you’ll be fully stocked on arrival. Alternatively, owner Olivier has put together a list of markets, shops and speciality stores in the area, so you can shop like a local during your stay.

    If you don’t fancy cooking, Olivier can hire a chef for the evening or help with local restaurant recommendations. We were delighted to find one of our favourite restaurants – the warmly welcoming, and tastily inventive Le Cosi  - a mere 7-minute walk away.

    Val de Grace Apartment

    Top Tip: Whatever you do, be sure to seek out Ladurée and get stuck into their world-famous double-decker macaroons – the nearest branch is on rue Bonaparte, in the 6th arrondissement.

    Val de Grace Apartment

    i-escape guest review: “The Val de Grace apartment is perfectly situated to enjoy most of the sights of Paris. The apartment is extremely comfortable and exceptionally well equipped and Olivier could not have been more helpful.  A perfect stay in Paris.”

    Lynn Passmore, UK (20.02.14)

    i-escape gift: a bottle of champagne at time of stay.

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , , ,
MAR21

Just back from… New York (with the kid!)

 
  • Busy and bold, New York City may not seem like the first choice for a family escape, but when i-escape Kids Editor Nadine took her 6-year-old daughter Esme, she found there to be an abundance of activities and intrigues for young explorers – particularly with the novelty of snow. During their visit, both mother and daughter discovered a world of fun and gastronomic adventure unique to the United States’ most iconic city. Here Nadine shares her – and Esme’s – discoveries.

    New York

    For February half-term we took our daughter to New York City – her first time in The Big Apple. It was an unqualified success (bar the ridiculously long wait to get through immigration) and proved to us that New York City is great for all ages, at any time of year.

    New York

    Our daughter was thrilled to be playing in real snow after such a mild UK winter. So we went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and made a snowman, snow angels and threw snowballs. We also took her ice-skating in the new rink there – another first for Esme.

    New York

    She also tried sledging for the first time.

    New York

    The weather was by turns snowing or dazzlingly bright sunshine – off-setting the iconic buildings around Central Park to stunning effect. 

    New York

    Here we waved at the tourist horses and carriages (which may soon be replaced by retro-style electric cars), slid on icy paths and visited Strawberry Fields to pay homage to John; The Beatles’ back catalogue is one my daughter knows well.

    New York

    We stayed at Chambers Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which is perfectly placed for the sights: just half a block from Fifth Avenue, a block from MoMA and 2 blocks from Central Park. It has stylish, comfortable rooms (with excellent minibars), and laid-back, funny reception staff. One of its most attractive features is the original artwork in each room and the commissioned pieces on each floor. We enjoyed riding the lift up and down to check out the different works and agreed that our floor – the 8th – had the best murals.

    New York

    On the ground floor, next to the breakfast room (where the bar is at night), they have a milk bar with cookies – another big hit with Esme.

    New York

    New York is a surprisingly kid-friendly destination. Esme was impressed by the glitz of Broadway – “Wicked! Matilda!” – and the excitement of Times Square, where she met Spiderman!

    New York

    New York

    Quintessential New York behaviour such as travelling in yellow taxis and on the subway, and spotting the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, were all part of the package. And, she really dug the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    New York

    And the food is great for children! It’s amazing how adventurous they become while somewhere as cosmopolitan as New York City. We had pizza for one lunch, delicious Cuban pulled pork for another, gumbo one evening and, on our last night, Esme ate a full sushi meal for the first time- and loved it!

    New York

    It was also on our last night that I had my ‘New York Moment’. We decided to walk back from the Japanese restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen rather than jumping in a cab, and took a small detour to see the lights of Times Square and Broadway. We were singing “Love is in the Air” and running through the streets together, the big city humming all around us.

    New York

    See our full New York City collection and destination guide >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids, Our Trips.... Tagged , , , ,
MAR19

Top 10 Dog-friendly Hotels and Cottages in the UK

 
  • If you have a friend of the four-legged and furry variety, you’ll know that one of the best things in life is being able to take them on holiday with you. With that in mind, we’ve created a hotlist of UK boltholes that will keep the little canine in your life wagging their tail for many days to come.

    1. New Forest Eco-Cottage, Hampshire

    New Forest Eco-Cottage

    The sleek and contemporary New Forest Eco-Cottage goes that little bit further for both the environment and your pets. Not only are dogs very welcome (as long as you request ahead of arrival), you can also arrange stabling if you happen have a horse in tow! The nearby Hampshire coastline and surrounding forests provide bags of outdoor entertainment, and there’s a large garden for lazier times. Aimed squarely at holidaying families, there are maps for exploring the local area and a cosy wood-burner for warming up afterwards.

    2. The Ship Inn, Sussex

    The Ship Inn

    Dogs are very welcome aboard The Ship Inn, where the warm and convivial atmosphere means guests on both two and four legs are quickly made to feel at home. There is a small charge for pets, but this covers housekeeping and a fun sausage breakfast especially for your canine friend. The location is perfect too; positioned right beside a nature reserve and the stunning Camborne Sands, in the village of Rye. It’s a delightful foray into rural Sussex with retro-coastal décor and bags of character.

    3. Blenheim Cottage, Oxford

    Blenheim Cottage

    Blenheim Cottage is a beautiful self-catering riverside hideaway on the edge of the Blenheim Estate – possessing all the charm of its namesake but with none of the crowding. The space is shaped for the comfort of your group and this means that – although they cost a little extra per night – dogs are provided with wet and dry dog food, treats, a bed and blankets, and wipes for muddy paws.

    4. The Pig, Hampshire

    The Pig

    This foodie country hotel welcomes dogs by prior arrangement. For an extra-special treat book yourself into ‘The Dog House’: a stylish room in a converted outhouse that’s specifically designed with dogs in mind. The spacious accommodation has a double bedroom, a private terrace and an extra room for your pampered pooch. The Pig is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway and has the privilege of being set in the sprawling New Forest National Park: an area beyond even the wildest of doggy dreams.

    5. The Wheatsheaf Inn, Gloucestershire

    The Wheatsheaf Inn

    The Cotswolds are home to a number of restyled coaching inns, but few possess the style and attention to detail of The Wheatsheaf Inn. Popular with well-heeled socialites as well as weekending families, The Wheatsheaf also keeps a place at the bar for their furry friends. Dogs are welcome in the fashionable communal areas (there’s even a tempting jar of pig ears waiting behind the bar) and can stay in the 3 downstairs guest rooms, where dog beds, bowls and snacks are provided.

    6. The Gurnards Head, Cornwall

    The Gurnards Head

    A charming pub with bags of character, The Gurnard’s Head sits on an untamed stretch of the Cornish coastline and warmly welcomes any four-legged stowaways you have in tow (free of charge). Laid-back and low-key, dogs are also welcome in the dining room and there are some glorious coastal walks leading out of the large pub garden – just be sure to mention your canine companion when booking.

    7. The Grosvenor Arms, Dorset

    The Grosvenor Arms

    Set in the heart of green-welly country, there’s plenty for you and your pooch to get up to while staying at this funky coaching inn, although you may find it difficult to stray beyond it’s warm, hospitable bar and restaurant. With beautifully decorated rooms (best for a smaller pup), a pretty guest courtyard and a unique doggy menu, The Grosvenor Arms offers tempting indulgences for all its guests!

    8. The Montpellier Chapter, Cheltenham

    The Montpellier Chapter

    In a spa town known for finesse and style, The Montpellier Chapter doesn’t disappoint. The sleek rooms, small spa and beautiful restaurant ooze a sense of opulence that laid-back weekenders and families will love. Luckily, the luxuries behind this neoclassical facade also extend to the lap dog in your life: with complimentary treats in the bar, plus dog beds, dog bowls and leads provided.

    9. The Peacock, Derbyshire

    The Peacock

    Set amongst some of the finest countryside in Britain, The Peacock is within striking distance of the Peak District’s breath-taking natural scenery and the historical opulence of Chatsworth Estate and Haddon Hall. Dogs are welcome for a small charge and there’s always a bowl ready at the front door for thirsty pets.

    10. Monachyle Mhor, Scotland

    Monachyle Mhor

    And, for those who don’t have their own dog to take on a weekend away, there’s always Monachyle Mhor’s impeccably behaved Labrador ‘Midnight’. If you’re a dog lover, you’re more than welcome to whisk him out for a walk along the glen – a treat we’re sure will earn you a friend for life!  This relaxed, family-run retreat will also welcome your own pooch, by prior arrangement.

    Posted in Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
MAR17

Family Escape of the Month… Muxima

 
  • At colourful eco-retreat Muxima (an Angolan word meaning ‘heart’) families are warmly welcomed. Owners Jorge and Sofia have 2 children themselves and the homespun, organic ambience lets kids – and their parents – feel right at home in the heart of rural Portugal.

    PO024_Muxima_125271_172KB_260214

    The pace at Muxima is purposely set to slow, so expect serenity and a heavy dose of relaxation. That said, there are wonderful beaches nearby and plenty of opportunities to take active forays into your surroundings whether on surfboard, mountain bike, or with golf club in hand.

    PO024_Muxima_98744_274KB_121012

    Rooms: The 4 distinctively decorated suites each have a kitchenette and plenty of space for extra guests. The Coba and Chaouen suites (in Casa do Monte) have space for 2 extra beds in the living area and would be perfect for families with 1 or 2 children. These rooms are also slightly more secluded, as they’re set further into the woodland. For those with 2 children or more, we’d recommend the Mangalore suite as it’s the biggest, with space for 3 extra beds. The double rooms are lovely too, but they’re not suitable for families. All suites and rooms have a private entrance, a slice of terrace and surprisingly effective solar-powered underfloor heating.

    PO024_Muxima_125272_123KB_260214

    Food: Breakfast (which takes place in a dedicated casita) is a bright and sociable affair with a buffet of local breads, homemade jams and fresh fruit. Each suite is equipped with its own functional kitchenette complete with a microwave, a hob, a mini-dishwasher and all the other essentials for rustling up a family dinner. However, if you don’t feel like cooking (or if you haven’t booked a suite), there are plenty of lovely restaurants within a short drive, and Jorge and Sofia’s recommendations are excellent.

    PO024_Muxima_125275_98KB_260214

    Kids’ activities: You’ll find plenty for kids to do on the farm and in the surrounding forest. There’s an outdoor playground with a Wendy house and sandpit, and resident farm animals include a donkey, a goat, pigs and dogs. There’s also an eco-friendly swimming pool complete with frogs, lily pads and a shallow-end, as well as DVDs and toys for babies and younger children. Nearby, there are some fantastic family-friendly beaches for walking, wildlife-spotting and learning to surf!

    PO024_Muxima_125277_134KB_260214

    Baby equipment: All the essentials are provided: baby cots, high chairs, prams or pushchairs, night lights, potties. Be aware that all rooms and suites have showers only, but baby baths are available on request. It’s also possible to book both English- and Portuguese-speaking babysitters for an hourly rate. 

    PO024_Muxima_106529_109KB_030413

    i-escape guest review:Muxima has heart and soul that some other properties can only dream of. Jorge and Sofia run a charming, laid back guesthouse that draws you in and forces you to relax and switch off. This was our family’s second visit and we are already talking about going back. My son loved the animals and going to see the chickens in the morning with Jorge.  

    Kate, United Kingdom (22.09.13)

    i-escape gift: a free fruit basket and traditional Portuguese chocolate bars

    Read the full review and book Muxima >>

     

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Kids. Tagged , , , ,
MAR14

Travelling with kids: Keep them entertained!

 
  • There’s no need to let the fear of long-haul trips with children put you off family holidays! Whether it’s a 6-hour drive to Paris or even an overnight flight to America, travelling with children is do-able if you’re well prepared. Our friends at Babyccino Kids have put together this fab selection of the best games and products that will keep your kiddos happy and entertained.

    Babyccino Kids_kids boarding plane

    1.)   The classic Goose Game from Deuz comes in a handy travel bag and can be played by anyone, anywhere! We like that it’s made of fabric so it’s not too bulky to fit into a suitcase or rucksack.

    2.)   Dobble comes in a little round tin, easy to pack and tote around, and is such a fun game that even the grown-ups will want to play! (Our kids beat us every time!)

    3.)   Who doesn’t love Uno?! The ultimate family-friendly card game!

    4.)   This portable checkers game comes in an organic cotton drawstring bag and includes wooden playing pieces. It’s cute, it’s eco and it’s easy to throw in a suitcase or travel bag.

    Babyccino Kids_kids in campervan

    5.)   Of course, there’s always the iPad! We like educational games and storybook apps for littler kids. Some favourites are Peekaboo Barn and Bizzy Bear and educational maths apps like Appracadabra and Park Math.

    6.)   Audio books are a saving grace for road trips!

    7.)   Sticker books are handy to have when you’re on a plane and your kids are forced to sit still on their own. We like the ones with re-stickable stickers that can be used over and over again. These are some of our favourites, they also happen to have a travelling theme: All Around The World and Around the World with Mouk.

    8.)   For littler kids, we love this super cute Travel Bingo game by Djeco.  (This is also one of our favourite gifts to give young children.)

    9.)   We love this fun new Mix ‘n Match sketchbook by Deuz. It has a perforated line down the middle, so you can separate your sketches and create dog-fish, pig-ants, and dino-cars.

    10.) Lastly, there are always games you can play without any products at all! Many of these are age-old games we played when we were children and our parents played before us. They’re perfect while you’re driving in the car or simply sitting in the grass. To refresh your memory, here are some of them:

    > ‘Animal, Vegetable, Mineral’: Each player takes turns thinking of something and the others have to guess what it is asking questions that can only be answered by saying yes or no.

    > I spy with my little eye: always a favourite!

    Charades: only requires some paper and a pen and a healthy imagination!

    Rock-Paper-Scissors: always exciting!

    > Knucklebones or ‘Five Stones’: All you need are five little stones. Instructions to play can be found here.

    Babyccino Kids_casper on the train

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , ,
MAR12

Spotlight on… Mallorca

 
  • Mallorca is one of our favourite destinations. In fact, our co-founder Nikki has been coming here for nearly 20 years, and it’s easy to see why. Expect rugged coastline, hidden coves, underground caves, fascinating towns and villages, and plenty of eateries to enjoy traditional Mallorcan cuisine and locally produced wine.

    Valldemossa

    Valldemossa

    Why go?

    There’s more to this Spanish island than the busy resorts of Magaluf and Palma Nova; steer clear of these and you’ll discover that it’s not just us who have fallen in love with Mallorca over the years. Through the ages it has been under Roman, Byzantine and Moorish rule, and each society has left behind markers of its existence, resulting in a rich and varied culture. More recently, the Balearic’s largest island has been attracting millions of tourists annually. The picturesque sandy beaches, jagged cliff faces, and clear blue waters draw in sun-seekers, the mountains are a favourite among professional cyclists and hikers (Bradley Wiggins loves to train here), while the island’s unspoilt interior is covered in vineyards, almond and olive groves, and hundreds of wildflower species.

    Cala Figuera beach, near Pollença

    Cala Figuera beach, near Pollença

    Highlights

    Palma de Mallorca is often overlooked when considering a break, but you could easily spend a long weekend exploring the island’s capital. It was once the home of the Balearic’s monarchy, aristocracy, and Church. With 16th-century fortifications, plus an Arab and a Moorish quarter, the city is full of fascinating architecture and history – be sure to visit the impressive cathedral, Le Seu, whose spire is visible from most points in the city. Palma is also crammed full of quirky boutiques, buzzy bars, inspiring galleries and creative culinary hangouts. Stay in restored 17th-century palace Hotel Can Cera, harbourside hotel Portixol, or – if you’d rather stay somewhere a little quieter – head to romantic countryside bolthole The Yellow House (just 10 minutes outside Palma).

    Hotel Can Cera

    Hotel Can Cera

    Next, head inland to the rural heartland, or Es Pla as it’s also known. Not much has changed here over the years: the olive and almond groves continue to mature, pigs and sheep zigzag across the fields, windmills dance in the breeze, and stone fincas stand strong against the horizon. Base yourself at luxurious Read’s Hotel to indulge at the spa, play tennis, or simply laze by the pool. If you can bear to tear yourself away, visit Binissalem (Mallorca’s wine production capital), Sineu for its Wednesday morning farmers’ market, and if you’re after some quirky keep-sakes, visit the craft town of Santa Maria del Cami.

    Read's Hotel

    Read’s Hotel

    Eastern Mallorca is great for those seeking a little escapism: its striking coastline encompasses hidden coves, historic villages, salt flats and several natural reserves – plus tennis fans will be interested to know it’s the birthplace of Rafa Nadal. Stay at one of our cosy boutique hotels and spend your days lazing on a stunning stretch of beach, such as white-sand Es Trenc – one of the island’s longest and most famous. There’s plenty to explore, too: catch a boat to the uninhabited archipelago of Cabrera (a national park teaming with birds and other wildlife), and explore the Cuevas de Arta: a maze of underground caves that once provided shelter to hermits, pirates and smugglers.

    Son Jaumell

    Son Jaumell

    At the northern tip of the island lies the quaint Mallorcan town of Pollença and centre stage is the impressive Calvario Chapel, reached by 356 cypress-lined steps from Placa Major, the town’s central square. Stay at Son Brull Hotel and Spa, a short drive away, which is the perfect place to rest your legs and feast on gourmet, home-grown dishes in the enticing restaurant. The surrounding countryside is a walker’s paradise and a hike to Mallorca’s most northerly point, the Cap de Formentor, will reward you with stunning panoramas of the island.

    Steps to Calvario Chapel, Pollença

    Steps to Calvario Chapel, Pollença

    A little further west lies sleepy Sóller: full of narrow streets, French-style mansions and sociable squares, and surrounded by orange and lemon groves. First timers to the area should catch the historic wooden train that runs through the mountains from Palma (built in 1912), before boarding the tram to thriving Port de Sóller, for the area’s largest sandy beach. Couples can cosy up in romantic mountainside finca Ca’s Xorc, while families will love super-stylish, seaside Esplendido Hotel. 

    Tram at Port de Sóller

    Tram at Port de Sóller

    When to go

    Mallorca’s subtropical climate makes it a great year-round destination. April, May, September and October are wonderful, as the island has warm sunny days and fewer tourists. February sees the island’s 4 million+ almond trees in blossom, while the following months bring a vibrant display of wildflowers. Spring and autumn are ideal if you intend to spend your time cycling, walking, mountain climbing or golfing. If you can, avoid June, July and August as temperatures can soar (though the sea breeze may lull you into a false sense of security) and beach space can be hard to come by.

    Es Trenc beach

    Es Trenc beach

    Our top tip

    Mallorcans love their festivals and they love their food, the result (unsurprisingly) is numerous must-visit festivals with a huge array of delicious produce, evening celebrations and unadulterated feasting. One of the best is the Fiesta Torrada d’es Borifarro, held in the village of Saint Joan on the first Sunday of October, which celebrates black pudding and other pork-based dishes. Other festivals to get your taste-buds going include the Pollença Wine Fair, the cuttlefish festival in Alcudia (both in April), Palma’s tapas festival at the end of October, and the olive, honey, and mushroom fairs, which are all held in November.

    Capdepera's  farmers’ market

    Capdepera’s farmers’ market

    See our destination guide for more information on Mallorca and places to stay.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
MAR10

Escape of the Week… The Gunton Arms, Norfolk, UK

 
  • Packed with personality, The Gunton Arms is a country pub offering some unexpected surprises for rural Norfolk – a dash of high society, heavenly food, and controversial art by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

     The Gunton Arms

    A lovely place to visit at any time of year, Norfolk winters are great for frosty walks and drinks by the fire, and when the warmer weather makes an appearance the pretty coast is just a short drive away – think ice creams on Cromer pier and seal watching at Blakeney.

    The Gunton Arms

    Rooms: The 8 rooms (6 Superior Doubles, 1 Double and 1 Small Double) are named after local characters, including gamekeeper James Ellis who you might find propping up the bar downstairs! They’re all individually but beautifully decorated with pretty wallpaper and mahogany tables, and have lovely marble bathrooms. Our favourites are the quiet Superior Doubles: Ellis with its kingsize four-poster bed and Parkin, which has great views. Extra beds and baby cots can be added to the larger rooms and well-behaved canine friends are welcome in all. There are also 2 private sitting rooms downstairs for guests’ use and a private dining room which features an original Lucian Freud.

    The Gunton Arms

    Food: The main reason for visiting is the excellent restaurant, run by ex-Mark Hix chef Stuart Tattersall. The focus is on locally-sourced seasonal food – if you like to keep your food miles low, be sure to tuck into their home-smoked venison (which has travelled less than a mile) and salmon (from the coast, just 4 miles away). Other tempting dishes might include nettle and leek soup, linguini with Brancaster mussels and clams, and steamed treacle sponge with a shot of sloe gin jelly. At breakfast time you can either make your own toast and cereal in the pantry or order something from the menu, like drop scones with Swafield cured bacon and Alby honey, or a Gunton fried breakfast. The pub is furnished with an eclectic mix of items, from a 13th-century coffin table to outlandish modern art, and offers a selection of local ales on tap and an all-day snack menu.

    The Gunton Arms

    Top Tip: Take your own dressing gown or robe. The pub doesn’t provide them but you’ll need one if you want to go downstairs to make an early morning cup of coffee without getting dressed first. The staff are relaxed, so no need to be shy!

    The Gunton Arms

    i-escape guest review: “Delicious food and really friendly and helpful staff – in the restaurant, bar and lighting the fires! Very stylishly decorated with fantastic artwork everywhere.”

    Charles, United Kingdom (03.02.13)

    The Gunton Arms

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

    Read the full review and book The Gunton Arms >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
MAR07

Top 10 family-friendly Easter breaks

 
  • The Easter Holidays are almost upon us! To help you decide where to go, our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, has chosen the best family friendly places which offer something eggstra for Easter.

    Country Kids, Languedoc, France

    Country Kids

    New on i-escape are these lovely family apartments for 4-12, which offer award-winning childcare and endless activities on 30-acres of a former farm. This April, you and your family can get a E300 discount when staying self-catering for a week; this still includes unlimited use of the creche, Big Kids programme, daily kids afternoon tea and 2 nights a week babysitting.

    Hotel Martinhal, Algarve, Portugal

    Hotel Martinhal

    April is a great time to discover the Algarve: the Costa Vicentina Natural Park is carpeted with flowers, the weather is often perfect, and the air eucalypt-scented. The four-night family Easter special offered at this excellent designer family resort includes an hour’s tennis and a 3-course meal daily, plus a family Easter Egg hunt – and there’s also the heated pool, babysitters, playgrounds, kids portions, child-friendly eateries…

    Anassa, near Polis, Cyprus

    Anassa

    Superlative childcare, a luxury spa and a wealth of activities make this beachside resort the ultimate holiday spot for frazzled parents. There are a great range of rooms to choose, four restaurants (with kids meals) and an all-ages kids club with heaps of toys and games plus playground and all manner of watersports. There’s also plenty of Easter inspired family fun from whole family Easter egg hunts to traditional Cypriot egg painting. Book by the end of March for a 20% early bird discount on Studio Suites.

    Borgo Santo Pietro, near Siena, Italy

    Borgo Santo Pietro

    This elegant country retreat successfully marries style and substance, and is also ideal for families with acres of grounds, a playground, trampoline and courts for any number of ball games. The excellent Easter package includes an Egg Treasure Hunt involving Champagne and soft drinks, followed by a 5-course gourmet Sunday lunch for parents while kids enjoy an art lesson and pizza-making class. Rates start at E1350 for 2 (3 night minimum).

    The Olive Press, Crete, Greece

    The Olive Press

    If you’re holidaying with another family, want to bring the grandparents, or need some space from your own brood, this three-suite villa will suit. There are idyllic secluded gardens, a big pool with a shallow end (though not heated until May) and sandy beaches nearby. This year Greek Easter falls on the same dates as in Western Europe; look out for traditional processions, lamb feasts and fireworks. Stay at this super villa during April and get a 25% discount (full non-refundable payment).

    Le Castel, Normandy, France

    Le Castel

    This 19th-century chateau runs all-inclusive family holidays with organised activities during school vacations, and is perfect for children with a woodland den, sandpit, croquet, bikes and swings to play on. This Easter, stay in one of their four lovely family suites for 3, 4 or 7 nights; there’ll be an egg hunt in the grounds with a Bucksfizz breakfast thoughtfully provided for the adults. Prices start at £700 for 3 nights (childcare is extra)

    Memmo Baleeira, Algarve, Portugal

    Memmo Baleeira

    Right on Europe’s most westerly point is this airy and sleek hotel, close to stunning beaches and with great family facilities including a trampoline, heated indoor pool, games room, playground, bouncy castle and interconnecting rooms, plus surf school! Over Easter weekend 2 children under 12 are free if staying in a Memmo Suite, the kids club is operational, there’s the option of a boat trip and family fishing, and the kids menu is just E8 per child.

    Villa Cervarolo, Puglia, Italy

    Villa Cervarolo

    A restored farmhouse with striking contemporary makeover built around four trulli (dry stone huts with conical roofs endemic to this part of the country), which works brilliantly for a family who likes to holiday in style. There’s a stunning pool, three bedrooms, a bathtub, outside BBQ and full kitchen. Even better: there’s 10% off bookings in April (7 night minimum)

    Song Saa, Koh Rong, Cambodia

    Song Saa

    For a once-in-a-lifetime barefoot luxury family holiday, head to this enchanting all-villa eco-resort on an unspoiled archipelago. For kids there are warm, shallow seas, swimming lessons, treasure hunts and tailored snorkelling tours of the reef. Over Easter there’s pancake making, egg painting and an egg hunt, a hot cross bun cooking class and an outdoor movie night, there’s a special Easter Sunday lunch too. And through April stay 4 nights and pay for only 3.

    Europa House Apartments, Little Venice, London

    Europa House Apartments

    London is a great place for an eggciting family adventure and this collection of stylish two-bedroom family-friendly apartments in a quiet residential area makes an excellent base. You get well-equipped kitchens, a toy cupboard for kids to help themselves to and a special Kids Directory listing local parks and playgrounds as well as a Top Ten Fun Things to Do in London. Over Easter you’ll also receive l’artisan du chocolat eggs and cinema tickets to the Everyman cinema for all the family. Rates start from £315 per night (3 night minimum).

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids, Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , ,
MAR05

Amazing landscapes

 
  • Whether it’s the South African plains or the rocky terrain of Iceland, these i-escape hotels all have one thing in common: truly stunning surroundings…

    Awasi Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

    Awasi Patagonia

    The iconic peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park have long been admired by adventurers, including renowned explorer Florence Dixie, who pitched her tent here in 1878. The breath-taking vistas and wildlife-spotting might have remained largely the same, but the accommodation options have been upgraded to include this rustic-luxe 12-lodge retreat. Days are spent out on adventures with your personal guide – maybe glacier-walking, biking, kayaking or riding. And after all that, your attention will turn to a soothing massage in your villa, followed by a deep soak in your outdoor Jacuzzi.

    Villa Arcadio, Salo, Lake Garda, Italy

    Villa Arcadio

    A former monastery, Villa Arcadio has been beautifully restored into an elegant 18-room boutique hotel where sleek furniture and hi-tech gadgets sit comfortably alongside exposed stone walls and remnants of 13th-century frescoes. The views from the glamorous lounger-lined pool are magical – it’s just the spot for lying back, drink in hand, and gazing out at the boats shimmering across azure Lake Garda.

    Douar Samra, near Imlil, Morocco

    Douar Samra

    This small, colourful guesthouse offers a welcome as warm as the surroundings are beautiful. Wild, remote and unspoilt, this is the heart of some of Morocco’s best trekking country where you can embark on day hikes, horse rides and even ascend the towering 4,000m Toubkal peak. If you prefer gazing at the landscape rather than hiking through it, the roof terrace offers wonderful panoramic views. Owner Jacqueline fell under the mountains’ spell many years ago and we reckon you will, too.

    Shakti 360 Leti, near Almora, Uttarakhand, India

    Shakti 360 Leti

    The views from this Himalayan hilltop retreat will make your soul soar. The incredible location redefines ‘remote’ – getting there isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Glass walls maximise the stunning mountain views and the cabins are constructed from local stone, canvas and timber to blend into the landscape. Inside, you’ll find gigantic beds wrapped in duvets and locally woven pashmina blankets, and slate floors strewn with sheepskin rugs. Tuck into an intimate gourmet dinner in the dining room before enjoying a spot of late-night star-gazing by your private fire pit.

    Estancia Huechahue, near Junin de los Andes, Lake District, Argentina

    Estancia Huechahue

    Picture the scene: you’re galloping on horseback through virgin mountain landscapes with condors soaring overhead. As twilight falls you head home to a dinner of succulent beef roasted over an open fire, a few glasses of red wine and a deep night’s sleep. Like the sound of it? Well, this is reality during a stay at Estancia Huechahue, an authentic cattle and horse ranch in the foothills of the Andes. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from host and guide Jane, too: she and her staff are boundlessly caring and it’s the kind of convivial place where firm friendships are made.

    Ion Hotel, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

    Ion Hotel

    Close to Thingvellir National Park, this sleek hotel is surrounded by a rugged landscape of moss-covered lava fields and steaming rivers. After experiencing all that the great Icelandic outdoors has to offer – from climbing glaciers and volcanoes, to snorkelling in Arctic waters and marvelling at huge geysers – a soak in the outdoor hot pool is hard to beat. Apart from, perhaps, a glimpse of the show-stopping Northern Lights through the bar’s panoramic windows…

    Aire de Bardenas, near Tudela, Spain

    Aire de Bardenas

    Nestled between green wheat fields and the sprawling, barren Bardenas Reales National Park, this cool hotel was designed to blend into its unusual rural surroundings. The playful industrial design continues in the minimalist yet comfortable rooms (housed in olive-green cubes), the whirling turbines on the ridge, and the walls of wooden crates that mark the perimeter. The park’s surrealist sandstone outcrops are made for exploring, whether it’s on a guided walk, a mountain bike or even a Segway.

    Croft 103, near Durness, Sutherland, North Scotland

    Croft 103

    Set amid a majestic wilderness of loch and mountains, these 2 remote boltholes make for a heavenly romantic escape. Walls of glass frame sweeping panoramas, allowing you to drink in the wildly beautiful landscape from the cosy comfort of your bed, or even the bathtub. And the lodges are beautiful on the inside, too: floors are concrete resin, walls are wood-clad, there’s crisp linen on the 7-foot beds, and the ensuite bathrooms feature Caithness stone walk-in power showers and clawfoot tubs.

    Samara, Graaf-Reinet, South Africa

    Samara

    Stood atop a mountain, gazing out across 280km of unfettered South African reserve, our evening game drive made us feel truly on top of the world. This is the Great Karoo, and Samara’s owners are carefully re-establishing the area’s flora and wildlife – cheetah, rhino, giraffe and the rare mountain zebra can all be spotted on foot or from the comfort of just a handful of jeeps. Stay in the Karoo Lodge if you’re after old colonial décor, the Sibella Suites for a front-row seat to waterhole antics, and the Manor House if you’re a group wanting some extra pampering.

    Tiara Yaktsa, near Cannes, Cote d’Azur, France

    Tiara Yaktsa

    Although it’s only a short drive from Cannes, this romantic clifftop hotel  feels a world away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Every vantage point – from your room’s balcony to the restaurant – allows you to absorb striking panoramas across the glistening sea and around the lush, green hilltown-dotted coast. The beautifully spoiling Moroccan-styled rooms have tiled floors, pretty silver lamps, sumptuous beds and gorgeous bathrooms.

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MAR03

Escape of the Week… Ion Hotel, Thingvellir, Iceland

 
  • We love a rugged, wilderness view and they don’t come much more dramatic than the sweeping landscape surrounding Iceland’s Ion Hotel. This Scandi-chic hotel features panoramic windows so you can watch the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of the bar, and you’ll also find a decadent spa, thermal pool, world-class restaurant and luxurious interiors to keep the wilds at bay.

    Despite its isolated location, there’s an abundance of activities available: from snorkelling in the icy waters of the Silfra rift to hiking up glaciers and horse riding. Back at the hotel, the Lava Spa and its steaming outdoor thermal pool is the perfect spot for unwinding with a few cocktails, whether its post-exertion or not!

    Rooms: The 46 rooms come in 2 different arrangements. The Deluxe rooms, where we stayed, may feel compact at 20sqm, but they pack a punch with stunning open views (rooms 215 to 219 are particularly good as they look onto the lake). The décor is unmistakably Nordic: polished concrete walls, sheepskin rugs and wooden furniture provide a softer – and eminently comfortable – version of the rugged landscape beyond. The Standard rooms are simpler and lack the interior drama of the Deluxes, but they’ve still got incredible views and benefit from fluffy duvets and fair-trade linen, plus a TV, WiFi and a kettle for making hot drinks. The bathrooms are unfortunately rather tiny (though well-stocked with perfumed goodies), but with those world-class views, we didn’t really mind.

    Food: The food at Ion Hotel makes it a destination in itself. Silfra the incredible on-site restaurant, serves ‘New Nordic’ specialities and we loved our meal of Arctic char (there’s a big picture of this red-bellied fish on the wall) with pickled cucumbers, pan-roasted scallops with risotto, and a skyr crème brulee (the chef’s delectable speciality). Presentation is achingly beautiful; each dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. And, if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time for the Northern Lights, the restaurant will dim the lighting to give the natural wonder centre stage.

    Breakfast also has a Nordic twist, with Icelandic specialities such as salmon and pickled herring in mustard sauce alongside the mainstays of a good hotel breakfast.

    When to go: If you’re after outdoor activities and milder temperatures, the best time to visit is the summer – when it’s also possible to see puffins! Though, if you’re keen to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, you’ll have to come in winter (October to March). Our stay in October felt perfectly timed as we avoided the crowds, enjoyed the outdoors and saw the lights twice!

    i-escape gift: a bottle of wine at time of stay.

    Read the full review and book Ion Hotel >>

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