Escape of the Week… The Portobello Hotel

  • This iconic Notting Hill hotel is a place of rock ‘n’ roll legend: Alice Cooper kept his boa constrictor in the bath here, and Jonny Depp and Kate Moss filled their tub with champagne and hid away for several days.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Whether you’re planning a party-filled getaway or something more sedate, the unpretentious atmosphere, beautiful antique-filled rooms, 24/7 honesty bar and unrivalled West London location (right next to Portobello Market) are seriously tempting.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, Londoni-escape: The Portobello Hotel, Londoni-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Rooms: Chinese antiques, Persian rugs, button-back leather chairs… the 21 rooms are all different but all beautifully styled. Size-wise, even the small Good rooms with their mural-ed walls feel spacious in city hotel terms, while several of the larger rooms face out onto leafy Stanley Gardens. We loved our Exceptional room, especially the dreamy four-poster bed (so high we had to climb up steps to get in!) and the Tardis-like bathroom. Room 16 has a wonderfully romantic round bed wrapped in gauze curtains. In all rooms, you’re spoilt with Green & Spring spa products, Nespresso machines, and decadent French chocs at turndown.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Food: A Continental breakfast is included in the rates and served on delicate vintage china, and there are cooked options for a charge – we loved the scrambled eggs and delicious smoked salmon. There’s a short snack menu available all day, but we’d recommend heading out to one of the many excellent restaurants in the neighbourhood (armed with a recommendation from the helpful reception team if needed). We grabbed a table at Granger & Co for some healthy Sydney-style food, but also had our eyes on Beach Blanket Babylon (for chic modern European dishes) and The Electric Diner (for American classics).

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Author’s tip: Pick up a pre-loved designer bargain in the charity shops on Westbourne Grove; the Oxfam and Save the Children shops are loaded with high-fashion brands.

    Press review: “The Portobello is a hotel with nearly half a century of celebrity status … but a more civilised demeanour than its legend might suggest. There is now a lift to help rockers who are feeling their age up the five floors, but there’s still a 24-hour guest-only bar downstairs for those who don’t yet feel past it.”
    Time Out, April 2015

    i-escape gift: a full-size Green & Spring spa product

    Read the full review and book The Portobello Hotel >>

    Check out our London guide >>

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

Autumn half-term escapes

  • It’s a long stretch between summer and Christmas; luckily for those with an irrepressible urge to travel, there’s a convenient mid-term holiday at the end of October. Our Kids Collection Editor Nadine suggests 10 dreamy destinations which are perfect for families.

    Yorkshire Dales, UK

    Swinton Bivouac

    One of England’s glories, the Dales are brilliant for families, with underground caves, waterfalls, botanical gardens, steam railways and castles galore!

    If glamping floats your boat, back-to-nature Swinton Bivouac, set on a 20,000-acre estate, is perfect. Stay in cute yurts or rustic woodland shacks, let the kids safely run wild, meander along nature trails, and hire mountain bikes to explore further afield.

    ACTIVITY: Over Halloween, spooky craft workshops are on offer, as well as a fancy-dress ghost walk followed by a 2-course meal in the cafe, which has a play area and dolls’ house.

    Aegean Coast, Turkey


    Some of the Med’s most gin-clear waters are to be found off the beautiful coves and beaches around Bodrum. The sea is still warm enough for swimming in late October, and there are boat trips on traditional gulets to be had, plus unspoiled fishing villages and ancient ruins to discover.

    Only 20 minutes from the airport is Med-Inn, a relaxed beach hotel with its own jetty, lovely gardens, spacious suites, a pool, a restaurant with a kids’ menu, and wonderful views. Sun + sand + sea + space to play = the ideal family holiday.

    OFFER: Stay 7, pay 5 until 31 October 2015

    Porto, Portugal

    The Yeatman

    Cascading down both banks of the Douro river, Portugal’s second city is delightful, UNESCO-listed and very walkable. Take boat trips under its soaring bridges, hop on the tram to Atlantic beaches, and visit the Oceanarium.

    Perched on a hillside with great views across to the historical Old Town, spa hotel The Yeatman has a range of rooms and suites which can take families (our kids were tickled by the bed in a wine barrel!). It also offers babysitting so parents can dine à deux in its excellent restaurant, plus a well-stocked kids’ club room and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

    PACKAGE: Kids stay for free if booking 2+ nights; 15% reduction on extra nights from 3rd night onwards; 5% early-bird discount if you book one month prior to arrival; 20% off spa treatments

    West Coast Jamaica

    Culloden Cove

    Fly into Montego Bay and head south from Negril for stunning coastal scenery, sublime sunsets and laid-back charm. Families will love watersports, boat trips, wildlife spotting, sandy beaches, waterfalls and zip-lining, or simply chilling out to the reggae beat.

    All of the above is easily accomplished at dreamy Culloden Cove, a fabulous staffed villa for up to 12 (including a garden annexe). It has a superb infinity pool, a private beach, a gazebo, hammocks, a box of toys and garden games, and snorkels and kayaks to borrow.

    OFFER: 25% EXCLUSIVE discount (2-night minimum stay)

    Crete, Greece


    The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has a strong identity and a fascinating history, and is very popular in summer. Better then to visit in the cooler, less-busy shoulder season. Kids will relish exploring ancient ruins, learning about the Minotaur and bouncing around the beaches.

    Head inland from Heraklion for traditional villages, an authentic way of life and awesome mountains. Prices are very reasonable, too! We rate Eleonas, an unpretentious agriturismo, for its warm welcome, self-catering stone cottages, playground, football pitch and kids’ pool.

    OFFER: 10% discount for stays of 5+ nights

    Charente, south west France

    Chateau de la Couronne

    Laid-back and charming Poitou-Charente, between Bordeaux and the Dordogne, is the second sunniest region in France yet is comparatively under-visited. There are canals and rivers to kayak, gentle rolling hills to walk and cycle, and historical towns to potter around.

    For an extended family party, immerse yourselves in serious style at Chateau de la Duchesse, which has enormous bedrooms, stunning reception rooms, huge grounds, a cinema room, a Baby Grand piano, a games room and a music room – ideal for tweens and teens. There’s a fenced pool, a football pitch and a pool table, too.

    OFFER: 25% discount for September-October (2-night minimum)

    Istanbul, Turkey

    Istanbul Place Apartments

    Few European cities can beat the history, excitement and waterfront setting of on-trend Istanbul. With good public transport, great sightseeing (don’t miss the fabled Topkapi Palace), excellent shopping (check out the Grand Bazaar) and quirky cafes, families in search of a satisfying break need look no further. A boat trip up the Bosphorus is a must.

    Live like a local in one of the great-value, contemporary-style Istanbul Place Apartments, dotted around hip and eclectic Galata. Some are close to Galata Tower, others have fab views over the Golden Horn. From all, it’s a short tram ride to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

    OFFER: 30% discount (2-night minimum)

    Basque Region, Spain

    Ea Astei

    Friendly, with beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs, lush forested mountains, delightful country towns and authentic fishing villages, the Basque Country is also one of Europe’s great gastronomic destinations – expect to feast aplenty from San Sebastian to Bilbao and beyond!

    We reckon the self-catering boltholes at Ea Astei are the perfect haven for families: close to sandy beaches, between the 2 major cities (the airport is only 40 minutes away), and with a heated pool plus a big garden with hammocks and rabbits. And you get the loveliest owners, who are a mine of local knowledge.

    OFFER: Stay 7 nights, pay for 5

    Pembrokeshire National Park, Wales, UK

    Llys Meddyg

    This is Britain’s only coastal national park, and it’s a magnet for families. Look forward to golden beaches, atmospheric castles, traditional seaside towns, and boat trips to spot dolphins and seals. The views are utterly awesome, too.

    Stay within the park at Llys Meddyg, a gastro restaurant with 3 family rooms, an enclosed garden and a special kids’ menu. Head forth for crabbing, birding, kayaking and horse riding, or walk part of the famous coastal path, which starts around the corner.

    PACKAGE: Half-term half-board package (2- or 3-night minimum)

    French Alps

    Chalet Bibendum

    Those who visit the Alps in autumn rave about the beautiful colours, the spectacular cloudscapes, the clarity of light, the chance to see wildlife such as chamois, deer and wild boar, the tranquillity, and the rock-bottom prices! Hiking, biking and paragliding are all to be enjoyed, and the lifts open for half-term.

    Uber-chic yet well-priced Chalet Bibendum, near Chamonix, has a hot tub, twin bedrooms, a private garden, roaring fires, games and views to Mont Blanc.

    OFFER: 40% discount until 5 December 2015 (3-night minimum)

    Take a look at our full list with half-term availability >>

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

Spotlight on an alternative South African road trip

  • We all know and love the big names of South Africa’s Western Cape, but on a recent trip we headed north for a fresh slant on this beautiful region

    Western CapeWhy go?

    Despite being easily accessible, the coast to the north of Cape Town remains relatively under the radar, enchanting those who stray off the tourist trail with its idyllic mix of nature reserves, lesser-known vineyards and quiet white-sand beaches. Paternoster in particular is great-value and a favourite foodie destination of ours, with world-class chefs taking full advantage of the region’s bountiful natural resources.

    Paternoster © Max LomaxHighlights

    Of course, we wouldn’t expect anyone to fly into Cape Town and not take the opportunity to soak up the city’s atmosphere. A firm favourite amongst i-escape staff, it really does have it all: beautiful beaches (Camps Bay, Llandudno), fantastic restaurants (particularly along the V&A Waterfront and Kloof Street), gorgeous hotels and almost constant sunshine. As for the setting… the city is cradled in a bowl, with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and City Peak on one side, and the gloriously blue Atlantic Ocean on the other. So by all means, take your time – we’ve gathered together the city’s best boutique hideaways to help you do just that.

    Cape TownBut – and this is where it gets interesting – when the time comes to head beyond the city, rather than heading east to the well-trodden Garden Route or famous Cape Winelands, drive north along the coast. Having remained relatively off the beaten track, this area boasts bountiful abundant wildlife and natural beauty, as well as some wonderful up-and-coming destinations at relatively reasonable prices.

    West Coast National ParkOne of the region’s most striking natural wonders is the West Coast National Park, where thousands of migratory seabirds roost on sheltered islands and waders from the northern hemisphere brood amid the salt marshes. We feel it’s at its best in spring (August-September), when wildflowers carpet the landscape and are framed by the ever-present pristine beaches and azure water.

    Dune HouseBirds aren’t the only migratory creatures worth looking out for while you’re here. Southern right whales can be seen travelling close to the shoreline from August until November, and boat trips are readily available in most coastal villages. Dolphins and seals also frequent the area, further increasing the odds of an exciting wildlife sighting. Place yourself in the heart of the action at Dune House, an idyllic seaside escape on Britannia Bay, and you may even be lucky enough to spot these beautiful creatures from you terrace.

    PaternosterBudding Attenboroughs will also adore Paternoster, where visitors can look out for wildlife while kayaking in the sheltered bay – or simply relax on its stunning sweep of white sand. But there’s more to Paternoster than the great outdoors. Over the past few years, world-class chefs have been redefining this charming fishing village as a foodie hub, opening a plethora of excellent eateries that are popular with locals and visitors alike. Perhaps the area’s abundance of fresh shellfish and wild herbs was too much to ignore?

    Reubens at Abalone House & SpaOne chef who is clearly making the most of nature’s finest is Kobus van der Merwe, whose bistro, Oep ve Koep, is known for serving ingredients foraged fresh from the surrounding sand dunes. Another i-escape favourite is Reuben’s, whose esteemed head chef Reuben Riffel is a judge on Masterchef South Africa. Perfect for a celebratory treat, the restaurant has endless ocean views and forms part of Abalone House & Spa (so no need to worry about how you’ll get home after that sumptuous dinner).

    Reuben at Abalone House & SpaWhen to go

    November-April is South Africa’s peak season; February is the best month as temperatures are constant (very hot!) and there’s little wind compared with other times. September’s wildflower season is also popular, and the weather is generally sunny but cool.

    Western CapeOur top tips

    Wine aficionados need not worry; there are some excellent vineyards in these parts. One stand out is Groote Post, a historic 18th-century wine farm and restaurant (Hilda’s Kitchen), where excellent twists on Cape classics are served in the tree-shaded grounds.

    Western CapeReady to take your own Western Cape road trip? Plan your getaway with our full Cape Town and West Coast collections.

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

Escape of the Week… PiazzadiSpagna 9

  • This piccolo avant-garde hotel is a wonderful base for soaking up Rome’s history, art and style, but there’s nothing ornately baroque or grandly ancient here. Instead, PiazzadiSpagna9’s modern décor and muted colours form the perfect contrast to Italy’s unapologetically flamboyant capital city.

    PiazzadiSpagna 9

    An ever-changing collection of installations, sculptures and artworks adorns the high-ceilinged, 15th-century rooms, while tall windows frame views of Rome’s most famous square. All this and just a short shuffle from the Spanish Steps – la dolce vita indeed.

    PiazzadiSpagna 9

    Rooms: The 6 rooms are romantic hideaways high above the noise of the square. They all share a soft palette of white, browns and greys, and show off unique artwork carefully selected by the interior-designer owner. Queensize beds (no twins) are covered in Society blankets, while curtains and cushions are made from linens by high-end Italian fashion houses. The overall effect is cool minimalism warmed by quirky details. Indulgent bathrooms feature huge glass-walled rainfall showers and are stocked with fluffy robes, slippers and lovely L’Occitane toiletries.

    PiazzadiSpagna 9

    Food: Breakfast is enjoyed in the light-filled lounge overlooking the Piazza di Spagna. The Continental buffet is a cut above most Italian hotel breakfasts: yummy flaky pastries, cakes and biscotti in pretty glass jars, along with a selection of breads, fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurts, salami, cheeses and juices. In the evenings, aperitivi are served in the lounge along with delicious stuzzichini (Italian finger food). It’s a heavenly way to spend an hour as you relax above the bustling city below, and staff can advise on restaurants for dinner.

    PiazzadiSpagna 9

    Top tip: Get up early and visit one of Rome’s many food markets – one of the best ways to get under the skin of the city and try its freshest seasonal produce.

    PiazzadiSpagna 9

    i-escape guest review:  “I thought the i-escape review was completely accurate. Very friendly and helpful staff. Can’t beat the convenience of the location. But despite being in the heart of the action, the hotel itself is amazingly tranquil. I like hotels with bars and an exercise room, but you don’t really need any of that with the Spanish Steps at your door. Nice waterfall shower to come back to after hot summer days.”
    Dennis, United States (05.08.15)

    i-escape gift:  a welcome aperitivo and stuzzichini

    Read the full review and book  >>

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

Just back from… Iceland

  • For their 10th wedding anniversary, our Kids Collection Editor Nadine and her husband Colman were keen to escape without the kids for once. And to a destination neither had visited before. Somewhere dramatic, elemental and wild, yet easily accessible from the UK.

    So Iceland it was. A young country – both in terms of geography and human settlement – whose position astride the North Atlantic Ridge brings fire, and whose latitude just beneath the Arctic Circle brings ice.

    We descended through steel clouds to land at Keflavik, Reykjavik’s international airport, which is a 45-minute drive through a barren, rocky landscape from the city. Snow-capped mountains loomed in the distance, and the skies were huge (in part due to the lack of vegetation; only 23% of the country has trees following extensive deforestation since humans arrived in 874AD).

    Our first lodgings, Reykjavik Boutique Apartments, sit in a quiet residential area of the city’s historic centre. Engaging owners Gunnar and Hallabara, a photographer and interior designer, jumped at the chance to acquire this century-old property, converting it into 3 stylish apartments plus a 2-bedroom cottage to the rear. They and their daughters live in the largest apartment and welcome visitors from all over the world to the others. Their Nordic-noir colour palette beautifully offsets contemporary design and vintage finds; we found tableaux worthy of a photoshoot at every angle.

    Reykjavik Boutique Apartments
    For our first romantic meal, we took a 5-minute stroll to the sleekly minimalist 101 Hotel, which overlooks Reykjavik harbour. Considered Iceland’s best boutique hotel, it features striking local art, a roaring fireplace, and chairs made from horse hide. We dined on cod skin and beetroot crisps, the freshest of fish, a smorgasbord of salmon, and langoustine soup.

    Reykjavik Boutique Apartments
    After a blissful night’s sleep on crisp linen (the black-out blinds were very much required given the summer Arctic light), we explored the city. We took in the harbour, the Harpa concert hall, Tjornin lake (which teems with birds) and the main shopping streets. We also visited the striking Hallsgrimskirka cathedral; its airy, expressionist interior is attractive, but folk flock here to ascend the tower and gaze at the panoramic views across Reykjavik, Faxaflói Bay and the imposing mountains beyond.

    Our next stop was the spectacular ‘Whale Fjord’ (Hvalfjordur) and Hotel Glymur, an hour from the city and a world away. This quirky hotel, a former school, has a restaurant with picture windows; below are 6 corrugated-roofed ‘villas’ for couples or families.

    We lost no time in hopping into the hot tub, luxuriating in the long vista along the fjord to the snow-covered hills opposite. We also ate in abundance (the breakfast buffet is something to behold), strolled through wiry purple heather, spotted ptarmigan, snipe and Arctic fox, and rested.

    The next morning, in steady rain, we headed south-east across rugged open country to the famous Golden Circle, which takes in Iceland’s most iconic sights in one hit.

    Thingvellir National Park is both a geological wonder (a widening rift valley beside Iceland’s largest lake) and a historical site (the world’s first parliament convened here in 930AD).

    From here, it was a half-hour drive to Haukadalur, where colourful hot springs, sulphur-smelling fumaroles, bubbling mud pots and geysers are found. Eponymous Geysir itself rarely erupts now, so smartphones are trained on the far more reliable Strokkur (every 5-10 minutes) instead.

    Dodging the now incessant rain, we piled back into the car to reach mighty Gullfoss waterfall. It certainly didn’t disappoint, although by now the damp was permeating every pore, including the camera.

    From Gullfoss, we made our way to Hotel Ranga in the south of the country, to be welcomed with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries in our Deluxe Room.

    Hotel Ranga
    This riverside lodge is renowned for its food and the range of exciting activities available, from Icelandic pony-trekking to helicopter tours over live volcanoes. Somewhat less adventurously, we visited a local folk museum, walked on black-sand beaches, marvelled at the power of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (yes, that one), and went glacier hiking.



    Glaciers are distinctively sooty in Iceland, as the ice gouges out volcanic rock. I asked the guide if he’d seen Interstellar; “Yes,” he smiled, “it was filmed here”. Equipped with ice picks and crampons, we abseiled a short way to explore an ice cave, and admired the desolate landscape as we meandered across the shrinking ice cap.


    That night we dined on smoked puffin, Arctic char with fennel, salmon with a watercress sauce, berries and birch schnapps. And when we finished with a nightcap in the hot tub at 11pm, it was still light.

    Hotel Ranga

    Our final 24 hours was spent back in Reykjavik, and the sun shone all day! The city, harbour and bay simply glowed.

    We stayed downtown in adorable turn-of-the-century Architect’s Cottage, which has 2 bedrooms, original wood-panelled walls, and charming woollen throws on super-comfy beds.
    Architect's Cottage
    We took a puffin-spotting boat trip into the bay, and sighted one swimming by the harbour entrance. The views back to the city were superb.

    On the way to the airport to fly home, we decided to end our trip by enjoying the Blue Lagoon – a huge set of hot springs with naturally heated water. Did we miss the kids? Now what do you reckon…?


    Check out the rest of our Iceland collection >>

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

Top 5 solo escapes

  • Proving that stylish holidays are not just for couples, our new ‘So Good for Solos’ collection includes options to suit all tastes and budgets, from a Moroccan mountain guesthouse to a bohemian getaway in Sri Lanka. 

    Laid-back vibe and communal dining

    i-escape: Douar Samra, Morocco

    Douar Samra, Morocco

    This vibrant guesthouse sits in one of the highest villages in the Atlas Mountains, with a sociable atmosphere and a warm, welcoming owner who instantly puts solo guests at ease. Staff can arrange group trekking and horse riding around this majestic corner of Morocco, and evenings are spent swapping stories over communal meals. There’s a roof terrace with stupendous views, and the excellent-value rooms are filled with splashes of colour.

    From £67 per room per night, based on one person staying in a Main House Double Room on a half-board basis.

    Mexican flair and tasty tapas in south London

    i-escape: The Church Street Hotel, London

    The Church Street Hotel, Camberwell

    This colourful south-London bolthole has a funky, friendly vibe and great-value single rooms with a Mexican theme. Hop on the train and head out to explore Brixton and the South Bank, then return for fantastic tapas and inventive cocktails. It’s quirky and fun, and perfect for young (or young at heart) independent types who want to dig deeper than the main tourist sights.

    From £70 per room per night, based on one person staying in a single room with a shared bathroom (private ensuites also available) on an accommodation-only basis.

    Relaxing retreat in Périgord

    i-escape: Pilates en France

    Pilates en France, southwest France

    Top-notch Pilates tuition is the main draw of this beautiful Périgord hideaway, which has one of the most relaxing course-abroad set-ups around. Guests are encouraged to treat the house as they would their own home, and can help themselves to an aperitif or chat to friendly owner Melanie as she prepares their wholesome supper. Twice-daily classes are held in small groups, and there are treatments and a pool to help you unwind. What’s more, single-occupancy prices (with all tuition, food and drinks included) make it great value for those travelling on their own.

    From £215 per room per night on an all-inclusive basis (single occupancy).

    Designer style and foodie delights

    i-escape: Hotel Omm, Barcelona

    Hotel Omm, Barcelona

    Locals congregate at the bar of this super-cool hotel in the Eixample district of central Barcelona, giving the place a great buzz.  The roof terrace makes the perfect spot for tapas and people-watching accompanied by views of Gaudí’s famous La Pedrera, and you can dine like royalty in the Michelin-starred restaurant, Moo (a sleek city haunt rather than a romantic eatery). Rooms are bathed in natural light, while bathrooms have luxuriously deep tubs and special touches like jars of bath salts. A wonderful place to really spoil yourself.

    From £151 per room per night, based on one person staying in an Omm King Room on an accommodation-only basis.

    Bohemian bolthole near Galle’s best sights

    i-escape: Kikili House, Sri Lanka i-escape: Kikili House, Sri Lanka

    Kikili House, Sri Lanka

    The bohemian vibe of this 5-room guesthouse makes single travellers feel very much at home. Rooms are filled with thoughtful extras, including fluffy beach towels, printed bathrobes and fragrant Spa Ceylon toiletries, and colourful art infuses the whole place with warmth. The balmy terrace and fairylight-strung lawn are conducive to lazy drinks with other guests, and the legendary Wednesday sushi nights draw an eclectic local crowd. Delightful owners Henri and Koki will happily share local insider tips and arrange tours, and historic Galle Fort with its cafés and boutiques is only a 10-minute stroll away.

    From £64 per room per night, based on one person staying in a double room on a B&B basis.

    View the full ‘So Good for Solos’ collection >>

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

Escape of the Week… The Grosvenor Arms

  • A fun take on the country getaway, this coaching inn in the centre of medieval Shaftesbury has been reinvented as a cool hotel with 16 stylish rooms and a buzzy restaurant complete with an authentic pizza oven.

    i-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UK
    Shaftesbury is a pretty Dorset market town with plenty of boutiques, antique shops, delis and cafés, as well as the picturesque (and very steep!) Gold Hill, where the famous sepia-tinted 1970s Hovis advert was shot.

    i-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UKi-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UK

    Rooms: The rooms are instantly welcoming, with a palette of grey, green and stone accented with mustard or plum. The carpets are soft, the coffee machines fab, the sheets made of Italian cotton, and the Orla Kiely toiletries wonderfully fragrant. Standard rooms are the smallest but still a decent size; most have showers only in their bathrooms, while some Deluxe and Superior rooms have tubs. For a special treat book into The Cranborne Suite, which has a bedroom-cum-sitting room, a working fireplace, and views down to the courtyard through the big bay window. Its bathroom is huge, with plenty of space for the freestanding tub, twin basins and decadent double shower.

    i-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UK

    Food: There’s a convivial bar serving a selection of pre- and post-dinner drinks: local ales, a growing whiskey collection, great cocktails. Talking of dinner, across the cobbled courtyard is the relaxed restaurant, with an authentic pizza oven at its centre. The menu is excellent, covering everything from pizzas, pastas and salads to substantial fish and meat mains (think sea bass fillet with white bean purée and bouillabaisse sauce). The desserts are delicious, too: we enjoyed a decadent chocolate and caramel mousse with milk ice cream to round off our meal. Breakfast is a tempting spread of continental treats alongside cooked favourites: the Full English, smoked salmon and eggs, grilled kippers from the local smoker. There are some excellent gastro pubs within a short drive if you fancy a change of scene; we recommend The Beckford Arms at Fonthill in south Wiltshire (16km), and The King John Inn at Tollard Royal (11km).

    i-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UKi-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UK

    Author’s tip: Pythouse Kitchen Garden in Tisbury is a beautiful spot to while away a warm afternoon. The pretty potting shed turned café serves tasty dishes with produce from the garden, where there’s also plenty of seating and space for children to play.

    Dogs are welcome on request and will be spoilt with their own dog-food menu!

    i-escape: The Grosvenor Arms, UK

    Press review: “Perfectly located for exploring the countryside and coastline of Dorset, this hotel in Shaftesbury is a seamless blend of old and new.”
    Grazia, December 2013


    i-escape gift: in-room chocolate brownies on arrival

    Read the full review and book The Grosvenor Arms >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,

Top 10 holidays for babies

  • In the final instalment of our series looking at hideaways that cater for a particular age group, Kids Collection Editor Nadine selects 10 of the best for babies – and shares some tips for travelling with the newest family member.

    Babies can be easy to travel with: portable, light, generally immobile, and asleep for good chunks of the day. You can also venture forth outside school holidays, and wherever you go you’ll attract legions of helpful admirers. Conversely, babies need constant feeding and require lots of equipment, even for the simplest of outings. What’s more, parents often worry about crying disturbing others, especially on long flights. Luckily, there are plenty of baby-friendly bases to make your first family holiday as hassle-free as possible…

    Val de Grace Apartment, Latin Quarter, Paris

    i-escape: Val de Grace, Paris

    One strategy to minimise stress is to take the train, so you can feed and change when suits. Scheduling journeys and arrival times is often much easier, too, and you’re free to walk up and down the carriage to soothe your little one when nap time nears.

    The City of Light is easily reached by Eurostar, and via connections from all over Europe; perfect for a first outing with baby, and romantic too. This beautiful one-bedroom bolthole is a short taxi drive (or an easy RER ride) from the Gare du Nord, and well-placed for most sights. The kitchen is stocked with basic provisions, and groceries can be pre-ordered. The helpful owner can baby-proof the interiors and will provide an information booklet listing local markets and restaurants.

    i-escape: Val de Grace, Paris

    Made in Louise, Ixelles, Brussels

    i-escape: Made in Louise

    Equally well connected by rail and Eurostar yet more compact than its Gallic neighbour, the Belgian capital is ideal for relaxed sightseeing. For a tranquil stay, head to this supremely well-run boutique hotel in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Its Charming and Executive Rooms work well for families, and the extensive breakfast buffet will set you up for the day. Staff can arrange babysitting, and there are plenty of restaurants nearby for evening meals.

    i-escape: Made in Louise

    The Chester Residence, West End, Edinburgh

    i-escape: The Chester Residence

    Another tactic is to holiday within your country of origin, avoiding borders and their queues. Renowned for its art, architecture and history, Edinburgh is the UK’s 2nd most popular tourist destination and is also easily reached by rail (including the Caledonian sleeper train from London) if you’d prefer not to fly. This swish apart-hotel is a great family-friendly option: excellent kitchens, a 24-hour concierge service, high-quality beds for a blissful night’s sleep, and well-placed for exploring.

    i-escape: The Chester Residence

    Polurrian Bay Hotel, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

    i-escape: Polurrion Bay, Cornwall

    For flexibility, easy access to sights and scenery, and the ability to bring oodles of gear if desired, a destination you can drive to works well. We rate this coastal haven for its spectacular clifftop setting, indoor pool, Med-Cornish restaurant (there’s a free baby listening service), and excellent family rooms and facilities. There’s also a pampering spa that’s perfect for post-baby recovery. Best of all is the terrific crèche: 2 hours a day is included in the rates for kiddies aged 3 months and upwards.

    i-escape: Polurrion Bay, Cornwall

    Portixol, Palma, Mallorca

    i-escape: Portixol, Mallorca

    If the brief is guaranteed sunshine and a relaxing break away, seek a short flight time. Head to Mallorca (just over 2 hours from the UK) and chill out at this popular Scandi-chic harbourside hotel, a mere 15 minutes from the airport. Baby monitors work between the bedrooms and the excellent restaurant, and there’s a pool and spa. Bikes are available to borrow, and the long promenade is ideal for pushing a stroller.

    i-escape: Portixol, Mallorca

    Hotel Martinhal, Sagres, Portugal

    i-escape: Hotel Martinhal, Portugal

    Exhaustion is the most cited downside of having a baby. So staying at a designer resort, where everything is provided, will allow real relaxation and rejuvenation. Here, on the lower Algarve, you get an endless beach, a decadent spa, a choice of restaurants and bars, a host of watersports, no fewer than 4 pools and, most pleasingly, a baby concierge who can pre-book equipment. There’s also a fully-staffed crèche for young’uns from 6 months upwards.

    i-escape: Hotel Martinhal, Portugal

    Villa Guatiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    i-escape: Villa Guatiza

    A 3-generational holiday may take some adjustment, but grandparents can be a real asset when there’s a new baby: an extra pair of hands to help cook, plus built-in babysitters so new parents get a night out à deux. The Canaries are blessed with year-round sunshine and are easy to navigate. This 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom villa is only 25 minutes from the airport, with a lovely pool, lush gardens, a sauna, bicycles, surfboards and even a gym.

    i-escape: Villa GuatizaMonteverdi, Tuscany, Italy

    i-escape: Monteverdi, Italy

    A new baby doesn’t always mean first child. For those with older bambini as well as an infant, an Italian country retreat will be heaven. And this one has it all: a romantic setting, a foodie restaurant championing local produce (with pasta for kids), wonderful terraced gardens, a cool infinity pool with toys and floats, a spa, and bicycles and helmets to borrow (with training wheels on request). As well as hotel rooms, there are 3 self-catering villas for any size of family party.

    i-escape: Monteverdi, Italy

    Manoir du Moulin, Loire Valley, France

    i-escape: Manoir du Moulin

    The baby bubble can be a blissful time for new parents, so how lovely to hole up off-season in a romantic rural manor house? Your Canadian hosts have provided everything you need: spacious and spoiling suites with sumptuous super-kingsize beds and deep bathtubs for two, heavenly gardens, contemporary styling, homemade gourmet breakfasts, and cookery classes on request. Shops and 3 restaurants are a stroll away.

    i-escape: Manoir du Moulin

    Tankardstown, Co Meath, Ireland

    i-escape: Tankardstown, Ireland

    Consider this gracious Georgian country house for its short drive time from the airport, the flexibility of self-catering plus a restaurant and bar on site, and its choice of elegant rooms or stylish 1-2-bed cottages (so there’s space for other children and/or grandparents). Ireland is a super family-friendly destination (if you can forgive the weather), and there are 80 acres of parkland to romp around, plus horse riding, hot tubs and treatment rooms.

    i-escape: Tankardstown, Ireland

    Find out where else is great for babies >>

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

Easy Escapes for September

  • Quick, there’s still time to catch some late-summer sun! Choose from a rural idyll in Andalucia or a cool oasis of calm in central Marrakech, or throw caution to the wind and hop on a direct flight to the paradise island of St Lucia – irresistible!

    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.

    Finca Naranja, Andalucia – £392.11 per person (4 nights, 13-17 September)

    Some of Andalucia’s best scenery sits in the Malaga province; simply head inland to find charming white-washed villages and ruined Moorish castles nestling against a backdrop of dark, olive- or pine-clad mountains.

    108328_mediumStay: at bucolic Finca Naranja, where you can lounge by the pool amid 6 hectares of olive trees and fruit orchards. With the current 25% discount, a 4-night stay in the Deluxe Suite comes to just £201 per person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Malaga with Ryanair for £191 per person, departing Sunday 13 September and returning Thursday 17 September.

    From the airport: Car hire through Rhino starts from just £10.22.

    Total cost: £392.11 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Andalucia and other accommodation options

    Villa des Orangers, Marrakech – £682 per person (5 nights, 9-14 September)

    September is a great time to visit Marrakech: the scorching summer temperatures are starting to fall but hotel prices are yet to rise for the autumn high season, meaning even the most reluctant souk haggler can bag a bargain.

    Stay: at Villa des Orangers, whose shimmering swimming pool and restorative spa offer a refreshing respite from the buzzing city streets. Their impressive 30% summer discount makes a 5-night stay in a spacious (and air-conditioned) Deluxe Room just £469 person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Marrakech with Ryanair for £213 per person, departing Wednesday 9 September and returning Monday 14 September.

    From the airport: Rates include a transfer from Marrakech Menara airport in an air-conditioned vehicle.

    Total cost: £682 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Marrakech and other accommodation options

    Ti Kaye, St Lucia – £1,092.50 per person (7 nights, 14-21 September)

    108953_mediumFamed for its lush scenery, golden sands and spectacular mountains, St Lucia is a haven for beach bums and adrenaline junkies alike. Whatever your holiday style, you’ll find a relaxed, informal welcome to wash away the weariness of life back home.

    108969_mediumStay: at the secluded Ti Kaye resort, where the atmosphere is refreshingly personal (Ti Kaye means ‘little house’ in Creole) and the ocean views are unrivalled. Book the special ‘10% discount (3+ nights)’ rate and get a 7-night stay in an Ocean View King Room for £533.50 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Gatwick to St Lucia Hewanorra with British Airways for £509 per person, departing Monday 14 September and returning Monday 21 September.

    From the airport: Ti Kaye offers return transfers for approximately £100 (request when booking).

    Total cost: £1,092.50 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to St Lucia and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through 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 26 August 2015.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , ,

Escape of the Week… Gran Hotel Son Net

  • There’s a reason this stylishly restored 17th-century mansion is often referred to as Mallorca’s best hotel. Set on a hill in the stunning Sierra Tramuntana, it’s an ode to both traditionalism and originality, with a superlative restaurant in the centuries-old olive mill, plus wall-fuls of Chagalls and Hockneys.
     Gran Hotel Son Net

    You can expect luxury throughout: an infinity pool lined with cabanas, a beauty centre offering massages, and orchards and rose gardens to wander around. It’s a secluded, fairytale-like getaway with beaches, boutiques, cafés and galleries all within striking distance.
     Gran Hotel Son Net

    Rooms: All 31 rooms are decorated with exquisite taste and grand style. Imagine huge shuttered windows, original blue-and-white frescoes and four-poster beds, along with underfloor heating, powerful showers and L’Occitane toiletries to ensure interiors feel as decadent as they look. The main difference between rooms is size and, if you can, we’d suggest plumping for one of the jaw-dropping Grand Suites. They occupy the best locations in the finca and have private terraces or huge living rooms with superb views over the countryside.

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    Food: The wonderful restaurant, Oleum, offers a blend of Mediterranean and Mallorcan food; expect the likes of lamb loin with mashed potatoes, glazed pumpkin and a liquorice and tarragon jus, or suckling pig with lemon-scented vegetables. If that sounds too formal, you can always plump for the outdoor restaurant, El Gazebo, which opens during the summer months for freshly grilled fish and seafood lunches with stunning views of the Puigpunyent valley. We most enjoyed breakfast, though: a beautifully presented spread of fruit, local hams and cheeses, with a chef on hand to conjure up cooked dishes should you wish.

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    Top tip: Son Net’s professional guide is available for personalised excursions to Palma, Valldemossa and other lesser-known gems, including the unique art collection at the home of Yannick and Ben Jacober.

    i-escape guest review:  Usually an over-used phrase, but we genuinely were ‘treated like royalty’. A quiet grandeur that I haven’t seen replicated ANYWHERE. Chambermaids were so lovely and the waiting staff were just brilliant. We ate on the terrace each evening as the weather was wonderful, and we both felt we had the place to ourselves. Don’t ever change Son Net – you’ve got it right and we will definitely return!”
    Sandra, United Kingdom (23.10.14)

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    i-escape gift:  a bottle of Cava and a bowl of fresh fruit, plus a room upgrade if available on arrival

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,