NOV05

Spotlight on… Madhya Pradesh

 
  • Having recently expanded our collection to include central India’s Madhya Pradesh region, we think it’s time to travel off the beaten track in search of ancient cities, jaw-dropping temples and that ever-elusive striped feline.

    Satpura National Park

    Satpura National Park

    Why go?

    As the unassuming neighbour of high-profile Rajasthan, what Madhya Pradesh lacks in fame it makes up for in authenticity. Adventurous travellers will be richly rewarded for traversing to this remote region, home to some of India’s finest wildlife parks and most romantic historical sites.

    Life on the ghats

    Life on the ghats

    Highlights

    With its reserves providing some of the best opportunities for tiger spotting in the county, wildlife viewing is a major draw for visitors to Madhya Pradesh. Here you could conceivably hit 4 national parks in a row (Bandhavgarh, Satpura, Kanha and Pench), although we’d recommend focusing your energy on 1 or 2 and leaving some time to unwind, too.

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Setting the bar for luxury wilderness tourism in India is Samode Safari Lodge in Bandhavgarh National Park. While animal sightings can never be guaranteed, the lodge’s charismatic naturalists do their very best to help you discover the park, leading fascinating twice-daily safaris in specially designed jeeps. With a bit of luck you could spot tigers, sloth bears, leopards, panthers, wolves, hyenas and gaurs, as well as colourful birds, lizards and butterflies. Back at the lodge, romantics will revel in the outdoor bathtubs, private lantern-lit meals and ample star-gazing opportunities.

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Further west is Satpura National Park, and within it Forsyth Lodge – a paradise for eco enthusiasts and nature lovers. There are so few tourists here that you might have the whole park to yourselves – well, besides the deer, sambars, gaurs, nilgais, boars, crocodiles, monkeys, leopards, sloth bears and tigers, that is. Guests can choose the method of transport for their daily safaris: perch atop an elephant for a trample through the jungle, paddle in a canoe along the Denwa river, or even walk through the tiger reserve on foot – a rare experience in India.

    Forsyth Lodge

    Forsyth Lodge

    Kids are well-catered for, too: Forsyth’s 3-day ‘Junior Rangers Programme’ teaches animal tracking, use of binoculars and telescopes, species identification and a little nature photography. The course completed, they receive a Junior Rangers certificate.

    Forsyth Lodge

    Forsyth Lodge

    Beyond the nature reserves, you can combine sightseeing and relaxation at Ahilya Fort, an enchanting 18th-century palace hotel perched above the sacred Narmada river. This bewitching property is on the edge of the friendly little town of Maheshwar and is owned by the welcoming, well-travelled and rather eccentric Prince Richard Holkar, whose ancestor Queen Ahilya built the fort more than 250 years ago.

    Ahilya Fort

    Ahilya Fort

    It’s set above the riverside ghats (steps), where streams of pilgrims come to worship, and guests can watch local life unfold on the banks and enjoy floating sunset dinners on traditional hand-paddled wooden boats. Head across the river to the pretty village of Naoda Todi and its Shaliwan Temple, or take a daytrip to the abandoned city of Mandu, which encompasses palaces, pavilions, mosques and tombs. You can wander around at your leisure, imagining what it must have been like back in the 15th century, when it housed the sultan’s harem of 15,000 women.

    Mandu

    Mandu

    When to go

    The best time to visit is from November to February, when days are sunny and nights chilly, though visitors also enjoy October, March and even April. Most of central India gets uncomfortably hot during the summer months.

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Samode Safari Lodge

    Our top tip

    If you’re combining a trip to Madhya Pradesh with a visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal, don’t miss the massive, magnificent Gwalior Fort en route between the two. Filled with temples and palaces and embellished with colourful tile work, this may be India’s finest example of Rajput architecture.

    Gwalior Fort

    Gwalior Fort

    See our destination guide for more information on Madhya Pradesh.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , ,
NOV03

Escape of the Week… Bloom & Settimo Cielo

 
  • At this time of year, Venice offers its most magical and romantic side; crisp, clear days and relatively quiet walkways highlight the city’s beauty, and provide the perfect excuse to cuddle up to your loved one. However, you’ll definitely need a cossetting bolthole to warm up in afterwards – luckily, these 2 B&Bs, sharing a restored Venetian house in the central San Marco district, are exactly that.

    Bloom & Settimo Cielo

    The interiors are just as opulent as the surrounding city and you’re ideally located for Venice’s most famous sights – just a short walk from the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square. There’s also a sprawling roof terrace, where you can spend dusky evenings watching the city light up over complimentary Prosecco!

    Bloom & Settimo Cielo

    Rooms: The rooms are lavish with unapologetically dramatic and colourful designs quintessential to Venice. Many of them feature stunning jewel-bright colours, from purples to deep pinks. All are rich and traditional in style, with heavy curtains and thick brocade fabrics plus antique furniture, flocked wallpaper and gilded mirrors complementing the original beamed ceilings, brick walls and wood floors. Some in Settimo Cielo have full-length French windows, and all come with contemporary bathrooms.

    There are 3 types of room: Double Charme, Double Superior and Triple Superior. The Superior rooms are larger than the Charmes, but they don’t benefit from bathtubs (though they do have large walk-in showers). The largest rooms are the Triple Superiors which have space for 3 single beds, or 1 kingsize bed and 1 single, making them perfect for small families.

    Bloom & Settimo Cielo

    Food: Food in the B&Bs is limited to a continental buffet breakfast of fresh fruit, sweet pastries, hams, cheeses and yoghurts as well as the usual cereals and beverages.  It’s a simple spread, but this reflects the Italians’ minimal approach to morning sustenance.

    Thanks to the B&B being located on the edge of Campo Santo Stefano – a large and quiet square – you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch and dinner. You’ll find a number of gastronomic gems ranging from top-price fish restaurants to bargain pizza eateries as well as the ubiquitous (and must-visit) gelaterias. Venice’s myriad eateries can be tricky to navigate, so if you’re unsure seek the staff’s advice on check-in to save ending up in one of the city’s less triumphant offerings.

    Bloom & Settimo Cielo

    Top Tip: Although it may seem as though a short visit should have a tightly packed itinerary, try to set aside some time to simply walk around. Exploring the winding lacework of canals, alleyways and little humpback bridges, stopping for warming espresso, is one of Venice’s greatest pleasures.

    Bloom & Settimo Cielo

    Customer review: “A very enjoyable stay, great quality of accommodation and customer service. Particularly helpful staff at the reception. Loved the roof terrace and views. We would definitely stay here again on a return trip to Venice.”
    Rhiannon, United Kingdom (19.10.14)

    i-escape gift: a bottle of wine in your room on arrival

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
OCT31

i-escape’s Halloween canine competition

 
OCT29

Easy Escapes for November

 
  • The nights are drawing in, the trees are bare and the shops are already stocked up for Christmas. But don’t despair, we’ve found 3 gorgeous getaways to distract and delight, so hurrah for autumn; it doesn’t look so bad after all.

    We’ve scoured the globe for great prices, so 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…

    Somerset Staycation – £85 per person (2 nights, 4-6 November)

    Stourhead

    Stourhead

    Somerset was made for autumn. Picturesque walks around Stourhead’s lake, lazy strolls through its numerous arboretums, and lengthy visits to Hauser and Wirth’s gallery, all make curling up with a large glass of red in front of a roaring fire that bit more satisfying.

    The White Hart Somerton

    The White Hart Somerton

    Stay: at The White Hart Somerton, a welcoming pub-with-rooms that’s perfect for cosying up in after a day’s exploring. The pretty rooms each have their own quirky charm, some feature claw-foot bathtubs, others retro wallpaper or perhaps an antique trunk, but all have super-comfortable beds to lay your head on. A Small room costs £85 per person for a 2-night stay.

    Travel: Somerton is a 2.5-hour drive from London and an easy 1-hour jump from Bristol.

    Total cost: £85 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    Lanzarote Living – £261.10 per person (4 nights, 19-23 November)

    Timanfaya National Park

    Timanfaya National Park

    If you’d rather a sunnier autumn break, head to the volcanic Canary Island of Lanzarote where November has an average of just 5 rainfall days! Replace chilly walks with sun-drenched island exploration; visit the Timanfaya National Park, a wilderness of haunting beauty where you can peer into craters and see solidified lava flows, before relaxing on one of the pretty white (or black) sand beaches.

    Caserio de Mozaga

    Caserio de Mozaga

    Stay: at family-run, 18th-century Caserio de Mozaga, located at the rural heart of the island. Its whitewashed exterior is decorated with hanging farm tools and wooden wheels, while inside rustic-chic is definitely the name of the game. Their 10% early booking discount (3-night minimum stay, book by 31st October 2014) means that a 4-night stay in a Double Room is just £146.10 per person (when booking the room only rate).

    Fly: from Birmingham to Lanzarote with Ryanair, and back with Monarch, for £95 per person, departing on Wednesday 19 November and returning on Sunday 23 November.

    From the airport: in order to best experience Lanzarote, we’d suggest you rent a car. Hire with Rhino starts from £20 per person.

    Total cost: £261.10 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Lanzarote and other accommodation options

    South African Sojourn – £1,670.75 per person (7 nights, 11-18 November)

    Cape Winelands

    Cape Winelands

    To really escape the autumnal weather, head to the Cape Winelands in South Africa. As you dip below the equator the seasons flip and you’ll find yourself in the midst of spring: the rolling vineyards will be lush, the dramatic mountain landscape covered in wildflowers and the weather warm.

    Babylonstoren

    Babylonstoren

    Stay: at Babylonstoren, a stunningly-elegant, converted farm, just a 45-minute drive from Cape Town. The 8-hectare grounds are full of herbs, mulberry bushes, citrus groves and giant pumpkins, and all are used to make mouth-wateringly good meals in the restaurant. But be sure to do more than eat; borrow the hotel’s bikes and cycle through the area’s vineyards or unwind in the spa. Their current offer of 4 nights for 3 makes a 7-night stay in a 1-bedroom Suite just £840.25 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Cape Town for £795 per person with Virgin Atlantic, departing on Monday 10 November (overnight flight arriving Tuesday 11 November) and returning on Tuesday 18 November (overnight flight arriving Wednesday 19 November).

    From the airport: we’d suggest you hire a car in order to fully make the most of your stay. Rental with Rhino starts from £35.50 per person.

    Total cost: £1,670.75 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Cape Winelands 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 29th October 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
OCT27

Escape of the Week… The Montpellier Chapter

 
  • We love a hotel that manages to be stylish, sleek and spoiling, while still being unpretentious and friendly. This elegant Georgian townhouse in the centre of charming spa town Cheltenham is exactly that: a welcoming bolthole of unobtrusive luxury. That’s not to say it’s not grand; by both classical and contemporary standards there has been a rigorous investment of finely tuned style and beauty.

    The Montpellier Chapter

    From the Eames chairs and Matthew Hilton sofas to the technological wizardry of the in-room iPods and iPad wine list, everything about The Montpellier Chapter resounds with 21st-century grandeur. It’s an ideal retreat for a romantic weekend or spa break with friends.

    The Montpellier Chapter

    Rooms: There are 61 rooms spread between the cosy and carpeted original Villa and the ultra-modern, almost Scandinavian extension, known as the Crescent. Despite the differences in design, all of the rooms are suitably slick and come with a range of decadent details: monsoon showers, bathrobes, Aromatherapy Associates toiletries, Nespresso coffee machines and complimentary minibars packed with beer, chocolate and soft drinks. We particularly enjoyed the impressive technology (flatscreen TVs, downloadable films and music, and iPod Touches loaded with useful information), once we got our heads around it.

    There are 5 different roomtypes available, ranging from the Regular Room to the outstanding Penthouse, which benefits from its own roof terrace and an abundance of space. We loved the Feature Rooms (the penultimate roomtype) for their open-plan bedrooms-cum-bathrooms and ultra-comfy super-kingsize beds. The Deluxe Rooms are also rather spacious and many have small balconies or bay windows.

    The Montpellier Chapter

    Food: In keeping with the rest of the hotel, the food in the bistro-style restaurant is beautifully executed, with minimal fuss or pretence. You can sit in the buzzy dining room, a quieter nook in the Garden Room, or a sunny spot in the courtyard (weather allowing) while your dinner of British and European classics (with locally sourced ingredients) is prepared in the open white-tiled kitchen. We plumped for pear and Roquefort salad and tuna Niçoise, followed by sea bass with fennel and citrus, and rump steak with béarnaise sauce – all simple, but done to perfection. If you don’t feel like having dinner at the hotel, Cheltenham has a number of eateries ranging from the ubiquitous chains to special independent options such as the illustrious and widely acclaimed Le Champignon Sauvage.

    Breakfast wasn’t quite as triumphant, but despite being a little on the small side, the cooked options (Eggs Benedict, Full English, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon) were very tasty. If this doesn’t quite fill you up you can also pile up your plate from the cold buffet.

    The Montpellier Chapter

    Top Tip: Combine a visit with a trip to the small spa; it’s a great place to unwind and guests get free use of the pool and tennis courts at nearby Cheltenham Ladies’ College

    The Montpellier Chapter

    Customer review: “Beautiful hotel just on the edge of the shopping area of Cheltenham, fantastic location. Feature Room was gorgeous and quiet, social areas were warm and friendly, open fire a treat!”

    Anthony, United Kingdom (03.01.14)

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,
OCT24

Top 10 Autumn Retreats

 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald insisted that, ‘life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,’ and we can’t think of a better excuse to retreat from the fray than a log-fired and woolly-jumpered period of rejuvenation.  To help you escape it all, we’ve picked 10 of our favourite autumnal getaways, perfect for dropping off-grid for a brief burst of hedonistic hibernation.

    The Gunton Arms, near Cromer, Norfolk

    The Gunton Arms

    If you want to see the leafy autumn chorus in all its glory, you’ll have to get rural. This Norfolk pub with rooms is not only suitably secluded, but it also sits beside a glorious 1,000-acre deer park. Inside, the rooms are everything you could want from a cossetting autumn stay: heritage coloured walls with battered leather armchairs, open fires and some impressive art adorning the walls (from Damien Hirst to Gilbert & George). The food is excellent, too – just the thing after a bracing country walk.

    La Vie de Cocagne, Bonnebosq, Normandy, France

    La Vie de Cocagne

    This self-catering gite is a chic and cosy pad for enjoying the slow life. Normandy is a perfect end of year destination for the gastronomically inclined, particularly as the apple harvest – which provides the raw ingredients for Normandy’s famous Calvados – is in full swing. You can also enjoy delicious local scallops, all from the comfort of this romantic barn conversion.

    Mhor 84 Motel, Trossachs National Park, Scotland

    Mhor 84 Motel

    It may be very different from the hideaway luxury of sister hotel Monachyle Mhor, but this roadside incarnation of the Mhor brand still has bags of eclectic charm and a warm welcome. The location couldn’t be better either; being in the heart of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park gives the motel excellent access to hiking, cycling and fishing. However, if all that sounds too demanding, you can always huddle round the woodburners in the bar sampling local whiskies or cask ales with the locals.

    Sint Niklaas B&B, Bruges, Belgium

    Sint Niklaas B&B

    If you don’t feel like heading to the countryside, cities have plenty of festive activities to help you make the most of the year’s turn. Bruges is no exception and if you get bored of boat tours and sampling chocolate, you can also take a trip to the sprawling Christmas markets (from mid-November). That’s if you feel like leaving your spacious room in this cosy 14th-century home-from-home with views of Bruges’ famous bell tower.

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova, near San Miniato, Tuscany, Italy

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    When it comes to autumn scenes, few top the wildness of boar- and deer-filled woodland in the Tuscan hills. Set over a 500-hectare organic estate, these converted farmhouses offer utter pastoral bliss for couples or families. Autumn is also the time to hunt for prized white truffles against the copper and toffee backdrop of the changing leaves. However, if you’re more inclined to curl up with a book and bottle of Chianti you can always take advantage of the large open fires and comfortable rooms instead.

    The Pig near Bath, Pensford, Somerset

    The Pig near Bath

    Near the beautiful historic city of Bath, this recent addition to The Pig collective is more in line with a silk purse than the aforementioned’s ear. The hotel and its spoiling, locally-sourced restaurant is surrounded by a 30-acre deer park and rolling hills, offering the perfect stomping ground for a crisp autumn walk. It’s the quintessential rural English getaway with wellies by the door and fires crackling in the lounges.

    Quinta do Vallado, near Peso da Régua, Douro Valley, Portugal

    Quinta do Vallado

    Northern Portugal is fantastic at any time of year, but as summer segways into autumn the vineyards and mountains of the Douro Valley really come into their own. The views from this striking hotel are fantastic, conveniently allowing you to soak up the area’s pastoral beauty without straying far from the threshold. However, we’d urge you to get out and borrow some bicycles, or take a tour of the fascinating architect-designed winery, too.

    Dovecote View, Bruton, Somerset

    Dovecote View

    This 17th-century hideaway is exactly what we like in a self-catering rural retreat: considered and cosy interior design, spoiling extras (Bramley toiletries, Prosecco in the fridge), and a delightful historical setting. With pizzeria restaurant At the Chapel just down the road, and the new Hauser & Wirth gallery nearby, this cottage has quickly jumped to the top of our must-revisit list. It’s ideal for 2 couples, so grab a bottle of wine and some friends and hunker down for a fireside game of scrabble.

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment, Prague, Czech Republic

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment

    Romantic, steeped in history and full of fantastic markets, Prague is another easy-reach city stay for an end of year jaunt. This boutique apartment is beautifully arranged with traditional furnishings (baroque mirrors, glass chandeliers) that reflect the authentic and utterly charming district it’s located in. We suggest getting lost in the ornate cobbled streets or becoming equally enrapt in a concert of classical music at one of the city’s many ornate churches or halls.

    La Petite Folie, Honfleur, Normandy, France

    La Petite Folie

    This stunning auberge (with B&B and self-catering options) comes into its own as a long weekend autumn retreat. This is owed to it being a manageable hop, skip and jump across the channel, but also thanks to the popular tourist town of Honfleur being considerably quieter during the shoulder seasons. The B&B itself is bright and beautifully designed with spacious, romantic rooms, and it’s within walking distance of various incredible Michelin-starred restaurants.

    Posted in Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
OCT22

Spotlight on… the Caribbean

 
  • The Caribbean: that dreamy collection of 7,000 islands and islets located in the dazzling azure sea somewhere between North and South America. With a tremendous array of golden sands, dramatic landscapes, distinctive cultures and water sports to choose from, not to mention fabulously diverse food, you’re sure to discover your perfect island pairing here.

    The Pitons, St. Lucia

    The Pitons, St. Lucia

    Why go?

    Flying overhead, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the specks below were just that. But you’d be wrong. The Caribbean is an assortment of dreamy tropical islands, long considered the ultimate honeymoon destination. But for everything they share, there’s much more that makes them individual. Here we focus on a handful of our favourite islands. The Turks and Caicos are perfect for those after absolute escapism and spoiling luxury, while Jamaica’s strong reggae culture permeates every detail of the island. We also love St. Lucia for its dramatic landscape, birdlife and hiking trails in the Pitons, and St. Kitts and Nevis, which is largely unspoilt by recent tourism and retains its tranquil charm.

    Negril Beach, Jamaica

    Negril Beach, Jamaica

    Highlights

    First up is one of the region’s most famous and popular islands, Jamaica. Located at the centre of the Caribbean Sea, it’s got an impressive selection of beaches (stand outs include Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego), an array of unique and delicious food (salt fish fritters, jerk chicken and rice and peas, to name a few), plus numerous vibrant towns and cities which embrace and celebrate the country’s turbulent history. In fact, we love it so much that we sent our Bookings Consultant Emily to explore for us; look out for her trip insights on the blog soon.

    Dunn Falls, Jamaica

    Dunn Falls, Jamaica

    Here, our places to stay are as diverse as the landscape – choose from a former recording studio, a clifftop bolthole or a mountainside retreat. For a home from home, opt for colourful (and staffed) Culloden Cove, a gorgeous villa hidden away on Jamaica’s southeast coast.

    Culloden Cove

    Culloden Cove

    For utter escapism, head to Turks and Caicos, a collection of 8 large islands (the Turks) and 40 smaller cays (the Caicos) which are mostly uninhabited. There’s not much to do other than laze on the beach, stroll along the unspoilt sands, and, occasionally, celebrity spot – Bruce Willis, Keith Richards and Donna Karen have all been seen enjoying the Caribbean sun here! In fact, the place they’ve been sighted is the exclusive Parrot Cay by COMO island resort – the place to stay in the archipelago.

    Manatees

    Manatees

    Set on its own 1000-acre island paradise, Parrot Cay offers minimalist design, exceptional (and healthy) Caribbean inspired dishes, and outstanding service. Head to the spoiling spa, where the most difficult decision you’ll have to make is which massage to pick – deep-tissue, Thai, Indian, Shiatsu? Or try something more exotic like the ‘Shirodhara’ treatment, where a stream of warm oil is poured onto your forehead.

    Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks and Caicos

    Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks and Caicos

    If you’d rather be more active, take to the water. The beautifully clear sea has placed Turks and Caicos in the world’s top 10 dive spots: divers and snorkelers have reported seeing shoals of colourful fish, turtles, seahorses, dolphins, manatees, rays, whale sharks and even humpback whales. There’s an excellent dive school on Providenciales whose instructors will collect you from the resort, guide dives and teach PADI courses. You can also go windsurfing, snorkelling, sea kayaking or island hopping.

    Scuba diving

    Scuba diving

    As you fly into St. Lucia, the thing that strikes you is the Pitons, iconic twin volcanic peaks that jut from the flat ocean. So it’s no surprise that the island is famous for its dramatic scenery – lush and exotic, with spectacular rolling hills, tropical rainforests, and acres of banana, coconut and spice plantations. Sure, you can find a gorgeous beach to laze on, but next to it will be amazing trekking opportunities. The Gros Piton is the easiest to climb and has its own welcome centre describing the local geography, while scaling the Petit Piton rewards you with better views. Discover multi-coloured birds in the Pigeon Island National Park (joined to the mainland by a bridge), take a dip in the sulphur springs, and go from café to café in the bustling capital, Soufriere, trying fresh fish curries, spicy soups and breadfruit.

    Soufriere, St. Lucia

    Soufriere, St. Lucia

    Stay in Anse Chastanet, one of the first hotels to be built on the island: you get beach, you get one of the best dive sites in the region, and you get perfect views of the Pitons, plus you’re still within walking distance of Soufriere. Alternatively, see our other stunning boutique offerings.

    Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia

    Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia

    Finally, we come to St. Kitts and Nevis: sleepy, laidback and largely unspoilt. The larger of the 2 islands, St. Kitts, has a strikingly varied terrain ranging from volcanic peaks covered with lush tropical forest and rolling sugar cane fields to the arid, southeast peninsula with its sandy coves. Smaller Nevis is mostly dominated by a forest-covered volcano, and its best beach is Pinney’s (on the west coast); a beautiful 4-mile stretch of golden sand lined with groves of coconut palms.

    Nevis

    Nevis

    Unique to the islands are the historic plantation houses, many of which have been elegantly restored to create some of the most atmospheric hotels in the Caribbean. Montpelier Plantation & Beach is set on the slopes of Mt. Nevis, 750ft above sea level in a 60-acre estate; it’s famed for hosting the wedding of Horatio Nelson to Fanny Nisbet in 1787! A little further north, a clutch of pretty ginger-bread cottages form Hermitage Plantation Inn; on offer are exceptional meals (accompanied by rum cocktails, of course) served on the candlelit veranda, plus hammocks for afternoon naps, and tropical gardens to wander in.

    Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis

    Montpelier Plantation & Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis

    When to go

    The best (and thus most expensive) time to visit the Caribbean is from December to April when it’s dry, hot by day and cool by night. April and May tend to be much stickier and can feature sudden torrential downpours, while June-October is the official hurricane season; there’s no cause for panic, however, as satellite forecasts give enough warning that precautions can be taken.

    Anse Cochon Beach, St. Lucia

    Anse Cochon Beach, St. Lucia

    Our top tip

    The Caribbean is such a diverse region that it’s hard to come up with a singular tip. The best we can do is to recommend you try the rum from Nevis, drink the coffee from the Jamaican Blue Mountains, and dine out whenever and wherever you can!

    View over the Blue Mountains, Jamaica

    View over the Blue Mountains, Jamaica

    See our destination guide for more information on the Caribbean.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
OCT20

Family Escape of the Month… Jaci’s Safari Lodges

 
  • To call Jaci’s Safari Lodges ‘family-friendly’ would be an understatement. Not only do the lodges have free babysitters and child-friendly menus, but they also have a number of activities with kids in mind. This includes their famous ‘bumbles’ game, perfect for little explorers.

    Jaci's Safari Lodges

    It’s amongst the most child-friendly lodges in South Africa and a fantastic place to give kiddies their first experience of safaris. That said, it’s not all about the kids – the outstanding views and abundant wildlife will appeal to all the family.

    Jaci's Safari Lodges

    Rooms: The 18 rooms are split between 2 Lodges: the Tree Lodge, which is made up of stilted treehouses, and the Safari Lodge made up of canvas and thatch rooms. The spoiling accommodation compromises a mixture of Twin Rooms (which can be made up as doubles) and King Rooms. There is also the option of the large and beautifully designed Safari or Nare Suites. These both have private pools as well as kitchenettes and large private outdoor  areas.

    A host of little details reflect owner Jaci’s desire to get everything ‘just right’: a welcoming bottle of bubbly, handmade soaps and other natural beauty products, bathrobes embroidered with the lodges’ snail logo, fabulous kudu-skin rugs, loads of brightly coloured silk cushions and bolsters, quirky lamps, wildlife magazines and birding checklists. We loved the planked floors and beautiful stick-lined walls and screens of the Tree Lodge, but both lodges are generous on space and share the same colourful, funky decoration and sweeping views of the river.

    Jaci's Safari Lodges

    Food: Unlike many other safari lodges, the food is a real highlight of any stay at Jaci’s – they even have a recipe book on offer! Importantly, children aren’t left out of the culinary proceedings: chefs will ask what your kids like and make sure to cater the menu for them. Dinners are also prepared at a kraal-fenced boma (enclosure), in a clearing by the river, or occasionally out in the reserve. These evenings are simply magical, with a central fire and oil lamps sending shadows flickering across the surrounding forest. Several different pooitjes bubble away on the braai and you’ll be treated to a pre-dinner snack of Jaci’s chilli and garlic dip, served with freshly baked phaphata bread.

    In comparison, lunches are kept light, as is the initial breakfast served at 6am before the morning game drive. The second breakfast, laid up for your return, is a little heartier. Jaci’s homemade muesli, served in a high glass with natural yoghurt and topped with honey, is a meal in itself, but you’ll probably be tempted to dip into the extensive cold buffet or choose any variant of a full cooked breakfast.

    Jaci's Safari Lodges

    Kids’ activities: Jaci’s is famous for its array of kids’ activities, including their bush ‘bumbles’ game, invented with kids in mind. The Lodges offer superb game watching for all ages and family game drives are available in the morning and evening (for those aged 5+). There are also 45-minute jungle drives for those aged 4 and under. At the lodges there are pools and wildlife hides.

    Jaci's Safari Lodges

    Baby equipment: Baby cots can be provided and child-minding is available on request during the morning and afternoon game drives and dinner.

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Kids. Tagged , , , , ,
OCT17

1,500 hotels: the i-escape team pick their favourites

 
  • First we took a trip down i-escape’s memory lane, then we heard from some i-escape fans as well as our directors. Now, last but not least, in celebration of reaching 1,500 hotels, we reveal the i-escape team’s favourite hideaways. After numerous intrepid trips and countless hotel visits (it’s a tough job) we’ve helped put together the bread and butter of the i-escape collection. These are the places that have stuck with us…

    header2

    SARAH BREAUX, Bookings Consultant

    Hotel De las Letras is bang in the centre of my second home, Madrid. I love it for the colourful, classy rooms, great location, and excellent food. The newly opened El Trapo restaurant is run by Paco Morales, trained under 3-starred Michelin chef Ferran Adrià, who dishes up surprising twists on Spanish cuisine. There is also an open-air rooftop bar that is perfect for relaxing after a long day out. If it’s cold or rainy you can chill out on the plush white sofas in the lounge or basement library. For an especially luxurious getaway, I recommend a Duplex Suite or Deluxe Terrace Room, all of which have private sun terraces and Jacuzzis.”

    MELISSA BURFITT, Acting Assistant Editor

    Douar Samra was the hotel that led me to discover i-escape. I was reading an article on budget travel when the summary of Ian Belcher’s journey to this Moroccan guesthouse caught my attention, “My Marrakech taxi spluttered for over an hour towards the mountains, before I switched to four mule hooves to clomp up the Tamartet valley, and finally two feet to clamber up a dry riverbed.” I followed the link to i-escape’s review and instantly realised I’d found the perfect resource for my travel tastes. A year later I joined the Editorial department, and this summer (3 years later), I finally made it to Douar Samra. Even after all that anticipation, it utterly exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to return.”

    Melissa at Douar Samra

    BEN FEETHAM, Rates Manager

    “Situated in one of my favourite parts of Cape Town, Tamboerskloof, An African Villa has views of Table Mountain, is surrounded by exceptional restaurants, bars and independent shops, and boasts great rooms and amazing breakfasts. The owners Jimmy and Louis couldn’t be more helpful and are on hand to recommend trips, restaurants and anything else you may need. To top it all off, the owners’ two dachshunds Monty and Taylor add an idiosyncratic quirkiness to the place. I will definitely be staying here again.”

    SARAH DE VERE-DRUMMOND, Marketing Manager

    “It’s got to be Fundu Lagoon, a cluster of Afro-chic beachside bungalows on Pemba Island, off the coast of Zanzibar.  It’s wonderfully remote, and we arrived via speedboat with the wind in our hair and huge grins on our faces that remained there until it was time to leave. There’s nowhere on earth I would rather be than perched on the end of that jetty as the sun sets over the turquoise waters of the Wambaa gulf.”

    Fundu Lagoon

    Fundu Lagoon

    DAISY GELL, Acting Head of Bookings

    Areias do Seixo, in Portugal, is the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed. The staff are wonderful, the food is fantastic and our room (Três Desejos) looked out across the gardens and the sand dunes that lead to the Atlantic. The icing on the cake has to be the multiple caipirinhas we drank – the best we’ve had anywhere.”

    EMILY MCDONNELL, Editorial Assistant

    “For me it’s probably Le Mas des Oules. It is a real retreat, with gorgeous grounds, an inviting pool, and Provence and Languedoc (two of my favourite French regions) right on the doorstep. A lot of thought had gone into each individual house and apartment and the one off antique pieces really made a difference to the personality of the place. I loved sitting on our terrace with a glass of wine produced 10-minutes away, listening to the relaxing sounds of the countryside.”

    Emily at Le Mas des Oules

    Emily at Le Mas des Oules

    EMILY PREECE, Bookings Consultant

    “I would pick Maison La Minervetta, in Sorrento, Italy. It’s undeniably romantic: the views are breath-taking; the rooms are stylish and spoiling; the breakfast is heavenly and the staff are fantastic.

    I have never been anywhere since that wowed me as much!”

    OLIVIA ALLEN, Assistant Rates Manager

    “I would have to say it’s Villa Guatiza, one of the first i-escape properties I was lucky enough to visit. The villa itself is full of personality and one-off pieces from all over the world, and the heated pool and sun terrace are the perfect place to relax and soak up the sun. The thing that stays with me most is the enthusiastic welcome from the owners, John and Stephy, who have poured their souls in to the place and can’t wait to share it with you.”

    Villa Guatiza

    Villa Guatiza

    LYNDON ASHMORE, Marketing Assistant

    “I can be a bit of a country bumpkin so there’s nothing I like more than retreating to some warm hearth in a quaint village surrounded by the unblemished rural landscape. Luckily, Heasley House – a restored Georgian house set in the delightful hamlet Heasley Mill – ticks all of those boxes and more. There was an almost sublime level of peacefulness cradled in this Exmoor valley, something only enhanced by Miles and Mandy, the welcoming hosts. A formidable bar-setter for spoiling rural retreats.”

    ABI DARE, Acting Editor

    Posada Puerto Bemberg has to be one of the most memorable places I’ve ever stayed. Hidden on a nature reserve on the banks of the Paraná River, which separates Argentina from Paraguay, it’s proof that you can experience remote environments such as rainforests without skimping on comfort, and that hotels can be both luxurious and environmentally responsible. We went on guided nature walks in search of monkeys and toucans, took thrilling rides in the hotel’s speedboat and got soaked on a daytrip to the mind-blowing Iguazú Falls, before returning for a dip in the pool, cocktails on the treetop deck and delicious fusion food in the candlelit restaurant. But best of all was waking from our heavenly bed each morning to find the jungle stirring all around us: parakeets squawking in the branches, hummingbirds hovering in the flowers, the sun burning through the dawn mist, and the scent of rich red earth hanging in the air. Magical.”

    Iguazú Falls near Posada Puerto Bemberg

    Iguazú Falls near Posada Puerto Bemberg

    BEN REED, Bookings Consultant

    I completely fell in love with the old medieval city of Fes – and in particular Dar Seffarine - embedded deep within this chaotic labyrinth of a city. My jaw dropped to the floor as I walked in from the plain dusty streets to reveal tall intricately carved columns and mosaic tiling all around. The real high point for me was the absolutely breath taking view of the medina from the rooftop. Situated at the bottom of a gently curving bowl, the city wraps itself around you. It was utterly mesmerising - all consuming, and pictures will never do it justice. Watching the city change colour as the sun sets with the call to prayer all around was something that will stay with me for a long time. The friendliest of staff, the amazing communal meals of lamb tagine & pomegranate salads…I love this place. Pure escapism of the surreal kind. It really is an exceptional find, and to top it all off – an absolute bargain.

    Take a look at what our fans and directors had to say about their favourite i-escape hotels, or take a trip down memory lane to the beginning of the collection.

    Posted in Celebrations, Our Favourite..., Our Trips.... Tagged , , , ,
OCT15

1,500 hotels: i-escape’s directors pick their favourites

 
  • In celebration of us reaching 1,500 hotels, we recently heard from some of our fans about why they love i-escape, but now it’s time to hear from the people who were here at the beginning. We asked our enviably well-travelled i-escape founders and directors all about their favourite trips and travel tips. Here’s what they had to say…

    Laila2LAILA RAM, Founding Director, Strategy and Finance

    Laila grew up living in Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, India, the UK and US, and has been travelling ever since. She teamed up with Nikki Tinto, one of her best friends and travelling companion on many far-flung trips, to create i-escape.com. Based initially on all the great places they had discovered during their travels, i-escape remains a collection of properties that Laila and Nikki love to visit when they get a chance to escape the office!

    The i-escape hotel that holds a special place in my heart is… Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech. One of the first hotels to join i-escape and the first one that I personally visited. Now, 14 years later, the place is still as stylish and relaxed as ever and it feels like the owners Meryanne and Gary are part of the i-escape family.

    My best i-escape experience was… The Mudhouse, Sri Lanka. Being married to a Sri Lankan, I obviously have a soft spot for the place, but spending Xmas at The Mudhouse, in the country’s ancient heartland, staying in simple open-sided mud huts was probably my most memorable hotel experience ever. Our days were spent swimming in the natural tanks and exploring the local countryside and wildlife. At night, with no electricity, the place became even more enchanting with oil lamps illuminating the pathways and the huts.

    The i-escape hotel I can’t keep away from is… Hotel Omm, Barcelona. I love Barcelona and keep going back to the city for more of its buzz. The rooftop lounge with its pool and views over Gaudi’s La Pedrera is probably the best place in town to watch the sun go down – they make a mean cocktail and their Michelin-starred Moo restaurant is not bad either!

    The destination that surprised me the most was… Iceland. An out-of-this-world experience, you literally feel like you are on another planet with the black volcanic landscape and strange rock formations. We loved the fact that within 30 minutes of landing in Reykjavik, we were relaxing in the Blue Lagoon – another surreal experience!

    The Mudhouse, Sri Lanka

    The Mudhouse, Sri Lanka

    NikkiNIKKI TINTO, Founding Director, Research and Content

    With her love of travel and adventure, a degree in Geography from Exeter University, and a natural thirst for discovering the special and unusual, Nikki has spent her time seeking out some of the world’s most unspoilt locations. She has travelled in over 40 countries, including most of South America where she enjoyed two years painting surreal murals in mountain villages, sampling the local cactus juice, and avoiding piranhas in the Amazon.

    Best ever i-escape hotel experience… Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives. This ultra-chic resort is impossibly beautiful: long wooden piers sweep over an azure ocean and lead to individual stilted boat rooms. There’s a great spa, too. Expensive, but so worth it.

    The i-escape hotel I can’t keep away from is… Kurland, South Africa. We’ve lost count the number of times we’ve returned. It manages the clever mix of being brilliant for children but also fabulously elegant and with loads to do nearby, from unspoilt beaches to wildlife adventures.

    The best hotel breakfast I’ve ever eaten was at… Babylonstoren, South Africa. Its vast organic kitchen garden produced a colour-coded breakfast feast – their dinners are rather special, too. Unforgettable.

    My ‘insider’s gem’ pick from our collection is… Sea Garden Cottages, Isles of Scilly, UK. Once you’ve been to these islands, you’ll keep coming back. Stylish cottages with every comfort, no cars, and white-sand beaches that look like the Caribbean, but amazingly you’re still in the UK!

    Babylonstoren, South Africa

    Babylonstoren, South Africa

    RMICHAEL CULLEN, Editor in Chief

    Michael has always been a keen linguist, writer and photographer, so to carve out the ultimate niche in travel writing – and then see it take off as a business – is like paying a cat to sunbathe. After joining i-escape at its genesis in 2001, he reviewed and sourced many of the places on this site. In 2011, Michael and his wife and son took a 3-month sabbatical to Thailand, Greece and Germany, and he regularly embarks on international hiking expeditions.

    The i-escape hotel that holds a special place in my heart is… Golden Buddha Beach Resort, Thailand. I had the most relaxing holiday of my life here, flip-flopping between the empty sandy beach, our gorgeous stilted house, the yoga pavilion – and the ‘clubhouse’ if we started to feel sociable (or hungry). With no roads, no mains electricity, and no other resorts or hotels on this remote island, days slip by in stress-free, natural rhythms.

    The i-escape hotel I can’t keep away from is… Elies Hotel, Greece. It combines 3 of my favourite things: mountains, sea and delicious food. It’s also very handy for combining friends and family, as the cottages are separate but you can eat together (and on my way through Athens I can collect my parents!). (Actually I could say the same for Azur Hotel in Turkey.)

    The i-escape hotel I tell all my friends about is… Casa Los Geranios, La Palma. It is a perfect winter sun escape – with great hiking, volcanoes and Atlantic views from the door – and ridiculously good value, too. But I make sure I book my February half-term dates first!

    The destination that surprised me the most was… Le Grotte della Civita, Italy. Huge cave rooms furnished with Philippe Starck bathtubs and lit with flickering church candles – a totally unexpected sight hidden in the cliff walls of the Puglian hilltown of Matera.

    Le Grotte della Civita, Italy

    Le Grotte della Civita, Italy

    NadineNADINE MELLOR, Kids Collection and New Hotels Editor

    Nadine believes that one should say yes to every invitation and possibility of adventure. This has taken her far and wide from Australia to Zimbabwe via Thailand, Vietnam, Rajasthan, Mexico, Turkey, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Myanmar, Western Europe, the British Isles and, most recently, 5+ years in wonderful San Francisco. Nadine is at the front for new hotels joining i-escape and also oversees i-escape’s pioneering Kids Collection – she has 2 little ones of her own and isn’t slowing down on the travel front! 

    My best i-escape experience was… Post Ranch Inn, California. An utterly awesome setting, a wonderfully relaxed ambiance, fabulous food and an incredible spa. I’ll never forget bathing in my hot tub on my deck overlooking the Pacific and watching whales passing below.

    The i-escape hotel I can’t keep away from is… Chambers Hotel, New York. It’s perfectly placed for the sights: just half a block from Fifth Avenue, a block from MoMA and 2 blocks from Central Park. It also has stylish, comfortable rooms and laid-back, funny reception staff. The perfect family base for a trip to the Big Apple.

    The best hotel breakfast I’ve ever eaten was at…  Masseria Prosperi, Puglia. Every morning that dining table groaned under the weight of the very best regional Italian delicacies you could wish for. Coffee was served to precise individual instruction, and then there were home-made cakes, artisan jams, local honey, freshly squeezed juice, regional cheeses…

     My ‘insider’s gem’ pick from our collection is… Chiminos Island Lodge, Guatemala. We were the only guests staying at this jungle hideaway; reached only by boat, it has an unexcavated Mayan archaeological site right beside it and the forest is so pristine that we saw wonderful birdlife and, incredibly, a 5-metre long snake that pushed right by our cabana.

    Post Ranch Inn, California

    Post Ranch Inn, California

    Join us on a trip down memory lane to the beginning of i-escape >>

    Or hear what our fans have to say about their favourite i-escape hotels >>

    Posted in Celebrations, Our Trips..., Travel Tips. Tagged , , , , ,