Top 10 eco retreats in nature reserves

  • For the full eco experience, we’ve picked our top eco retreats in nature reserves, from the Costa Rican jungle to the Queen of the Hebrides. These stunning getaways are where a careful and conscientious approach to the environment coincides with some of the world’s most beautiful and unspoilt scenery.

    Yacutinga Lodge, Misiones Forest, Argentina

    Yacutinga Lodge

    Within the wonderful chaos of Argentina’s subtropical Misiones Rainforest you’ll find this charismatic jungle lodge helping to make sense of it all. The resident biologists have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area’s wildlife and owner Charlie and his wife Micki do wonderful work supporting the local Guaraní community, whose fragile culture is disappearing. We suggest a boat trip down the lazily meandering river with the helpful and knowledgeable guides before returning to a firelit organic dinner under the jungles canopy

    La Gree des Landes, La Gacilly, France

    La Gree des Landes

    With its clean minimalist architecture and chic interiors, this French spa hotel may not be the most obvious eco-friendly retreat, but in reality its commitment to the environment is nothing short of astounding. Grass roofs, natural insulation, solar panels and non-toxic mineral-based paints are just the beginning. In the sleek and spoiling rooms you’ll also find natural water filtration and organic toiletries, plus there’s an on-site kitchen garden. All of this sat within a 25-acre nature reserve abuzz with wildlife, flower-filled meadows and wooded valleys. They’ve even joined forces with the United Nations Environmental Programme to plant a tree for every guest – local conscientiousness with global implications.

    Reserva do Ibitipoca, Minas Gerais, Brazil

    Reserva do Ibitipoca

    Few tourists know of the hidden 18th-century farmhouse at the heart of a 3,000 hectare private reserve in Minas Gerais. As a result, those who do make the journey off the beaten track, 3.5 hours north of Rio, are rewarded with an achingly beautiful wild environment, fabulous local fare, and a sublime hotel which treats guests like royalty. With a strong focus on the environment, wildlife and flora, this 14-room boutique hotel reuses and recycles as much as possible while also focusing on organic products. The hotel runs several community projects and was primarily set up as a social venture to provide a sustainable source of income for the community; 100% of the staff are local.

    EcoCamp, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile


    This carbon neutral collection of domed tents in Torres del Paine National Park has some of the best eco credentials we’ve encountered. The whole camp is designed to have minimal impact on the environment: power comes from renewable sources, the insulated domes are on walkways to reduce the impact of foot traffic on the ground, and all waste is recycled or composted. The domes themselves feel spoiling and spacious with wooden floors and sheepskin rugs, plus all of the furnishings and decorations were produced locally by artisans. However, it will always be the spectacular, rugged mountains and breath-taking landscape that draws your attention here.

    Milia Traditional Settlement, The White Mountains, Crete

    Milia Traditional Settlement

    Though not strictly a nature reserve, this collection of buildings in Crete’s stunning White Mountains has undergone a process of reinvention and preservation. These traditional Cretan shepherd’s homes were left abandoned for years until 2 eco-minded locals decided to breathe new life into them. They reintroduced livestock, cultivated organic produce on the land, piped in stream water and installed solar electric panels. The result is an utterly charming rural idyll hidden in the folds of the dramatic lunar-like landscape of the mountains; with no TVs or internet, it’s a true escape from the outside world.

    Huab Lodge, Damaraland, Namibia

    Huab Lodge

    Huab Lodge’s commitment to the environment and the wildlife of Nambia has been recognised with 3 flowers from the prestigious EcoAwards. Their conservation work is nothing short of admirable: owner Jan Van de Reep helped create the 8,000-hectare Huab Nature Reserve in order to provide ample living space for area’s so-called ‘desert’ elephants. At its heart is the 8-bungalow family-friendly lodge where guests can take safari drives and learn about all about Huab and its goals. Electricity comes from solar panels and profits are ploughed back into conservation projects. The landscape is bewitching and, with a number of friendly local staff keen to help you enjoy your stay, there couldn’t be a better location to enjoy it from.

    Coillabus, Islay, Inner Hebrides, Scotland


    Tucked away on the beautiful Oa peninsula in the south of Islay – the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ – is Coillabus, a collection of understatedly luxurious eco-lodges for 2-4 each with a private hot tub and sauna. The presence of these fun features doesn’t negate their eco credentials though: the lodges are made of local stone and grass, and there’s UV-filtered spring water, vintage re-used and re-cycled Ercol furniture, energy-efficient appliances, and building insulation made from sheep wool and recycled plastic bottles. Outside there’s a 7-mile isolated beach, the Sound of Islay, and the RSPB bird reserve – the perfect place to teach the kids about the great outdoors.

    The Mudhouse, Puttalam, Sri Lanka

    The Mudhouse

    These wonderfully secluded houses are embedded in an Eden-like wilderness beside the woodland and lakes of Sri Lanka’s ancient heartlands. There’s a refreshingly humble simplicity to them: each ‘mudhouse’ is in fact a cluster of simple, open-sided huts made of wattle and daub, with thatched roofs, dining/meditation areas and outdoor showers. This is a proper back-to-nature experience with its own organic farm, a commitment to composting waste and only one solar-powered source of electricity – think ‘luxury camping’ and you’ll soon feel utterly at home.

    Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga National Park, Italy

    Sextantio Albergo Diffuso

    This collection of restored cottages wears its history on its sleeve: with a heavy iron key in hand you enter a room of rough stone walls and uneven floors where the deep fireplace is blackened by soot. The effect is intentional, the designers are engaged in a long-term preservation project which has seen them restore the buildings with natural materials, and forge an agreement with the National Park and local council to preserve the town and maintain its association with the countryside. With local staff, artisan workshops and a fantastic restaurant making traditional favourites with local organic produce, the commitment appears well and truly honoured.

    Monte Azul, Chirripo National Park, Costa Rica

    Monte Azuli

    Secluded in 100 acres of Costa Rican Cloud Forest, these 4 stylish casitas are a perfect retreat for honeymooners looking to escape from it all. Impressively, the hotel is certified by the Zeitz Foundation of Germany as 1 of only 2 places in the world to be recognised as world leaders in sustainable tourism and a tree is planted for every visitor to the reserve. Much of the food grown on the plot (80% of which is a nature reserve) feeds its guests, including coffee and delicious creamy goat’s cheese.

    Take a look at the rest of our eco retreats in stunning nature reserves >>

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Top 5 UK Country House Spas

  • These spoiling spas may not be the cheapest weekend away, but they’re perfect as a decadent treat for engagements, romantic weekends, girls’ holidays or any other time you’re in  need of an uninhibited pamper. Luckily, each of the spas also comes attached to a luxurious country hotel for a real away-from-it-all experience – a healthy getaway has never felt so good.

    Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire

    The House: This 30-room country hotel set amidst stunning Cotswold parkland offers much more than initially meets the eye. Prism crystals hang from the ceiling above cowhide seats and bright, eclectic furnishings, while papier-mâché mock hunting trophies adorn the bar. This is country living with a decidedly contemporary and playful edge, but the harmony is well handled and with 55 acres of stately parkland

    Cowley Manor

    The Spa: There are two pools at Cowley Manor (both heated all year round), with the outside pool transforming in the summer thanks to sun loungers, a bar and waiter service. The spa itself has 4 treatment rooms and an extensive range of therapeutic and spoiling treatments. The staff are also fantastic and will quickly help you to feel right at home.

    Babington House, near Frome, Somerset

    The House: Although it provides a cosseting escape from the pace of the city, Babington House also selectively reminds you of it: there’s a vibrant media flavour in the restaurant and bar, and the superlative facilities – lake, croquet, tennis, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, an immaculate walled herb garden, a 45-seat cinema, and of course an exemplary spa – will leave you wanting for nothing. All of this within the rural charm of the Somerset countryside and with a deliberate aversion to formality. Babington House is a tour de force of luxury stays.

    Babington House

    The Spa: The Cowshed Spa at Babington is a well-orchestrated space of precision relaxation. There’s a sauna, a steam room, indoor and outdoor chill-out areas and a long list of treatments. There are also two pools (one indoor, another outdoor), which are both heated and open until 10pm. The amount of space at Babington makes its spa the perfect choice for a group get-together.

    Lime Wood, Lyndhurst, Hampshire

    The House:  This imposing and grandiose Regency country house cuts through the stuffiness with a marked – but not overbearing – contemporary edge. All of the rooms are tremendously comfortable, and many have the ubiquitous features of luxury country living: four-poster beds, roll-top baths, wood-burning stoves. You’ll also find all the refined and cosy features needed to recover from long rambles in the surrounding New Forest – or to continue the unapologetic relaxation of one of the best spas in the country.

    Lime Wood

    The Spa: With 10 treatment rooms, a myriad of holistic and Ayurvedic therapies, a technogym, a  hydropool, a mud house and a steam house all within a tranquil and super-relaxing forest setting, it’s easy to see why The Herb House is held in such high esteem. Of course such luxury doesn’t come cheap, but the mind-boggling range and quality of service ensures you get what you pay for.

    Dormy House, near Broadway, Worcestershire

    The House: There are clear elements of Scandic influence at this restored and expanded 17th-century farmhouse: wooden floorboards, whitewashed stone walls, retro chairs. This serenity is tempered by English country-house mainstays such as open fireplaces, Jacobean panelling and fabric cushioned walls, all of which display a characteristically colourful and contemporary element. If the interiors aren’t enough, the house is set within gorgeous gardens landscaped by a Chelsea gold medalist, and there are 3 restaurants covering all the bases from fine dining to healthy spa cuisine

    Dormy House

    The Spa: The House Spa really is something special. It has a double treatment room (for friends or partners), a mud room, a thermal suite with a Lavender Infusion sauna, indoor pool areas with an infinity pool and hyrdro bubble-bath pool, and over 50 treatments covering everything from wraps and scrubs to massages and facials. There’s even a Veuve Cliquot Champagne Nail Bar thrown in, too. The pool is open until 9pm and also limits children’s access to 3 hours of the day. The spa is popular with non-guests too, so be sure to book ahead.

    The Montpellier Chapter, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

    The House: At the heart of this unpretentious Cotswold hotel and spa is an intact Regency soul. Sash windows, large fireplaces and a striking conservatory evoke Cheltenham’s grand past, while bold contemporary twists add a modern pace to the 61-room hotel. Eames chairs and Matthew Hilton sofas dot the lobby, walls are festooned with avant-garde paintings by students at Central St Martin’s, and a sweeping arc of steel and claret-coloured glass by Ken Shuttleworth (the architect behind London’s Gherkin) forms a distinctly 21st-century extension housing the restaurant. A brave fusion, but one that’s a resounding success.

    The Montpellier Chapter

    The Spa: There are a variety of treatments offered within the 4 wood-clad treatment rooms. There’s also a steam room, a relaxation room with daybeds, and a double room for couples or friends who want to be pampered together. Treatments use products by REN, a natural skincare range based in Devon. There’s no pool, but guests are welcome to make use of the large pool at the nearby Cheltenham Ladies’ College for free.

    Take a look at the rest of our UK hotels with spas >>

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Escape of the Week… La Maison des Remparts

  • Built into the historic fortified walls of Beaumes-de-Venise, this exquisite, romantic 5-room B&B has been lovingly restored with traditional building techniques and an excellent eye for rustic interior design. Whether relaxing around the plunge pool and garden or enjoying a Shiatsu massage in the comfort of your own room, the cosy B&B provides an intimate and elegant base from which to explore pretty Provence.

    La Maison des Remparts

    Charming Beaumes-de-Venise has plenty of appeal too, from the ancient castle and caves to the numerous local wineries producing the region’s famous, and delectable, sweet Muscat wine. In the village you’ll find a municipal swimming pool and tennis court as well as the ubiquitous pétanque pitch, all surrounded by olive groves and vineyards in this impossibly beautiful segment of France.

    La Maison des Remparts

    Rooms: The hotel may be the definition of bijou, but for many this is one of its strengths. With just 5 spacious and beautifully decorated rooms, it doesn’t feel crowded – though ensure you book well in advance as it’s very popular. Most of the shabby-chic rooms have a homely, feminine feel, though there are also some Rajasthani-inspired rooms which offer a more exotic sense of character. The rooms are hard not to love: characterful, stylish and generously sized, many of them have separate living areas and decadent bathrooms with clawfoot tubs. ‘Evasion Ivoire’ even has its own terrace overlooking the pool and a small enclosed garden; the stunning ‘Secret de Brume’ has sprawling views of the surrounding town as well as a private entrance to the town’s rampart walkway.

    If the charm of the bedrooms wasn’t enough, guests also have full run of the lounge, glass-and-wrought-iron orangerie, charming rustic kitchen and the garden with its beautifully designed plunge pool.

    La Maison des Remparts

    Food: Breakfasts at La Maison des Remparts couldn’t be a more typical picture of a delicious French petit dejeuner: think freshly baked bread, croissants, homemade jam and yoghurt, plus fresh fruit, juices and coffee. When it comes to dinner there’s no attached restaurant, but host Ludivine offers impeccable advice on where to eat nearby: from Michelin-featured Le Dolium in the town, to Chez Serge (a truffle bistro) in Carpentras, and L’Oustalet (an amazing gastronomic restaurant) in Gigondas. She’ll even make the reservation for you, or, if you’re feeling too lazy to venture out, she can recommend restaurants that deliver.

    Handily, the B&B also has a lovely large kitchen with a microwave, oven, stove and fridge that is available for guests to use. This means you’re able to put your own chef’s hat on and concoct a simple meal, picnic, or entire hot dinner yourself.

    La Maison des Remparts

    Top Tip: ‘Beaumes’ means caves in French and the town has plenty to explore. Try those around the Oppidum: there are prehistoric caves that housed the region’s first inhabitants and a dramatic 18km-high cave accessed by a narrow path on the north side on the Roclinaud peak.

    La Maison des Remparts

    i-escape guest review: “Wonderful hostess. Beautifully decorated room with breathtaking views. The perfect escape.”
    Richard, United Kingdom (03.03.14)

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

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Top 10 family-friendly hotels with summer availability

  • Summer is well and truly upon us and many family-friendly hotels have long been full. But that needn’t be a cause for concern as we’ve found our top 10 hotels that still have space over summer – just be sure to snap them up quickly, they won’t be around for long!

    Augill Castle, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

    Augill Castle

    Though it might not hold the medieval credentials they expect, kids will love the idea of staying in a ‘real’ castle complete with crenellations, turrets and mullioned windows. This Victorian folly in Cumbria’s tranquil Eden Valley has been given a new lease of life as a relaxed 14 room rural B&B, and is perfect for kids of all ages. There’s loads to do including children’s cookery courses (be sure to book early), playrooms, a playground, numerous pets (including hens and pigs) and all the exciting secret nooks and crannies that come with creative castle architecture. You’re also well placed for the achingly beautiful Lake District and a variety of outdoorsy activities such as sailing and hiking.

    Eleonas, Zaros, Crete


    Secluded in the mountains of southern Crete is the exceptionally good value and charming Eleonas. It’s a glimpse of the Cretan Good Life: a working farm with horses, goats, rabbits and chickens as well as a variety of crops meaning the dinner table is always groaning under a veritable feast of home-grown fare. There’s a kids’ menu too and each of the 20 cottages has a kitchenette. The farmstead is supremely safe for children who are free to run around the grounds and make use of the pool as they please, as well as help feed the animals, or learn how to milk the goats and make cheese.

    Casas do Coro, Marialva, Portugal

    Casas do Coro

    Arriving in the tiny hilltop village of Marialva, overlooked by a magnificent castle, you’re bound to get ”wows” out of your little ones! The town is full of history, and is home to the Côa Valley Archaeological Museum and Park, where you can discover some of the world’s most remarkable rock paintings. Casas do Coro is the perfect base from which to explore the town’s cobbled streets, and not only do the cosy stone cottages come with an array of self-catering facilities, but the hotel has an inviting pool surrounded by olive trees (great for games of hide and seek) and biological gardens full of unusual and fascinating plants. Plus, during the summer months you can ask to sleep under the stars on one of the poolside daybeds. Kids will return home boasting about their Portuguese adventures.

    Anassa, near Polis, Cyprus


    Now, when we use the term ‘family-friendly’ it is rarely met as comprehensively as at the incredible Anassa resort in Cyprus, whose facilities are so good, it deservedly won our 2013 ‘Best for Kids Award’. You only need to hear about the superlative child care (for ages 4 months to 17 years), always-warm kids’ pool and highly qualified, friendly staff to understand why. As you might expect, this luxury hotel is large, particularly by i-escape standards, but the service is impeccable and the team are accomplished at making you feel special. All of this in one of the prettiest and most family-friendly parts of Cyprus, perfect.

    Borgo Santo Pietro, near Siena, Italy

    Borgo san Pietro

    This opulent 13th-century restored villa might not look like a family hideaway at first glance, but look closer and you’ll find a playground, a trampoline, a pool, and tennis, basketball and badminton courts dotted around the 13 acre grounds. Ensure your kids have been reading The Sword in the Stone, as whilst here you can hop on the hotel’s mountain bikes and cycle to the abbey in nearby San Galgano, where a sword has been stuck in a stone since 1185AD. Who knows, perhaps your little one will be the next king of the round table… And, if not, cosying up in one of the decadent rooms with gold-gilded or four-poster beds, stone fireplaces, glass chandeliers and beamed ceilings, will certainly make them feel like a little prince or princess.

    Alpaga, Megeve, French Alps


    Summer can be the perfect time to go Alpine and take advantage of the mountains in all their verdant and sun-drenched glory. There’s plenty to do at this time of year, with activities such as rafting, rock climbing and hiking, or, if strenuous exertion isn’t your thing, the exquisitely stylish Alpaga hotel provides a totem of decadent indulgence, too. Their world-class spa is open to under 14s (before 4pm daily, when accompanied by an adult) and there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant for fabulous family meals. The suites are well-equipped for families and the chalets sleep up to 12 over 3 floors – the best family option by far and perfect if the in-laws (or teenagers) are in tow. There’s also an on-site crèche and kids’ club for ages 3-12.

    Whitepod, near Monthey, Switzerland


    Staying in these quirky igloo-shaped eco pods is something your kids will never forget! And while the pods may seem best suited to winter adventures, there’s plenty to keep them entertained during the summer, too. Dog karting is an obvious highlight and the coolest way to explore the Swiss Alps, plus there are board games to borrow in the Pod House, and a cinema room which shows films and web TV when the weather is bad. Little ones will love tucking into a big bowl of cheesy fondue in the hotel’s restaurant, Les Cerniers (though perhaps bring a change of clothes with you!).

    Castello di Gargonza, Tuscany, Italy

    Castello di Gargonza

    Perched high on a hill above thick Tuscan forest where wild boar and antelopes roam, this tiny 13th-century walled village (borgo) has a Sleeping Beauty ambiance, but we can assure you that your kids will be doing everything in their power to  stay awake! On arrival, you’re given a map to help you find your way around; draw an ‘x’ to mark your room and send your little ones on their way! You can also enrol them in bread- and pizza-making lessons (when in Tuscany…), or help them unleash their creative side in fresco-painting classes. With 13 rooms, 8 apartments and 1 house available, there are a number of accommodation options to suit your family’s needs.

    Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus


    Relaxing, indulgent holidays are easy to come by at Almyra. Indeed, with 4 pools to choose from, excellent kids’ facilities, and a delectable on-site restaurant, it’s near impossible not to have a fantastic stay. Importantly, they understand that the key to a stress-free family holiday is keeping the kids entertained and with tennis courts, a beach with watersports, and a well-equipped games room they’ve got this more than covered. There’s also a ‘Baby Go Lightly’ service which allows parents to order every conceivable baby item you could need prior to arrival.

    Finca Malvasia, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Finca Malvasia

    This Lanzarote retreat may be small (only 4 self-catering cottages), but the welcome is big and the beauty abundant. This pristine oasis among the volcanic cones of rural Lanzarote reserves a particularly hearty welcome for families with small kids and has beach paraphernalia including toys, games, and inflatable crocodiles to keep them occupied. Nearby you’ll also find golden sandy beaches, play parks, surfing lessons and the wonderful novelty of camel rides.

    Take a look at more family-friendly hotels with summer availability >>

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Easy Escapes for July

  • Summer is now at full throttle which often means hotel availability has dwindled to nil, but with a little expertise you can still discover some sleek summer sojourns. It’s not too late to getaway this summer, we promise!

    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…

    Check out cool Copenhagen – £334.25 per person (3 nights, 9-12 July)

    Nyhavn, Copenhagen

    Nyhavn, Copenhagen

    You might associate Copenhagen with cold winters and Christmas markets, but the Danish capital is great for a summer city break (and a favourite destination of our Acting Editor Abi). Temperatures are in the mid-twenties so outdoor exploration is a real treat. Colourful houses line the waterfront, which is full of charming wooden boats and cool bars. A stroll around the city rewards you with gorgeous architecture protruding from cobbled squares, enticing canal-side restaurants, daring design shops and lots of green space for soaking up the sun.

    CPH Living

    CPH Living

    Stay: at CPH Living, a boatel (a hotel on a boat, that is!) which has travelled from Germany, via Poland and Estonia, to reach its current home in this super-cool Scandi city. Sit on the deck, glass of akvavit in hand, admiring the elegant copper spires in the distance and watching the fireworks crash over the Tivoli Gardens (every Saturday night), before retreating to your cosy cabin. Even here, huge glass windows allow you to drift off while watching the city lights twinkle in the water. A 3-night stay in a Double Room costs £234.55 per person (non-refundable rate).

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Copenhagen with Norwegian for £92 departing on Wednesday 9 July and returning on Saturday 12 July (direct flights).

    From the airport: there’s a direct metro connection from the airport to Christianshavn station (£3.85 per person for a single journey), via the yellow line (7 stops). From there it’s a 10-minute walk to the hotel.

    Total cost: £334.25 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: getting to Copenhagen and other accommodation options

    Adventure in the Atlas Mountains – £462.50 (7 nights, 5-12 July)

    The Capaldi

    The Capaldi

    You might think that Morocco is too hot for an active holiday in July, but you’d be mistaken. Just a 35-minute drive from Marrakech’s bustling medina, you arrive in the foothills of the highest mountain range in North Africa, and here temperatures are much cooler. Flat-roofed Berber villages cling to valleys and adventure is the name of the game: watersports on Lake Lalla Takerkoust are rife, dune-buggy excursions are thrilling, camel rides in the Agafay Desert are a must, and guided mountain treks will take your breath away.

    The Capaldi

    The Capaldi

    Stay: at desert oasis, The Capaldi. Its gorgeous gardens are filled with fragrant flowers and a tempting pool, while inside there’s a spoiling spa complete with marble hammam – perfect for unwinding after a day’s exploring. Rooms are painted in Moroccan earthy tones, and feature brass lamps, kilim rugs and grand fireplaces. Their current offer of 7 nights for 4 makes a 7-night stay in a Standard Farmhouse Room just £285.50 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: from Bristol to Marrakech Menara with easyJet for £137, departing on Saturday 5 July and returning on Saturday 12 July (direct flights).

    From the airport: arrange a transfer with the hotel in an air-conditioned 4×4 (it’s worth it) for £20 per person, one way.

    Total cost: £462.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: getting to the Atlas Mountains and other accommodation options

    Zone out in Zanzibar – £1190.70 (7 nights, 2-9 July)

    Diving in Zanzibar

    Diving in Zanzibar

    Zanzibar is perfect at this time of year. The crowds of August and September are yet to descend, and the weather is balmy at around 24 degrees. July is also considered the best month for diving and snorkelling; so head to the island’s magical white-sand beaches, lined with palm trees, to make the most of those warm turquoise waters.

    Fumba Beach Lodge

    Fumba Beach Lodge

    Stay: at Fumba Beach Lodge, just south of Stone Town. Set in 40 acres of lush wilderness, Fumba is truly stunning. Winding sandy paths fringed with hibiscus, frangipani and bougainvillea take you around the hotel, from the swimming pool to the dhow boat beach bar, the spacious, comfortable rooms and the hotel’s superb dive centre and spa. The lodge is currently offering 5 nights for 4, making a 7-night stay in a Deluxe Room: Garden view just £631 per person.

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Zanzibar with Oman Air (via Muscat) for £533, departing on Tuesday 1 July (overnight flight arriving on Wednesday 2 July) and returning on Wednesday 9 July (overnight flight arriving on Thursday 10 July).

    From the airport: as you probably won’t want to drive, ask the hotel to arrange a transfer for you at £13.35 per person, one way.

    Total cost: £1190.70 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: getting to Zanzibar 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 25th June 2014.

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Escape of the Week… Pristava Lepena

  • Slovenia may be a small and relatively unknown portion of Europe (chances are you haven’t been before), but it punches well above its weight in terms of natural beauty, and Pristava Lepena is the perfect and family friendly spot to explore it from. Sat in Triglav National Park, next to the jade-green river Soca and stunning Julian Alps it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s unadulterated haven – kayaking, hiking, rafting and paragliding are all easily arranged.

     Pristava Lepena

    Owners Milan and Silvia Dolenc have created a relaxed and charming oasis to return to after days of exertion in the mountains: hearty food, a Finnish and infrared sauna, an outdoor whirlpool and a swimming pool are all at your disposal to aid those aching muscles. With so much to explore, this is an exciting alternative to your usual European break (particularly for families) – just make sure you pack suitable footwear.

    Pristava Lepena

    Rooms: Scattered around a beautiful Alpine meadow, you’ll find 13 rooms tucked away within 8 stone and wood cabins. Each of the chalets (referred to as Apartments A or B) sleeps 3-8, while 5 smaller apartment-rooms (Rooms C or D) are perfect for couples seeking a traditional bolthole. We stayed in one of the latter, tucked under the eaves a traditional Trenta wood-burning stove and a pine double bed (claustrophobics may prefer the ground-floor rooms – not quite as charming, but with their own seating area in the meadow). Family chalets have extra twin rooms and pull out beds and there is space in all of the rooms for an added cot.

    The rooms may be simple, and the basic kitchenettes are not really suitable for self-catering, but in this stunning Alpine haven with its soaring mountains and serene lakes we didn’t really mind. Clean bathrooms have hot showers (no bathtubs), and there are hairdryers, basic toiletries and TVs in every room, plus hot rings for making warm drinks, on request.

    Pristava Lepena

    Food: Slovenian cooking is a hearty affair heavily influenced by Italian and Austrian cuisine, and it’s deliciously executed here. Our favourite dishes included a seafood risotto and tagliatelle starter with local wild mushrooms, and main courses of beef fillet with a goulash-style sauce or local Soca trout – just what we needed after a long day’s hiking through the countryside. In mid-summer there are weekly feasts when guests share spit-roasted lamb or kid and other Slovenian delicacies – all enjoyed outside with views of the mountains (though there is a nice rustic dining room for less hospitable weather). The restaurant is very children-friendly and the bar serves drinks and ice creams all day.

    Should you want a change of pace you can sample Slovenia’s rather impressive foodie scene in Hisa Franko, just 35km away in the village of Kobarid. Failing that, there are some simple restaurants and pizzerias in the village of Bovec, a 15-minute drive away.  However, after days of fly-fishing, biking, hiking and canoeing you may find you’re too tired to venture out!

    Pristava Lepena

    Activities: In the summer there is a 4-night minimum stay, but due to the abundance of things to do most people book for a week or more anyway. Pristava Lepena has its own Riding School with the elegant and impressive Lipizzaner horses and the fly fishing on Soca river is some of the best in the world. On top of that you can go far afield with biking and rafting, or stay close with tennis and archery – many of the activities are suitable for families (with older kids) and a number of them are free.

    When to go: July and August are high season and the warmest months (temperatures reach about 80F, though evenings are cool). Spring, early summer and autumn are ideal for riding, lower rates and fewer tourists. The hotel closes from the end of October until Easter, but opens briefly over Christmas/New Year when conditions are ideal for skiing.

    Pristava Lepena

    Customer review: “Staff were all lovely – looked after us very well but also gave us lots of space. You’ll need a car to make the most of this location. We enjoyed our honeymoon at this secluded location (up a very steep road from the soca valley very close to soca itself). A beautiful setting with lots of hiking available close by.”

    Chris, United Kingdom (09.06.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,

Win a stylish Devon escape with i-e & The White Company

  • It’s competition time! We’ve teamed up with luxury homeware and lifestyle brand The White Company to offer a 3-night stay for up to 6 people at Upcott Farm, a pair of gorgeous self-catering barn conversions with dazzling white interiors, hidden in a quiet valley close to the beaches of North Devon.

    Upcott Farm

    Cast aside your expectations of what rural living should look like; this is country charm for the 21st century, with interiors so cool they appeared in The White Company’s spring 2013 collection. Owners Ben and Sarah Lambert have curated a stunning combination of white walls, muted grey furnishings and polished concrete floors, softened with comfy furnishings and luxurious textures (woven rugs, woollen blankets, super-luxe bed linens). Envy-inducing kitchens are stocked with hi-spec gadgets, underfloor heating warms every room, and the monochrome bathrooms come with Bramley toiletries and fluffy bath sheets.

    Upcott Farm

    This is the ultimate UK rural retreat: homemade cake awaits your arrival, magnificent beaches are just a short drive away, and the kitchen garden and surrounding meadows are begging to be explored before you settle in for cosy nights curled up by the fire. Bliss.

    Upcott Farm

    To enter: Visit and ‘like’ The White Company Competitions on Facebook, then enter your details for your chance to win. As simple as that!

    T’s & C’s: The prize is a 3-night stay at Upcott Farm for up to 6 people. Stays are subject to availability and must be taken before 1st May 2015. Enter by 11th July.
    Posted in Competitions. Tagged , , ,

Top 5 Rooftop Pools in Europe

  • There’s nothing like cooling off at the end of a hot day with a cocktail or glass of bubbly in hand. When the sun starts to set, nab the best seats in the house and take a dip on the roof. We’ve dived into the i-escape collection to find the top 5 rooftop pools in Europe for your soaking pleasure.

    Soho House Berlin, Germany

    Soho House Berlin

    Located in the historical Mitte District, in the heart of Berlin, this hotel provides the perfect setting from which to admire the city at every angle – perfect for lazy days when you don’t feel up to tackling the city head on. This large retro-deco hotel exudes style and glamour, as do its private club members who flock to the rooftop come 5pm on a Friday (or any day for that matter). Find yourself sipping a Martini amongst Berlin’s creative elite and enjoying the city skyline from the stunning rooftop pool (which is heated so you can splash in style all year round).

    Shoreditch Rooms, London

    Shoreditch Rooms

    Head to the coolest rooftop in Shoreditch and swim your lengths in style this season. Shoreditch Rooms offers a Cowshed Spa and sun loungers complete with candy-striped towels to satisfy those sweet tooth cravings (just about). Overlooking the London skyline, this little piece of urban heaven will leave you feeling utterly refreshed. Although the idea of leaving won’t appeal, we can guarantee that when you do, you’ll be ready to tackle any challenge the city (or life) throws at you. So, take the elevator to the top floor and dive into the deepest level of relaxation the city has to offer.

     The Vine, Funchal

    The Vine

    The Vine offers the perfect ingredients for luxury living: a beautiful coastal setting, quality wines, and food to tempt even the least gastronomically inclined. With a 360-degree sun-deck restaurant run by a multi-Michelin-starred chef, The Vine’s roof terrace has become Funchal’s top choice for anyone with an appetite for exquisite cuisine and high style. As well as an infinity pool with glorious sea views, you’ll also find a hidden levada-inspired Jacuzzi and an excellent Vinotherapy Spa. This hotel is a fortress of relaxation for those seeking the urban-chic island lifestyle.

    Fresh Hotel, Athens

    Fresh Hotel

    In true Athenian style, Fresh Hotel offers clean cut, stylish rooms with a fun twist. Its mix of minimalist, eccentric and bright features reveals a pleasant surprise around every corner. From the roof, look out onto Athens and admire the city’s juxtaposing ancient and modern architecture. The Acropolis is in plain view and at night it’s flooded by impressive and dramatic lighting. The pool (open May-October) attracts a young crowd in the afternoon heat, as does the rooftop bar as the sun goes down. If you’re looking for the heart of Athens’ party scene, your search is over.

    Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza, Seville, Spain

    Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza

    The name might be a mouthful, but this cool and contemporary hotel in the heart of Seville’s Old Town is a triumph of the simple pleasures. At ground level the gorgeous courtyards with their colourful flowerbeds and ceramic pots pre-empt the stunning rooftop terrace where – of course – a spoiling (albeit small) pool is surrounded by loungers and a pool bar. It’s the perfect spot to rise above the hubbub of the city and enjoy a drink as the Spanish sun sets beyond the terracotta skyline of Andalucia’s capital.

    Take a look at more of our cool city stays >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Our Favourite.... Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Family Escape of the Month… Jnane Tamsna

  • Hidden in the palm-groved outskirts of Marrakech, this exquisite eco retreat is a refreshing (and luxurious) take on the Moroccan country villa. Its indulgent design and tirelessly helpful staff ensure each individual guest feels thoroughly spoiled; so while adults can unwind with yoga classes and massages, kids can enjoy the 15-acre garden, 5 swimming pools and abundant activities ranging from Arabic typography to gardening.

    Jnane Tamsna

    Husband-and-wife owners Gary and Meryanne have artfully applied their respective skills to this bohemian Palmeraie haven. Five stunning houses, each with an adjacent pool, sit within lush, fragrant gardens curated by ethno-botanist Gary. And Meryanne, a lawyer-turned-designer, has triumphantly fused the multicultural elements of their lives to create 24 serene yet homely guest bedrooms. This personalised oasis, only 15 minutes from Marrakech’s medina, is also an adventurer’s haven – you can even embark on exclusive family-friendly ‘Diversity Excursions’ which take you behind the closed doors of the medina to learn about Moroccan customs, cuisine and art.

    Jnane Tamsna

    Rooms: Meryanne is a master of understated Moroccan design, incorporating an eclectic mix of international influences to evoke a sense of serenity and comfort throughout the property – expect colourful woven Senegalese rugs, handpicked antique objets d’art, Syrian chests and tables with mother-of-pearl inlays. Each of the 5 houses are slightly different (Jnane Villa has its own library, while the layout of the Jnane Main House reflects that of a typical riad), but the room categories are more consistent. Large Rooms, Garden Rooms and Pavillion Suites have access to some form of outdoor space, and can hold at least 1 extra bed or baby cot; Standard and Small Rooms are great value, and would work well for older kids wanting their own space. All rooms have ensuite bathrooms decked out in earth-tone tadelakt with shiny copper basins and sweet-smelling herbal bath products (although the smaller bedrooms only have shower rooms).

    Jnane Tamsna

    Food: The immense organic garden – a labour of love by ethno-botanist Gary – yields countless varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruit that make their way into every meal (even some of the flour is home-grown and -ground). Meals are a delicious fusion of cuisines inspired by the owners’ globe-trotting tastes and backgrounds, taking in Senegalese, Indian and Thai, as well as ”modernised” Moroccan recipes. We enjoyed a lamb tagine with tomatoes and caramelized spring onions, and a roasted pepper, cucumber and tomato salad followed by spiced pears with oranges and caramel sauce. Utterly fantastic – particularly as the house chef shares his secrets in personalised cookery lessons. There’s a kids’ menu available and the chef is happy to prepare half portions of standard dishes; young’uns will particularly enjoy the early evening high tea, and parents can request the use of a blender and microwave for preparing baby food.

    Most meals are served outside on one of the colourful patios, or in an inner alcove that has its own little Zen garden of olive trees and artichokes. At breakfast you can expect a hearty spread of cheeses, Moroccan and French breads, amlu (a local speciality with Argan oil), eggs, fruit salads, homemade muesli and jams.

    Jnane Tamsna

    Kids’ activities: There’s an abundance of activities on site. If kids aren’t entertained by the 5 swimming pools (ranging from 12m to 22m in length) or the large gardens, there’s also a games room and clay tennis court as well as numerous workshops including magic, juggling and cookery. Nearby you’ll find Oasira waterpark (10 hectares of pools and water slides for all ages) as well as opportunities to go horse and camel riding. On top of this, you’re only 15 minutes’ drive from Marrakech’s compelling medina.

    Baby equipment: All rooms can hold a baby cot, but there are only 10 available to borrow so be sure to request one when booking.  High chairs, baby bedding, potties and bottle-warming facilities can also be provided.

    Jnane Tamsna

    Guest review: “A lovely retreat within shooting distance of Marrakech. The staff were incredibly helpful ensuring we felt at home and were all great at entertaining our 1-year-old son”

    Julie, United Kingdom (05.06.14)

     i-escape gift: organic bath products & bottle of wine OR a room upgrade (stays of 3+ nights only)

    Read the full review and book  >>

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

Just back from… Puglia

  • We’re converts to the notion that the Easter holidays are better than the summer for a family holiday. Flights are usually cheaper, accommodation availability is much better, and, best of all, you can explore Mediterranean destinations while they’re much less crowded than in July and August. And, although many folk love baking in soaring temperatures, as a particularly pale-skinned English/Irish tribe we prefer our degrees to be less oppressive. True, this meant that outdoor pools weren’t utilised and the sea was too cool for proper swimming, but the kids went for plenty of enthusiastic splashing and wading instead.

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    So this year we headed to Puglia - the stiletto heel to Italy’s boot – for a week of rolling countryside, long near-deserted beaches (admittedly some of them hadn’t been spruced up for the summer yet and the beach clubs weren’t properly open), delicious authentic regional fare, and some family fun.

    A cove near Capitolo

    A cove near Capitolo

    We flew into Bari, hired a car and drove into the heart of trulli country. We primed our 6-year-old daughter to look out for these stubby stone cones, originally built as agricultural storehouses they’re now being restored for more domestic purposes. She soon saw one, and another, and another – literally dozens on the way to the outskirts of Cisternino, our first destination.

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    Here we stayed at Boutique Trulli Villa – a recent restoration of 6 trulli cones into a beautiful 3-bedroom villa with an additional 1-bedroom apartment behind – set on the brow of a little hill with cute views over a small valley towards Cisternino. The helpful owner, Enzo, lives on site and made us extremely welcome with a superb bottle of wine, fruit tart and plentiful breakfast supplies. The swimming pool is a work of art, surrounded by new decking, a luxurious pergola and a newly landscaped garden with fragrant pines and native species. Interiors are white-washed and peppered with quirky collectables, there’s a cute little white and blue kitchen, and the kids got a kick out of living inside trulli cones.

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    Boutique Trulli Villa

    Days were spent ambling round country lanes, splashing in the pool (which had a long shallow shelf for kids), buying local produce and cooking up a storm in the evenings, and day trips to beautiful Locorotondo (noted for its round historical centre) and Unesco-listed Alberobello which positively bristles with trulli cones – even the church is one big trulli.

    Unesco-listed Alberobello

    Unesco-listed Alberobello

    Next we stayed nearer the sea, at Masseria Alchimia, just outside Fasano. The efficient and visionary owner Caroline has transformed a former girls’ school into 7 self-catering suites of varying shapes and sizes, all with cool white modern interiors. We were in the 2 bedroom Family Suite at the back with our own little garden and private sit-out area. The kitchen was in a nifty cupboard, there were 2 shower bathrooms and a colour-therapy tub in the main bedroom, which had the kids entranced – they loved their coloured baths!

    Masseria Alchimia

    Masseria Alchimia

    On the coast we found a cove with fossil-laden rocks where we picked up a lump of weather-beaten driftwood (now gracing the kids’ nature hut in our garden) and marvelled at the aquamarine Adriatic, then we had lunch in a fishing village and explored the Roman ruins at Egnazia, where the Via Traiana is wonderfully preserved. Our best outing was the day spent at Zoo Safari, an animal park combined with a fun fair, where you can drive through large open cages of tigers and lions, bears and giraffes, and as it was off-season, it was quite devoid of humans.

    Zoo Safari

    Zoo Safari

    We walked to a local farm shop and created our own version of the local speciality - orecchiette con Cime di Rapa (little ears pasta with sprouting broccoli) – and we are still using the fantastic olive oil we bought there now.

    Masseria Alchimia

    Masseria Alchimia

    The last third of our holiday was taken further down the Salento Peninsula – likened by some as Italy’s Cornwall – which has open country, dry stone walls, rugged coastal cliffs, and historical Baroque towns such as Lecce (beautiful), Galatina (an amazing frescoed church with lovely cloisters) and Otranto (an extraordinary 12th-century mosaic floor in the cathedral, plus an impressive castle).



    We loved our final destination, the newly built Masseria Prosperi, run by charming owners Mercedes and Antonio who live next door in a wonderful converted farmhouse. Prosperi has 6 beautifully-styled rooms, which you can take individually or rent the whole property on an exclusive basis, 2 pools (indoor heated and outdoor unheated), and a sociable living/dining room with a huge bespoke underground kitchen from which emitted seemingly never-ending delicious food.

    Masseria Prosperi

    Masseria Prosperi

    There are also farm animals from whom our son could not be enticed, he was mesmerised by the goats, chickens, donkeys, geese and the fattest pony we’ve ever seen – on this rotund beast our kids had their very first pony rides.

    Masseria Prosperi

    Masseria Prosperi

    Apart from child no.1 cutting open her lip (yes, fountains of blood) and child no.2 running out of his depth into the sea (water above his head, “very scary, mama!”), as we flew out of Brindisi we proclaimed this to have been a truly wonderful holiday.


    Esme enjoying Puglia’s beaches

    For more family travel inspiration, take a look at our Kids Collection >>

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