JAN02

2015 boutique travel hotlist

 
  • The New Year is here and we’re kicking off by sharing some of our top suggestions for 2015 travel. From off-the-beaten-track retreats in South Africa’s Paternoster – where the Rand continues to give you real bang for your buck – to Portugal’s coolest city break.

    Paternoster, South Africa

    A favourable exchange rate means South Africa continues to provide excellent value for money, particularly in the unspoilt region around the town of Paternoster. Two hours north of Cape Town, it offers gloriously empty beaches, charming fishing villages, flower-filled nature reserves and a wealth of foodie haunts.

    Paternoster

    Paternoster

    Stay at: Spoiling Abalone House and Spa. Perfect for an indulgent holiday, this luxurious yet quirky adults-only hotel encompasses Reuben’s (a renowned restaurant from celebrity chef Reuben Riffel), as well as a rooftop Jacuzzi where you can enjoy glorious sea views and a glass of fizz.

    Abalone House & Spa

    Abalone House & Spa

    Porto, Portugal

    Portugal’s second city is the latest go-to spot for great-value urban breaks, and easyJet is launching new direct routes from Bristol, Luton and Manchester in April 2015. It’s experiencing a real cultural renaissance, with galleries, restaurants and boho boutiques, as well as famous port lodges and striking Baroque architecture.

    Porto

    Porto

    Stay at: Beautifully restored townhouse 1872 River House, a bijou 8-room B&B set on the banks of the Douro in the Unesco-listed Ribeira district. It’s a new addition along with chic yet cheap hotel Rosa Et Al Townhouse, which epitomises Porto’s new creative buzz and has already gained an excellent reputation.

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse

    Menorca, Spain

    With a clutch of brand-new boutique hotels and villas, Menorca is shaking off its reputation as Ibiza and Mallorca’s sleepy little sister – so much so that we’re adding a chic Menorca collection for 2015. The island has plenty of gorgeous quiet coves, together with sprawling beaches and renowned vineyards, and many of its gems are yet to be discovered.

    Menorca

    Menorca

    Stay at: converted townhouse Hotel Petit Mao, a discreet hideaway in the buzzing capital Mahon, with plenty of vintage touches, a small pool and a pretty walled garden. Groups will love secluded sea-view villa The Manor House, which sleeps up to 14 and has a stunning infinity pool, a concierge service and private access to a white-sand beach.

    The Manor House

    The Manor House

    Pelion, Greece

    For sun-seekers tired of the crowds in Greece’s traditional holiday haunts, unspoilt Pelion is the place to head in 2015. A 3-hour drive from Athens or Thessaloniki (both served by British Airways and easyJet), this mountainous peninsula boasts miles of gorgeous coastline – ideal for those who want to combine a beach holiday with outdoor adventures. Its historic stone villages are linked by a network of old mule paths that are perfect for hiking, and local operators offer mountain biking, horse riding, canyoning and kayaking.

    Pelion

    Pelion

    Stay at: Six Keys – a stylish seaside guesthouse set on its own beach, with 7 spacious suites and some of the best food in the area. We’ve also expanded our Pelion collection to encompass 5 fantastic hideaways. Find out more about Pelion on the blog.

    Six Keys

    Six Keys

    Southern Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka’s popularity shows no sign of waning and beautiful boutique retreats are springing up along its south coast. Most luxurious is Cape Weligama, a clifftop resort near Galle that opened in October 2014. It has huge suites, private butlers, multiple pools and several restaurants, plus a dive centre and direct access to two sandy beaches. Best of all is its intelligent layout, with child-friendly and adults-only pools, meaning couples and families have plenty of space to themselves.

    Cape Weligama

    Cape Weligama

    Stay at: For those seeking a more laid-back, purse-friendly take on the exotic holiday, there are also several new staffed villas in the region, including Mawella Beach Hideaways, a pair of barefoot-chic bungalows for 2-4 beside a fishing beach near Tangalle.

    Galle & Sri Lanka's south coast

    Galle & Sri Lanka’s south coast

     Take a look at our full collection >>

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Top 5. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
DEC31

Our top posts of 2014

 
DEC29

Escape of the Week… Riva Lofts

 
  • Florence is a city in demand. Crowds flock to its romantic piazzas and iconic bridges – particularly in the summer months, when you’ll find gaggles of tourists lining the gallery-packed streets. We’d suggest an early-year trip, when the city is quieter and stylish accommodation options like Riva Lofts – a converted mill tucked away in a peaceful setting beside the River Arno – have plenty of availability.

    Riva Lofts

    This fantastic collection of 10 studios doesn’t rest on the laurels of its location. Instead, owner Claudio has created a series of individual and glamorous apartment-like spaces that triumph the building’s history while embracing contemporary design. There are even gorgeous gardens and a slim-line pool – both rarities in Florence.

    Riva Lofts

    Rooms: The 10 unique studios have private entrances and vary greatly in size, from the Standard Studio (up to 3 adults) to the Loft Studio (up to 4 adults). We stayed in one of the 2 Loft Studios, which was spread over 3 floors and had wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Arno. All the studios are awash with bold, contemporary design: polished concrete floors, muted colours, flea-market furniture, Mies van der Rohe chairs. The smaller details are just as appealing, from the beautiful cream wingback chairs to the large showerheads, fluffy robes and remote-controlled skylights in the bathrooms.

    Riva Lofts

    Food: A buffet breakfast is included in the price and you can expect all the usual fare, including fresh pastries, home-baked bread, yummy yoghurts and, of course, strong Italian coffee.

    If you’re in a group (10+), you can arrange for other meals to be prepared at the hotel (with 2 days’ notice) for a relaxed, local celebration. If not, there are a huge number of fantastic restaurants nearby, with all budgets and tastes catered for – just ask for recommendations. All of the studios (with the exception of the Standard Studios) have small kitchenettes with a fridge, coffee machine and hob – perfect for whipping up snacks and sandwiches.

    Riva Lofts

    Top Tip: Complimentary bikes are available to borrow, so head off to explore the city on 2 wheels. Alice, Claudio’s glamorous daughter, can suggest car-free routes and secret spots to discover. Cycling is particularly delightful in winter, early spring and autumn, when you can enjoy Florence without the crowds of tourists and conference delegates.

    Riva Lofts

    Customer review: “We loved the ambience of Riva Lofts, an oasis of calm but still only a short walk to Florence centre and the park on the opposite side of the river.”

    Martin, United Kingdom (31.07.14)

    i-escape gift: a complimentary bottle of Tuscan extra virgin olive oil.

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
DEC22

Escape of the Week… No. 5 Maddox Street

 
  • Slap-bang amid the hustle and bustle of London are these refreshingly Zen serviced apartment-suites. The interiors are simple and refined but far from Spartan. You can expect wonderful extras, too, from a Geodesis scented candle (free to take home if you book through i-escape) to Ren toiletries and a stock of kitchen essentials.

     No 5 Maddox Street

    Between the vibrancy of Soho and Mayfair, the suites form a tranquil urban retreat tucked behind an unassuming doorway. Once inside, the city buzz melts away and the luxurious Asian-inspired décor takes over to blissful effect.

    No 5 Maddox Street

    Rooms: Throughout the 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom suites, bamboo floors, white walls and sleek furnishings are tempered by the cosiness of warm fabrics and darker colours, creating an environment that’s calming and welcoming. Large windows keep the interiors bright and sunny, and living rooms have giant leather floor cushions, velvet sofas and spiral-shaped Tom Dixon lamps. The 1-bedroom options are perfect for romantic London weekends, and there are also a couple of 2-bedroom Loft Suites (one with a mezzanine, the other with a lovely balcony) and the 3-bedroom Bartlett Suite (with 2 terraces) for families and groups.

    No 5 Maddox Street

    Food: The suite kitchens are small but beautifully designed. They have everything you need (oven, hob, microwave, dishwasher), and you can arrange for staff to fill the cupboards with Whole Foods groceries for you. You’ll find coffee, tea, fruit and chocolate waiting for you on arrival, and there’s also a stock of basic ingredients (all charged for), including pasta and a Bloody Mary cocktail mix. Should cooking sound like a little too much fuss, you can order in from the array of restaurant delivery menus, or pop out in search of gastronomic appeasement (no difficult task in this part of London). Breakfast is available to order, too – expect the usual suspects, from the Full English and smoked salmon to healthier options such as muesli and fruit.

    No 5 Maddox Street

    Top Tip: After a hectic day of sightseeing, light a candle, open a bottle of wine, order food from Thai restaurant Patara (next door) and curl up in your lovely living room with a stash of DVDs borrowed from reception.

    No 5 Maddox Street

    Customer review: “Great location for shopping right off Regent Street… Service was superb, rooms were lovely and well-appointed.

    Caitlin, France (26.12.11)

    i-escape gift: A Geodesis scented candle to take home.

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
DEC19

Easy Escapes for January

 
  • With Christmas Day just around the corner, you may be wondering how you’ll cope after the tree comes down and the bottles of red have run dry – the month that follows can be a bleak affair. If it’s all too much to bear thinking about, we recommend an impromptu January jaunt to soften the blow.

    No need to thank us, all you 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.

    The Grazing Goat – £175 per person (2 nights, 9-11 January 2014)

    The Grazing Goat

    The Grazing Goat

    Fancy hitting the January sales? Well, you can’t beat the UK capital for its sheer range of retail opportunities. Bond Street boutiques, Selfridges and the high-street delights of Oxford Street are a whirlwind of bargains at this time of year, and the city still retains its wintry charm well into January.

    The Grazing Goat

    The Grazing Goat

    Stay: at The Grazing Goat, a county-style pub with rooms in Marylebone. The excellent gastro-pub fare will warm your cockles after a day of shopping, and a 2-night stay in a Standard Room, using the Christmas Special discount, comes to just £175 per person, including taxes.

    Total cost: £175 per person, including taxes.

    More info: Getting to London and other accommodation options

    Casa Camper Berlin – £374 per person (4 nights, 11-15 January 2014)

    Berlin

    Berlin

    Berlin makes for an exciting winter break, and the creative-chic Mitte area, with its bars, galleries and boutiques, is just a 15-minute walk from some of the city’s biggest cultural highlights – the Pergamonmuseum, Bode Museum and Neues Museum all await on the Museumsinsel (Museum Island).

    Casa Camper Berlin

    Casa Camper Berlin

    Stay: at unpretentious Casa Camper Berlin, where minimalist cool meets down-to-earth, intelligent comfort. Don’t miss the seventh-floor lounge where you can enjoy snacks and drinks with rooftop views of Berlin. When booking the Seasonal Special non-refundable rate, a 4-night stay in a King Room comes to £295 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: direct from London Stansted to Berlin Schönefeld with Ryanair for £40 per person, departing Sunday 11 January and returning Thursday 15 January.

    From the airport: the owners can arrange an airport transfer for £39 one way.

    Total cost: £374 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Berlin and other accommodation options

    JapaMala Resort – £1,131.50 per person (9 nights, 17-26 January 2014)

    JapaMala Resort

    JapaMala Resort

    Malaysia’s awe-inspiring Tioman Island is home to rugged rainforest, talcum-powder beaches and translucent sea. The set for the 1958 film South Pacific, it’s utterly idyllic: you couldn’t be further from the January blues.

    JapaMala Resort

    JapaMala Resort

    Stay: at snorkellers’ paradise JapaMala Resort, a cluster of beachside villas where you can enjoy relaxing massages and world food in the overwater and jungle restaurants. A 9-night stay in the Tree Top Chalet comes to just £419 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: direct from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines for £593 per person, departing Friday 16 January (overnight flight arriving Saturday 17 January) and returning Monday 26 January.

    From the airport: a return private car from Kuala Lumpur costs £239 for 2 people, including land transfer and boat transfer.

    Total cost: £1,131.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Malaysia 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 19th December 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , ,
DEC17

2014 Guest Awards

 
  • As 2014 draws to a close, find out which of our 1,500 handpicked hotels and boutique rentals got the biggest thumbs up from happy holidaymakers this year.
    full crest
    Unlike certain global sports bodies, nobody can buy these votes – they’re based purely on scores submitted by our verified guests. So extra kudos to those who got top marks all round…

    small crownBEST BEACH ESCAPE: Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar

    We say: A tiny coral-ringed island off Zanzibar, with beautifully designed thatch bungalows, genuinely ecological aims and some of the world’s best snorkelling

    Chumbe Island Coral Park

    “What’s not to like? An excellent place to spend a few days”

    You say: “Snorkelling was wonderful, and it was great to have the opportunity of a short dhow sailing trip.” Kirsten, Liechtenstein (28.07.14)

    “We had such a perfect stay. Lovely places on the island to see sunset, go for a walk, go snorkelling. The staff are awesome – all are so friendly and kind! Best food we had on Zanzibar. Thanks to all the team. You are doing a great job to save the corals!” Maria, Germany (20.06.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST FOR WINTER SUN: Turtle Beach House, Sri Lanka

    We say: Secret hideaway for 4-6 on the beach near Galle, with luxe furnishings, a lovely garden and a dreamy pool

    Turtle Beach House

    “The place is perfectly positioned on the most beautiful beach in the area”

    You say: “Turtle Beach is a true gem amongst private villas anywhere in the world… The location is right on the beach, which is easily accessed after you walk around your private swimming pool.” Graham, Hong Kong (26.10.14)

    “Absolutely superb in all senses. Even hard to distinguish the best part of our experience – was it the villa itself, the delicious food made every evening by Ranaweera, the kindness of Santa, or the overall atmosphere?” Andra, Latvia (26.01.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST ISLAND HIDEAWAY: Casa Los Geranios, Canary Islands

    We say: Gorgeous traditional Canarian house (sleeps 2-8) in La Palma’s sunny south, with gob-stopping views over volcanoes to the shimmering Atlantic

    Casa Los Geranios

    “A fantastic place with excellent service”

    You say: “This is a very special place – quite perfect. Located on the edge of a vineyard, with beautiful accommodations and gardens. It was spotless and very comfortable, and the owner Lourdes went to great pains to ensure everything met my expectations.” Jonathan, Canada (01.07.14)

    “A fantastic place with excellent service, a fabulous view and a wonderful garden. This is now one of my favourite places on earth.” Katharina, Switzerland (18.03.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST BUDGET BOLTHOLE: Casa do Rio Vez, Portugal

    We say: An ancient millhouse with a contemporary slant offering B&B rooms and a self-catering loft, beside the crystalline waters of the Vez River

    Casa do Rio Vez

    “Very relaxing stay on the beautiful River Vez. Excellent hotel”

    You say: “We had a great time at Casa do Rio Vez and Valerie is an excellent hostess. Food was fresh and good quality, and always looked tempting as well as tasting good.” Sue, United Kingdom (01.09.14)

    “This is really heaven! So nice and peaceful and beautiful! Everything is perfect. I have never seen such a lovely breakfast and beautiful rooms. You do feel so wonderful. The owner tells you a lot of places where you can go and is very helpful. We recommend it to everybody!” Albert, Netherlands (11.09.13)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST FAMILY ESCAPE: Ammos Hotel, Crete

    We say: Style with a big smile at this chic and superbly serviced family-minded hotel on the beach, 15 minutes from Chania

    Ammos Hotel

    “Loved this hotel. Incredibly welcoming & helpful staff”

    You say: “Absolutely wonderful place – fantastic staff, great food and beautiful hotel. It was the ideal place for a holiday with our one year old (who was treated like royalty by everyone there) and we all loved it.”  Julia, United Kingdom (21.06.14)

    “Faultless! A wonderful boutique hotel that really caters for small children. The service is fantastic and the staff are genuinely friendly and helpful; nothing is too much trouble. Excellent food – we didn’t eat anywhere else really, apart from the days we hired a car. Nikos and all his staff were amazing.” Colette, United Kingdom (17.06.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST CITY PAD: Pedrera Boutique Apartment, Spain

    We say: A spacious, super-stylish apartment for 2-4 in the heart of the Eixample district, looking onto Gaudí’s La Pedrera building

    Pedrera Boutique Apartment

    “Sitting on the balcony listening to a jazz concert on the rooftop of neighbouring La Pedrera was a real treat”

    You say: “Fantastic location and a beautifully conserved and designed apartment. We cannot fault it and would love to go back before too long.” Duna, United Kingdom (02.09.14)

    “Our stay at the Pedrera Boutique Apartment met and exceeded our expectations – a thoroughly excellent experience all round! I loved that the apartment had all the best bits of staying in a luxurious hotel – extraordinary decor/furniture, AMAZING city centre location – and none of the things that can niggle about staying in an apartment.” Katie, United Kingdom (17.06.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST HOTEL (UK): The Tide House, Cornwall

    We say: Relaxing retreat in a quiet backstreet of St Ives, with stunning seaside-chic décor and a warm welcome

    The Tide House

    “The Tide House is excellent; we could not fault it!”

    You say: “Luxurious accommodation with lots of lovely additional touches such as free daily papers to read, a real fire, fresh flapjacks to eat in the room etc.” Martha, United Kingdom (29.11.13)

    “We had a wonderful stay at the Tide House. I would definitely say the best place to stay in St Ives. The staff and owners are incredibly helpful and welcoming, the rooms are stunning, and the food at breakfast was wonderful.” Melissa, United Kingdom (09.10.13)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST HOTEL (OVERSEAS): Finca el Tossal, Spain

    We say: A traditional casa rural, 8km uphill from the Costa Blanca, with great views of the Marina Alta mountains and the Med

    Finca el Tossal

    “Absolutely beautiful guesthouse run and staffed by lovely people”

    You say: “Lovely secluded place. A place to enjoy the view and the calm atmosphere. Bring some good books and sit back and relax.” Jon, Denmark (24.09.14)

    “We had a wonderful stay at Finca el Tossal. The setting is stunning, in the middle of the quiet mountains though just 10 miles from the sea. The house is beautiful, with careful service, and the delicious dinners cooked by the Argentinian chef were perfect. We highly recommend this place.” Perquis, France (23.08.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST RENTAL (OVERSEAS): Xaghra Farmhouse, Malta

    We say: A huge rustic townhouse in the charismatic small Gozitan town of Xaghra; ideal for families or friends and excellent value (sleeps 6-8)

    Xaghra Farmhouse

    “Really great location and house”

    You say: “We had a wonderful stay at the Xaghra Farmhouse. The house was beautiful, well equipped and relaxing. The Maltese stone interior when lit up at night was lovely, and we all enjoyed the pool. Our little girl also really enjoyed playing with the toys available at the house. We spent most days and evenings relaxing by the pool, but had a lovely meal at Ta’Frenc. We would thoroughly recommend the house, and Gozo itself.”
    Emma, United Kingdom (13.09.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    small crownBEST RENTAL (UK): Dovecote View, Somerset

    We say: A spoiling self-catering cottage for 2-4, with envy-inducing interiors and a fantastic setting in a small but sophisticated country town

    Dovecote View

    “The cottage itself was the perfect blend of cosy historical charm and modern comfort”

    You say: “Dovecote View is gorgeous – beautifully decorated, and everything has been thought of. We had a wonderful time with our friends (lovely walks, cocktails and lunch At The Chapel) and would love to go back again. Lucy was a great host – super helpful, so many thanks!” Lucy, United Kingdom (22.09.14)

    “The cottage is absolutely gorgeous and it was spotlessly clean. We had a wonderful weekend. I’d love to know what scented oils were used in the rooms – they smelt amazing!” Hannah, United Kingdom (19.05.14)

    Take a look at the review >>

    Don’t forget you still have time to bag yourself a wonderful free gift (worth £100) when you book a 7-night holiday for 2015 before 31 December.

    Small print: only properties with at least 5 respondents were counted. ‘Verified guests’ means those who booked and paid their stay through i-escape.com. Percentages shown are the average across all guests and all categories (Rooms, Eating, Service, Value).

    Posted in i-escape Awards. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
DEC15

Family Escape of the Month… The Farm

 
  • Despite its name, the feeling is far from rustic and the demands far from taxing down on The Farm, set near Jaipur in Rajasthan, India. Instead, guests are treated to a family-friendly oasis with a huge pool, welcoming hosts and pretty, sprawling grounds. The indulgence isn’t limited to the outside either: the rooms are spacious and eclectically designed, with eccentric but tasteful furnishings throughout.

    The Farm

    The fact that owners Ritu and Surya have their own son, Vihaan, is clear from the kid-friendly details: an abundance of games and toys, a shallow end to the pool, and plenty of safe gardens to run around in. Nearby Jaipur – the ‘pink city’ – is a great point of access to beautiful Rajasthan, and its impressive forts are an absolute must see for all ages.

    The Farm

    Rooms: There are 5 rooms and 2 suites, and families would be comfortable in either category. The large, themed suites sleep 4 and have their own private dip tub; they’re set in the garden and so  offer a little more privacy. The rooms can fit an extra bed for kids, and we’d recommend those adjacent to the lawns, pool and deck. Each is distinctively styled with its namesake colour  (Pink, White, Red, Green or Blue and White) in mind, and all have bright windows, atmospheric lighting and choice furnishings which reflect Jaipur’s culture and history.

    As well as the bedrooms, there’s also a fantastic communal room on the ground floor. Inside are mounds of photo-art cushions, plus a billiards table, books and games, and a widescreen TV with an eclectic range of DVDs (many suitable for kids),.

    The Farm

    Food: All the food is included in the price and is utterly delicious – let Rita and Surya know the ages of your kids and they’ll make sure suitable meals are available. Dinners can be served earlier to help with bedtimes, and parents have access to a blender and microwave if needed. The food is also increasingly home-grown and seasonal, giving a fresh and varied menu. You can expect exciting dishes such as pumpkin and pesto soup, Tandoori chicken legs with a hot salsa dip, and melon and cucumber with feta and a vinaigrette dressing. If you have older children with patience and/or a love of food, they’ll adore the sprawling 5-course dinners eaten beneath the stars. And if all this feasting inspires you to delve deeper into the local culinary scene, cooking classes are available and the hosts can direct you to some wonderful eateries in Jaipur.

    The Farm

    Kids’ activities: The hotel and its grounds are wonderfully child-friendly. You’ll find a swimming pool with a shallow end, an outdoor playground and plenty of space; there’s even a mini golf course in the planning. Inside is the usual supply of books, games, puzzles and DVDs, as well as fun pottery classes specifically for children – perfect for when you need to retire from the heat of the day. Beyond the hotel’s grounds, kids will enjoy the nearby waterpark (15 minutes’ drive), as well as jeep rides around the local village and the impressive forts around Jaipur (including the imposing Nahagrh, aka Tiger Fort).

    The Farm

    Baby equipment: If you’re travelling with a baby you can expect bottle warming, pushchairs, potties and a nightlight, though bear in mind that cots are not available so you’ll have to bring your own.

    Customer review: “We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Farm. Ritu in particular was an extremely affable and charming hostess and shared so much useful information and insight with us regarding Jaipur and India generally. Staying at the Farm is an intimate experience, akin to staying in a private home rather than an impersonal hotel.”

    Robert, United Kingdom (12.01.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Kids. Tagged , , , , ,
DEC12

Kids go free!

 
  • Adding up the extras can be a nasty shock when you’re booking a holiday, especially when you factor in the charges for kids. Nadine, i-escape’s Kids Collection Editor, has scoured our site for wonderful family-friendly places to stay which allow children under 12 to stay for free – you can see the full list here. Nadine has also chosen 10 of the best, below, which have something for everyone in terms of price, setting and location. Happy families!

    Monteverdi, Tuscany, Italy

    A welcome addition to the Kids Collection in 2014, this stylish rural retreat in a medieval hamlet is set high in the Tuscan hills (reopening for the season on 1 March 2015). We loved its sophisticated yet rustic rooms – most with double showers and tubs – the largest of which can take an extra bed or baby cot for free, and 2 Luxury Rooms can interconnect. Larger families may prefer to stay in one of the self-catering villas (2, 3 and 6 bedrooms). Children will consider the pool (with pool toys on request) and gardens to be their domain, and will enjoy the Wii consoles and kids’ DVDs after a hard day holidaying exploring the local countryside and historic towns such as Siena.

    Maya Villa, near Tangalle, Sri Lanka

    This 19th-century manor house, just a fun tuk-tuk ride inland from a boogie-boarding beach, has been given a striking makeover and can be booked either by the room or as a staffed villa rental for an extended family party. All 5 bedrooms can take an extra bed and a baby cot, and families will enjoy the 2-acre garden, the L-shaped indigo pool, and a host of games on site including petanque, cricket, volleyball and badminton. There are bikes to borrow and we thought you should know the chef is renowned for his homemade ice creams…

    Chalet Bibendum, near Chamonix, France

    If conjuring up the perfect Alpine hideaway, you’d no doubt include Mont Blanc vistas, a wood-fired hot tub and sauna, snuggly throws, an open-plan rustic-luxe vibe, board games and sledges for all, plus a copper bathtub with a view! There’s a kids’ ski school just up the valley, a rollaway bed, and baby cots can be added to the 4 bedrooms (2 of which can be made up as twins), plus there’s heaps of baby equipment to borrow. As you’re self-catering the rates are great value for the Alps. It’s terrific in the summer, too.

    The Mercer, Soho, New York City, USA

    I’ve never met a child who didn’t love New York City and this hip boutique hotel has a superb central location close to Broadway, shopping, subway stations, and the playground in Washington Square Park. Most of the rooms and suites have huge 2-person bathtubs, and the hotel caters for all age ranges, with oodles of baby and toddler paraphernalia, and DVDs and games consoles for kids and teens. Head out for the night, leaving the children with an experienced babysitter. All room categories from Deluxe Studio upwards can take a rollaway bed or baby cot; some Lofts and all Suites can take multiple extra beds and baby cots.

    Barsham Barns, Norfolk, UK

    Holidaying in self-catering barn conversions are great value: you get lots of space, bags of character, and kids love all the room inside and out to run around. Here, close to the spectacular North Norfolk coast, are 2 clusters of contemporary-styled barns, 7 in total, which sleep 4 to 14, so you’ll definitely find the right one for your family. Each can take a baby cot, some can take extra beds too; all have twin rooms and bathtubs. Five share a games room with ping pong, darts and table football, plus a steam room and spa pool. And each barn comes with a long list of family-friendly activities in the area.

    Riyad el Cadi, Marrakech, Morocco

    We think this would make a good tranquil base for exploring Marrakech, best suited for families with babies and older children. The historic riad is a warren of staircases and corridors across 7 original houses, which is fun for children to explore, there’s a plunge pool in the courtyard, and you’re only 5 minutes’ walk from the Djemaa el Fna, main square with its snake charmers and magicians. There’s all-day food available, smaller portions for kids and a kids’ menu. You can book the Blue House which has 2 bedrooms and a tub in one of the bathrooms; all Suites can take an extra bed or baby cot, and babysitting can be arranged.

    Vida Sol E Mar, Santa Catarina, Brazil

    Defining ‘off-the-beaten-track’ are these stylish beach villas, 2 hours’ south of Florianopolis, overlooking a freshwater lagoon and perfect surf beach. The eco-resort is set in a natural conservation area, and there’s whale-watching July-November, boat trips to see dolphins, birding, waterfalls, snorkelling, surfing and that stunning beach to wander along. There’s a restaurant on site, all villas regardless of size have good kitchens (the larger ones can sleep up to 10), and extra beds are free for any age of child. You’re set for a blissful family holiday.

    Trisara, Phuket, Thailand

    For the ultimate family holiday, perhaps to celebrate a landmark birthday, head to this luxury hotel. Its regal pool villas, positioned perfectly for ocean views, cascade down a jungly hillside to a private sandy beach. Everything is top-notch: the restaurant, the spa, the 45-m saltwater pool with shallow end (and lifeguards), the ambiance. Trisara Kids is a dedicated pavilion hidden away from the main hotel with craft classes and games, supervised by qualified staff. And it’s free! Nearly all bedrooms will take extra cots and beds without charge for kids under 12. Cooking classes, a kids’ menu, mocktails in the bar, a range of watersports, elephant rides, extensive baby and toddler equipment and babysitting are all laid on. Paradise!

    The Rosevine, Cornwall, UK

    Cornwall needs no introduction as a perfect setting for a memorable family holiday, and this seaside-chic apart-hotel was created for families. All studios and apartments have kitchenettes, can take baby cots and/or Z-beds, many have twin beds or bunks, and children will revel in the indoor heated pool or on the trampoline. There’s also a well-equipped playroom, outdoor mini-playground, children’s menus in the restaurant, and the beach is just at the end of the lane. If you can bear to venture forth, you’re a short drive from the Eden Project and National Maritime Museum.

    Villas Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Pacific Coast, Mexico

    You’d be forgiven for thinking that a relaxed clifftop resort set above (with steps down to) a sandy cove of turquoise sea below, with superb sunsets, immaculate 1-3 bedroom villas, gardens with bubbling fountains plus restaurant on site would be pricey. But pleasingly, appearances can be deceptive! Not only is this Eden well-priced, most villas have full kitchens so you can self-cater, there’s a small pool, a selection of games and toys for kids, bikes to borrow, and snorkelling gear and surfboards to rent. Lovely.

    Take a look at the full ‘Kids go free’ selection >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
DEC10

Spotlight on… Patagonia

 
  • Everyone’s talking about Patagonia, whether it’s Lonely Planet highlighting El Chaltén’s 30th anniversary or Top Gear courting controversy over Christmas – but what’s the real story behind this expansive region?

    Torres del Paine National Park

    Torres del Paine National Park

    Why go?

    Stretching across southern Chile and Argentina, Patagonia remains utterly wild, windswept and so unimaginably vast that it could encompass several countries. It has attracted explorers (Darwin), outlaws (Butch and Sundance), revolutionaries (Che Guevara) and writers (Chatwin) and many are still drawn to the idea of escaping it all in this sprawling wilderness.

    Glacier excursions with Eolo

    Glacier excursions with Eolo

    Highlights

    There’s so much to see that it’s best to choose just one region and take time to really get under its skin.

    Let’s kick things off in Chilean Patagonia, where the famed granite towers of the Torres del Paine National Park loom large over the continent’s southernmost reaches. Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and unique places on earth, it’s a trekking mecca with routes encompassing lagoons, glaciers (the vast Grey Glacier is particularly stunning), waterfalls and wildlife of all kinds. Most popular are the demanding El Circuito (5-6 days; 100km) and The W (4-5 days; 76km), both of which start at the main park entrance by Laguna Amarga and lead hikers around the Paine Massif.

    Awasi Patagonia

    Awasi Patagonia (granite towers in the distance)

    Tierra Patagonia

    Tierra Patagonia

    If you’re into architecture, you’ll be in hotel heaven. Shining examples include eco-friendly Tierra Patagonia, conceived by 3 of Chile’s leading architects to blend into its environment by using native lenga wood. Equally, modernist Remota hotel in Puerto Natels and the rustic-luxe Awasi Patagonia villas (with private 4x4s and tours) amplify their environment with conceptual design. For something more immersive, EcoCamp and Patagonia Camp offer comfortable domes or yurts with exceptional cuisine and breathtaking views.

    Remota

    Remota

    Patagonia Camp

    Patagonia Camp

    Across the border in Argentine Patagonia, at the tail-end of the Andes, there’s spectacular hiking around 3,405m Mount Fitz Roy, named after the captain of the ship that brought Charles Darwin to South America. Los Cerros sits just above El Chaltén, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding next year and was named one of Lonely Planet’s must-see cities for 2015. From here, make forays into the Southern Ice Field, kayak down the meandering Río de las Vueltas, or boat across Lago del Desierto.

    Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno glacier

    Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno glacier

    Visitors also flock to the 19-mile long Perito Moreno glacier, one of the world’s few advancing glaciers. Put on crampons and hike the sculpted surface, take a boat under the towering glacier wall, or watch as gargantuan ice columns splinter into Lago Argentino. Skip a stay in touristy El Calafate (where the region’s main airport resides) by booking into Eolo. Feel the silence, hear the wind, and gaze at unparalleled views of the valley, and even Torres del Paine on a clear day.

    Eolo

    Eolo

    If you want something more unusual and off-the-beaten track, head a few hours north to the remote reaches of Patagonia. Spa lovers adore the unique Puyuhuapi Lodge, with its thalassotherapy centre, thermal pools and pampering seaweed treatments. And you can book a tour to the hanging glacier of Queulat National Park – a fantastic resting place along the stunning and little-travelled Camino Austral.

    Futaleufu River

    Futaleufu River

    Across the border, the turquoise Futaleufu River’s white-water rapids draw paddlers every December to April, plus there’s world-class fly-fishing (on both Futaleufu and Yelcho River), with large native populations of brown and rainbow trout. The Secret Ranchito is the ultimate hideaway cottage here; stunning views and absolute, uninterrupted peace.

    The Secret Ranchito

    The Secret Ranchito

    When to go

    Late November to early March is the best time for outdoor activities. The weather can be changeable and the winds fierce, but it can also be glorious with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Lodgings and campsites are usually full during the peak months (January/February), so plan ahead or go just before or after. Winter (June-August) is extremely harsh and services are limited.

    Trekking Torres del Paine National Park

    Trekking Torres del Paine National Park

    Our top tip

    Although the Torres del Paine can be reached by air, boat or an arduous overland trip from Argentina, if you have the time and money we’d recommend taking the 3-night/4-day Navimag ferry trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales town, which follows a spectacular route through fjords and channels.

    Torres de Paine National Park

    Torres de Paine National Park

    See full accommodation options in Chilean Patagonia and Argentine Patagonia.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , ,
DEC08

Escape of the Week… Metairie Montplaisir

 
  • This foodie, family-friendly guesthouse is an idyllic bolthole near the fairytale medieval town of Carcassonne, deep in the Languedoc region of southern France. It’s intimate and cosy, yet each of the 5 rooms is large and groups can rent the stylishly renovated farmhouse in its entirety.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Owner Amélie has poured love into the building’s transformation and her passion for the guesthouse and the local area is infectious. It’s easy to see how its beauty can get under your skin – it’s set in bucolic gardens complete with a pool and a babbling river, and the popular village of Conques sur Orbiel is nearby.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Rooms: Wonderfully stylish and spacious, the 5 rooms in the main house are a triumph of colour and design. One of the largest, Carlota, is a beautiful light-filled space with a bioethanol fireplace (which opens out into both the bedroom and the lounge), plus a lovely wooden floor and sunny colours inspired by Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The bathrooms are excellent, too: all have walk-in showers, and Carlota has a white oval bath. We also love the look of The Atelier, a 2-storey cottage blessed with a large workshop-style window; it’s big enough to accommodate 3 child beds and makes a great option for families.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Food: Blissfully, breakfast is served whenever you like – and it’s a spread you certainly won’t want to miss. Croissants, warm brioche, local eggs, cured ham, coffee and jams made from the garden’s fruit all feature, and they taste even better when enjoyed under the chestnut trees in summer or in the charming dining room during winter. Lunch is also a culinary delight (homemade soups, carpaccio of scallops, chanterelle omelette), and the delicious dinners have led to cook and Amélie’s mother Françoise being awarded a Michelin fork. Expect the likes of homemade ravioli, stuffed courgette flowers and goats’ cheese terrine. If you decide to eat out, Amélie can recommend restaurants in the village and there are a host of options a short drive away in Carcassonne.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Top Tip: Resist the temptation to stay here all day! The Languedoc is one of the most rewarding regions in France, so get out and explore. You’ll find wild hilltop castles, vineyards and the Canal du Midi all within easy reach.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Customer review: “We had such a beautiful time. This is one of those rare and truly special places. The attention to detail is spectacular and Amélie and her mum created the best food we had on our gastronomic 3-week trip across Spain and France. The pictures can’t do this place justice. Highly recommended!”
    Lisa, United Kingdom (08.09.14)

    i-escape gift: a picnic basket or an aperitif with tapas (according to season)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,