OCT03

Exploring Cappadocia, Turkey

 
  • The gnarled yet graceful landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey is the stunning result of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Since then, numerous civilisations have passed through, all leaving their mark. The result is a magical and utterly captivating environment of extraordinary rock formations, rose-coloured ravines, stone-hewn churches, labyrinthine underground cities, ancient cave dwellings and castles perched atop rocky outcrops.

    Hot-air balloons viewed from Serinn House

    Hot-air balloons viewed from Serinn House

    With these aesthetic credentials, it’s easy to understand why scores of holiday makers – ourselves included – keep going back for more. Whether wine-tasting in Urgup or sedately strolling the cobbled streets of Mustafapasa, there’s plenty of cultural character and charm to drink in. What’s more, with magical and stylish subterranean boltholes like Evinn Cave House and Serinn House, or beautiful hilltop Museum Hotel, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to quirky boutique hideaways.

    What to do

    The region is beautiful whatever way you look at it, but nothing quite compares to a breath-taking balloon’s-eye-view first thing in the morning. The spectacular conical rock formations and graceful valleys look resplendent in the sunrise, making hot-air balloons a popular and unforgettable way to view the landscape.

    Goreme Open Air Museum

    Goreme Open Air Museum

    Cappadoccia also has a thrill-seeking heart and is popular with those attracted to more adventurous pursuits such as cross-country golf, quad biking, horse riding and mountain biking – argos in Cappadocia has easy access to such sports. Or, for a slower pace, we suggest one of the impossibly beautiful trekking routes from the pretty village of Uchisar, the highest point in Cappadocia. Here you can climb to the top of the citadel for panoramic views before hiking along the beautiful Pigeon Valley (named after the numerous dovecotes carved into the cliffs) to Goreme. Museum Hotel is an amazing base for this route.

    argos in Cappadocia

    Splendid Suite in argos in Cappadocia

    At night, sample the region’s delicious food and local wine, or watch as dervishes whirl at an atmospheric caravanserai. Alternatively, try the music recitals in the excellent underground acoustics of argos in Cappadocia, or just look up – Cappadocia’s clear skies are perfect for stargazing and it’s one of the best places in the world to see meteor showers.

    Where to eat

    For seductive romance, we head to award-winning Lil’a at the Museum Hotel. With traditional Cappadocian home-cooked food, a candle-lit dining room full of intriguing wood cabinets and views across Cappadocia’s enchantingly alien landscape, it’s a must-visit.

    Hezen Cave Hotel

    Hezen Cave Hotel

    You’re in Turkey, so it would be a shame not to have an authentic Anatolian kebab! Our favourite stop for this is Dimtirt, sat on top of a hill near Serinn House. We loved the Testi kebab: lamb stewed in a sealed clay pot for 4 hours!

    Breakfast at Serinn House

    Breakfast at Serinn House

    Seki, argos in Cappadocia’s eatery, overlooks the Uchisar valley – just make sure you remember to shut your jaw as you tuck into their gorgeous array of meze.

    Where to stay

    Labyrinthine subterranean dwellings have been built into the stunning landscape over centuries, so it’s unsurprising that they’re now being utilised for quirky and memorable hotels. Thankfully, there’s nothing caveman or Spartan about these boltholes, particularly in Urgup, Serinn House and Evinn Cave House are as stylish as they are quirky, employing minimalist design to offset the rugged character of the caves.

    Museum Hotel

    Museum Hotel

    Further west in Uchisar are the historical Museum Hotel (a cosy and romantic hotel built from the reclaimed ruins of a village) and argos in Cappdocia, a large, stunningly designed hotel where rooms have private plunge pools.  Finally, between all of these is Hezen Cave Hotel which sits in the somewhat quieter but no less charming village of Ortahisar. This is the perfect place to get away from it all and unwind – something made considerably easier by a sunset drink on the terrace.

    Serinn House

    Serinn House

    Find out more about our Cappadocia hotels in our destination guide >>

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Travel Tips. Tagged , , ,
OCT01

Introducing our new ski collection

 
  • Forget tired pine chalets and uninspiring interiors, our new ski collection is all about mountain boltholes with serious style – from hidden valley hideaways boasting magazine-worthy interiors and igloo-style eco pods allowing you to sleep slope-side under the stars, to decadent alpine lodges perfect for fabulous group escapes. Here we pick 5 of our favourites for some snow based inspiration.

    Whitepod, near Monthey, Switzerland

    Whitepod

    Ski-lovers after something totally different will adore Whitepod – a remote eco-camp in Switzerland, offering stunning views and a real back-to-nature vibe. It comprises 15 uber-cosy, igloo-shaped pods (tents) with toasty wood-burners, fully equipped shower rooms and comfy beds, all clustered around a central Pod House (wooden chalet). This isn’t about noisy bars, busy streets and adrenalin junkies; it’s about getting away from it all and enjoying the pristine mountain surroundings. Best of all, Whitepod has private slopes suitable for beginner and intermediate-level skiers,  delivering what feels like your very own ski escape.

    Saanewald Lodge, near Gstaad, Switzerland

    Saanewald Lodge

    This ski-in/ski-out hotel near Gstaad is big on design and even bigger on views, but the truly great thing about Saanewald Lodge is its impressive value for money (a welcome respite from the area’s notoriously expensive offerings). A 1960s mountain lodge with clean lines and a hint of Bauhaus, this is a quietly funky bolthole located right on the slopes. Rooms are simple yet stylish, while the hotel’s terrace is the perfect place for a spot of alfresco après ski. There’s even an outdoor hot tub!

    Chalet Bibendum, near Chamonix, French Alps

    Chalet Bibendum

    Group escapes needn’t mean sacrificing luxury, and Chalet Bibendum is the proof: a stunning 4-bedroom chalet (sleeps 8) in the famously well-to-do Chamonix valley, offering a cosy house-party vibe. The chalet itself is a work of art – think crackling fireplaces, soaring beams and cosy bedrooms filled with quirky mountain touches. Owners Olaf and Jolanda are perhaps its biggest selling point – they’re happy to organise every minute of your stay to ensure you have the best getaway possible. Add to that fabulous food and easy access to the local ski fields, and you and your friends will never want to leave.

    Le Portetta, Courchevel 1650, French Alps

    Le Portetta

    Boasting the ‘sunniest terrace in the Trois Vallées’, Le Portetta is a stunning chalet-style hotel with an enviable piste-side position in Courchevel 1650. With family rooms and multi-room lodges, the hotel caters for families of all sizes – but don’t let the child-friendly tag fool you into thinking this hotels lacks finesse. Alpine-chic touches give Le Portetta an elegant feel throughout, and there’s a sophisticated on-site spa to ease aching muscles. The hotel has a prime ski-in/ski-out setting and there’s a children’s ski school a stone’s throw away, so it will suit skiers both little and large down to the ground.

    Mineral Lodge, near Les Arcs, French Alps

    Mineral Lodge

    A design-lover’s dream, this hidden mountain hotel in the French Alps is a temple to cool, contemporary design. From statement furniture and a striking open staircase to waterfall showers, digital art and designer lighting, this place is serious about style. There’s a state-of-the-art media room, salons with fireplaces, and a dining room where breakfast and dinner are served around a giant resin table. With just 5 rooms to choose from, peace and quiet come naturally here, whilst delicious food and easy access to the slopes (it’s located just 50m from the lift to Les Arcs) make it great for ski-lovers and tranquillity hunters alike.

    Take a look at our full ski collection >>

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
SEP29

Escape of the Week… Riad al Bartal

 
  • Though Marrakech gets much more international attention, bustling and compelling Fes is equally intriguing and besotting. Considered to have one of the most authentic medinas in the Arab world, the sprawling city is the cultural and religious heart of Morocco, and its medieval maze of exotic souks and alleyways is not to be missed.

    Riad al Bartal

    Amongst all of this is Riad al Bartal, an architecturally impressive guesthouse of zellig tilework and carved columns, with a beguiling serenity that contrasts with the dusty hubbub of the streets outside. This riad was one of the first boutique openings in Fes and in our eyes, thanks to attentive hosts, stunning traditional interiors and wonderful food, it is still one of the best.

    Riad al Bartal

    Rooms: In typical riad style, the 8 rooms and suites at Riad al Bartal lead from a central plant-filled courtyard. They are all beautifully furnished with local artwork and artefacts such as antique camel bags, old Berber rugs, artisan carvings and French colonial paintings. This wonderfully transforms the large, lofty spaces into cosy hideaways, particularly when coupled with the addition of a fireplace or ceramic wood stove.

    The cosy Double Rooms (Kirwan and Cordoba) are the smallest, with raised sleeping lofts and fireside seating below, while the Berber Room is similar in layout but offers slightly more space. We stayed in the stunning and vast, but surprisingly cossetting, Suite Agadez. If you’re looking for a bit more space, Seffarine, the 2-bedroom Suite, is a great option – it also has an amazing copper tanning vat for a bathtub. All rooms are suitably low tech (you won’t find TVs, radios, telephones or minibars), though there is WiFi in some communal areas.

    Riad al Bartal

    Food: The French owner, Raymond, employs fantastic local cooks meaning that the food is not only delicious, but also a spoiling reflection of Moroccan tastes and cuisine. During one dinner, we were served starters of miniature pastilla, guacamole and sweet tomato, and onion and cinnamon paste with fresh breads, followed by a chicken and aubergine tagine (complete with obligatory olives). However, it’s not just what’s on the plate that makes for a fantastic feast; the candlelit tables carved out of the courtyard foliage, the gentle murmur of voices chatting, and the strumming of an acoustic guitar all make for a relaxed and romantic atmosphere. Bon appétit, indeed.

    The breakfasts (included in the room rate) are just as tasty. You can expect a huge selection of breads, crepes, honey and cheese, olives, omelette and (our highlight) an amazing sweet potato jam. Should you wish to sample the gastronomic delights of Fes itself, the broad range of busy street-food stalls and spoiling restaurants ensures you’re spoilt for choice. Raymond, and his wonderful staff, will be more than happy to advise.

    Riad al Bartal

    Top Tip: The team can recommend official guides to show you around Fes. We think it’s worth it, at least on your first day, as you’ll learn more and avoid having to fend off touts the whole time. We also advise pre-booking supper at the hotel one evening (perhaps for your arrival day) – the leafy courtyard setting is magical, and the food is exquisite.

    Read the full review and book >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , , ,
SEP26

Top 10… September Special Offers

 
SEP24

Easy Escapes for October

 
  • As the leaves start to turn from green to red to golden brown and frost dusts the grass with silver, we’d suggest you avoid any end-of-summer-blues with an escape to the picturesque English countryside, a sunny sojourn to Sicily or an adventure in the alien landscape of central Turkey.

    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…

    Pig out in the UK – £208.50 per person (3 nights, 7-10 October)

    The Pig near Bath

    The Pig near Bath

    Autumn makes the English countryside glow; there’s nothing more romantic than a stroll across a golden field lit up by the warming evening sun, before curling up in front of a roaring fire. If that sounds appealing to you, look to the idyllic Somerset landscape that surrounds Bath.

    The Pig near Bath

    The Pig near Bath

    Stay: in amongst the Mendip Hills at The Pig near Bath, a fabulous foodie hideaway with spoiling rooms and its own deer park. A 3-night mid-week stay in a Snug Room comes to £208.50 per person.

    Travel: The Pig near Bath is a 2.5-hour drive from London, and 25 minutes from Bath and Bristol.

    Total cost: £208.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    Switch off in Sicily – £626.30 (5 nights, 6-11 October)

    Marina di Ragusa

    Marina di Ragusa

    Italy’s largest island – an ancient crossroads said to be the home of the Cyclops – has long been luring travellers. And thanks to its southern location, a visit in October is guaranteed to be exceptionally clement. Sicily is fascinating: its mountainous interior is bliss for hikers, its shores are paradise for beach bunnies, and those after historical wonder will be greeted by Byzantine churches, Baroque houses and Roman temples. So what are you waiting for?

    La Moresca

    La Moresca

    Stay: at La Moresca, an Art Nouveau villa just a stone’s throw from Marina di Ragusa’s golden beach. Its current offer of 5 nights for 4 makes a 5-night stay in a Double Room just £443 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Catania Fontanarossa, flying out with easyJet and back with Norwegian, for £155 per person, departing on Monday 6 October and returning on Saturday 11 October (direct flights).

    From the airport: We’d recommend hiring a car in order to make the most of the island. Rental with Rhino starts from £28.30 per person.

    Total cost: £626.30 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Sicily and other accommodation options

    Go underground in Turkey – £808 (7 nights, 5-12 October)

    Cappadocia

    Cappadocia

    At first glance this lunar landscape appears abandoned, but look a little closer and you’ll see the spectacular towns of Uçhisar and Göreme, the heart of ancient Cappadocia, burrowed into the rocks. With a maze of subterranean streets, ancient churches and an impressive 5,000 years of wine-making knowledge, this beautiful region just keeps on giving!

    argos in Cappadocia

    argos in Cappadocia

    Stay: at argos in Cappadocia, a gorgeous jumble of ancient stone houses and underground caves that scream style and sophistication. Hole up in front of your log fire, dine under the stars, and explore the flower-filled gardens. Thanks to the Best 7-day Advance Purchase Rate, a week-long stay in a Standard Room comes to £494 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Nevsehir via Istanbul for £303 per person with Turkish Airlines, departing on Sunday 5 October and returning on Sunday 12 October (overnight flight arriving on Monday 13 October).

    From the airport: The hotel will happily arrange transfers, and the shuttle bus service costs just £5.50 per person, one way.

    Total cost: £808 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Cappadocia 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 24th September 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
SEP22

Escape of the Week… Madrid Boutique Apartments

 
  • Well connected, varied accommodation choices and in one of our favourite European cities: there’s plenty in this cluster of boutique apartments to love. Add to that the bright and cosy home-from-home interiors and you’ve got a pad in Spain’s capital that you’ll never want to leave.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Though they’re new on i-escape, these apartments (ranging from 1 to 2 bedrooms apiece) have quickly established themselves as the perfect Madrid base, particularly for families or couples looking to experience the lively and bustling side of Madrid without losing the home comforts. They’re an ideal retreat, whether you’re looking to soak up some culture, sample some Spanish gastronomic delights, or do nothing more strenuous than sipping sherry by the Plaza.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Rooms: The sleek and contemporary apartments range from 1-bedroom boltholes with double bedrooms and spacious living areas (dotted around the city centre) to the airy 2-bedroom apartments located near Plaza Santa Ana and the iconic Gran Vía. We stayed in Santa Ana II which, with its bright rooms, colourful art and sleek bathrooms, is typical of these carefully designed and well equipped urban getaways. Next door is the appropriately named Santa Ana I which benefits from French-window views over the square – ripe for people-watching in the warm air of the evening, when the city reawakens. With comfy sofas, flatscreen TVs and DVD players, the apartments are also well equipped for the occasional bout of downtime.

    If you’re travelling en famille, we’d suggest Valverde I which is the quietest of the 2-bedroom apartments; it has a second bedroom with twin beds and access to a separate shower room. There’s even a piano and sculptural chandelier in the spacious – and super-stylish – living area. For a more romantic retreat, we liked the look of 1-bedroom Lagasca X (in sophisticated Salamanca) and Calle Mayor II (in super-central Los Asturias), both of which mix contemporary furniture with splashes of petrol blue and moody red.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Food: Each apartment is well stocked with all the appliances and utensils you could need, including a dishwasher and microwave (more than many other city rentals we’ve come across). You’ll be welcomed with a selection of basics like milk, coffee and bottled water. For the rest, you’re never far from a convenience store or supermarket and, if you don’t feel like whipping something up yourself, visiting chefs can be arranged.

    Should you decide to head out, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice – whichever district you’re in. Plaza Santa Ana is packed with choices, including Cinco Jotas (good Spanish fare) and Cervecería Alemana (a favourite haunt of Hemingway). You can also head around the corner to 100 Montaditos on Calle Príncipe (lots of choice and great for kids) or take a short walk to one of our favourite tapas bars, Lamiak at 10 De La Rosa.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Top Tip: Madrileños are obsessed with rooftop bars. Our favourite has to be the terrace at El Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural centre located on Calle de Alcalá. It has panoramic views of Madrid, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the mountains beyond. For more offbeat tips and alternative things to do, take a look at our recent Madrid blog.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    i-escape gift: a free bottle of wine

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
SEP19

Exploring Pelion, Greece

 
  • Editor in Chief Michael has recently returned from a Grecian adventure in Pelion, a gorgeous wooded and mountainous peninsula halfway down Greece’s east coast. While there, he not only rediscovered a stunning region ringed by beaches and dotted with beautiful villages of stone and slate houses, but also brought back news of some fantastic getaways, new on i-escape.

    Pelion

    Pelion

    Pelion is one of our favourite parts of mainland Greece. It has numerous gorgeous coves and beaches, verdant and rugged mountains, and a welcome host of new boutique hideaways. It’s a 3- to 4-hour drive from either Athens or Thessaloniki – Greece’s second city – both of which are served by well-priced flights all year round.

    What to do

    The wild and unspoilt countryside of Pelion offers beautiful hiking routes, both at coast level and high in the wooded summits. One of our favourites (and one of the least demanding) runs from Kala Nera up through shimmering olive groves to Arghireika, along the tiny train line to Oghla and back down again (1.5 hours). It’s easily done from Minelska, a boutique B&B with a cute seafront café. Check out our destination guide for more rambling recommendations.

    Fakistra

    Fakistra

    Pelion benefits from miles of undulating coastline: beaches are calm and gently shelving on the western (Pagasitic) side, while the jagged eastern shores are wild with turquoise waters. Fakistra is one of the stand-out beaches: a 5-minute drive from The Architect’s House, it’s a secluded and quiet pirate-like cove with white sands.

    Believe it or not, the tiny ski centre at Agriolefkes (1400m) has decent snowfall from January to March – prime time for crowd-free skiing. There are a number of other sports also available on the peninsula, from canyoning to horse riding and sea-kayaking.

    Skiing at Agriolefkes

    Skiing at Agriolefkes

    Where to eat

    One of our favourite restaurants in Pelion also happens to be one of our favourite guesthouses. Six Keys, blessed with an unbeatable beachfront setting, offers impeccable and pioneering Greek cuisine supplied by some of the finest ingredients from across the country. Absolutely unmissable.

    Six Keys

    Six Keys

    If you’re looking for some entertainment with your meal, try Cleopatras Miramare in Damouhari (near Hotel Olga). Some may recognise it as a location for Mamma Mia while others will appreciate it for its cocktails, live music and idyllic seafront setting.

    Where to stay

    All of the hideaways tucked into this peninsula, bar the more adult-oriented Six Keys, are good options for families. Minelska Resort in particular has plenty of room in the suites for sofabeds and is set near a kid-friendly beach.

    Minelska Resort

    Kala Nera beach, near Minelska Resort

    On such a rugged and beautiful stretch of Greece, all hotels are well placed for a quick foray into the stunning countryside. Groups or extended families can’t do much better than The Architect’s House which offers a magical combination of mountain and sea, or Little Swallows, a gorgeous Belgian-run guesthouse high up on Mt. Pelion where the hiking and biking trails lead in all directions.

    Hotel Olga and Six Keys both offer a good mix of activities and facilities. The former is a wonderfully relaxed and great-value inn only a short drive from pretty beaches, while the latter is a stylish seafront beauty with a semi-private beach and utterly exquisite gastronomic offerings.

    Hotel Olga

    Hotel Olga

    Find out more about our Pelion hotels in our destination guide >>

    Posted in New Hotels, Our Trips..., Travel Tips. Tagged , , , , ,
SEP17

10 Alternative Things to Do in Madrid

 
  • Bookings Consultant Sarah, a two-year Madrid resident and enduring lover of the city, has recently returned from another visit to Spain’s capital with a camera full of photos and a head full of insider tips. Here she shares her favourite ideas for an offbeat city stay.

    La azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes

    This rooftop bar has, in our opinion, some of the best panoramic views in Madrid. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Sierra! There is plenty of space and you can sit at a table or sprawl out on a sun lounger. There is a small charge to access the rooftop (pay at reception).

    Panoramic views at La azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes

    Panoramic views at La azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes

    Andén 0 – Estación Chamberí

    Take a step back in time to 1919. Andén 0 is a Line 1 metro station that closed in 1966 and remained abandoned until a restoration project began in 2006. Now, the station has been returned to its former early 20th-century glory. Gaze at old maps, tiled tunnels and historic advertisements, and watch the metro trains whizz by from the glass enclosed platform. There is also a video about the history of the station. Free entry, open Friday-Sunday only.

    Catedral de la Almudena

    Don’t miss this when visiting the Palacio Real! This modern cathedral, completed in 1993, makes a striking contrast to Spain’s traditional cathedral architecture; the Neo-Gothic interior is brightly decorated with bold, colourful frescos, stained-glass windows and mosaics. There is also a Neo-Romanesque crypt and excavated remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.

    Catedral de la Almudena

    Catedral de la Almudena

    Bar crawl along Cava Baja

    This is the main street for tapas bar crawling in Barrio La Latina, and is always packed at the weekend. We especially recommend Lamiak, which is great for pintxos (Basque-style tapas) and cañas (small draught beer).

    CaixaForum Madrid

    Situated at the lower end of the Paseo del Prado, across from the Botanical Gardens, this exhibition centre has a fascinating rotation of temporary showings that have ranged from artwork by the Pixar creative department to an incredible Miquel Barceló retrospective. Check the website to see what will be on during your visit. If you don´t have time to go, it’s worth passing by just to see the exterior vertical garden.

    CaixaForum Madrid

    Vertical gardens at CaixaForum Madrid

    Las Cuevas del Sésamo

    This local hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1950. Enter through the narrow doorway under the vertical red sign and head downstairs to the subterranean bar, whose walls are covered in famous literary quotes in various languages. There is live piano music in the evening, and you can have a go yourself. The bar serves their famous sangria in small or large pitchers. Be warned, this sangria is potent! It is very busy on weekends.

    Mercado de San Miguel

    This renovated, historic glass-covered market next to Plaza Mayor is a fantastic place to get a real taste of Spanish cuisine, from the 33 stalls selling everything from wine and cheese to the exclusive delicatessens and fishmongers. You can pop in for a snack or two, or spend a whole evening hopping from counter to counter. Great for buying souvenirs, too!

    Mercado de San Miguel

    Mercado de San Miguel

     Hamman Al Andalus

    Step inside and you’ll feel miles away from the bustling city. These atmospheric Arab baths have cold, warm, and hot bathing rooms, plus they offer massages and Hamman baths. Check their website for specials and packages.

    Museo Tiflológico

    Done with art galleries or looking for something that the kids will appreciate? This museum is the answer! It was specially created by the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind, so unlike most museums, here you can touch everything. Fun for adults and kids alike, it features scale models of famous monuments, 3D reliefs, works by blind artists, and a bit about the history of braille. Free entry, closed Sundays and Mondays.

    Museo Tiflologico

    La Sagrada Familia model at Museo Tiflologico

    Templo de Debod

    A rather surprising site located just north of the Royal Palace, this Egyptian temple dates back to 200 BC. It was donated by Egypt in 1968 as a thank you for Spain’s help saving ancient temples threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam. There is a lovely park area around the monument, and behind the temple is a viewing platform with fantastic views out over Casa de Campo park.

    Templo de Debod

    Templo de Debod

    Extra tip – Many of Madrid’s museums have free entry days or free evening entry – check their websites for details.

    Something caught your eye? Take a look at our Madrid travel guide or find places to stay.

    Posted in City Breaks, Our Trips..., Travel Tips. Tagged , , , , ,
SEP15

Family Escape of the Month… Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

 
  • As much as we love a city escape with the family, we know that sometimes kids need to roam free in the great outdoors. Where better to do just that than a 500-hectare organic farm in the rolling Tuscan hills? There are few fancy frills or modern distractions here, making it an ideal rural retreat for families yearning for the simple life.

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    Doderi

    Although these self-catering apartments (and 1 villa) are only an hour from Florence, Fattoria Barbialla Nuova is steeped in a different way of life. Immerse yourself in a world of slow food with fantastic pasta-making demos, an introduction to bee-keeping, or the widely lauded guided autumnal truffle hunts (this is one of the few areas boasting highly prized white truffles). Alternatively, simply relax by the poolside occasionally foraging the veritable feastof fruits adorning the farmland.

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    The pool at Brentina

    Rooms: The estate’s 7 apartments (for 2-6) are spread across 2 converted farm buildings (Brentina and Doderi) while a third building (Le Trosce) is a self-contained villa for 8-10. Each building has its own swimming pool (though the pool in Brentina is small and all pools close from October until May). For a family of 4 we suggest Brentina Ovile, a funkily converted sheep barn with great original features and an open-plan living space. There’s a great range to choose from though and you can find out about the nuances and intricacies of each room type on our rates page.

    Whichever option you go for, you can expect simple rustic charm. Think sturdy wooden furniture such as well-worn dining tables, four-poster beds and capacious wooden chests on original tiled floors. Walls are mainly muted hues of cream, blue and beige, but some apartments have exposed brickwork and large traditional fireplaces. The kitchens are thoughtfully stocked and despite the dishevelled charm of the conversions, the bathrooms are surprisingly modern and stylish.

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    Brentina Ovile

    Food: While you can bring what you like to the self-catering apartments, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’re encouraged to forage from the bountiful garden or stock-up on essentials like milk, bread, tea and pasta (and tasty non-essentials such as jam, ragout sauces and white truffles) from the estate’s lovely organic shop. If you’re arriving late, let them know and you can arrange to have the fridge pre-stocked. There are also several village shops nearby and a larger supermarket in nearby Montaione. If organic farmshops really are your thing, host Guido can direct you to another only 10km away. Should the home-cooked simple life get a little wearisome, you’ll find a comprehensive list of restaurants (many of them family-friendly) ranging from local trattorias to fine dining in Florence (60km away).

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    Brentina Ovest

    Kids’ activities: The grounds around the apartments are a roaming child’s dream. As well as the pools (one to each building), there’s a swing, an abundance of animals (Chianina cattle, wild boar and hens) and the opportunity to play boules, football and ping pong. The owners are also happy to arrange kids’ cooking classes or a fun autumn truffle hunt with the local dog. Siena, Florence and Pisa are within reach for more far-flung day trips, as well as Pinocchio Park in Collodi and, of course, there’s ample opportunity for gelato tasting!

    Fattoria Barbialla Nuova

    Pigs and vegetables on the organic farm © Sofie Delauw

    Baby equipment: You’ll find all of the basic essentials including cots, high chairs, plastic crockery, cups and dishes (on request) as well as stair gates in most apartments.

    Customer reviews: “Loved the people running it, so friendly & helpful. Great to be able to roam around the estate at leisure & use of pool & table tennis room was brilliant for the kids. Very easy to find & drive to from Pisa airport – even for those who may be a bit nervous about driving.”

    Sian, United Kingdom (02.08.2014)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Family Escape of the Month, Kids. Tagged , , , , ,
SEP11

#iescapebucket – the winners!