Escape of the Week… Villa Fol Avril

  • This may be an unassuming area of France, but with a sprawling national park and honey-stoned villages, the Perche (in southeast Normandy) is a destination you ignore at your own peril. It’s the perfect short-haul getaway for history-lovers, foodies and walkers looking for the intriguingly unfamiliar only a hop, skip and jump from busy Paris.

     Villa Fol Avril

    Villa Fol Avril – a charming converted coaching inn – is a triumphant blend of old and new, and from the converted stables to the modern decked swimming pool it’s the historical charm and pretty surroundings that resonate.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Rooms: Hosts Sandrine and Philippe share an exquisite eye for detail and have taken care to incorporate the character of the surrounding countryside into Villa Fol Avril’s 12 beautifully furnished rooms. Furniture, stair banisters and key-holders are all hand-crafted from local wood while linen bedcovers and cushions come from the long-established Maison Fassier in nearby Rémalard. New oak combines with original beams and attractive antiques have been introduced alongside sections of exposed stone or brick. The result is wonderfully light, airy and unobtrusively contemporary – a perfect homage to the building’s history.

    Two of our favourite rooms (Rooms 6 and 7) are nestled under vast oak beams on the second floor and display their unhewn charm through rustic furniture, a soft slate-blue colour palette and luxurious wool blankets. For a little more space, Junior Suite au Jardin and Exception each have a private terrace or balcony to extend the bedroom outdoors. Large bathrooms are impeccably presented with thick towels and decadent Damana toiletries.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Food: It’s not just the rooms that display the influence of the hotel’s surroundings; lunch and dinner are also infused with the delights of the locality; fresh local fare that is wonderfully spoiling without being needlessly fancy. Better still, in the summer it is enjoyed out on a sunny terrace where you can acclimatise to the gently bustling village life. In colder weather dining is relocated to the smart oak and chocolate linen-lined dining room (though be aware that in winter the restaurant’s opening hours are more limited, so you many have to dine elsewhere on certain days). Luckily there’s a surprisingly impressive choice of restaurants nearby (including the luxurious Chateau de Villeray at Condeau), although you’ll need wheels to reach them. Breakfast is a simple, but perfectly tasty, continental offering of croissants, fruit, yoghurt and coffee.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Top Tip: Most guests come for one to 2 nights. But you could happily spend longer here, as it’s a great base from which to discover this little known region of France. You could even do a day-trip to Paris if you wished – it’s less than 2 hours away!

    Villa Fol Avril

    i-escape guest review: “Lovely lovely place – great service and very quiet location, we were there late June and it was lovely and quiet, had the gardens and pool to ourselves often. We were upgraded to a garden suite which was fantastic – massive room, really nice style, and a lovely decked terrace to chill out on. Highly recommended!”
    Ruth, United Kingdom (28.06.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Just back from… Morocco (part 1)

  • At the beginning of the summer, Acting Assistant Editor Melissa embarked on a mini Moroccan adventure with her friend Roberta. As well as exploring Marrakech (insights coming soon), they stayed in 2 surprisingly similar guesthouses in 2 strikingly different Moroccan landscapes. Both offered a homely welcome, enchanting accommodation and great-value for money while also displaying a strong relationship with their local community. Here, she takes us on a whistle-stop tour of their highlights.

    Douar Samra

    Douar Samra



    After arriving in Marrakech, it was an easy 1-hour drive through the Atlas Mountains to Imlil, a centre for international trekkers. But we weren’t at our destination yet; in order to reach our first base Douar Samra, we had to ascend a dried-up riverbed on foot or by donkey to the tiny Berber village of Tamartet. We went for foot, despite knowing full well that pull-along suitcases and dusty gorges don’t mix. Thankfully our hosts were waiting with plenty of mint tea and sweet biscuits at the top.

    Douar Samra

    Douar Samra

    We stayed in Douar Samra’s main building and were wowed by our beautiful room. Disclaimer: if you want mod-cons, go elsewhere. Instead we found a rustic fireplace, mesmerising mountain views, colourful woven cushions, and countless lanterns for after dark. That’s right, no electric lights. We loved it, although we’d recommend laying out everything you need for bed before dinner – riffling through yor suitcase is no easy task by candlelight alone. Somewhat surprisingly, there was free WiFi throughout – perfect for making our friends back home jealous!

    Waterfall hike

    Waterfall hike

    While here we embarked on an easy guided hike to a nearby waterfall, via mountain peaks and North Africa’s highest football pitch (complete with sheep spectators).

    North Africa's highest football pitch

    North Africa’s highest football pitch


    Then it was time to bask in the sun and soak up the far-reaching views from Douar Samra’s roof terrace. French owner Jacqueline is often also found out here, along with her delightful shih tzu companions. A pillar of the community, she works entirely with the local people to run and maintain the guesthouse – no wonder the authentic 3-course tagine suppers taste so good!



    Later in our trip we headed south through the Tizi n’ Tichka pass towards the Sahara, stopping in the expansive ochre landscape near Ouarzazate. An area of such biblical beauty called for a truly unique guesthouse, and the ancient mud-brick architecture of Kasbah Ellouze rose effortlessly to the challenge.

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Ait Benhaddou

    Ait Benhaddou

    Though just 3km from the famous UNESCO-listed Ait Benhaddou kasbah, in the remote village of Tamadaght, it feels like a world away. While its movie-star neighbour had a constant rotation of tour buses and faux-friendly shop owners, here we were met by curious children freely roaming the pathways and just one (somewhat sleepy) shop owner.

    Camel trekking

    Camel trekking

    Kasbah Ellouze’s French owners Michel and Colette live on site, as do a quartet of camels ready to take guests trekking through the dusty landscape. We took a short ride at dusk, during which we saw historic troglodyte caves, a stunning sunset and more of the surrounding village.

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Our favourite day was spent walking the desert road to Ait Benhaddou before rewarding ourselves with an afternoon by the pool, complete with chilled mint tea and tasty snacks. In the evening, we dined on a creative 3-course dinner including fig and chicken tagine (and homemade ice cream for pudding), before gravitating towards the roof terrace to star-gaze and put the world to rights over a delicious bottle of Moroccan wine.

    To find out more about Morocco, see our destination guide

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

Our City Breaks collection just got even better!

  • Calling all urbanites; we have just revealed our latest additions in some of the world’s finest cities. Our new city boltholes cover all townie tastes and interests, from an uber-stylish design hotel near Prague’s Old Town to a trio of eco-chic apartments in the elegant spa town of Harrogate. Better still, they’re all just a quick hop away making them perfect for easy post-summer getaways.

    Hotel UNIC, Prague, Czech Republic

    Hotel UNIC

    Hotel UNIC is an unpretentious yet gorgeous design hotel on a quiet street near Prague’s Old Town, with 1- or 2-bedrooms and suites to suit couples, families and friends alike. The ambiance is intimate and laid-back with vibrant colours, original artworks and super-comfortable beds. A relaxing restaurant-cum-bar, friendly staff and an alluring sun terrace all add to this city pad’s appeal.

    Boutique Houseboat, Berlin, Germany

    Boutique Houseboat

    Boutique Houseboat is a unique place to stay in the buzzing capital of Berlin. Set 15-30 minutes from the city centre, the stylish boat has a front-row position on the outermost pier of Rummelsburger Lake marina, with unobstructed views across the bay towards the downtown skyline. The floor-to-ceiling windows and private outdoor deck (stretching the length of the boat) are designed to maximise the experience of being on the water, and there’s a cool double bedroom, an open-plan living area (with double sofabed), and a minimalist white kitchen for self-catering.

    Riad Sapphire, Marrakech, Morocco

    Riad Sapphire

    This gem of a riad opened this year and offers 8 chic suites as welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of vibrant Marrakech. It’s tucked away in the quieter northern section of the medina, and the rooftop terrace, 2 marble courtyards, solar-heated hammam and small plunge pool – all with a contemporary Zen-chic sensibility – are particular highlights.

    Valencia Boutique Apartments, Valencia, Spain

    Valencia Boutique Apartments

    Bang in the heart of the city, with shops, cafés, restaurants and beautiful architecture all around, these 7 self-catering apartments are divided between 2 period buildings and offer great-value for money. Choose the Caballeros building for couple-friendly 1-bedroom options, or Micalet for 2- and 3-bedroom apartments with cathedral views. All have superbly equipped kitchens, and some have private balconies or terraces ideal for sunbathing and sundowners!

    Memmo Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

    Memmo Alfama

    Located in Lisbon’s historic heart, Memmo Alfama is hidden down a cobbled street lined with orange trees, just a rickety yellow tram ride from downtown. This super-chic, 43-bedroom retreat is a calming oasis of wood and stone, whose modern décor perfectly complements the building’s original features. However, the real jewel in Memmo’s crown is the rooftop terrace, with its shimmering red-tiled infinity pool, fabulous wine bar and jaw-dropping city and sunset views.

    Royal Parade Apartments, Harrogate, UK

    Royal Parade Apartments

    These 3 eco-chic apartments (sleeping 2-4, or 12 if taken together) are a stone’s throw from Harrogate’s famous Pump Rooms, as well as many local restaurants and cafés. Choose between classic French on the first floor, exotic Rajasthan on the second, and brassy Brooklyn with glorious views on the top – all brilliantly blend antiques and contemporary pieces. There are well-equipped kitchens (ideal for families and longer stays), and you can order a breakfast hamper if you don’t want to cook.

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse, Porto, Portugal

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse

    For foodies and artists alike this converted townhouse offers style and substance. The 6 bedrooms mix open-plan layouts with vintage-style radios and claw foot tubs to give a quirky yet contemporary finish. Add to that an enchanting herb-scented garden where guests enjoy lazy brunches of organic (often home-grown) goodies, and you’ll soon find yourself short of reasons to leave. It’s also easy to spill out into one of Porto’s buzziest districts full of galleries and restaurants, as well as the nearby majestic Rio Douro waterfront.

    Hotel V Nesplein, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    Hotel V Nesplein

    Set just minutes away from tourist hot-spot Dam Square, this luxurious Holland hotel is perfect for a lively city break. Each of the spacious industrial-style rooms feature modern furniture coupled with richly coloured walls to fit the hotel’s contemporary ‘urban inn’ concept. For a spoiling long lunch, we love the lively downstairs restaurant with dishes ranging from oysters to the more traditional Flammkuchen (a thin-crust pizza with crème fraiche and various toppings).

    No 131, Cheltenham, UK

    No 131

    With countless ornate cornices and grand facades, Cheltenham’s regal history exudes staunchly from its sandstone architecture and this recently renovated grade II villa is no exception. Thankfully, the owners haven’t shied away from injecting some contemporary flair into the 11 bedrooms, so you get salvaged antiques alongside high-tech gadgets, impressive art from the likes of David Hockney and Sir Peter Blake, and bathrooms with rainfall showers or restored Victorian tubs. The innovative British styling continues in the restaurant which offers an exquisitely executed menu of local ingredients, a dedicated cheese and wine room, and a unique selection of cocktails at the Crazy Eights bar.

    Click here for the full i-escape City Breaks collection>>

    Posted in New Hotels. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Family Escape of the Month… Anassa

  • When it comes to indulgent, no holds-barred family escapes Cypriot retreat Anassa has more than earned its stripes. With a comprehensive programme of kids’ activities, helpful smiling staff (there’s a 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio) and a feast of dining options, families will easily find a combination that fits them perfectly. As an extra bonus, all of this choice is within walking distance of one of the island’s most sheltered and secluded beaches.


    Despite the resort being rather sizeable,  you’re pleasantly away from the island hubbub; lush flowering gardens leap up around you while every whitewashed balcony is draped in bougainvillea, creating a peaceful, bucolic atmosphere. It’s the perfect destination for a family who like to keep busy, but don’t want to stray too far from the indulgent relaxation of the poolside (and there’s plenty of poolside to go around, too).


    Rooms: One of the blessings of a resort of this size is the abundance of different room types. From simple Garden View Rooms to spacious 2-bedroom family-sized Suites with living rooms and private plunge pools, there’s something for every varied demand. At the top of the scale stands the ma magnificent 2-storey villa (Residence) packed with original art and antiques and best suited to a large family with nanny. The westward rooms are the closest to the pools and beach which perhaps make them more suited to families. Take a look at Anassa’s rates page for more information on each roomtype (and we’re always more than happy to help match your budget and needs to the best option, too).

    Once you’ve picked your room, you can be sure of elegant Med-meets-colonial interiors with parquet or marble floors, cream timbered ceilings and carefully picked wooden furniture. Some rooms even have majestic marble fireplaces and vast mirrors. The interiors may not be the sleekest, but the generosity of space (in the marble-lined bathrooms, too) ensures opulent comfort in every room.


    Food: One thing’s for certain: you won’t be going hungry at Anassa. From beach BBQs and Cypriot mezzes to swim-up cocktail bars there are a number of delectable offerings for rumbling tummies of all ages. Of the 3 restaurants, Amphora is the family-friendly option. It’s also where you’ll find the heavily laden breakfast tables offering fresh fruit, breads and pastries of all sizes, cheeses and cold cuts of meats, plus there’s a sprawling list of cooked options including pancakes with maple syrup and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It’s a laid-back start to the day – guests casually turn up with prams and children to sit at the marble tables and bask in the morning sun on the sea-facing patios.

    In the evening Amphora offers early sittings as well as a well-stocked kids’ menu featuring mini hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly soldiers, and fruit smileys (you’ll find this at Meltemi Bar, too). If you’ve opted to stay at the resort for lunch, grab a poolside a table at Pelagos for fresh fish straight from the lava-stone grill alongside delicious salads and mezze.


    Kids’ activities: The resort is beside a peaceful and sheltered beach making a whole host of watersports accessible and safe. Enjoy banana boat rides and sailing lessons or diving and water-skiing. When activity isn’t focused on the sea there’s always a host of dedicated, always-warm kid-friendly pools. Anassa’s superlative service also extends to the Kids’ Club which, beside an abundance of toys and games, hosts beach walks, tennis lessons, stone painting, water polo and much more. Kids are entertained according to age group (with ages 4 months to 17 years divided in 5 ‘sub-clubs’) and there’s an excellent staff-to-child ratio (the team are highly qualified) so it’s the perfect option for high-energy youngsters – just make sure you book ahead!  If your interests lie beyond the numerous activities at the resort, the staff are only too happy to arrange excursions for you, from guided archaeological tours to helicopter rides.


    Baby equipment: High chairs and baby cots are available, plus (with advance booking) potties, buggies, car seats, bottles/teats, sterilisers, baby walkers, baby bathtubs, nappies/swimming nappies, swimming aids, wipes, crayons, colouring books and DVDs in various languages.


    Customer reviews: “The Anassa is a magnificent hotel, whitewash and marble opulence in amongst the Cyprus trees and banks of scented flowers. Everything about it is luxurious. The abundant staff were charming and friendly, nothing was too much trouble.”

    Hannah, United Kingdom (30.05.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

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

Top 10 Paddler Pads

  • If you’re the kind of holiday-goer who is drawn by the lure of the lazily lapping tide or the adrenaline-fuelled adventure of diving or rafting, these are the hotels for you. We’ve picked our favourite waterside lodges, B&Bs and cottages for water-based escapades or beachside relaxation – now it’s time to dive in!

    La Finestra Sul Fiume, near Verona, Italy

    La Finestra Sul Fiume

    Between Lake Garda and Verona, this rustic yet charming B&B has an enchanting riverside setting with beautiful gardens, delicious breakfasts and welcoming hosts. Comfort is top of the agenda, and in summer a section of the river is closed off to create a natural pool – swim or simply laze in a hammock on the bank.

    The Boathouse at Knotts End, Lake District, UK

    The Boathouse at Knotts End

    The ultimate romantic escape, this little bolthole is tucked away on its own private lakeshore on Ullswater in the stunning Lake District. Sleeping just 2, the boathouse benefits from uninterrupted views over the water, which you can explore in your private rowing boat or jump in for a dip!

    Laguna Lodge, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

    Laguna Lodge

    Hidden high in the Guatemalan forest and sacred to the local Maya, Lake Atitlán’s jade waters lap just steps from this stylish eco-lodge, which benefits from stunning views, an excellent spa and exemplary vegetarian food. It’s only accessible by boat (guests use water taxis to get around), and you can explore by wild swimming or by borrowing the hotel’s kayak and snorkelling equipment.

    Sea Garden Cottages, Isles of Scilly

    Sea Garden Cottages

    You’d be forgiven for mistaking the shimmering blue waters running alongside this cluster of comfy cottages for the Mediterranean, but they’re actually right here in the UK, on the idyllic car-free Scilly isle of Tresco. Off the Cornish coast, with sea views, a sailing school and a restaurant, this is a dream British escape – empty white-sand beaches are just steps from your door.

    Rancho Encantado, Bacalar, Mexico

    Rancho Encantado

    This budget eco-resort has spacious thatched casitas and is set in verdant gardens, overlooking the unfeasibly blue waters of Laguna Bacalar. Found in the southeast of Mexico’s Yucatán and surrounded by wild jungle, the romantic lakeside casitas have beautiful local crafts and sparkling vistas. Spend time wild swimming, kayaking and taking boat trips, or travel 30 minutes to swim in a 100m-deep natural well.

    The Idle Rocks, St Mawes, Cornwall

    The Idle Rocks

    The small Cornish town of St Mawes overlooks the azure waters of the pretty Fal Estuary and The Idle Rocks – a chic and youthful hotspot – is perfectly placed to take it all in. This 20-bedroom boutique hotel has a sunny terrace  right against the lapping water where boats bob past and sails puncture the horizon. The watery environment even segues nicely into the nautical and Scandinavian influences (with a dash of St Tropez) displayed in the comfy rooms, and there’s also a fabulous restaurant serving fresh local seafood.

    Ahilya Fort, Madhya Pradesh, India

    Ahilya Fort

    Few hotels have a sacred relationship with the water that surrounds them, but Ahilya Fort, located above the stunning Narmada river, is one such magical place. The 18th-century fort stands alongside a ghat (a set of steps leading down to the holy river) which is still very much a part of local life. Wandering along the ghats at sunrise and taking a serene evening boat ride are truly dreamlike experiences and if you’re looking to cool off, there’s also a beautiful pool in the fort’s lush gardens.

    Palazzo Radomiri, near Kotor, Montenegro

    Palazzo Radomiri

    For many, a holiday to tiny Montenegro is typified by the stunning old towns and majestic palazzos that line the country’s beautiful (albeit short) Adriatic coastline. At this specific palazzo in Dobrota it’s all about waterside relaxation: if the large pool isn’t enough, just step out to the sun-drenched jetty and plunge into the bay’s crystalline water. All of this set to the backdrop of Europe’s ascending star of elegant and luxurious travel.

    Pacuare Lodge, Siquirres, Costa Rica

    Pacuare Lodge

    Despite miles of stunning Costa Rican coastline, some of the most exciting aqua-based adventures happen inland at riverside hideaways like Pacuare Lodge – an idyllic jungle retreat hidden deep in the rainforest and accessed by raft (or a jeep and basket across the river!). This is definitely a hotel for the intrepid, and the old adage that fortune favours the brave stands true as persevering travellers will be rewarded with luxurious cabins, paradise-like gardens and a truly unforgettable stay in one of the most unspoilt environments in the world.

    Unguja Lodge, Kizimkazi, Zanzibar

    Unguja Lodge

    If there are 2 words we like next to each other it’s ‘barefoot’ and ‘luxury’ and lucky for us, Unguja Lodge has got both in spades. With just 12 thatched villas and crystal clear, unspoilt waters all around,  snorkelling and diving are a must (you can even venture out for night dives). Plus, with the help of the organised tours, there’s the rare chance to swim with wild dolphins. If the animal abundance of the sea gets too much, there’s always time to laze by the large pool and soak up the friendly, laid-back atmosphere.

    Take a look at our full collection for more travel inspiration >>

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

Spotlight on… Montenegro

  • With the development of yachters’ playground Porto Montenegro rapidly evolving and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic recently choosing Sveti Stefan Island to make his vows to long-term partner Jelena Ristic, Montenegro is fast establishing itself as a ‘must-visit’ European destination. Time to book a flight, we think.



    Why go?

    Having gained independence from Yugoslavia in 2006, this young country is working hard to transform its reputation and utilise its natural assets. Huge investments are being made to develop Montenegro’s flourishing tourism industry, and although this often manifests itself in the form of flashy yacht marinas and luxury resorts, it’s also a destination for the wild at heart. Beyond the imported palms and air-brushed architecture, you’ll find untouched 18th-century Baroque towns, a spectacular coastline, untamed national parks brimming with wildlife, and – perhaps unexpectedly – great-value for money.

    Hotel Hippocampus

    Hotel Hippocampus


    First things first: how to get there? Although flights are becoming more readily available, flying into Montenegro can still be inconvenient – services to the capital Podgorica may be cheap, but if you’re staying in or near the Bay of Kotor (which most people are), you’ll have to take on 80km of predominantly mountain roads once you land. Instead, take a few km off your journey and drive the stunning coastal road from Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia. At the very least you’ll have made the journey easier for yourself, and if you tag a stay in Dubrovnik onto your trip, you’ll get 2 destinations for the price of one. Either way, you’ll be in for a treat – as Byron once wrote, “At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between land and sea must have been on the Montenegrin coast”.

    Bay of Kotor

    Bay of Kotor

    And so to Kotor: our favourite coastal Montenegrin hub. Quieter than busy Budva (with its famous Stari Grad and buzzy nightlife), more authentic than Porto Montenegro (a flashy new marina that’s drawing international interest), and with just enough cafés, restaurants and bars to fill the summer nights, this UNESCO-listed waterfront town is Adriatic charm incarnate. Stay in original 17th-century townhouse turned artful Balkan bolthole Hotel Hippocampus, or decamp beyond the city walls to the peaceful shores of the Dobrota suburb, where Hotel Forza Mare and Palazzo Radomiri tempt those seeking indulgent modernity and traditional Venetian splendour respectively.

    Hotel Forza Mare

    Hotel Forza Mare

    Palazzo Radomiri

    Palazzo Radomiri

    While in Kotor, ascend the 1,350 steps of St John’s Fort – during summertime this is best done at dawn, when the heat and crowds are much reduced. Arching high above the town, embedded in the foothills of Mount Lovcen, the fort has countless nooks to explore, and the views from the top are spectacular. If you’re feeling brave, find a safe spot to climb through the walls to the utterly silent, rural mountain on the other side. It feels like stepping back in time.

    Kotor © Ggia

    Kotor © Ggia

    The Bay of Kotor is often perceived as more lake than sea, so still are the waters that lap at its edge. Don’t expect sandy beaches (that’s for another Euro suntrap); here centuries of Venetian rule brought walkways lined by deep azure water, from which jetties jut inviting refreshing swims and easy watersports. There’s surely no safer place to learn sea-kayaking, and the scuba-diving is excellent (The Independent recently quoted a marine biologist as saying that there are 42,000 fish species to be found in the area).



    Conte restaurant

    Conte restaurant

    Next, head north to the pretty village of Perast and its 2 iconic offshore islands: Ostrvo Sveti Dorde (a private monastery) and Our Lady of the Rocks (a very visitable church and museum). Take a boat to the latter for unrivalled views of the bay, and then return to gaze back at the islands over a lunch of fresh seafood and crisp white wine at the waterfront Conte restaurant.

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Then it’s time to drive south to the original Montenegrin luxury resort: the inimitable, timeless Sveti Stefan Island. Now under the custodianship of the renowned Aman hotel group, this unique outcrop was originally a 15th-century fishing settlement, but over the years it evolved into one of the Adriatic’s most desirable destinations. Google ‘Montenegro’ and chances are you’ll see this islet several times over. If you have the budget, a stay on the island is an unforgettable joy. If not, wander the cypress sentries of Villa Milocer – once Queen Marija’s early 20th-century summer residence, it’s now Aman Sveti Stefan’s refined mainland wing.

    Lake Skadar © Diego Delso

    Lake Skadar © Diego Delso

    If the call of the wild brought you to Montenegro, head inland, where wolves and bears still roam, lilypad-covered lakes carve through mountains, and hair-pin roads bring bird’s-eye views and rattled nerves. Soar to the spiritual heights of Ostrog Monastery or meditate at the mausoleum at Mount Lovcen’s summit. Directly translated to mean ‘Black Mountain’, Montenegro is a country that can only ever be truly defined by its natural wonders.

    Lovcen National Park © Aman Sveti Stefan

    Lovcen National Park © Aman Sveti Stefan

    When to go

    Montenegro is busiest during the long, hot summer. We prefer visiting in spring or early autumn, when the temperatures are still high enough for swimming but it’s easier to explore the country’s stunning landscape. As autumn progresses into winter, rainstorms become more prevalent and many coastal businesses close.

    Villa Dubrovnik

    Villa Dubrovnik

    Our top tip

    As we’ve mentioned, Montenegro is crying out to be a dual destination. Once you’ve seen Kotor’s ‘Dubrovnik-light’ fortifications, drive just 40km across the border to visit the real thing. Dubrovnik has long been a major tourist hub, and a new dimension was recently added to its appeal when it moonlighted as King’s Landing in the cult TV series Game of Thrones. Fans now flock here to see the pier on which Sansa, Littlefinger and Shea gazed out to sea, and the setting of the infamous Battle of Blackwater Bay. Montenegro Stone Cottages are less than an hour from the famous fortified city, or you could choose to stay in the Pearl of the Adriatic itself, where luxury hotels and intimate apartments are perfect for honeymooners.

    See our destination guide for more information on Montenegro and places to stay

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

Escape of the Week… Fazenda Nova

  • This rural Portuguese retreat ticks a lot of boxes: gorgeous rooms, charming and knowledgeable hosts, a stunning location and impressive eco credentials to boot. Between them, owners Hallie and Tim have crafted a relaxing and utterly beautiful getaway from the centuries-old farmhouse and its stunning 10 hectares of bountiful gardens.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    There’s a holistic dimension to a stay at Fazenda Nova: large French doors lead you from the rooms to the gardens, which in turn produce a delicious spread for the breakfast and dinner table. The pretty saltwater pool and commitment to sustainability (there are solar panels and a reed bed to filter grey water) further brings the hotel in touch with its gorgeous natural surroundings.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Rooms: Accommodation is split between 7 Garden Suites, 2 Apartments and a Terrace Suite, all of which are thoughtfully decorated with a characterful minimalism. Balinese teak furniture, South African feathered headdresses and painted Moroccan doors sit alongside Eames chairs and indulgent Ren products – all brilliantly curated to epitomise rustic-chic. High end decadence is also unobtrusively introduced through hypnos mattresses, soft Belgian linen, sleek Artemide lighting and large state-of-the-art bathrooms.

    The Garden Suites have little gardens where beanbags sit under carob trees or pod chairs hang from the branches. The Terrace Suite is slightly more private with its own terrace and stair access. The larger Apartments are perfect for a small family (there’s a kingsize bed and a sofabed in the sitting room) or for those who like to be able to cook themselves the odd meal. You’ll find a fully stocked kitchen and one of them also has its own garden.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Food: Thanks to the numerous fruit-laden trees in the gardens, Fazenda Nova’s breakfast table groans under the weight of organic, home-grown produce like apples, plums and pears as well as fresh pomegranate and orange juice. You can also expect crusty homemade bread straight from the renovated 200-year-old oven. The restaurant, A Cozinha, (closed on Saturdays during peak season and Wednesday as well in off-peak months) offers a similar fusion of fresh produce and rustic themes, all enjoyed on the shady outdoor terrace. Expect a small but daily rotating menu of local food such as mackerel, sea bass, or bream alongside sweet roast peppers, courgettes, beans and wholesome salads.

    Dining out is easy, too: within 10-15 minutes you can drive to Cafe dos Mestres in Fuseta or Fialho in Pinheiro. The former is a well-priced restaurant serving typical Algarve food and heaving with locals, while the latter serves a not-to-be-missed arroz de marisco (a delicious simmering cauldron of rice and shellfish).

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Top Tip: Check the blackboard in the hall for daily suggestions of what to do in the area – Hallie and Tim delight in suggesting where to go and what to buy, without being pushy. Alternatively, take a book to a quiet, secluded spot in the garden – a chair looking out over the orchards, a wooden shelter by the herb garden, or a bench under the olive trees – and soak up the bucolic delights of rural Portugal.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    i-escape guest review: “We couldn’t have been happier staying here. Wonderful staff, enthusiastic and charming owners who helped us fill some perfect days in a beautiful place far from crowds. 3 nights was too short this time.”
    Aidan, United Kingdom (21.10.13)

    i-escape gift:  a gift of homemade olive oil

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Snapshots from… Skiathos

  • Skiathos proved a revelation for our Acting Assistant Editor Melissa this summer. Chosen on a whim, its combination of cool bars, authentic food and countless sandy beaches (plus a couple of great-value i-escape hideaways!) has earned it the title of her new favourite beach holiday destination. Here, she talks us through her week on this blissful Greek island.

    SkiathosAh Skiathos… Need I say more? Well, probably, because if (like me, 2 months ago) you know little about this 12km-long island, there certainly is a lot to tell.

    Let’s go back to June. Summer was marching on and we were keen to enjoy the UK heatwave. Unfortunately, the pesky matter of full-time employment kept placing itself squarely between us and a week of sunbathing at home. Thus, a holiday was in order.

    Skiathos Holidays lounge and bar

    Skiathos Holidays lounge and bar

    Three short weeks later our taxi dropped us off at Skiathos Holidays, a secluded cluster of self-catering studios and villas where we were greeted with freshly squeezed orange juice in the beautiful open-air lounge and bar. Having touched down at Skiathos’ tiny airport, it was an easy 15-minute drive along the dazzling south coast to our home for the week. Turning off the main road, down a dusty track lined with wild-flowered meadows and speckled with wandering hens, we saw the chic white façade of Skiathos Holidays draped in bougainvillea. Our taxi driver turned to us, “Are you staying here? This is my favourite part of the island.”

    Skiathos Holidays garden

    Skiathos Holidays garden

    While settling into our airy (and bargainous) Standard Studio, we quickly spotted the deep blue sea beyond the trees. Moments later, we were wandering out of the lawned garden and directly onto Vromolinos Beach. It really is that close.

    Porto Paradiso beach bar

    Porto Paradiso beach bar

    Walking in the sun-warmed shallows, we followed the chilled-out sounds emanating from Porto Paradiso beach bar. Maybe it was the enticing cocktails and comfy sunbeds, or maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours (thank you 7am flight from Stansted), but we genuinely were deliriously happy to arrive at this super-cool hangout.

    Skiathos Town

    Skiathos Town

    The next day, well rested, we set out to find Skiathos Town. (No need for a car: the island’s excellent bus service tours the length of the south coast.) This white-washed harbour-centric settlement is the closest thing Skiathos has to an urban centre, but rest assured there’s not a high-rise in sight – just pretty waterfront tavernas, cubic villas stacked up the hill, and pine-scented Bourtzi jutting out between the old and new ports.

    Boutzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Bourtzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Boutzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Bourtzi islet, Skiathos Town

    We couldn’t resist exploring this little islet and were delighted with what we found: another super-chic and wonderfully relaxed bar overlooking the glistening turquoise sea – there was even a rocky outcrop for pre-lunch swimming.

    Koula's House

    Koula’s House

    Later, between feasting on bargain gyros at No Name and sipping fabulous herb-laden cocktails at Ergon (best Mojito we’ve ever tasted), we went in search of one of i-escape’s newest additions: Koula’s House, a great-value hideaway with wraparound sea views that’s well hidden in a sleepy corner of town, just steps from the vibrant waterfront.

    Koutsouri beach

    Koutsouri beach

    By mid-week we were so relaxed we no longer felt the need to plan our day’s activities. Instead, we were taking leisurely picnic-style breakfasts on the balcony – fresh bread from the supermarket (5 minutes away) and delicious jams from aforementioned Ergon’s deli section – before ambling aimlessly in the sunshine. One day, we wandered the peninsula on which Skiathos Holidays sits, clambering down a dusty gorge to reach this heavenly hidden beach, named Koutsouri. Here we spend a few hours concentrating on the very important tasks of paddling, sunbathing and stacking colourful pebbles found the shallows.

    Taverna Sklithri

    Taverna Sklithri

    Of course, Greek salad is a must in a place like this – Bourtzi’s eatery does a fabulous rendition – and, unsurprisingly, seafood is also a local highlight. The prettiest setting we found for such a feast was Taverna Sklithri (1 bus stop from Vromolinos Beach). It stands almost entirely alone, on a tiny beach concealed from the road by trees and greenery, but descend the terracotta path and you’ll realise it’s a destination in its own right. Grape vines shade gingham-clothed tables and rainbow-hued chairs, and a few more trail along the sand, inches from the lapping waves – the fresh fish is outstanding. Come at dusk for pink skies­­ or later to watch the orange moon rise out of the inky-black sea.

    Airport picnic

    Airport picnic

    Before we knew it our final day had arrived. When all else fails and you have to accept that no, on this occasion you cannot simply stay and live in Skiathos forever, we recommend an airport picnic to soften the blow. After some mild confusion at security over the olive tapenade, we tucked into tasty cheese, salami and bread while all those around us despondently nibbled stale baguettes from the airport’s lone café. Yes, we looked ridiculous and had to use a plastic teaspoon as a knife, but this final flourish really helped maintain the holiday mood until the very last moment.

    Until next time, Skiathos!

    My particular experience of Skiathos was all about relaxation – gorgeous beaches, tasty food and fabulous cocktails – but rest assured there is plenty for the more actively inclined to explore here. Check out our destination guide for more info.

    Posted in Our Trips..., Travel Postcards. Tagged , , , , ,

Top 10 family-friendly revisits

  • You may already know that at i-escape we pride ourselves on personally visiting all our featured partner properties to review them in depth. But you may not know that we also revisit them regularly to make sure the reviews are up to date and that high standards of style and service are still in evidence. Over the last year we’ve returned to dozens of places to delight anew in their charm and character, and to ensure that those included in the Kids Collection still offer great facilities, amenities and activities for families.

    Our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, chooses her favourite family-friendly hotels and rentals revisited in the past year by the team.

    Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech Palmeraie, Morocco – revisited by Nadine

    A jewel in any collection, this beautiful Bohemian country estate is set in lush grounds just 15 minutes’ drive outside Marrakech – perfect for families wanting space and tranquillity after visiting the bustling Medina. There are no less than 5 different swimming pools to cool off in and the inventive kids’ club (school holidays only) now offers activities such as Arabic calligraphy lessons and gardening workshops; camel- or horse-riding can also be easily arranged. Bliss.

    Jnane Tamsna

    The Cottage Charlestown, Cornwall, UK – revisited by Mike (Editor-in-Chief)

    Owner Antonia now has 3 charming cottages in this southern Cornish seaside village, each sleeping 2, 3, and 4 respectively. Mike liked them all, recommending Olivia’s (which sleeps 4) for a family with 2 kids, and The Cottage for a family of 3 plus a baby. His 6-year-old son loved the age-appropriate toys and films thoughtfully supplied, and there’s plenty of baby and toddler equipment, too. Antonia now offers meals for her guests which makes for a spoiling and easy dinner, perhaps after a day spent exploring the Lost Gardens of Heligan (just a 15-minute drive away).

    The Cottage Charlestown

    Xandari Resort & Spa, San Jose, Costa Rica – revisited by Ben F (Rates Manager)

    This vibrant, welcoming hotel, just 20 minutes from the international airport, is the perfect pit-stop for families flying in and out of Costa Rica. Kids needing to expel pent up energy will love the 40 acres of perfectly kept tropical gardens full of birds and lizards, which also includes 3 swimming pools. There are also walking trails, goats and turkeys, waterfalls, and crazy sculptures to be found. Ben reported that the bright colours in the spacious private villas are very appealing for children, and there’s a good kids’ menu of classic fare. If you can stay longer, there’s heaps to do nearby, from visiting a volcano to a rainforest canopy tour.

    Xandari Resort Spa

    Masseria Alchimia, Puglia, Italy – revisited by Nadine

    Nadine and her family had a relaxed holiday at this collection of minimalist-chic studios. Each takes extra beds or a cot, is self-catering (with an ingenious kitchen in a cupboard), and has a private sit out area. The Family Suite has space for 4 people, with 2 bathrooms and an in-room colour therapy tub which the kids loved! There’s a small playground, beaches and beach clubs at hand, and best of all, the Zoo Safari in Fasano kept both children enthralled all day.

    Masseria Alchimia

    Yab Yum Resort, Goa, India – revisited by Laila (Founding Director)

    For something different, these great-value thatched domes and simple cottages are set just behind Ashven beach in a magical sand garden. The property is securely fenced, the beach is wide and sandy, and kids get a dedicated menu and 2 paddling pools to themselves. Charming staff can arrange boat trips and tuk-tuk tours, so you’ll have everything you need for a laid-back holiday.

    Yab Yum Resort

    Europa House Apartments, London, UK – revisited by Nadine

    Within a large elegant townhouse in Little Venice are these 1-3-bedroom self-catering apartments, which provide comfortable living quarters for families who like being near the excitements of the West End, yet far from its noise and traffic. There are plenty of upmarket food emporiums nearby, plus a useful restaurant delivery service. My kids loved playing in the large communal gardens and having their own cupboard of toys, books and games with ‘Keep Out, Kids Only’ on the door!

    Europa House Apartments

    Chakrabongse Villas, Bangkok, Thailand – revisited by Ben R (Bookings Consultant)

    A real find, these exclusive suites and rooms are hidden in the extensive and safe grounds of a palace on the shores of the Chao Phraya river, right in the heart of the city. Ben thought the spacious Chinese Suite worked best for families as it opens onto a private gated terrace and has direct access to the swimming pool (which has fun inflatables for kids). With the choice of an in-house chef or self-catering options, a super-cool James Bond-style private motor launch for river tours, and a location close to city’s glittering temples and street markets, you’re all set for a memorable city stay.

    Chakrabongse Villas

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment, Prague, Czech Republic – revisited by Emily (Editorial Assistant)

    This Baroque 2-bedroom self-catering apartment makes a great home-away-from-home for families wanting to explore this beautiful city and its many sights. You’re just 15 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes’ walk from Wenceslas Square, plus the neighbourhood is brimming with restaurants, food shops and public transport. After sightseeing, the kids can flop in front of DVDs or family channels while parents cook in the well-equipped, modern kitchen.

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment

    Chambers Hotel, Midtown, NYC – revisited by Nadine

    Nadine took her daughter Esme to New York City for the first time over February half-term and stayed at this stylish yet understated, friendly and intimate hotel. It’s just one block from 5th Avenue and subway stations, 2 blocks from Central Park, and a short walk to the bright lights of Times Square. There’s a milk bar downstairs (yummy cookies!), room service, an award-winning restaurant in the basement, and plenty of dining options on the doorstep. Kids are welcomed with dressing gowns, slippers and colouring books. Each floor has been differently decorated by an artist. Needless to say, Esme loved everything about New York!

    Chambers Hotel

    Ackselhaus & Blue Home, Berlin, Germany – revisited by Ben R

    These twin hotels boast adventure-themed décor – which Ben found to be pristine after their recent revamp – and no 2 rooms are the same. Those with kitchenettes and second bedrooms are the ones recommended for families. Kids under 6 stay for free and both hotels have gardens – one with a fish pond. Ben says the area (Prenzlauer Berg) felt family-centric with not too much traffic, and the immediate vicinity has lots of playgrounds, leafy parks, kiddies’ shops, and family-friendly cafes.

    Ackselhaus & Blue Home

    Check out the rest of our fantastic Kids Collection >>

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

Escape of the Week… Mistley Thorn

  • Take a rundown estuary-side pub in beautiful Essex, add an enthusiastic Californian with a can-do attitude and you end up with Mistley Thorn, a cossetting B&B with a smashing restaurant and a buzzy bar. The pub is now a staunch feature on the county’s foodie scene and has also established itself as a delightful UK getaway, mainly on account of the warm welcome from American owner, Sherri.

    Mistley Thorn

    Not only is Mistley Thorn a gastronomic delight, it’s also an outdoor enthusiast’s haven. The Stour Estuary affords excellent bird-watching and the nearby Essex coast has some great beaches, we particularly like the sandy stretch at Wrabness. Mistley itself is a charming town with numerous examples of beautiful Georgian architecture, including the elegant Mistley Towers. Nearby you’ll find Manningtree with its numerous art galleries and a host of gardens for the horticulturally inclined.

    Mistley Thorn

    Rooms: There are 2 spacious Suites and tastefully decorated bedrooms (divided into Premium and Standard categories) at Mistley Thorn, all of which have kingsize beds (some can become twins). All rooms vary in size and outlook – we suggest plumping for a view of the Stour Estuary, which you’ll find in Standard Room 6 and all Premium Rooms (bar Room 5). But whatever you look out at, you can be sure that the interiors will be beautifully designed with original dark oak beamed ceilings, muted duck-egg green wainscoting, or burgundy hand-knitted throws over the beds. You’ll also find all of the usual accoutrements: WiFi, tea and coffee facilities and a dock for your iPod. Bathrooms have tempting REN toiletries, and Room 5 has a particularly spoiling double-ended tub.

    Mistley Thorn

    Food: Dinner at Mistley Thorn brings to mind 3 things: Prosecco, oysters and friendly locals. We happily enjoyed all of them during our visit, as well as the warm chatter of owner Sherri behind the bar. The oysters set the gastronomic tone at Mistley where the menu is dominated by fresh, sea-based delicacies such as griddled diver scallops with pea purée or Adnams beer-battered fish. The proximity to the veritable feast of Essex’s shores also gave rise to ‘Moules Madness’ – a Thursday tradition where diners descend to enjoy the shelly sea creatures cooked in various delicious ways including Thai-style or perhaps a more traditional French version with frites. If all this has you ‘hooked’ you can also take part in one of Sherri’s popular cookery workshops that she runs from her house next door. It’s worth noting that, despite the reverence of the ocean’s bounty, both lunch and dinner have  a number of options for vegetarians and those less inclined to seafood.

    A buffet-style breakfast of cereals and fresh fruit is provided for hotel guests, who can also enjoy a number of cooked options including full English. Homemade muffins and eggs Benedict make an appearance on Sundays, when the public are also invited in for brunch. If you want to head further afield for meals, there are plenty of options nearby, particularly of the gastropub variety, we suggest The Crown at Stoke by Nayland, or The Sun Inn.

    Mistley Thorn

    Top Tip: Were we to visit again, we’d stay 2 nights and take a cookery class with Sherri in the Mistley Kitchen. The hands-on workshops can cover anything from Indian seafood to French bistro, and if the restaurant is anything to go by, the food will be utterly delicious.

    Mistley Thorn

    i-escape guest review: “We particularly liked being able to enjoy a lovely place to stay in AND have our dog (very well behaved) stay with us. Also good that there is somewhere to park. All in all a very pleasant stay.”
    Benjamin, United Kingdom (18.03.14)

    i-escape gift:  a free room upgrade, subject to availability at the time of stay

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,