Escape of the Week… Fusion Maia

  • Pampering is the order of the day at Vietnam’s Fusion Maia. Sitting alongside a stretch of pristine bamboo-backed beach near the 16th-century town of Hoi An, it offers easy luxury at every turn: the spacious villas have private pools, the 4 restaurants serve everything from Asian-style tapas to burgers, and – best of all – indulgent spa treatments are included in the room rate. 

    Fusion Maia Vietnam, Vietnam spa breakFusion Maia Vietnam Spa Break

    The Maia Spa is hidden in a jungle-like garden with its own adults-only pool and offers all the relaxation you could need: steam room, sauna, massages, scrubs, manicures – the lot. And if you’re here en famille, the little ones won’t be left out while you’re being treated – the Mini Maia spa offers manicures, pedicures and foot and head massages for kids, as well as other fun such as cookie decorating and ‘laughing yoga’.

    Fusion Maia family spa break Vietnam

    Fusion Maia VietnamRooms: Arranged around an impressive central reception and restaurant are the 87 generously sized villas. Most are 1-bedroom Pool Villas, but there are also larger 2-bedroom Spa Villas with a kitchenette, ocean-view Beach Villas, and a Deluxe Beach Villa with a sea-view pool and 2 huge rooms. Identical in layout and décor, they all have a sitting room at one end and a bedroom and bathroom with a black granite sunken tub at the other. The floor-to-ceiling windows lead out to a private garden with a shady seating area, a patch of lawn, and a plunge pool where you can drift from one end to the other without any effort.

    Food: There are 4 restaurants to sample: main restaurant Five; the poolside Fresh (which will also bring food to your lounger, including great burgers); the bar Tonic, which serves Asian-style tapas and sublime cocktails; and the hotel-owned Fusion Café in nearby Hoi An. We ate some winning dishes at Five, including rice-noodle open ravioli with crispy duck. Fusion Maia also has a ‘Natural Cleanse Programme’ offering raw Vietnamese food to help improve your wellbeing. Breakfast is a serious business with a huge spread: fruit sushi, just-baked pastries, meats, yoghurts, fresh juices and eggs.

    For a change of scene, we’d highly recommend taking the free hotel shuttle into Hoi An and wandering along the riverside until one of the eateries tickles your fancy – our favourite was a delicious traditional Vietnamese feast at Miss Ly’s.

    Author’s tip: If coming from Hué, hire a car and driver to take you along the coastal route to Fusion Maia. You’ll pass paddy fields, duck herders and local fishing boats before going over the Hia Van Pass with its spectacular views of the azure waters and bright yellow beaches below.

    Fusion Maia Vietnam

    Press review: “Fusion Maia aims to offer something a little different, billing itself as the country’s first spa resort. Healthy living equates to healthy eating here, though without any accompanying sense of deprivation. With the aptly named chef Yum, you can taste your way through the local markets – a headily scented colour-burst of exotic fruit and vegetables. There’s early morning t’ai chi on Marble Mountain, one of the naturally occuring marble formations sticking straight out of the flat landscape. And there are bicycles to explore the islands off Hoi An, all interlinked by rickety bridges. On your return, try one of the complimentary spa treatments, including chakra-balancing massages.”
    Conde Nast Traveller (UK), May 2013

    Fusion Maia VietnamFusion Maia Vietnam

    Special offer: 7 nights for 6 (valid until 31 August 2015) and other offers

    i-escape gift: a complimentary flower bath on arrival

    Read the full review and book Fusion Maia >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week, Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , , , , ,

Just back from… India

  • Bookings Consultant Ben and his partner Joe have recently returned from a bonkers but beguiling trip to India, where they took in Mumbai’s classic colonial sights, breathed in the magical atmosphere in Hampi and, of course, checked out some hip hideaways…

    Ben i-escapeOur adventure began in the chaos of Mumbai – always a shock to the system, but the edge was taken off as soon as we arrived at beautiful Abode. Funky, cool and unique are not words that you usually associate with Indian city hotels, but this is an absolute gem and it bookended our trip perfectly. It’s right in the eye of the storm, with Mumbai’s classic colonial sights all around, just a stone’s throw from the Gateway of India and surrounded by bars and restaurants.

    It’s located on the second floor of an old merchants’ building and the staircase guides you up into the impressive café/chill-out area, which has double-height ceilings and clever décor that mixes classic Indian style with funky twists. I met the owner’s father, who’s a retired antique dealer; the furnishings are the fruits of his lifelong passion for collecting items from all over India.

    Abode Mumbai hotelAbode Mumbai hotel

    Leading off in all directions are the rooms – we stayed in a Superior Luxury with a beautiful seating area and roll-top bathtub. At the other end of the price spectrum, the Basic rooms all enjoy the same features and furnishings for incredible value.

    Abode Mumbai hotel

    We loved trawling the local bazaars and ticking off the sights in colonial Coloba. And we headed off on a memorable daytrip to Elephanta Island with its UNSECO-listed cave temples and all the oddities that come with a popular weekend destination for locals (roaming cows, monkeys, goats, donkeys, tin trains and food shacks galore).

    After a few days we were happy to escape the open-air sauna that is Mumbai and jump on the night train down to Goa for some much-needed sea breezes. We hopped between beaches, explored villages on motorbikes and ate lots of wonderful seafood curries.

    Goa i-escape

    And then we hit the dream: The Beach Houses. This restored trio of Portuguese dwellings for 2-6 is reached over a wooden bridge spanning Otter Creek, and on arrival you enter a little world of Goa au natural. We happily settled into its languid lifestyle.

    The Beach Houses Goa

    We stayed in The Bakery, a beautiful pastel-hued building set amidst the coconut groves, with killer views of an unspoilt stretch of private beach. Our time was spent watching the fishermen haul in their boats, lazing in a hammock, and stargazing by night. The rooms are airy and light, with a refined beach-house décor, and there are no mod cons (bar, air-con) – but that’s the beauty of the place. Butterflies flutter, birds tweet and creepy crawlies crawl. It’s good for the soul!

    The Beach Houses Goa

    You can see why it attracts a famous clientele (e.g. Brangelina) – security is tight and privacy is paramount (there are 2 security guards per guest, not for safety but to keep pesky prying eyes at bay!). It provided me with delusions of grandeur for a brief couple of days – I’m usually on the wrong side of the fence.

    I can see why most people don’t tear themselves off the beach in Goa – it’s easily done as the days slip into weeks. But if you can muster the strength (and I implore you to!), you won’t regret the decision to take a couple of days out, fold up the hammock and jump on a train inland to Hampi. Spread out over the most magical boulder-strewn landscape are temples, ruins and carvings from a long-lost civilisation, with a sparkling river that attracts colourful birdlife running right through it – you just couldn’t make it up. This really is India at its most atmospheric. We spent many happy days exploring temples, swimming and breathing in the local atmosphere. Just sitting by the water with a chai for a few hours, we saw more odd sights than you would see in a week anywhere else.

    Goa i-escape

    From Hampi we headed back to the coast for one last beach blowout at Yab Yum – a bonkers place with huts that look like coconuts from outer space. The gardens are magical, with disco balls and lightshades hanging from the trees – I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if a fairy had popped out of the undergrowth! It caters really well for families, and the kids we saw looked like they were having a ball.

    Yab Yum Goa i-escapeYab Yum Goa i-escape

    We only really scratched the surface of India, but we’re already planning our return…

    Have a look at our other Indian hotels >>

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

Top 10 holidays for teenagers

  • You probably know by now that i-escape’s Kids Collection has a wonderful breadth of properties which warmly welcome families. But have you discovered that you can search according to the age of your offspring? Each of the nearly 900 recommended hotels, guesthouses and rentals has been vetted as to whether it’s best suited to babies, toddlers, children and/or teenagers.

    We’re kicking of a summer series showcasing some perfect places for each age group, as chosen by our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine. First up is arguably the hardest family member to cater for: the teenager.

    Lapa Rios, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

    Lapa Rios eco-lodge Lapa Rios eco-lodge

    This pioneer eco lodge has the ideal setting. Its cute wooden cabins are spread out on a hillside surrounded by primary rainforest, with the deep blue Pacific beyond. Near-deserted beaches are within a 15-minute stroll, the organic food is delicious, and the superb guides will take you hiking and birding through the jungle. No kids under 6 are allowed, so a more grown-up vibe permeates the place, and even the most plugged-in teenager will forget the lack of internet and relish the activities on offer.

    Lapa Rios kids activities

    Hameau Les Cleves, Haute-Nendaz, Four Valleys, Switzerland

    Hameau les Cleves, Switzerland Hameau les Cleves, Switzerland

    Whether you choose the lush flowering summers or the adrenaline-pumped winters, few can resist the call of the Alps. And we’ve yet to meet anybody (teenager or otherwise) who hasn’t enjoyed a stay in Switzerland’s sunniest resort, with its breathtaking views, 400km of slopes and open-air swimming pool overlooking the Rhone Valley. Base yourselves at this ski-in/ski-out lodge for its charming hosts, delicious bistro meals, fun fondue nights and hot tubs.

    Kids activities Hameau les Cleves

    Grootbos, near Hermanus, Garden Route, South Africa

    Grootbos, South AfricaGrootbos, South Africa

    South Africa’s fynbos landscape is unique to the Western Cape: shrubby heathland with a Mediterranean climate, renowned for its exceptional biodiversity. Outdoorsy families who like to get well off the beaten track will be in their element at this safe wilderness retreat, set in a private nature reserve. The suites are spread across 2 lodges, one of which doesn’t accept children under 12 so is ideal for those with teens; each has a pool and restaurant. Meals and many activities are included in the price, and the empty sandy beaches nearby are stupendous.

    Grootbos kids activities

    Tierra Atacama, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

    Tierra Atacama, Chile Tierra Atacama, Chile

    Talk about a showstopper! Located just outside an oasis town in the Atacama desert, this design hotel is beautiful: adobe bricks, volcanic rock, llama-wool rugs, sleek interiors and a shimmering swimming pool. The astonishing landscapes nearby range from salt lakes to spouting geysers to moonscape valleys. Rooms have views of volcanoes, sunsets and salt mountains. And the night skies from your private outdoor seating area are breathtaking. Teenagers are accepted on all excursions and the rates, although expensive, are all-inclusive. Plus, kids stay free in July and August.

    Tierra Atacama kids activities

    Hotel Omm, Eixample, Barcelona

    Hotel Omm Barcelona Hotel Omm Barcelona

    Fashion-conscious teens will love Barcelona, whose shopping streets are a mecca for funky clothes and footwear. And hanging out at this super-cool hotel in the heart of the action will work for parents and offspring alike. Rooms are vast, with lots of pleasingly hi-tech gadgetry (including projectors for TVs). There’s also a Michelin-starred restaurant, a buzzy lobby-bar with light boxes and dangling mirrors, and a rooftop pool with views over the city.

    Hotel Omm activities

    Round Hill Hotel & Villas, Montego Bay, Jamaica

    Round Hill Hotel & VillasRound Hill Hotel & Villas, Jamaica

    Once children cross the threshold to young adult, it’s extraordinary how luxurious surroundings can suddenly become of paramount importance. Your teen can swan about to his or her heart’s content at these gracious oceanfront suites and hillside villas (some with pools) that cascade down to a private beach. All manner of watersports are available, and there’s a 7 Up kids’ club offering cool activities such as reggae lessons, talent shows and movies. What’s more, the games room is wired for music and games (Xbox, Wii, Rock Band, Karaoke).

    Round Hill kids activities

    Hotel Ranga, near Hella, southern Iceland

    Hotel_Ranga_129821_3MB_270514Hotel Ranga IcelandIceland is a surreal adventure playground for all ages, and this Alpine-style lodge (complete with a stuffed polar bear in the lobby!) provides excellent access to awesome activities. Even the most jaded teenager will get a thrill from dog-sledding or snowmobiling across glaciers. The food is equally adventurous (smoked puffin, anyone?), and the vast breakfast buffet will suit growing adolescents.

    Hotel Ranga kids activities

    Siwa Villa, Siwa, Western Desert, Egypt

    Siwa Villa Egypt Siwa1

    A stay in this comfy Flintstone-like mud-brick dwelling, which can sleep up to 9, will be truly memorable for the whole family. It’s set among magical sand dunes, so you’ll soon be re-enacting Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia-style adventures. The large roof terrace overlooks a ruined citadel, and there are funky details throughout (bunk beds made from palm trees, lampshades carved from salt bricks). There are restaurants nearby, and a housekeeper is on hand to help out.

    Siwa Villa kids activities

    Fazenda Catucaba, near São Luis do Paraitinga, southern Brazil

    Fazenda Catucaba BrazilFazenda Catucaba Brazil

    Travel 2.5 hours from São Paulo and you’re in another world: mountains, lakes, lush rainforest and sprawling coffee plantations. This organic farm has 450 hectares to roam around, along with a gracious colonial-style farmhouse, newer villas and delicious home-grown food. The activities on site and nearby compensate for the lack of internet; this is the stuff true family bonding is made of.

    Fazenda Catucaba kids activities

    Home Valley Station, East Kimberley, Western Australia

    Home Valley Station Australia Home Valley Station Australia

    You’ll feel at the end of the world when traversing the extraordinary Kimberley region of Western Australia, still mostly accessed via red-dust roads. Expect vast distances between settlements, outlandish rock formations (the Bungle Bungles really do look like beehives), and ancient pre-fossil gorges. For a unique insight into the landscape, base yourselves at this working cattle station (April-October only). Stay in eco tents or homestead rooms, munch kangaroo and barramundi at dinner, and get acquainted with the resident barking owls.

    Home Valley Station kids activities

    Have a look through the rest of our Kids Collection >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , ,

Escape of the Week… CasaCau

  • Just steps from Rome’s Trevi Fountain yet surprisingly peaceful, these 5 apartments (sleeping 2-4) are a bohemian home-away-from-home in the Eternal City. Each is packed with wonderfully luxurious touches like wireless Bose speakers, iPads, a kitchenette stocked with Prosecco and chocolates, and even a sauna in the bathroom.

    CasaCau apartments Rome

    Original features have been restored, contemporary artwork carefully hung and retro-chic furniture artfully chosen to create an individual style for each apartment – we loved them all so much we wanted to spend a night in each!

    CasaCau apartments Rome

    Rooms: Dressed in a mix of vintage, mid-century and modern pieces, the apartments have open-plan kitchenettes, spacious dining areas and huge bathrooms stocked with Osme toiletries (some even have a sauna!). We stayed in the Grand Apartment and loved the large living room/diner and the sweet little terrace accessed through a hidden wardrobe (like Narnia!). Our other favourite was pretty, pastel-coloured Corner Apartment 5, which has a bird-themed fresco headboard and a Turkish bath.

    CasaCau apartments Rome

    Food: A market bag of goodies is left outside your door for breakfast each morning – we couldn’t get enough of the freshly baked pastries, and we loved rustling up a feast from the bread, eggs, fruit and juice. The kitchenettes are also stocked with enough basics to put together a simple meal (we had tomato sauce, olive oil, pasta, milk, butter, eggs, yoghurts, biscotti, tea, coffee, seasonings etc). For other groceries we’d highly recommend going to the huge Eataly Roma food emporium near Ostiense station. If you want to eat out, the staff have a whole host of fab recommendations – we opted for Michelin-starred Stazione di Posta (which is run by CasaCau’s owners) and were blown away by the tasting menu.

    CasaCau apartments Rome

    Author’s tip: The basilica-shaped Santa Maria church in nearby Trastevere is one of the oldest in Rome and has a stunning mosaicked apse. Take time to sit and enjoy the effects of light as it streams through the coloured glass above the entrance.

    CasaCau apartments Rome

    Press review: “A beautiful house consisting of luxury apartments with a chic boutique feel. Each apartment was individually designed by local interior designer, Nora P, and features beautifully high ceilings – creating a real calming sense of space in an otherwise bustling part of the city filled with tourists and street vendors.”
    Harper’s Bazaar

    Special offer: 25% midweek discount until 26 December 2015

    Read the full review and book CasaCau >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Books for your summer holiday

  • We think that finding the right book to match your holiday is like pairing food and wine: one should bring out the best in the other. To get you started on the road to a sizzling sun-lounger read, we’ve picked 5 European destinations and matched them with an equally intoxicating book. So feast on and drink up for a double dose of escapism.

    South of France

    With romantic beaches, a glamourous history and plenty of Belle-Epoque jewels, it’s no wonder France’s Côte D’Azur has inspired some sparkling prose. Despite its tragic slant, the Mediterranean sun shines through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night – an intoxicating novel alight with the grandeur of the rich, famous and beautiful of the early twentieth century.

    Les Rosees

    It’s best enjoyed at Les Rosees, set just above super-cool Cannes, or in your very own stylish villa close to sandy Keller Beach.


    With its mountain backdrop, tree-lined centre and imposing Alhambra, it’s no wonder that Granada gave renowned Spanish poet Frederico García Lorca an inclination for flamboyant and achingly beautiful verse. His fame and subject matter may have far outstretched this pretty Andalucian city, but his avant-garde writing sits perfectly with its impressive grandiosity.


    Where else could you enjoy Lorca’s poems except on a terrace with views of the moonlit Alhambra? Our favourites can be found at Carmen del Cobertizo and Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments.


    With dramatic mountains, sandy beaches and fantastic city life to explore, you’re going to want a book that provides plenty of fun for little effort. Cue The Vacationers, a gentle holiday read following New York family the Posts on their trip to this Balearic isle. Expect a Mallorca-based maelstrom of family gripes and hidden secrets.

    We recommend soaking up the story within easy reach of beach and mountains at Son Brull Hotel and Spa, or on a family break at stunning Ca’s Penelope.


    Widely acknowledged as one of the most important modern Italian novels, The Leopard dramatizes the unification of Italy under Garibaldi through the eyes of the aristocratic Sicilian Salina family. It’s an important book with a grand narrative. Back on the mainland, E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View is no less engaging; it follows Lucy, a fraught and prim English girl embarking on a tour of Italy and negotiating tangled romance in the lead up to World War II.


    For a taste of aristocratic Sicily, we suggest enjoying The Leopard at palatial Monaci delle Terre Nere. Or begin your Italy trip alongside Lucy in Florence’s Riva Lofts.


    An enveloping, beautiful and history-rich destination like Greece deserves the concentration of an epic tome. If you can handle the war-torn and iconic narrative of Homer’s Odyssey then it’s worth the read, but perhaps more suited to long, lazy poolside days is the Kefalonia-based Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – a wonderfully hypnotic novel that swings between joyful and bleak.


    The setting of Captain Corelli also happens to be one of Greece’s most popular islands. My Little Place on the Hill and Chalikeri Luxury Villas capture its breath-taking majesty.

    Take a look at our summer escapes that still have availability >>

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

WIN a seaside break!

  • We do love to be beside the seaside! And if you do too, this competition is just the ticket. We’ve teamed up with the lovely folks at hush and Biscuiteers to give you the chance to win the ultimate coastal break.

    One lucky person and a companion will be winding down the country lanes to yachty Salcombe on the Devon coast for a 2-night stay at Salcombe Harbour Hotel & Spa.

    Salcombe seaside hotel

    Overlooking the sparkling blue estuary, this boutique bolthole has 50 rooms with soothing palettes, unfussy furniture and comfy beds, plus special extras like gin and sherry decanters, Nespresso machines and touch-screen tablets.

    Salcombe seaside break

    The buzzy restaurant, where you’ll enjoy dinner on both nights, serves up tasty fare such as super-fresh sea bass fillet with sautéed spinach and beurre blanc sauce, plus one of our all-time favourite desserts: lemon sorbet, meringues, whipped cream, lemon curd and limoncello.

    And if all that lazing and eating is just too much, you’ll each be rewarded with a 25-minute treatment in the Harbour Spa to help you unwind even further. Utter bliss.

    UK seaside break

    The treats don’t stop there. The winner will also get a whopping £400 to spend on relaxed everyday fashion at hush, from dresses and shorts to bags, sandals and beachwear; you’ll easily be the best-dressed guest! And no beach break would be complete without a biscuit-y sandcastle from Biscuiteers – their ‘Beside the Seaside’ biscuit tin is filled with themed treats to get you in the holiday spirit.

    Two runners up will each win £50 to spend at hush and a retro lollies big biscuit card from Biscuiteers.

    We’re sure that’s whetted your appetite, so head on over to the Biscuiteers website to enter! Good luck!

    Free prize draw

     View the full terms and conditions on the Biscuiteers website >>
    Posted in Competitions, Our Favourite.... Tagged , , ,

Escape of the Week… Dar Zaman

  • Dar ZamanAt first glance, Marrakech hotel Dar Zaman looks too good to be true. As the sun sets during dinner, the small riad lights up with the glow of candlelight, rose petals are sprinkled over beds, and the space is transformed into an achingly romantic haven. Better still, it does so at some of the best prices in the medina.

    Once you’ve negotiated the medina and been welcomed through the regal wooden door by owners Peter and Hassan, you’ll see that this pitch-perfect combination is no accident. The warm and attentive service will leave you feeling like you’re spending time with kind and knowledgable friends – and it’s just a 10-minute walk from the bustling main square, Djemaa el Fna.

    Dar Zaman

    Rooms: With only 4 rooms, Dar Zaman feels very intimate. All rooms are equally charming, with no duff choices. Three are on the first floor and look onto the courtyard, while the fourth sits on the roof terrace – ideal for sun-worshippers who don’t mind a slight loss of privacy. Each is decorated with stylish simplicity: walls come in neutral creams and whites, with rich splashes of red and burgundy in the bedspreads. The furnishings are just as elegant: carved wooden lamps and bedside tables, soft Berber rugs on stone floors, and ornate shutters which block the light and allow for indulgent lie-ins.

    Dar Zaman

    Food: As with many riad B&Bs, there are a number of picturesque spots to enjoy your breakfast. In the heat of mid-May we opted for the shaded dining room, but if you prefer you can head to the courtyard or soak up some sunshine on the roof terrace as you tuck into a spread of pastries, fresh pancakes, fruit and yoghurt.

    Order ahead and you can also enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner. We loved the mouth-wateringly fresh tagines from chef Karima so much that we invited her to share a recipe on the blog! They’re made with market-sourced produce and served alongside restorative mint tea and rather good Moroccan wine.

    Dar Zaman

    Author’s tip: We suggest you take up the hotel’s offer of borrowing a Moroccan mobile phone so that you can easily call them if you get lost. It’s free, and comes pre-charged with credit and useful numbers. They can talk you back or come and collect you – one guest said that the ride to the riad on the back of Hassan’s motorbike was the highlight of their stay!

    Dar Zaman

    i-escape gift: 3-course arrival dinner for a minimum stay of 3 nights (applies to Best Flexible Rate only)

    Customer review: “Felt like a home away from home. The staff were so helpful and they really went that extra mile. I would definitely stay here again if I return.”
    Peter, United Kingdom (26.05.15)

    Read the full review  

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,

Just Back From… Cumbria and Yorkshire (With the Kid!)

  • Augill CastleStir together some breathtaking scenery, lots of sheep, a mixed bag of weather (hail! rain! sunshine!) and a couple of fabulous i-escape hideaways, and you’ve got the recipe for Marketing Assistant Anna’s last-minute family trip to Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales.

    With the car filled with enough snacks, books and toys to keep a whole pack of one-year-olds occupied, my husband Anthony, son Finn and I embarked on the (surprisingly pain-free) journey from Bristol to Augill Castle, a family-friendly B&B housed in a folly castle in Cumbria’s tranquil Eden Valley.

    We stayed in Appleby, a huge room with rich red walls at the end of a long, photo-lined corridor. The décor is perfectly in keeping with the building (no chintz here!) but the fittings are modern – we loved our drenching rainshower, which poured down over a four-poster tub.

    Waiting for us in the room was a whole host of useful goodies for Finn – a travel cot with sheets and blankets, disposable changing mats, a nappy bin, baby bubble bath and some books, all topped off with a friendly teddy bear and some crunchy homemade biscuits.

    Augill Castle, Appleby bathroomAugill Castle

    Finn loved his early tea of scrambled eggs and soldiers, eaten at the head of the long oak dining table like a mini king. And that tricky pre-bedtime hour was easily filled by exploring the boxes of toys and bulging dressing-up chest in the library. There’s even a handy communal kitchen for storing and heating up bedtime milk.

    Augill Castle

    Come evening, baby monitor in hand, Ant and I had a delicious meal à deux in the grand blue-and-gold-ceilinged dining room, followed by one of owner Wendy’s wonderful concoctions in the Great British Bar (the Lemon Bon Bon made with toffee vodka got the thumbs up from us). We really enjoyed having a romantic ‘night out’ in the knowledge that Finn was safely tucked up in bed upstairs.

    Augill Castle is perfectly positioned for exploring: the Yorkshire Dales are a 10-minute drive south and the Lake District just 30 minutes to the west. We filled up at breakfast before heading out: Brougham Hall smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for me, a Full English for Ant, and cereal and a homemade banana muffin for the little one.

    Derwent Water

    There are many buggy-friendly pathways and walks around the Lakes, so you don’t have to be confined to the towns. We made the most of those jaw-dropping views by going on a few easy strolls and picnicking by the shores.


    Our next stop was Natural Retreats near Richmond. Any worries slipped away as we swept down into the hidden green valley to our glass-fronted lodge, where we could hear nothing but birdsong. We were greeted with a welcome hamper filled with goodies, including bread and jam, milk and eggs, wine, and biscuits from the local grocery store.

    Natural Retreats Yorkshire Dales Natural Retreats Yorkshire Dales

    Finn loved standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the rabbits playing outside and the ducks swimming in our very own pond. We also found a great toy-filled playroom up the track at The Sanctuary for rainy days and tiring out little legs. We really appreciated having our own space (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a big open-plan living area), enjoying long lazy dinners after baby bedtime, and catching a few early summer rays on the deckchairs outside.

    The Yorkshire Dales are right on the doorstep and are rich for exploring. We had a list of activities long enough to fill 3 holidays and tried to squeeze as much as possible into 4 days, starting with Richmond. It’s built up around a Norman fortress, and it’s easy to spend a few hours exploring this pretty little town and pretending you’re the king of the castle as you survey the tower-top views. We also picked up local foodie treats at the market and wandered down to the falls beneath.

    Richmond Castle

    Wherever possible we opted for the scenic routes on our days out and picked our way along winding lanes flanked by sheep-filled fields. We spotted the majestic Ribblehead Viaduct from the road, emerging from a backdrop of moody grey clouds. And we escaped the car for a walk along the (buggy-friendly) pathway from Malham village to the very impressive Malham Cove – a huge limestone cliff topped by a large stretch of limestone pavement.

    Ribblehead Viaduct Malham Cove

    When the sun popped through the clouds we drove the 90 minutes to Whitby on the east coast for a day of sea, sand and fish and chips. We loved exploring the alleys and peeking into boutiques, before shedding our shoes and socks for a toddle on the beach. A quick glimpse of the gothic Abbey standing moodily on the hilltop above the town was enough to help us see why Bram Stoker was inspired to feature it in his novel ‘Dracula’.

    12 Whitby Abbey

    The lovely Retreat Manager Amanda recommended a local farm for a child-pleasing day trip and she got it spot-on – Big Sheep Little Cow Farm in nearby Bedale was great! It has a soft play area centred around a giant slide, ride-on tractors and pedal go-karts and, best of all, a farm tour. We got to hold or stroke loads of small animals (mice, rabbits, a friendly tortoise), brush the biggest, hairiest pig I have ever seen, and bottle-feed hungry lambs. There’s also a café serving good coffee, cake and light lunches, so you could easily spend a few hours there while the kids play.


    Still on the list to visit? Bolton Abbey, Jervaulx Abbey (apparently good for picnics!) and a trip on the North York Moors Steam Railway – but they’ll have to wait until next time.

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

Easy Escapes for July

  • Think it’s too late to book a fabulous European summer break? Well, not so fast. We’ve found a clutch of gorgeous rural boltholes that still have availability, as well as some bargain flights to get you there!

    No need to thank us; 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.

    Casa Migdia, Spain – £307.56 per person (4 nights, 4-8 July)

    Casa Migdia - i-escape.comIn need of an extended Spanish siesta? Catalonia is perfect for a long weekend: cycle around medieval villages, stop for picnics in flower-filled fields, spend the odd day at the seaside, or just indulge in books, cards and all-out relaxation.

    Casa Migdia - i-escape.comStay: at hippy deluxe guesthouse Casa Migdia in the quiet village of Sant Jordi Desvalls. A 4-night accommodation-only stay in room 218 comes to just £122 per person.

    Fly: from Bournemouth to Girona with Ryanair for £166 per person, departing Saturday 4 July and returning Wednesday 8 July.

    From the airport: Car hire through Rhino starts from £39.12.

    Total cost: £307.56 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Catalonia and other accommodation options

    Lake Loft, France – £805.80 per person (7 nights, 13-20 July)

    Lake Loft - i-escape.comEndless sandy beaches, world-class surf breaks, shady forests – the Landes region of southwest France has everything you need to forget the daily grind. Plus you’re just a short drive from the Belle Epoque beach bling of Biarritz.

    Lake Loft - i-escape.comStay: at Lake Loft, an intimate designer B&B with a decked pool and concierge-level service, tucked between the Atlantic dunes and pine forests. Take advantage of their 7-nights-for-6 offer and get a week-long B&B stay in Room 420 or 430 for £647 per person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Bordeaux with Ryanair for £71 per person, departing Monday 13 July and returning Monday 20 July.

    From the airport: Car hire through Rhino starts from £175.59.

    Total cost: £805.80

    More info: getting to Gascony and other accommodation options

    Borgo San Marco, Italy – £1002.77 per person (10 nights, 6-16 July)

    Borgo San Marco - i-escape.comPuglia (the heel of Italy) has, until recently, been overlooked by most visitors to the country – but its wealth of history, endless groves of chunky olive trees and distinct trulli buildings make it well worth exploring.

    Borgo San Marco - i-escape.comStay: near the sea at 15th-century Borgo San Marco, an easy-going farmhouse hotel offering a warm welcome amid the olive groves. A 10-night B&B stay in a Standard Room comes to £719 per person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Bari with Ryanair for £195 per person, departing Monday 6 July and returning Thursday 16 July.

    From the airport: Car hire through Rhino starts from £177.53.

    Total cost: £1002.77 per person.

    More info: getting to Puglia 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 24 June 2015.

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

Family Escape of the Month… Alegria

  • The setting of this pretty Provençal retreat is idyllic: surrounded by olive trees, on the edge of a charming village with a bustling twice-weekly market. Hammocks swing in the shade and the pool terrace is perfectly positioned for watching the sun rise over the hills as the kids splash about. 

    Alegria ProvenceIt’s blissfully isolated from the touristy coastline but you can still get your beach fix at the nearby Lac de Sainte-Croix, plus added mountain views. Better still, you’re close to the truly amazing Gorge du Verdon – make sure you hire kayaks and paddle in.

    Rooms: The 5 self-catering suites sleep 2-5, all with private garden entrances. Inside, each has a different colour theme, comfy beds are dressed in luxury linens, and are walls adorned with owner Cindy’s art. There are no TVs but there’s Wi-Fi (for emergency cartoons!) and iPod docks. The Deluxe Suites are all big and can sleep up to 4 in a double room with a sofabed and space for a baby cot. The Junior Suite is a little more private and has its own patch of garden. It has a double room and a separate sitting room with a sofabed and space for a rollaway bed. If you’re coming sans kids, opt for the romantic Prestige Suite with its fabulous roof terrace.

    Alegria Provence 2

    Food: Each suite has a kitchen island with a fridge, dishwasher, toaster, Nespresso machine and a kettle – perfect for putting together a family breakfast. There are bakeries and grocery stores close by, and basic ingredients are supplied (soap, bin bags, salt, pepper, sugar and Alegria’s homemade olive oil). You’ll have to go out for other meals, but we didn’t find that a chore as there are great dining options in the surrounding villages. There’s an honesty bar in the pool house with Belgian beers, wine, tea, coffee, chocolate and ice creams.

    Alegria Provence

    Kids' kit Alegria Provence

    Alegria Provence

    Customer review: “Dieter and Cindy were very accommodating – especially with providing for our toddler’s needs. The location is fantastic and the property is well maintained with lovely grounds. They have managed to provide accommodation that allows you a suitable degree of privacy but also gives you the comfort of knowing that the other guests are close by. We highly recommend Alegria and hope to visit again one day.”
    Richard, United Arab Emirates (16.08.14)

    Read the full review and book Alegria >>

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