Escape of the Week… Hotel Los Castanos

  • Amongst the Andalucian mountains, where white villages gleam in the sun and gardens groan with olives, avocados, lemons and peaches, you’ll find the welcoming and spoiling Hotel Los Castanos. Tucked away in a relatively undiscovered village of just 100 people, it’s a go-to spot  if you want to experience the authentic, cossetting charm of rural Spain.

    Hotel Los Castanos

    At this boutique hotel  in tiny Cartajima, you’re also treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in southern Europe. Just borrow some maps from delightful owners Di and John and step out of the door to find a number of incredible hiking paths through the rocky and undulating Andalucian countryside. If that’s not your bag, you’re also within striking distance of beautiful historical cities such as Jerez, Cadiz and Seville.

    Hotel Los Castanos

    Rooms: Each of the 6 rooms has a balcony, with the 3 Mountain View rooms at the front looking out over the village rooftops and onto the valley. It’s an utterly romantic place and the dramatic scenery surrounding the hotel more than makes up for the lack of TVs – so much so that they’ve even included sketching materials on guests’ demand so that you can capture it! You’ll find whitewashed walls, terracotta-tile floors and charmingly simple and colourful décor, with cast-iron mirror frames and lovely art throughout. While it may be simple, you’ll still find some indulgent touches such as bathrobes, fluffy towels, apples by the bed, and minibars. Some of the rooms have bathtubs as well as showers in their ensuites, and all have gorgeous olive-oil soaps and shampoos.

    Hotel Los Castanos

    Food: Don’t be fooled by the humble dining room: owner Di cooks up an incredible menu of local, seasonal produce with excellent results. While we were there we had grilled chicory with a Roquefort sauce and Serrano ham, duck in a Seville orange sauce with garlic mash, and frozen lemon cake. The menu is set (though it changes daily), but Di is always happy to adapt and will run the dishes by you in the morning. The wine list is also fantastic – we heartily recommend eating here for a couple of nights of your stay.

    Breakfast, though simpler, is just as good: you get homemade bread, freshly squeezed orange juice, exciting jams, good strong coffee and local cheeses, plus eggs on request.

    If you want to stretch your culinary experience of foodie Andalucia, there are plenty of local options – Di and John are more than happy to help you decide.  Nearby villages such as Parauta and Alpandeire have welcoming restaurants with rustic Spanish food (think rabbit, wild boar and local lamb), while Ronda has a whole host of cuisines within a 15-minute drive.

    Hotel Los Castanos

    When to go: The area has something to offer throughout the year, and  Di’s seasonal cooking means you’ll have great fare whatever the month.  April and May are particularly popular for the beautiful wild flowers.

    Cartajima’s feria (fiesta) takes place at the end of August. It lasts for 4 days and 4 nights. Locals come, as do visitors from much further afield. Dancing in the street starts at midnight, so if you’re looking for total peace, this isn’t the time to visit.

    Hotel Los Castanos

    i-escape guest review:   “Hotel Los Castanos is one of those rare gems you find in your travels and remember forever. Our experience was memorable and we would love to stay there again. I highly recommend this jewel of a hotel in Andalusia, Spain.”

    Andrea, United States (08.06.13)

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

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Bucket and Spade List

  • Adventures Ahoy! We’re passionate believers that travel broadens the mind, delivers memorable experiences, and bonds you with your loved ones. Especially when holidaying with the kids! As a fun introduction to the wide wonderful world out there, i-escape’s Kids Collection has launched a ‘Bucket and Spade List’ of accessible activities every discerning pre-schooler should try out. 

    Whether you’re on a last carefree holiday before starting school, or venturing forth for the first time on a proper family vacation, these 20 travel-related suggestions will keep curious toddlers and mini-adventurers entertained!

    The full ‘Bucket and Spade’ list for under 5s is as follows - with suggested places to stay where you can try some of these out, selected from our 850+ strong Kids Collection of wonderfully family friendly hotels, B&Bs and rentals:

    1.      Build a sandcastle

    We like: Villas Martinhal, Algarve, Portugal / Hell Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly, UK


    2.      Go rock-pooling and discover the coast’s secrets

    We like: Polurrian Bay Hotel, Cornwall, UK   / Coillabus, Isle of Islay, Hebrides, Scotland


    3.      Send a postcard from your holiday

    4.      Go star-gazing

    We like: Fawakay Villas, outside Marrakech, Morocco / Hotel Budir, Western Iceland

    5.      Explore a cave

    We like: Star Castle, Scilly Islands, UK  / Stone Cottages Hvar, Croatia

    6.      Order something yummy in a foreign language – perhaps a gelato in Italy or a croissant in France

    We like: Hotel Santa Maria, Rome, Italy / into Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain


    7.      Go on a camping adventure and sleep under the stars

    We like: Bivouac, Yorkshire, UK  / Dolphin Beach, Kalapitya, Sri Lanka

    8.      Visit a real castle

    We like: Castello di Tornano, Chianti, Italy / Augill Castle, Cumbria, UK

    9.      Have a picnic in the countryside

    We like: Masseria Ciancio, Sicily, Italy  / Chalet Cannelle, Alps, France


    10.      Go crabbing (and release your catch back into the sea!)

    We like: The Rosevine, Cornwall, UK  / Llys Meddyg, Pembrokeshire, UK


    11.      Ride a donkey or pony

    We like: Masseria Prosperi, Puglia, Italy / Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote, Canary Islands


    12.      Go on a nature walk and draw the interesting plants and flowers that you find

    We like: Liss Ard, Co.Cork, Ireland  / Muxima, Algarve, Portugal


    13.      Photograph a famous landmark

    14.      Paddle your own boat (or pedalo – with your parents, of course!)

    We like: Hotel Bella Riva, Lake Garda, Italy  / St Mawes Hideaways, Cornwall, UK


    15.      Make a woodland den

    We like: Quinta da Bouca D’Arques, Viana do Castelo, Portugal / New Forest Eco-Cottage, Hampshire, UK


    16.      Pet farm animals

    We like: Country Kids, Languedoc, France / Fellah Hotel, near Marrakech, Morocco


    17.      Bounce on a hotel bed

    We like: Kurland, Garden Route, South Africa


    18.      Buy a holiday souvenir

    19.      Take a boat trip

    We like: Palmizana, Hvar, Croatia / Onar, Andros, Cyclades, Greece


    20.      Go on a treasure hunt

    We like: Le Castel, Normandy, France / Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus

    We invite parents to share photos of your under 5s trying out any of our Bucket and Spade Adventures by tweeting your picture with the hashtag #iescapebucket by the 31st August – and the best photos will win £50 i-escape vouchers!

    Check out the rest of our Kids Collection >>

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

Top 10 family-friendly island getaways

  • Escaping to a secluded island, away from daily schedules and responsibilities, is the ultimate family holiday for many. Whether you want proximity to the sea, a sense of Crusoe-esque adventure or deep tranquillity (or maybe all three), our Kids Collection Editor Nadine has chosen 10 magical places which promise truly memorable island getaways.

    Star Castle, Scilly Isles, UK

    Star Castle

    For a Famous Five-style holiday, stay at this unique Elizabethan star-shaped castle, which has fantastic views from the highest vantage point on St Mary’s Island. The sub-tropical, car-free Scillies are a world away from the rest of the UK, with empty sandy beaches, smugglers’ caves and coastal paths. The castle also has a heated indoor pool, a playground and tennis courts. Ginger beer, anyone?

     Stone Cottages Hvar, Hvar, Croatia

    Stone Cottages Hvar

    Ideal for 2 families with slightly older kids (or an extended family holiday), this self-catering villa has 4 bedrooms across 3 buildings (one is set up as a twin for kids), plus a large open-plan kitchen/diner/lounge whose picture window provides an unspoilt vista of the Adriatic Sea. There are also volleyball and tennis courts, large gardens, bikes to borrow, and no neighbours to disturb – bliss.

    Mango Bay, Phu Quoc Island, Southwest Vietnam

    Mango Bay

    Look no further for your own castaway island set in the warm, shallow seas of the Gulf of Thailand. Play at Swiss Family Robinson and relish staying at this simple yet spacious resort’s jungle huts, all with open-air showers. Kids who love getting back to nature will enjoy the butterfly and wild orchid garden; there’s also a playroom, beach cricket, mini-football and a playground.

    Emelisse Art Hotel, Fiskardo, Kefalonia, Greece

    Emelisse Art Hotel

    Want a room with a view? This chic boutique hotel will do nicely. The family suites and maisonettes (both with 2 bedrooms and kitchenettes) share a pool and have uninterrupted vistas over turquoise seas to other Ionian islands. There’s a playground and an additional infinity pool, plus super beaches and fun ferry trips close by.

    Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos, Caribbean

    Parrot Cay

    Parents and children alike consider this stunning hideaway to be the ultimate island resort. Icing-sugar sand? Check. Superb organic food? Check. Classy East-meets-West villas and suites? Check. Nannies for the day and babysitters at night? Check. Age-appropriate toys presented on arrival? Check. Infinity pool, bespoke activities (yoga, kite-making, pirate-themed scavenger hunts) and a kids’ programme during holidays? Check, check check.

    Agro Can Gall, Sant Joan, Ibiza

    Agro Can Gall

    This child-friendly finca offers a hearty welcome, a beautiful swimming pool, lovely food and large, verdant grounds – all designed to make even the most frazzled of families feel instantly at home. Although you’re 10km inland from the beach, this only adds to the tranquillity. There are bicycles to ride, an outdoor playground, a games room and farm animals, too.

    Casa Tomaren, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Casa Tomaren

    If the easy life is your idea of a holiday, then these 7 self-catering Bohemian houses on a converted farm will suit. You’re centrally situated so both beaches and the island’s volcanic sights are close by, and there are hammocks to recline in while the kids splash around in the gorgeous pool or frolic in the playground. Breakfast is included in the (reasonable) rates, and the kitchens are well-equipped for other meals. Better still, the Canaries have year-round sunshine!

    Xaghra Farmhouse, Gozo, Malta

    Xaghra Farmhouse

    This great-value 3-bedroom villa is embedded in a small village (useful for buying provisions and dining out), yet it’s also close to the best beaches. It’s a great base for a relaxed family holiday – the spacious farmhouse is well-equipped for babies and toddlers, who will love the pool and the beach toys provided, and there’s even a toy museum nearby.

    Bananaquit House, Soufriere, St Lucia

    Bananaquit House

    Best for 2 families or an extended family, this staffed 5-bedroom villa with panoramic views will float everybody’s boat. Kids will love the large garden, which has a Tarzan swing, and there’s a fenced pool. Heaps of toys and games are available, and the lovely staff are great with children. Several family-friendly beaches are located within a few minutes’ drive, and there are iconic volcanoes to visit nearby. Choose a catered stay, or self-cater in the excellent kitchen.

    Nikoi Island, Bintan Islands, Indonesia

    Nikoi Island

    Just 2 hours from Singapore is this small slice of tropical paradise. All the clichés abound: palm trees, wooden seafront beach houses, cobalt-blue water teeming with marine life, pure white sand, bountiful jungle, superb stargazing. As well as extensive watersports, there’s an inventive back-to-nature kids’ club, picnic hampers, 2 pools, boules, bunk beds, a floating trampoline, volleyball and even a dressing-up box… No wonder Nikoi won the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ category in our Kids Awards last year.

    Browse the rest of our Kids Collection >>

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Escape of the Week… Palmizana

  • Palmizana, a 300-hectare fragment of Croatian paradise, was bought in 1906 by Professor Eugenio Meneghello. Over 100 years later, it’s still being looked after by the Meneghello family, who have transformed it into a bohemian and delightfully rustic retreat of stone bungalows and villas, set within glorious botanical gardens on the tiny car-free island of Sveti Klement.


    The buildings have been thoughtfully designed to blend harmoniously with the stunning island environment: it’s car-free and there’s limited WiFi so the owners have kept in-room technology to a minimum (no TVs here) in order to create an atmosphere that will naturally draw out the hippy at heart. It’s also perfect for families who will love the sheltered bays and abundance of activities nearby.


    Rooms: When it comes to sleeping, there are a number of options at Palmizana. The bungalows (sleeping 2-4) are simple but charming spaces made up of 2 rooms – one bedroom and a living room that can be adapted to accommodate another bed. The cosy interiors are furnished in a Mediterranean style and Croatian art adds pops of colour to the exposed stonework and cool tile floors. Each bungalow is named after the shade that dominates the interior. Our favourite, Green Bungalow, has a lovely mezzanine level sleeping area.

    There’s a great range of larger villas, too. They can accommodate 4-6 guests and all have basic facilities for preparing coffee and snacks. With a private path leading down to the shore and an enormous terrace overlooking the bay, the White Villa quickly established itself as one of our favourites. But that isn’t necessarily the trump card, as you can always consider the luxurious octagonal living room, 2 bathrooms and colourfully mosaicked outdoor terrace of Villa Palmizana, or the slightly more modern Turquoise Villa, with its blue furniture and sea-view stone terrace. If you’re coming as a large family (or 2) you should plump for Villa Giorgia which has ample space with 3 ensuite double bedrooms and an additional 2-bedroom suite.


    Food: Owner Dagmar Meneghello personally oversees the resort’s 2 charming restaurants. The first, Palmizana, is also where you can choose to enjoy breakfasts (standard rates are accommodation only) of fresh fruit, croissants, eggs and pancakes on the romantic terrace. The second eatery, Toto’s, lies directly on the beach on the south of the island. Both are beautifully located with terraces overlooking the sea and serve a variety of simple seafood, grilled meat and fresh vegetables in typical Croatian style. You can also look forward to the enormous outdoor grill being fired up for delicious fare cooked by Dagmar herself.

    In the evening, both restaurants are bustling with guests who have jumped off their yacht for a spot of dinner. At this point, warm and welcoming Palmizana comes into its own with its deep fuscia walls and playful modern art. We enjoyed a healthy dinner of excellently cooked local sea bass filleted at the table by our friendly waitress. These 2 restaurants aren’t the extent of the gastronomic offerings on the island though, and many guests explore the other restaurants and beach bars lining the coast, or make use of the water taxis to visit buzzing Hvar Town.


    When to go: Because Sveti Klement Island is so popular in July and August, when hordes of Italian tourists flock to the Croatian coast, the best time to visit is May-June or September-October. You’ll have more of the island to yourself and the temperatures are milder, but the sea is still warm enough to swim in.


    i-escape guest review: “Really friendly, extremely helpful, family run business with delicious food, lovely villas (including with open fires in some, for chillier evenings), looking over a stunning turquoise bay with sailing boats (a manageable number off season in May!). Highly recommended for a laid back break in a beautiful place.”
    Jen, United Kingdom (09.05.14)

    i-escape gift: a free room upgrade (when available) and i-escape honeymooners receive a free bottle of Prosecco.

    Read the full review and book >>

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Top 10 eco retreats in nature reserves

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

    Yacutinga Lodge, Misiones Forest, Argentina

    Yacutinga Lodge

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

    La Gree des Landes, La Gacilly, France

    La Gree des Landes

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

    Reserva do Ibitipoca, Minas Gerais, Brazil

    Reserva do Ibitipoca

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

    EcoCamp, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile


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

    Milia Traditional Settlement, The White Mountains, Crete

    Milia Traditional Settlement

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

    Huab Lodge, Damaraland, Namibia

    Huab Lodge

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

    Coillabus, Islay, Inner Hebrides, Scotland


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

    The Mudhouse, Puttalam, Sri Lanka

    The Mudhouse

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

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

    Sextantio Albergo Diffuso

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

    Monte Azul, Chirripo National Park, Costa Rica

    Monte Azuli

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

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

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Top 5 UK Country House Spas

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

    Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire

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

    Cowley Manor

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

    Babington House, near Frome, Somerset

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

    Babington House

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

    Lime Wood, Lyndhurst, Hampshire

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

    Lime Wood

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

    Dormy House, near Broadway, Worcestershire

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

    Dormy House

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

    The Montpellier Chapter, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

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

    The Montpellier Chapter

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

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

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Escape of the Week… La Maison des Remparts

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

    La Maison des Remparts

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

    La Maison des Remparts

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

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

    La Maison des Remparts

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

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

    La Maison des Remparts

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

    La Maison des Remparts

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

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

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Top 10 family-friendly hotels with summer availability

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

    Augill Castle, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

    Augill Castle

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

    Eleonas, Zaros, Crete


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

    Casas do Coro, Marialva, Portugal

    Casas do Coro

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

    Anassa, near Polis, Cyprus


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

    Borgo Santo Pietro, near Siena, Italy

    Borgo san Pietro

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

    Alpaga, Megeve, French Alps


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

    Whitepod, near Monthey, Switzerland


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

    Castello di Gargonza, Tuscany, Italy

    Castello di Gargonza

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

    Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus


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

    Finca Malvasia, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Finca Malvasia

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

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

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

Easy Escapes for July

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

    We’ve scoured the globe for great prices, so all you have to do is book*. Secure your accommodation through i-escape, then follow our recommendations for travel, and voila! It’s time to start packing…

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

    Nyhavn, Copenhagen

    Nyhavn, Copenhagen

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

    CPH Living

    CPH Living

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

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

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

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

    More info: getting to Copenhagen and other accommodation options

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

    The Capaldi

    The Capaldi

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

    The Capaldi

    The Capaldi

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Diving in Zanzibar

    Diving in Zanzibar

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

    Fumba Beach Lodge

    Fumba Beach Lodge

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

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

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

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

    More info: getting to Zanzibar and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through i-escape.com. The information on travel is provided as a service to you, and must be booked through other websites, as indicated. All prices and availability are correct at the time of publishing. The per person prices are based on 2 people in a double/twin room or an apartment for 2. Published on 25th June 2014.

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

Escape of the Week… Pristava Lepena

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

     Pristava Lepena

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

    Pristava Lepena

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

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

    Pristava Lepena

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

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

    Pristava Lepena

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

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

    Pristava Lepena

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

    Chris, United Kingdom (09.06.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,