Easy Escapes for October

  • What’s your ideal romantic break? Star-gazing at inky Yorkshire skies from beneath a thick wool blanket? Wandering hand-in-hand through a sleepy Provençal hamlet? Or perhaps you want a beautiful beach on which to watch the perfect sunset, cocktail in hand? Whatever your style, our October round-up will have you head-over-heels.

    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.

    Swinton Bivouac, Yorkshire Dales – £175 per person (2 nights, 15-17 October)

    Swinton BivouacThe 20,000-acre Swinton Park Estate is a wonderful back-to-nature destination that calls for long walks discovering atmospheric castles and hidden waterfalls. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sample famous Dales produce such as Wensleydale cheese and Black Sheep beer.

    Swinton BivouacStay: in a romantic woodland shack at Swinton Bivouac. Make use of their ‘Romantic Retreat’ offer (£175 per person, based on 2 people sharing) to get a 2-night stay including a sharing board for 2 and a bottle of house wine in the rustic café-bar, as well as a bottle of Prosecco and exclusive use of the hot tub.

    Total cost: £175 per person.

    More info: getting to Yorkshire and other accommodation options

    Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, Provence – £311.20 per person (5 nights, 8-13 October)

    Les Sardines aux Yeux BleusIf you love nothing more than pottering through pretty French landscapes, a visit to Provence during the quieter autumn season could be just the ticket. Take a walk through sublime countryside at the Gorge de Gardon, and marvel at the magnificent 3-storey Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct.

    Les Sardines aux Yeux BleusStay: at Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, a beautifully rustic B&B nestled in a sleepy hamlet near Uzès. A 5-night stay in the charming Pink room comes to just £204 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Luton to Nimes with Ryanair for £45 per person, departing Thursday 8 October and returning Tuesday 13 October.

    From the airport: car hire through Rhino starts from £124.43.

    Total cost: £311.20 per person.

    More info: getting to Provence and other accommodation options

    Villa las Estrellas, Mexico’s Yucatan – £1011 per person (7 nights, 6-13 October)

    Villa las EstrellasAlthough the number of buzzy cabana hotels lining Tulum’s beach increases every year, the broad stretch of white sand retains a lovely, laid-back vibe. Hang out in your hammock, swim in the sea, and enjoy the local bars’ all-day ‘happy hours’. This area is currently in it’s low season, meaning the weather can be changeable, but there are some great bargains to be had!

    Villa las EstrellasStay: in barefoot beach heaven. Simple yet stylish Villa las Estrellas welcomes you with uninterrupted sea views, delicious food and minimalist rooms under traditional Mayan palapa roofs. With their current 20% discount (for 3+ nights), a 7-night stay in a Deluxe Room comes to £554 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Gatwick to Cancun with Thomson Airways for £370 per person, departing Tuesday 6 October and returning Tuesday 13 October (overnight flight arriving Wednesday 14 October).

    From the airport: the hotel offers transfers for approximately £87 (one way for 2 people).

    Total cost: £1,011 per person.

    More info: getting to The Yucatan and other accommodation options

    *Please note that only the accommodation may be booked through 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 30 September 2015.

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

Escape of the Week… Casa de Terena

  • This super-cosy 6-room guesthouse sits in a hilltop village in one of our favourite Portuguese regions, the Alentejo. With views of the castle, lake and hills beyond, plus an utterly charming rural vibe, it’s easy to see why Casa de Terena is a hideaway we found hard to forget.

    Casa de Terena

    Inside, there’s something exquisite at every turn: a calçada (tiled) entrance hall, Italian sofas, voile wall hangings. But you won’t want to linger for too long, as there’s so much to explore nearby. Your hosts can organise mountain-bike safaris, canoe trips up river gorges, visits to local wineries, and even hands-on cheese-making sessions.

    Casa de Terena

    Rooms: Take your pick between a great view (rooms at the back) or a little balcony (rooms at the front) – or stay a week and swap halfway through for the best of both worlds! Inside, the rooms are all similar, with pure cotton sheets, freshly cut flowers, funky rugs and other cool details in the furnishings. Some are tiled in Portuguese style, others are more contemporary with cast-iron lampshades and round terracotta sinks. Wander at will and find West African wall hangings, decanters of Port, and angels above a bed.

    Casa de Terena

    Food: The day starts with a generous and delicious feast in the social breakfast room, whose beautiful view is framed by large windows. The buffet includes plenty of treats: a jug of freshly squeezed juice from village oranges, homemade muffins and banana bread, local honey, and strong coffee anyway you like it. Gourmet picnics can be arranged (and are highly recommended): wine, bread, smoked local ham, cheese straight from the maker. There’s no dinner, but you’re in the Alentejo region and food in the area is exceptional.

    Casa de Terena

    Top tip: Book one of manager Cesar’s special food days: you start with a walk to pick produce, then milk goats with the local cheese guru and help make the regional queijo fresco. Later, you enjoy a full evening’s dinner around a long table at Monte dos Vicentes.

    Casa de Terena

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,

Just Back From… Manchester (with the kids!)

  • Manchester is having a moment. Considered by many movers and shakers to be one of the coolest cities in the UK, this north-west powerhouse boasts a profusion of galleries, art centres and festivals, and of course an excellent music scene.


    Britain’s third largest metropolis may not spring to mind for a family city break, but our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, returned from an action-packed weekend with her children full of enthusiasm for its kid-friendliness. Here, she shares her suggestions for Manchester family fun…

    Museum of Science and Industry 

    Manchester has been awarded European City of Science for 2016, and the downtown MOSI is a great introduction to its industrial past and high-tech present. We found fascinating galleries, including one about the textile mills (“Very noisy machines,” said my youngest), as well as some gratifyingly climb-friendly engines. And we had fun in the interactive space, where the kids got stuck into the laws of physics through displays of light, colour refraction, motion and energy.


    There’s also a separate Air and Space Gallery across the road, where flying machines from the positively ancient (circa 1910) to the present day are housed. The children had enormous fun imagining themselves as fighter pilots in the war.


    The greater metropolitan area is positively bursting with sporting action (Manchester is hosting 8 matches for the Rugby World Cup). We went to see an amateur rugby match, and my daughter had some tennis coaching for the first time. We could have visited Old Trafford   or the Etihad Stadium, both of which have kid-friendly tours. Other options include the National Cycling Centre, BMX tracks, the National Basketball Centre, and the Olympic-sized swimming pools built for the 2001 Commonwealth Games. There are also cycling trails galore, plus a real-snow ski slope with a huge indoor play area (Play Factore) below it.



    This is the industrial heart of the city and, we discovered, the site of the original Roman settlement in AD79. It’s now a conservation area and an Urban Heritage Park, and it’s full of old red-brick mills, railway viaducts and canals, plus regenerated warehouses which host bars, restaurants and hotels. The kids played at being Roman soldiers, which seemed to involve lots of rolling around the reconstructed ruins and balancing on the truncated walls.

    Riding the trams

    The Metrolink network first opened in 1992 and now comprises 7 lines which stretch from the airport to Bury, Rochdale to Didsbury. It makes getting about the city a doddle, and it’s exciting for the kids. Ours really enjoyed the novelty of riding the tram, and we didn’t need to bother with a car.


    Lyme Park

    4We also enjoyed an outing to the National Trust-owned Lyme Park estate, which is easily reached by public transport. Famed for acting as Pemberley in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this stately home has extensive grounds which the kids absolutely loved tearing about. We didn’t bother with the exalted interiors, preferring the ravine garden (whose ancient trees made excellent woodland dens), playing quoits on the lawn and admiring the reflecting lake.

    Lyme Park also has an excellent sensory woodland area where children can get in touch with nature. Bird boxes have been filled with different textures such as pine cones, raw wool and bark, and my daughter loved the obstacle course of stumps and pebble pits. Best of all is the Crow Wood playscape, which encourages playtime without supervision – all structures are made of wood and test the mettle of each child. We finished with lunch in the café in the stables.


    We stayed at the brand-new and very theatrical Hotel Gotham, which occupies an unrivalled central location yet remains quiet. It has interconnecting rooms (with extremely comfy beds), plus a great breakfast buffet to suit even the fussiest of eaters.


    Our visit to Manchester barely touched the surface of all the city offers. Next time we’ll ride the steam railway from Bury to Ramsbottom, and follow the red walking-tour plaques through the city centre. And we’ll squeeze in a visit to the world-famous Jodrell Bank, which has a giant telescope and three pavilions (Space, Star and Planet), plus gardens to explore.

    Check out Hotel Gotham or the rest of our Kids Collection >>

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

An insider’s guide to… Barcelona

  • Buzzing Barcelona combines the best of Spain with a distinctive and compelling Catalan kick. Home to Gaudí , Miró and the beguiling Las Ramblas, it’s an unforgettable romp of beachy days and city nights, with a feast for the eyes (and stomach) in between. Since the 1992 Olympics revitalised this coastal city, it’s become a gold-medal destination for culture-vultures and hedonistic sun-chasers alike.


    Splash out: Gran Hotel La Florida, Tibidabo Hill

    Gran Hotel la Florida

    Views in Barcelona don’t get much better than this: panoramic scenes of the city and sea spread out from the iconic, L-shaped indoor-outdoor pool. Overlooking Barcelona from Mount Tibidabo, La Florida briefly served as a military hospital but now provides respite and rejuvenation of a different kind, with an indulgent spa, garden terraces and a decadent restaurant.

    In the middle: Primero Primera, Tres Torres

    Primero Primera

    This elegant boutique hotel offers tranquil relaxation for those escaping the unapologetic bustle of the inner city. Vintage furniture and scented candles welcome you inside, and the 30 impeccably stylish rooms feel like homes from home. Crisp white linens, deep bathtubs and terraces (in some rooms) allow complete decompression after a day’s exploration. Read about i-escape blogger Lottie’s (Oyster & Pearl) stay at Primero Primera.

    Econo-chic: Pedrera Boutique Apartment, Eixample

    Pedrera Boutique Apartment

    This stunning apartment (for 2-4) is perfect for Gaudí geeks and those wanting their own space. It looks out at the iconic La Pedrera building in the heart of the chic Eixample district, and we think it’s the perfect place to wake up slowly with a cup of coffee before striking out into the busy streets below. But the real triumph of the apartment is its style: quirky furnishings include an Eames rocking chair and a penny vendor full of marbles.


    Barcelona has one of the densest concentrations of Michelin stars in Europe, and the city’s progressive outlook has been fuelling culinary imaginations for years. But there’s more to its food scene than swanky restaurants: its past lives on in the tiny family-run places that line the streets of the Barri Gòtic and the former fishing village of Barceloneta, while El Born and El Raval have spawned a string of chic café-bars offering everything from Castillian to Cantonese.


    For a romantic and upmarket dinner, we love Restaurant 7 Portes – a white-tableclothed and chandeliered affair with a live pianist in the evening. We’ve also got a lot of time for the Catalan informality (you’ll have to queue) of Ciutat Comtal – a crowded and cacophonous eatery offering tapas, carafes of wine and plenty of opportunity for people-watching.



    As blogger Lottie points out, “this city has it all – shops, beach, culture – making it a brilliant destination whatever your personal peccadillo”. Barcelona is groaning with worthwhile sights, from the world-famous La Rambla to Gaudí’s iconic Sagrada Familia. These are all a must, but we also suggest you spend some time getting lost in the Barri Gòtic – a maze of cobbled lanes, leafy squares and medieval archways.


    For a different view on the city, grab a torch and head to La Pedrera for a torchlit tour: it’s a great way to get a crowd-free, ethereal view of Gaudí’s undulating roof and otherworldly chimneys. Alternatively, head underground to the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat where you’ll find kilometres of suspended glass walkways meander over the remains of Roman Barcina, including streets, shops and mosaicked public baths. After all of this, jump straight into a fairytale at El Bosc de las Fades. The name (‘The Fairy Wood’) says it all: the rambling interior is straight out of a children’s storybook, with lantern-lit trees, waterfalls, gingerbread houses, croaking frogs and the odd old crone.

    With the Kids

    Barcelona is eminently family-friendly, particularly when you get off the busy main drags of La Rambla and the Passeig de Gràcia. From sandcastles on the beach to the famous zoo, it’s easy to remove kids from the thick of it for a couple of hours of fun. Older kids will love the bright and fun Tibidabo Amusement Park, and at the base of Montjuïc is the Font Màgica, a huge water feature which comes alive through light and music shows (7pm every Friday and Saturday from May to September).


    Don’t miss

    The city’s seafaring past is on display at the Maritime Museum, housed in the former royal shipyards (the Drassanes Reials). Its impressive exhibits include a full-scale replica of an Ottoman warship, but the cavernous gothic building alone makes a stop here worthwhile.

    Read about Oyster & Pearl blogger Lottie’s trip to Barcelona and take a look at our Barcelona city guide >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Kids, Travel Tips. Tagged , , , ,

Family Escape of the Month… Chateau les Merles

  • Staying in a castle will appeal to most kids (and big kids, too!), but add golf, gourmet food and a beautiful location in the Dordogne and you’re onto a real winner. This beguiling 17th-century château has it all, plus a welcoming family-friendly atmosphere so you can all relax.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Once you’ve pitted your skills against the fiendish 9-hole golf course or swum some laps in the pool, you’ll be ready for an 8-course feast in the stylish restaurant. Or, if you’d rather miss out the exercise bit, you can book onto one of the cookery courses and learn how to rustle up their flagship dishes.

    For explorers, pretty cobbled Bergerac is just 10-15 minutes away, with boat trips, a Saturday market and an interesting tobacco museum (where you’re not allowed to smoke!).

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Rooms: All of the rooms (bar the basement single) feel nice and bright thanks to the mostly south-facing windows. Decorated in a monochrome palette with the odd splash of zesty colour, they are eclectically accessorised with Starck perspex chairs, ornate chandeliers and period fireplaces. The bathrooms have twin mirrors, wall-mounted toilets, stacks of towels and luxury bath products. Standard and deluxe rooms are categorised according to how much space and what kind of view you get, while suites have a separate living room. There’s also a large 2-bed apartment with a kitchen and a private terrace, and 2 self-catering villas which are set away from the château. Our favourite room is suite number 7, with its sweeping views of the wooded valley.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Food: The menus (either à la carte, or 5- or 8-course set ones) in La Bruyère Blanche restaurant are full of well-loved regional recipes featuring ingredients plucked straight from the estate. Everything we ate was beautifully presented and tasty, from the duck-liver paté starter to the tender fillet of beef in a red-wine sauce and the crème brûlée served with slivers of orange. The detailed wine guide (with only local varieties) features not only information about the wine, but interesting titbits about the vineyard and its owners, too. Breakfasts are huge, with freshly baked breads and pastries. Those in the villas can self-cater or book a table in the restaurant if they don’t fancy cooking.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    i-escape: Kids kit at Chateau les Merles, FranceWhen to go: Golfers naturally tend to choose the dryer summer months. If food is the focus, any time of year is a good time to be in the Dordogne, and the area’s remarkably mild climate means that winter visits can be really enjoyable.

    i-escape: Chateau les Merles, France

    Special offer: 30% off 5+ night stays from 1 October 2015 – 31 March 2016

    Customer review: “Great welcome, lovely place, good food and excellent service.”
    Ard, Netherlands (18.07.15)

    Read the full review and book Chateau les Merles >>

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

Just back from… Slovenia

  • Our lucky Assistant Rates Manager Grace recently spent a serene week drinking in the breathtaking scenery of pretty Slovenia. Here, she shares some of her envy-inducing snaps.

    i-escape: Sloveniai-escape: Slovenia

    Eastern Europe is not somewhere I had explored before, but I’d always known that when I did, there would only be one place to start – the lush, green, endlessly scenic haven of Slovenia.

    The first stop on our tour was Hisa Franko, a family-run restaurant-with-rooms renowned for its experimental and creative food. People come from all over Europe just to try chef Ana’s cooking. We were treated to a set-course menu, and each dish was matched with a perfectly chosen glass of wine. It was definitely one of the best meals I have ever had!

    i-escape: Hisa Franko, Slovenia

    After an equally delicious breakfast the next morning, we headed to Pristava Lepena, high up in the Soca Valley. It’s made up of 8 stylish wooden chalets, scattered amongst a clearing in the foothills of the Julian Alps. We spent our day on one of the many walking trails nearby, heading along a river to a picturesque waterfall.

    i-escape: Pristava Lepena, Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia i-escape: Slovenia

    In the evening we were treated to a tasty barbecue cooked by Milan, one of the charming owners.

    i-escape: Slovenia

    To end our trip we headed up into the mountains to Nebesa, which means ‘heaven’ in Slovenian.  Its 4 individual chalets have staggering views over the Soca Valley, and their fronts are made entirely of glass to ensure the best possible panoramas.

    i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia

    We spent our stay relaxing in the wellness centre and eating out on the terrace. It was the perfect way to round off our time in Slovenia. The rest of Eastern Europe will have to wait; I’m coming back next year too!

    i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia i-escape: Nebesa, Slovenia

    Take a look at the whole of our Slovenia collection and our travel guide for more inspiration >>

    Posted in Our Trips.... Tagged ,

Desert Island Discs… i-escape style

  • Desert Island Discs. You all know the score: you pick a top track, a book (to accompany the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare) and one luxury item. We asked some of the team what they’d choose, and where they’d like to be stranded (well, it wouldn’t be very i-escape otherwise, would it?).

    Melissa, Senior Editorial Assistant

    Top track: ‘Here comes the sun’ by The Beatles.
    Book: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (plus all her columns, if I can bend the rules a little?!).
    Luxury item: My rock-climbing shoes, so I can entertain myself by exploring the coastline.
    Stranded at: An Lam Ninh Van Bay. I love the back-to-nature ethos and admirable eco-credentials, as well as the creature comforts on offer! Food is also very important to me, so the beachfront restaurant’s extensive menu of Vietnamese, pan-Asian and international cuisine would keep me pretty happy!

    An Lam Ninh Van Bay

    Liz, Editor

    Top track: Hippie Sabotage’s remix of ‘Stay High’ by Tove Lo. Perfect sunshine music.
    Book: I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. The best thriller I have ever read.
    Luxury Item: My Kindle (cheating?). My pillow and its White Company pillowcase; the perfect plumpness and linen that always feels cool.
    Stranded at: JapaMala Resort on Tioman Island in Malaysia. What I would give to be there right now, snorkelling in the technicolour underworld, lazing on talcum-powder beaches and drinking pina coladas…

    Japmala Resort

    Nadine, Kids Collection Editor

    Top Track: Where Love Lives by Alison Limerick so I could sing and dance
    Book: A good guide to the flora and fauna of the Yucatan; if I’m stranded it would be good to find out more about the place, especially the birds!
    Luxury item: Thick pillows and eye mask
    Place: Hotel Esencia in Mexico, as the whole family would have to come with me of course

    Hotel Esencia

    Ben, Bookings Consultant

    Top Track: ‘California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas.
    Book: Shantaram – it might kill a few days/weeks.
    Luxury item: A big case of rum.
    Stranded at: Mango Bay in Vietnam, for the name alone. Laid-back rustic vibes and some serious hammock time.

    Mango Bay

    Emily, Bookings Consultant

    Top track: ‘Red Eyes’ by The War on Drugs.
    Book: Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. It’s really gripping!
    Luxury item: Mojitos (plural)!
    Stranded at: Golden Buddha Beach Resort in Thailand.

    Golden Buddha Beach Resort

    Rich, Rates Administrator

    Top Track: ‘Hit the Ground Running’ by Smog.
    Book: The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell (appropriately set by the sea).
    Luxury item: A lifetime supply of sun cream (factor 50).
    Stranded at: Jashita in Mexico – tranquil and secluded, with sea-to-table food. Exactly what you want on a desert island.


    Kate, Head of Bookings

    Top Track: ‘Spanish Sahara’ by Foals.
    Book: One Day by David Nicholls.
    Luxury Item: A vat of curry. And baby wipes (seriously – they have to be one of the most useful things ever!).
    Stranded at: Nikoi Island – proper barefoot lux in Indonesia.

    Nikoi Island

    Ben, Rates Manager

    Top Track: ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. Every time I land in Africa, this song (well, the whole album, in fact) plays in my head.
    Book: The Poisonwood Bible. I read this book the first time I travelled through Eastern and Southern Africa and have wanted to read it again ever since. Or, for an easier read, I’d choose Freddie Mercury by Peter Freestone. He was born and raised in Zanzibar, and I am secretly obsessed with Freddy.
    Luxury item: A snorkel and mask.
    Stranded at: Fundu Lagoon, on Zanzibar’s stunning Pemba Island.

    Fundu Lagoon

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

Escape of the Week… The Portobello Hotel

  • This iconic Notting Hill hotel is a place of rock ‘n’ roll legend: Alice Cooper kept his boa constrictor in the bath here, and Jonny Depp and Kate Moss filled their tub with champagne and hid away for several days.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Whether you’re planning a party-filled getaway or something more sedate, the unpretentious atmosphere, beautiful antique-filled rooms, 24/7 honesty bar and unrivalled West London location (right next to Portobello Market) are seriously tempting.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, Londoni-escape: The Portobello Hotel, Londoni-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Rooms: Chinese antiques, Persian rugs, button-back leather chairs… the 21 rooms are all different but all beautifully styled. Size-wise, even the small Good rooms with their mural-ed walls feel spacious in city hotel terms, while several of the larger rooms face out onto leafy Stanley Gardens. We loved our Exceptional room, especially the dreamy four-poster bed (so high we had to climb up steps to get in!) and the Tardis-like bathroom. Room 16 has a wonderfully romantic round bed wrapped in gauze curtains. In all rooms, you’re spoilt with Green & Spring spa products, Nespresso machines, and decadent French chocs at turndown.

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Food: A Continental breakfast is included in the rates and served on delicate vintage china, and there are cooked options for a charge – we loved the scrambled eggs and delicious smoked salmon. There’s a short snack menu available all day, but we’d recommend heading out to one of the many excellent restaurants in the neighbourhood (armed with a recommendation from the helpful reception team if needed). We grabbed a table at Granger & Co for some healthy Sydney-style food, but also had our eyes on Beach Blanket Babylon (for chic modern European dishes) and The Electric Diner (for American classics).

    i-escape: The Portobello Hotel, London

    Author’s tip: Pick up a pre-loved designer bargain in the charity shops on Westbourne Grove; the Oxfam and Save the Children shops are loaded with high-fashion brands.

    Press review: “The Portobello is a hotel with nearly half a century of celebrity status … but a more civilised demeanour than its legend might suggest. There is now a lift to help rockers who are feeling their age up the five floors, but there’s still a 24-hour guest-only bar downstairs for those who don’t yet feel past it.”
    Time Out, April 2015

    i-escape gift: a full-size Green & Spring spa product

    Read the full review and book The Portobello Hotel >>

    Check out our London guide >>

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

Autumn half-term escapes

  • It’s a long stretch between summer and Christmas; luckily for those with an irrepressible urge to travel, there’s a convenient mid-term holiday at the end of October. Our Kids Collection Editor Nadine suggests 10 dreamy destinations which are perfect for families.

    Yorkshire Dales, UK

    Swinton Bivouac

    One of England’s glories, the Dales are brilliant for families, with underground caves, waterfalls, botanical gardens, steam railways and castles galore!

    If glamping floats your boat, back-to-nature Swinton Bivouac, set on a 20,000-acre estate, is perfect. Stay in cute yurts or rustic woodland shacks, let the kids safely run wild, meander along nature trails, and hire mountain bikes to explore further afield.

    ACTIVITY: Over Halloween, spooky craft workshops are on offer, as well as a fancy-dress ghost walk followed by a 2-course meal in the cafe, which has a play area and dolls’ house.

    Aegean Coast, Turkey


    Some of the Med’s most gin-clear waters are to be found off the beautiful coves and beaches around Bodrum. The sea is still warm enough for swimming in late October, and there are boat trips on traditional gulets to be had, plus unspoiled fishing villages and ancient ruins to discover.

    Only 20 minutes from the airport is Med-Inn, a relaxed beach hotel with its own jetty, lovely gardens, spacious suites, a pool, a restaurant with a kids’ menu, and wonderful views. Sun + sand + sea + space to play = the ideal family holiday.

    OFFER: Stay 7, pay 5 until 31 October 2015

    Porto, Portugal

    The Yeatman

    Cascading down both banks of the Douro river, Portugal’s second city is delightful, UNESCO-listed and very walkable. Take boat trips under its soaring bridges, hop on the tram to Atlantic beaches, and visit the Oceanarium.

    Perched on a hillside with great views across to the historical Old Town, spa hotel The Yeatman has a range of rooms and suites which can take families (our kids were tickled by the bed in a wine barrel!). It also offers babysitting so parents can dine à deux in its excellent restaurant, plus a well-stocked kids’ club room and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

    PACKAGE: Kids stay for free if booking 2+ nights; 15% reduction on extra nights from 3rd night onwards; 5% early-bird discount if you book one month prior to arrival; 20% off spa treatments

    West Coast Jamaica

    Culloden Cove

    Fly into Montego Bay and head south from Negril for stunning coastal scenery, sublime sunsets and laid-back charm. Families will love watersports, boat trips, wildlife spotting, sandy beaches, waterfalls and zip-lining, or simply chilling out to the reggae beat.

    All of the above is easily accomplished at dreamy Culloden Cove, a fabulous staffed villa for up to 12 (including a garden annexe). It has a superb infinity pool, a private beach, a gazebo, hammocks, a box of toys and garden games, and snorkels and kayaks to borrow.

    OFFER: 25% EXCLUSIVE discount (2-night minimum stay)

    Crete, Greece


    The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has a strong identity and a fascinating history, and is very popular in summer. Better then to visit in the cooler, less-busy shoulder season. Kids will relish exploring ancient ruins, learning about the Minotaur and bouncing around the beaches.

    Head inland from Heraklion for traditional villages, an authentic way of life and awesome mountains. Prices are very reasonable, too! We rate Eleonas, an unpretentious agriturismo, for its warm welcome, self-catering stone cottages, playground, football pitch and kids’ pool.

    OFFER: 10% discount for stays of 5+ nights

    Charente, south west France

    Chateau de la Couronne

    Laid-back and charming Poitou-Charente, between Bordeaux and the Dordogne, is the second sunniest region in France yet is comparatively under-visited. There are canals and rivers to kayak, gentle rolling hills to walk and cycle, and historical towns to potter around.

    For an extended family party, immerse yourselves in serious style at Chateau de la Duchesse, which has enormous bedrooms, stunning reception rooms, huge grounds, a cinema room, a Baby Grand piano, a games room and a music room – ideal for tweens and teens. There’s a fenced pool, a football pitch and a pool table, too.

    OFFER: 25% discount for September-October (2-night minimum)

    Istanbul, Turkey

    Istanbul Place Apartments

    Few European cities can beat the history, excitement and waterfront setting of on-trend Istanbul. With good public transport, great sightseeing (don’t miss the fabled Topkapi Palace), excellent shopping (check out the Grand Bazaar) and quirky cafes, families in search of a satisfying break need look no further. A boat trip up the Bosphorus is a must.

    Live like a local in one of the great-value, contemporary-style Istanbul Place Apartments, dotted around hip and eclectic Galata. Some are close to Galata Tower, others have fab views over the Golden Horn. From all, it’s a short tram ride to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

    OFFER: 30% discount (2-night minimum)

    Basque Region, Spain

    Ea Astei

    Friendly, with beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs, lush forested mountains, delightful country towns and authentic fishing villages, the Basque Country is also one of Europe’s great gastronomic destinations – expect to feast aplenty from San Sebastian to Bilbao and beyond!

    We reckon the self-catering boltholes at Ea Astei are the perfect haven for families: close to sandy beaches, between the 2 major cities (the airport is only 40 minutes away), and with a heated pool plus a big garden with hammocks and rabbits. And you get the loveliest owners, who are a mine of local knowledge.

    OFFER: Stay 7 nights, pay for 5

    Pembrokeshire National Park, Wales, UK

    Llys Meddyg

    This is Britain’s only coastal national park, and it’s a magnet for families. Look forward to golden beaches, atmospheric castles, traditional seaside towns, and boat trips to spot dolphins and seals. The views are utterly awesome, too.

    Stay within the park at Llys Meddyg, a gastro restaurant with 3 family rooms, an enclosed garden and a special kids’ menu. Head forth for crabbing, birding, kayaking and horse riding, or walk part of the famous coastal path, which starts around the corner.

    PACKAGE: Half-term half-board package (2- or 3-night minimum)

    French Alps

    Chalet Bibendum

    Those who visit the Alps in autumn rave about the beautiful colours, the spectacular cloudscapes, the clarity of light, the chance to see wildlife such as chamois, deer and wild boar, the tranquillity, and the rock-bottom prices! Hiking, biking and paragliding are all to be enjoyed, and the lifts open for half-term.

    Uber-chic yet well-priced Chalet Bibendum, near Chamonix, has a hot tub, twin bedrooms, a private garden, roaring fires, games and views to Mont Blanc.

    OFFER: 40% discount until 5 December 2015 (3-night minimum)

    Take a look at our full list with half-term availability >>

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

Spotlight on an alternative South African road trip

  • We all know and love the big names of South Africa’s Western Cape, but on a recent trip we headed north for a fresh slant on this beautiful region

    Western CapeWhy go?

    Despite being easily accessible, the coast to the north of Cape Town remains relatively under the radar, enchanting those who stray off the tourist trail with its idyllic mix of nature reserves, lesser-known vineyards and quiet white-sand beaches. Paternoster in particular is great-value and a favourite foodie destination of ours, with world-class chefs taking full advantage of the region’s bountiful natural resources.

    Paternoster © Max LomaxHighlights

    Of course, we wouldn’t expect anyone to fly into Cape Town and not take the opportunity to soak up the city’s atmosphere. A firm favourite amongst i-escape staff, it really does have it all: beautiful beaches (Camps Bay, Llandudno), fantastic restaurants (particularly along the V&A Waterfront and Kloof Street), gorgeous hotels and almost constant sunshine. As for the setting… the city is cradled in a bowl, with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and City Peak on one side, and the gloriously blue Atlantic Ocean on the other. So by all means, take your time – we’ve gathered together the city’s best boutique hideaways to help you do just that.

    Cape TownBut – and this is where it gets interesting – when the time comes to head beyond the city, rather than heading east to the well-trodden Garden Route or famous Cape Winelands, drive north along the coast. Having remained relatively off the beaten track, this area boasts bountiful abundant wildlife and natural beauty, as well as some wonderful up-and-coming destinations at relatively reasonable prices.

    West Coast National ParkOne of the region’s most striking natural wonders is the West Coast National Park, where thousands of migratory seabirds roost on sheltered islands and waders from the northern hemisphere brood amid the salt marshes. We feel it’s at its best in spring (August-September), when wildflowers carpet the landscape and are framed by the ever-present pristine beaches and azure water.

    Dune HouseBirds aren’t the only migratory creatures worth looking out for while you’re here. Southern right whales can be seen travelling close to the shoreline from August until November, and boat trips are readily available in most coastal villages. Dolphins and seals also frequent the area, further increasing the odds of an exciting wildlife sighting. Place yourself in the heart of the action at Dune House, an idyllic seaside escape on Britannia Bay, and you may even be lucky enough to spot these beautiful creatures from you terrace.

    PaternosterBudding Attenboroughs will also adore Paternoster, where visitors can look out for wildlife while kayaking in the sheltered bay – or simply relax on its stunning sweep of white sand. But there’s more to Paternoster than the great outdoors. Over the past few years, world-class chefs have been redefining this charming fishing village as a foodie hub, opening a plethora of excellent eateries that are popular with locals and visitors alike. Perhaps the area’s abundance of fresh shellfish and wild herbs was too much to ignore?

    Reubens at Abalone House & SpaOne chef who is clearly making the most of nature’s finest is Kobus van der Merwe, whose bistro, Oep ve Koep, is known for serving ingredients foraged fresh from the surrounding sand dunes. Another i-escape favourite is Reuben’s, whose esteemed head chef Reuben Riffel is a judge on Masterchef South Africa. Perfect for a celebratory treat, the restaurant has endless ocean views and forms part of Abalone House & Spa (so no need to worry about how you’ll get home after that sumptuous dinner).

    Reuben at Abalone House & SpaWhen to go

    November-April is South Africa’s peak season; February is the best month as temperatures are constant (very hot!) and there’s little wind compared with other times. September’s wildflower season is also popular, and the weather is generally sunny but cool.

    Western CapeOur top tips

    Wine aficionados need not worry; there are some excellent vineyards in these parts. One stand out is Groote Post, a historic 18th-century wine farm and restaurant (Hilda’s Kitchen), where excellent twists on Cape classics are served in the tree-shaded grounds.

    Western CapeReady to take your own Western Cape road trip? Plan your getaway with our full Cape Town and West Coast collections.

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