Easy Escapes for September

  • Quick, there’s still time to catch some late-summer sun! Choose from a rural idyll in Andalucia or a cool oasis of calm in central Marrakech, or throw caution to the wind and hop on a direct flight to the paradise island of St Lucia – irresistible!

    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.

    Finca Naranja, Andalucia – £392.11 per person (4 nights, 13-17 September)

    Some of Andalucia’s best scenery sits in the Malaga province; simply head inland to find charming white-washed villages and ruined Moorish castles nestling against a backdrop of dark, olive- or pine-clad mountains.

    108328_mediumStay: at bucolic Finca Naranja, where you can lounge by the pool amid 6 hectares of olive trees and fruit orchards. With the current 25% discount, a 4-night stay in the Deluxe Suite comes to just £201 per person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Malaga with Ryanair for £191 per person, departing Sunday 13 September and returning Thursday 17 September.

    From the airport: Car hire through Rhino starts from just £10.22.

    Total cost: £392.11 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Andalucia and other accommodation options

    Villa des Orangers, Marrakech – £682 per person (5 nights, 9-14 September)

    September is a great time to visit Marrakech: the scorching summer temperatures are starting to fall but hotel prices are yet to rise for the autumn high season, meaning even the most reluctant souk haggler can bag a bargain.

    Stay: at Villa des Orangers, whose shimmering swimming pool and restorative spa offer a refreshing respite from the buzzing city streets. Their impressive 30% summer discount makes a 5-night stay in a spacious (and air-conditioned) Deluxe Room just £469 person.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Marrakech with Ryanair for £213 per person, departing Wednesday 9 September and returning Monday 14 September.

    From the airport: Rates include a transfer from Marrakech Menara airport in an air-conditioned vehicle.

    Total cost: £682 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to Marrakech and other accommodation options

    Ti Kaye, St Lucia – £1,092.50 per person (7 nights, 14-21 September)

    108953_mediumFamed for its lush scenery, golden sands and spectacular mountains, St Lucia is a haven for beach bums and adrenaline junkies alike. Whatever your holiday style, you’ll find a relaxed, informal welcome to wash away the weariness of life back home.

    108969_mediumStay: at the secluded Ti Kaye resort, where the atmosphere is refreshingly personal (Ti Kaye means ‘little house’ in Creole) and the ocean views are unrivalled. Book the special ‘10% discount (3+ nights)’ rate and get a 7-night stay in an Ocean View King Room for £533.50 per person.

    Fly: direct from London Gatwick to St Lucia Hewanorra with British Airways for £509 per person, departing Monday 14 September and returning Monday 21 September.

    From the airport: Ti Kaye offers return transfers for approximately £100 (request when booking).

    Total cost: £1,092.50 per person, including taxes.

    More info: getting to St Lucia 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 26 August 2015.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , ,

Escape of the Week… Gran Hotel Son Net

  • There’s a reason this stylishly restored 17th-century mansion is often referred to as Mallorca’s best hotel. Set on a hill in the stunning Sierra Tramuntana, it’s an ode to both traditionalism and originality, with a superlative restaurant in the centuries-old olive mill, plus wall-fuls of Chagalls and Hockneys.
     Gran Hotel Son Net

    You can expect luxury throughout: an infinity pool lined with cabanas, a beauty centre offering massages, and orchards and rose gardens to wander around. It’s a secluded, fairytale-like getaway with beaches, boutiques, cafés and galleries all within striking distance.
     Gran Hotel Son Net

    Rooms: All 31 rooms are decorated with exquisite taste and grand style. Imagine huge shuttered windows, original blue-and-white frescoes and four-poster beds, along with underfloor heating, powerful showers and L’Occitane toiletries to ensure interiors feel as decadent as they look. The main difference between rooms is size and, if you can, we’d suggest plumping for one of the jaw-dropping Grand Suites. They occupy the best locations in the finca and have private terraces or huge living rooms with superb views over the countryside.

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    Food: The wonderful restaurant, Oleum, offers a blend of Mediterranean and Mallorcan food; expect the likes of lamb loin with mashed potatoes, glazed pumpkin and a liquorice and tarragon jus, or suckling pig with lemon-scented vegetables. If that sounds too formal, you can always plump for the outdoor restaurant, El Gazebo, which opens during the summer months for freshly grilled fish and seafood lunches with stunning views of the Puigpunyent valley. We most enjoyed breakfast, though: a beautifully presented spread of fruit, local hams and cheeses, with a chef on hand to conjure up cooked dishes should you wish.

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    Top tip: Son Net’s professional guide is available for personalised excursions to Palma, Valldemossa and other lesser-known gems, including the unique art collection at the home of Yannick and Ben Jacober.

    i-escape guest review:  Usually an over-used phrase, but we genuinely were ‘treated like royalty’. A quiet grandeur that I haven’t seen replicated ANYWHERE. Chambermaids were so lovely and the waiting staff were just brilliant. We ate on the terrace each evening as the weather was wonderful, and we both felt we had the place to ourselves. Don’t ever change Son Net – you’ve got it right and we will definitely return!”
    Sandra, United Kingdom (23.10.14)

    Gran Hotel Son Net

    i-escape gift:  a bottle of Cava and a bowl of fresh fruit, plus a room upgrade if available on arrival

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

How to get a good night’s sleep

  • You know what we’re going to say already, don’t you? Book into an i-escape hotel, of course! Obvious plugs aside, we asked some of the team where they’ve had their best night’s sleep, and the varied answers were too good not to share. Sweet dreams indeed.  

    Kate, Head of Bookings
    Puri Ganesha in enchanting Bali. I stayed in Villa Senyum, which is full of extraordinarily beautiful items and has a huge four-poster bed dressed in billowy white drapes. Run by the most charismatic hostess, Puri Ganesha has immaculate grounds and zingy, super-fresh Indonesian food. It was one of the best night’s sleep I have ever had at any hotel anywhere in the world, and I would give my right arm to be transported back there tomorrow!

    i-escape: Puri Ganesha Villas, Bali

    Sarah DVD, Marketing Manager
    I slept like a baby at El Cancho, a secluded beach-house hideaway set on a hillside overlooking the windswept beaches of Tarifa. There’s no night-time distractions here; just twinkling stars and the odd jingling of goat bells. Pure back-to-nature bliss.

    i-escape: El Cancho, Spain

    Nikki, Founding Director
    Nothing beats the clean, fresh Atlantic air you get at Flying Boat Cottages in the Isles of Scilly. There’s plenty of peace and quiet after a day of outdoor activity around the island (no cars; just bicycles, sailing, coastal walks and beach picnics), and it’s worth any hassle getting there – sometimes if the weather disrupts your arrangements it makes the sleep all the more sweet! You also get super-comfy beds, thick cosy carpets and a big basket of logs to keep the wood-burner going.

    Flying Boat Cottages

    Melissa, Senior Editorial Assistant
    During my tour of Montenegro, I stayed on Sveti Stefan island in a peaceful Deluxe Cottage directly overlooking the sea. My room felt a million miles away from anything; crisp white sheets covered the heavenly kingsize bed, and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. It was utterly unforgettable, and more calming than any meditation session.

    i-escape: Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegroi-escape: Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

    Emily, Bookings Consultant
    I had a great night’s sleep in a very comfy bed at GoldenEye in Jamaica, but it’s the mornings that really stick in my memory: waking up refreshed, I opened the double doors onto my private terrace which faced a beautiful, serene lagoon. Jumping straight in (in my pyjamas!), I felt so relaxed and free. Drying off while drinking fresh coconut water (delivered by one of the lovely staff) topped it off. And this was all before breakfast!

    i-escape: GoldenEye, Jamaica

    Lyndon, Marketing Assistant
    Son Viscos in Mallorca. A challenging and churning sail up the coast, followed by a groaning spread of Mallorcan food and wine, is already a fool-proof recipe for a good night’s sleep, but add to that the mountainside peace and quiet of Son Viscos and even the most sleep-averse would feel their eyes getting heavy. A gentle stroll around jasmine-scented Valldemossa followed by starlit drinks on the terrace meant we certainly had no trouble drifting to the land of nod. And, with breakfasts like these, the morning can’t come soon enough.

    i-escape: Son Viscos, Mallorca

    Michael, Editor-in-Chief
    I had 3 blissful nights at St Mawes Hideaways in Cornwall. The first one followed a superb massage, arranged by the owner and delivered by Sarah Greenhalgh from Pressures of Life. The second one followed a cobweb-banishing walk around the Roseland peninsula and then a long soak in the in-room tub. The last one followed a delicious-but-not-too-rich dinner cooked by a private chef, Haydn Treneary, and a nightcap on the terrace looking at stars. All of them came courtesy of a gorgeous Hypnos kingsize mattress (the same one I have at home, as it happens).

    i-escape: St Mawes Hideaways

    Sarah B, Bookings Consultant
    For me, it was definitely laid-back Mexican jungle retreat Playa Escondida. After a day of sunshine, surfing and great food, we were soothed to sleep by the sound of the waves.

    i-escape: Playa Escondida, Mexico

    Abi, Assistant Editor
    I had one of the best – and longest! – sleeps of my life at Don Puerto Bemberg Lodge in Argentina. I’d just arrived off a gruelling 26-hour bus journey from Rio (thankfully no longer necessary due to direct 2-hour flights), and was welcomed by refreshing cocktails, a cool room and a wonderfully comfy bed. I was dead to the world from 3pm until 6am the next morning, and then awoke to the sounds of the jungle stirring to life around me; magical.

    i-escape: Don Puerto Bemberg Lodge, Argentina

    Laila, Founding Director
    My husband and I stayed here earlier this year when we were hiking the Lycian Way from Karakoy to Patara, along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. Villa Mandarin was one of our stops about half way through our hike, and it felt like we had arrived in paradise. Even though we were staying in a standard room, we had a super-kingsize four-poster bed and a whirlpool bathtub – perfect for relaxing sore muscles after a long day’s walk. After a fabulous 5-course dinner (included in the cost), we stumbled into bed and slept like logs, waking up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenge of climbing down to (and then back up from!) the nearby Butterfly Valley.

    Villa Mandarin

    Ben R, Bookings Consultant
    Some people freak about the lack of air con in the rooms at The Last House, but the building was designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, who positioned it to maximise the sea breeze. I slept on a huge four-poster, with shutters open all around. I could see the stars and fireflies outside, and listen to the waves pounding the beach whilst a gentle breeze rolled in. Happy dreams.

    i-escape: The Last House, Sri Lanka

    Anna, Marketing Assistant
    I’d have to say Natural Retreats in the beautiful, rolling Yorkshire Dales. We spent many a long day exploring castles, browsing foodie markets, tasting yummy Wensleydale cheese and climbing the steps to Whitby’s gothic Abbey, and felt very lucky to head home to our supremely peaceful lodge in the hidden green valley. Rabbits scattered as we drove down the track and all we could hear was the merry chirping of birds. After all that fresh air, even my toddler slept like a log!

    i-escape: Natural Retreats, UK

    Get some inspiration for your next trip >>

    Posted in Our Favourite.... Tagged , ,

An insider’s guide to… Berlin

  • Fun, relaxed and diverse, Berlin is one of our favourite city-break destinations. As well as a complex history, it has a rich creative scene, fantastic museums and music, and a great vibe – not to mention some fabulous character-filled places to stay.


    Splash out: Casa Camper Berlin, Mitte

    i-escape: Casa Camper Berlin

    Owned by the Spanish shoe giant, this sleek hotel has fresh and functional design and an unpretentious atmosphere. Colours are muted (think wine-red and grey) but comfort isn’t – the power showers are excellent and the beds top-quality. At the top of the hotel, with views over the Berlin rooftops, is a 24-hour buffet where you can fill up on a hearty breakfast or enjoy snacks throughout the day.

    In the middle: Boutique Houseboat, Lichtenberg

    i-escape: Boutique Houseboat Berlini-escape: Boutique Houseboat Berlin

    This serene houseboat (sleeping 2-4) sits 15-30 minutes outside the buzzing city centre, in a tranquil marina where you wake to nothing but the sounds of lapping water and quacking ducks. The floor-to-ceiling windows give a sense of space, as well as long views across the water to the landmark TV tower in the distance. Pale polished concrete and natural pine dominate the sleek interior, while the comfy colour-block sofa keeps things cosy. The well-equipped, minimalist kitchen means you can self-cater with ease.

    Econo-chic: Brilliant Apartments, Prenzlauer Berg

    i-escape: Brilliant Apartments, Berlin

    These stylish boltholes for 2-6 have an unbeatable location in vibrant Prenzlauer Berg. They’re well-placed for making the most of the thriving café culture and also just a short walk from great transport links to the rest of the city. Ranging in size from studios to large 2-bedroom apartments, they have a distinctive retro-meets-modern look with bold artwork, exposed brick walls and wooden floors.

    Berlin graffiti


    If you fancy something traditional, head to Cafe Einstein on Kurfürstenstrasse (not to be confused with the Ku’damm) for Kaffee und Kuchen – or bellinis and strawberry tart if you prefer – served by bustling, bow-tied waiters.

    For German fare, make a beeline for the Prater beer garden and restaurant on Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg.

    A firm favourite among the hip Mitte crowd, Casa Camper’s Asian-inspired tapas bar is a solid choice – the chef is ex-El Bulli (the legendary Catalan restaurant), and dinner is an 11- or 15-course tasting menu.


    Take in the must-see sights – the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Dome, the Holocaust Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie – and walk the trail where the wall separating East and West once stood.

    Brandenburger Tor, Berlin

    Our Bookings Consultant Ben recommends the Bauhaus Museum, an interesting exhibition about the far-reaching influence of the movement and how its creativity was crushed under Nazi rule.

    If glimpses of the River Spree put you in the mood for a swim, visit the Badeschiff (“bathing ship”) in Kreuzberg. This heated outdoor pool is moored on the river and has an adjoining “beach”.

    Badeschiff Berlin

    Hit the shops on Ku’Damm, including huge department store KaDeWe (a kind of Harrods-in-Berlin). During the festive season, enjoy glühwein and shopping amongst the stalls at one of the many Christmas markets.

    With the Kids

    Berlin is a really kid-friendly city. Prenzlauer Berg is especially popular with young families and most cafés and restaurants are geared up for them; there are also plenty of spielcafes (play cafés) where the children can let off steam while you enjoy Kaffee und Kuchen.

    Prenzlauer BergPrenzlauer Berg

    There’s also a popular kids’ museum, Machmit, housed in a disused church, and a petting zoo in Mauerpark.

    Don’t miss…

    We also discovered Freiluftkino Kreuzberg, an open-air cinema (May-September) screening a great selection of blockbusters and foreign films (all in English or with subtitles), complete with blankets, deckchairs and a bar.

    Read about Ben’s trip to Berlin and take a look at our Berlin city guide >>

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

Family Escape of the Month… Chambers Hotel

  • Bright, buzzing and ever-exciting New York City is a brilliant (if seemingly unlikely) destination for a family adventure, and Chambers Hotel is a top spot to base yourselves. It’s just 2 blocks from leafy Central Park, a block from MoMA, and a 10-minute walk from the bright lights of Broadway and Times Square.

    i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York

    The interiors have been decked out with art and bespoke furniture, and the results are intriguingly eclectic. When our Kids Collection editor Nadine visited with her 6-year-old daughter, they loved taking the lift to check out the commissioned pieces on each floor – the 8th-floor murals were their highlight.

    i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York

    Rooms: The hotel’s vision of “bohemian downtown artist’s loft meets uptown luxury” is beautifully executed: exposed pipes and bespoke pulley lamps sit alongside luxurious brushed fabrics and high-quality linens. Unusually high ceilings give a sense of space in a tightly packed city. All rooms can take a baby cot, and a rollaway bed will fit in all except the Queens. The best option for larger families is the Terrace Suite, which has a twin sofa bed in the living room,  a double in the bedroom, and a terrace shared with the neighbouring Terrace Queen. The top option is the Duplex Suite, which offers the most space and a sofa that converts to twin beds.

    i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York

    Food: Downstairs there’s a milk bar selling child-pleasing cookies, pies and shakes, as well as French-Vietnamese bistro Má Pêche for more grown-up tastes (it also offers room service). The simple breakfast menu has plenty of options for children: granola, cereal, oatmeal, French toast, fruit, bagels and buns, scones and breads, juice and hot chocolate. And there’s a plethora of options in the surrounding streets.

    i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York

    Top tip: Ask about the Kids Rule Package when you book and get extra treats for the children, such as mini terry robes and a Playstation 3 in your room.

    i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York i-escape: Chambers Hotel, New York

    Customer review: “We were upgraded! Loved the rooms and the staff but it has to be said – that really is all they have. We did the traditional Empire State Building but also did some fun things [with the kids].
    1. Take a boat called ‘The Beast
    ’ from the end of 42nd St in Hell’s Kitchen down the side of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty. The whole trip is 30 minutes – the children love it as it’s a fast speed boat so they don’t get bored with a talk about the Manhattan skyline but still get to see the Statue of Liberty.
    2. Go to a restaurant called ‘Ninja
    ’ on Hudson. Based on the theme of a ninja castle, it is brilliant fun and the children had such a laugh. Don’t worry too much about the food – you’re there for the experience.
    3. Walk through Central Park from Chambers Hotel up to the Met Museum. It
    ’s a long way for children in hot weather and they’ll be keen to go in, if nothing else for the air conditioning! The weapons and armour section kept the boys busy for a good long while.
    4. Take a taxi to the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge and walk back over.
    I hope that helps others taking children to NYC to find things to do…”
    Fenella, United Kingdom (19.07.15)

    Read the full review and book Chambers Hotel >>

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

Top 10 holidays for toddlers

  • For the third in our summer series focusing on family-friendly options for specific age groups, our Kids Collection Editor Nadine chooses 10 places for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

    It’s a tricky group to please, and most of us have endured holiday tantrums, squabbles and motion sickness. Yet these troubles recede when you’re staying at a beautiful hotel or villa, discovering new experiences and forging precious memories. And you’re not tied to school holidays, so prices are cheaper, temperatures cooler and crowds fewer.

    Country Kids, Languedoc, southwest France

    country kids

    The clear winner of i-escape’s ‘Best for Babies & Toddlers Award’ in 2014, this collection of 7 apartments on a converted farm offers everything small fry could ask for. There’s also plenty of pampering for parents: twice-weekly babysitting, food baskets on arrival, spa treatments, tennis lessons, wine-tastings, yoga… There’s even a Friday morning PJ party so you can go back to bed!

    country kids list

    Anassa, near Polis, Cyprus


    Once you’ve flown to Cyprus and travelled under an hour from the airport, you needn’t stir from this luxury beachside resort until it’s time to head home. Everything you need for a perfect holiday is here: large rooms and suites, excellent service, 4 restaurants and bars, lush gardens, an award-winning spa, 2 swimming pools, and superlative kids’ clubs for all ages.

    Anassa list

    Molino Rio Alajar, Andalucia, Spain

    Molino Rio Alajar

    Although this good-value rural retreat is 1.5 hours’ drive from Seville, it’s worth it for the secluded forest setting and valley views. There’s a relaxed pace of life, and the helpful Dutch owners have made excellent provisions for littl’uns – the main pool is fenced, for example. Each of the 6 wood and stone cottages has a private terrace, underfloor heating and an open kitchen-diner; the 3 largest are particularly good for families.

    Molino list

    Brilliant Apartments, Berlin, Germany

    Brilliant Apartments

    Chic city breaks needn’t be consigned to history once the nippers come along. Rated i-escape’s ‘Best Family City Break’ in 2013, these 11 apartments provide style and comfort. All can take an extra bed, the 2 largest can hold 6 + a baby, and there are 1-bed gems ideal for families of 4. Dynamic Prenzlauer Berg is full of child-friendly restaurants and cafés, and there are heaps of playgrounds – plus a petting zoo in nearby Mauerpark.

    Brilliant list

    Azur, near Antalya, Turkey


    This happy hideaway, just an hour from the airport, is great fun and great value. Choose between stone bungalows or wooden cabins dotted about the idyllic gardens; the former are close to the restaurant if you’re bringing a baby monitor. The staff are fantastic with little ones, the food is excellent, and stunning Cirali beach is just a 5-minute stroll.

    Azur list

    Ekies All Senses Resort, Chalkidiki, Greece

    Ekies All Senses Resort

    Everybody in the family will be happy here. Parents will love the holistic spa, delicious restaurants and fresh funky design, and can relax knowing the sea is shallow, the grounds are safe and there’s a lifeguard on duty June-September. The kids will be all about the beach, pool, playground and juice bar. If you want to fly and flop, the hotel can arrange transfers from Thessaloniki airport.

    Ekies list

    Borgo San Marco, Puglia, Italy

    Borgo San Marco

    Italy is a fabulous place for pre-schoolers: the Italians love bambini, and bambini love pasta and gelato – it’s a match made in heaven. This handsome 15th-century masseria, whose ethnic-chic rooms can all take an extra bed or cot, is only 45 minutes from Brindisi airport. The staff are welcoming, you’re right beside the excellent ZooSafari, and beaches are within easy reach. And Puglia doesn’t get as crowded as Tuscany or Amalfi.

    Borgo list

    Le Jardin des Douars, near Essaouira, Morocco

    Le Jardin des Douars

    With hassle-free souks, wild Atlantic beaches and twice-weekly flights from the UK, Essaouira is officially the Next Big Thing. Head inland out of the wind to this lovely country retreat, which has adult-only areas so you can relax however exuberant your toddler is. The rooms and suites are decadently gorgeous, and 3 (with private pools and cooks) sleep up to 10. There’s also a candlelit cocktail bar and exquisite botanical gardens. You’re only 10 minutes from the airport, but a world away.

    jardin des douars list

    Villa Meneghello, Hvar Island, Croatia

    Villa Meneghello

    Getting to this bohemian self-catering villa is half the fun: fly to Split and then get a ferry across to the island. It’s usefully arranged as two 3-bedroom apartments (each with a kitchen, bath and terrace) which can be taken together or separately, and it has hillside gardens with exotic blooms, a shared pool and a BBQ. What’s more, it’s only 15 minutes from Hvar Town.

    Meneghello list

    Casa Tomaren, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Casa Tomaren

    Casa Tomaren

    The Canaries are blessed with sunny weather year-round, so they’re ideal for pre-school families able to vacation at any time.  For a laid-back holiday head 15km north-west from the airport to this self-catering haven. Six of the 8 Indo-Moroccan houses can take kids, and the largest has 3 bedrooms; all have kitchens, and breakfast is included in the rates – a nice touch.

    tomaren list

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

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

Spotlight on Essaouira & Morocco’s Atlantic Coast

  • Once a hippie enclave, Essaouira’s busy fishing port and atmospheric souks offer a taste of the real Morocco – plus easy access to excellent beaches and big waves

    Why go?

    Not only is Essaouira one of Morocco’s coolest cities, it’s also recently become one of its most accessible. Thanks to easyJet’s launch of direct services from Luton, a week or two spent windsurfing the Atlantic-coast beaches and perusing the characterful souks is now just a 4-hour flight away.


    Our first port of call is always the city’s lively harbour, where colourful fishing boats bob in the water and vendors cook fresh seafood to order straight from the nets – choose your stall with care and you can get a delicious lunch of sardines, shrimps, calamari, John Dory or even lobster.

    Madada MogadorInside the walled old town, the mellow scene is very conducive to relaxation: the cafés on the main square are great for people-watching, and the souks are generally more laid-back and friendly than others in Morocco. Look out for quality inlaid woodwork made from thuya, a local hardwood for which the area is famous. We particularly like visiting the workshops in search of furniture, bowls, chess sets and boxes.

    Dar BeidaAccommodation also remains great value in these parts. Stunning rooftop views can be found at chic Madada Mogador and Villa de L’O, while independent travellers will love living like a local at seriously stylish townhouse Dar Beida and quirky Number Thirty.

    One of the area’s most famous assets is the fresh Atlantic wind which blows almost constantly along the shore. As a result, Essaouira has become a centre for water sports, including surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing. Good surf spots can be found within a 25km radius of the city – take the bus south to the small fishing village of Sidi Kaouki or north to Safi.

    Le Jardin des DouarsBaoussalaThe surrounding countryside boasts some of our favourite rural guesthouses, perfect for hiding away from the world. On our last visit we discovered the bucolic Le Jardin des Douars, a laid-back escape whose sensational botanical gardens burst at the seams with colour. Nearby Baoussala’s bohemian style and warm welcome ensure it remains a long-term i-escape favourite.

    La Sultana OualidiaOf course, there’s more to this region than Essaouira. If you fancy getting further off the beaten track, head north along the coast to the small fishing village of Oualidia, home to Morocco’s best oyster beds and some of its most diverse birdlife; book into home-from-home Villa La Diouana or luxurious spa hideaway La Sultana Oualidia.

    El JadidaL'IglesiaHistory and culture hounds will relish exploring Unesco-listed El Jadida, particularly the fortress, colourful fishing harbour, coastal ramparts and Portuguese cistern. Stay at beautifully restored Portuguese church and former consulate L’Iglesia.

    When to go

    Unlike other parts of Morocco, Essaouira is a year-round destination. The famous summer winds keep the temperature to a bearable degree even in July and August. Locals swear by the calm other-worldly light in January and February, but it can get a bit nippy in the evenings. We’d recommend either March to May or October and November for the best overall conditions.

    Our top tips

    Go wine-tasting at the Val dArgan, said to be the best winery in Morocco. The cheapest Gazelle de Mogador is a crisp, refreshing white (perfect with fresh fish), and the Orient du Val d’Argan is gutsy and moreish.

    Can’t wait to hit the coast? Take your pick from our full Essaouira and Atlantic Coast collection.

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

Escape of the Week… Canal House

  • This trendy 23-room hotel is everything you’d expect from a canal-side sister of the UK’s Cowley Manor: friendly, spoiling and boldly modern, with a flourish of tradition. It’s a jewel in the crown of Amsterdam’s hip Jordaan district.

    Canal House

    Unlike many of its neighbours, Canal House also has an abundance of space. Many of the rooms in the trio of 17th-century merchant’s houses are larger than you’d expect, and there’s the added bonus of a wonderfully peaceful garden – one of the biggest in jam-packed central Amsterdam.

    Canal House

    Rooms: The interiors of Canal House are a treat from the moment you step over the threshold. You’re greeted by wall-to-wall repros of Dutch Master paintings in gilded frames, and sumptuous, plush décor. The rooms are no different: expect thick plum curtains, silk wallpaper and beautifully restored original features, as well as modern additions such as flat-screen TVs, Blu-Rays and iPod docking stations. The main difference between categories is size; otherwise all rooms follow the same decadent vein. The largest, Best, is a huge open-plan suite that sprawls over the entire top floor, with sweeping views of the canal.

    Canal House

    Food: There’s no restaurant at Canal House, but you’ll be treated to a fantastic breakfast spread in The Great Room: pastries, breads, cakes, fruit, meats, cheeses. Venturing out for other meals is no problem at all in a neighbourhood studded with restaurants and cafes, and staff can make some excellent recommendations. If you can’t bring yourself to leave the sprawling luxury of the hotel, you can always plump for cocktails and dive into the snack menu at the bar. We loved the tasty little Dutch morsels like veal croquettes and shrimp bitterballs.

    Canal House

    Top tip: You’ll find a ‘Black Box’ in your room containing easily forgotten bathroom essentials, so don’t panic if you didn’t pack any cotton wool!

    Canal House

    i-escape guest review:  “The breakfast was good. Staff were very helpful for travel information and dinner bookings.”
    Pui Hung, Hong Kong (30.12.14)

    i-escape gift:  a free room upgrade, subject to availability on arrival

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Our favourite recipes… Creme brulee with a Scottish twist

  • Now this sounds like our kind of dessert: crème brûlée with a Scottish twist from relaxed gourmet bolthole Monachyle Mhor. One taste of this and we’re sure to be transported to the Highlands…

    Creme Brulee blog

    Crème brûlée with shortbread and Glengoyne-soaked sultanas


    For the Glengoyne-soaked sultanas:

    4 tablespoons of golden sultanas
    Glengoyne 21-year-old malt whisky

    For the crème brûlée:

    450ml of double cream
    50ml of milk
    1 vanilla pod, split with the seeds scraped out
    5 free-range egg yolks
    75g of caster sugar, plus an extra 40g to glaze the brûlée

    For the shortbread:

    600g of plain flour
    200g of caster sugar, plus extra to dredge
    150g of hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely ground
    Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
    450g of unsalted butter, chilled and cubed


    For the Glengoyne-soaked sultanas:

    1. Soak the sultanas in boiling water for 20 minutes
    2. Strain and cover with whisky
    3. Steep overnight

    For the crème brûlée:

    1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2
    2. Heat the cream and milk until simmering, add the vanilla seeds, stir and keep hot
    3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy, then strain into the hot cream and stir well
    4. Pour the mixture into 4 ovenproof cups, set in a deep roasting tray
    5. Pour enough boiling water into the tray to reach halfway up the cups. Cook for about 30-35 minutes until set but still soft in the centre. Remove from the water, cool and then chill

    For the shortbread:

    1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and process until they just come together
    2. Tip onto a work surface and bring together into a flat round
    3. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour
    4. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2
    5. Roll out the dough about 1cm thick and cut into 24 rounds
    6. Transfer to a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes
    7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale but not coloured
    8. Cool on the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and dredge with caster sugar

    To finish the crème brûlées:

    1. Sprinkle half the remaining caster sugar evenly over the surface of the crème brûlées
    2. Caramelise with a blowtorch
    3. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar and caramelise again
    4. Serve immediately with the shortbread, or keep chilled for up to 2-3 hours

    See our other favourite recipes, including the perfect croissantslemon and ginger chicken tagine and baked egg with sage and a tomato and pomegranate salad.

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , ,

Off-the-beaten-track in Portugal

  • We’ve put together our favourite accommodation options for those who want to step off the well-trodden tourist trail and explore the ‘real’ Portugal. Encompassing coastal retreats, a secluded lakeside B&B and a tranquil guesthouse in an authentic Lisbon neighbourhood, we want to show off lesser-known sides of this beautiful and diverse country. And, with many options starting at well under £100 per room per night, it proves that a true escape needn’t put a strain on the wallet.

    Sublime Comporta, Alentejo

    i-escape: Sublime Comporta i-escape: Sublime Comporta

    Set just an hour from Lisbon yet only on the radar of those in the know, the sleepy village of Comporta has gourmet restaurants, swathes of pristine sand and a chic yet understated vibe – it’s been compared to St Tropez before the hordes descended. Tucked among fragrant pine trees just inland from the coast is Sublime Comporta, a contemporary retreat with a spa, a rim-flow pool, imaginative food and 14 swish all-white rooms. It’s the ideal base for those who want romance, relaxation and easy access to some of Portugal’s best beaches.

    From £133 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Queen Friend’s Room on a B&B basis.

    Convento – Olhão, eastern Algarve

    i-escape: Convento, Portugali-escape: Convento, Portugal

    A mere 20 minutes east of Faro airport is Olhão, an authentic fishing town with cobbled streets and simple restaurants serving grilled sardines and jarros of wine; it’s a world away from the bustling resorts you’d normally associate with the Algarve. This great-value townhouse hotel is hidden down a narrow street, between a fishmonger and a neighbourhood eatery. Inside it has a Moroccan riad feel, with a tiled courtyard and 9 romantic bedrooms adorned with antiques. Crowning it all is a split-level roof terrace overlooking the lagoons of the Rio Formosa National Park, whose beautiful lagoon beaches are only a taxi-boat ride away.

    From £72 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Double Room on a B&B basis.

    Villa Pedra – Cotas, Beiras Mountains

    i-escape: Villa Pedra, Portugali-escape: Villa Pedra, Portugal

    The stunning Beiras region, cradled between the Douro and Tejo rivers, stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border, yet few people outside Portugal would be able to place it on a map. It’s the perfect destination for those seeking deep relaxation, and this bucolic hideaway is packed with TLC. It was created from an abandoned hamlet by friends Manuel, Carla and Victor, who added ethnic art and contemporary furnishings to its old stones. It now has a cluster of self-catering cottages for 2-5, along with a restaurant, a walled garden and a lovely pool. Hiking trails criss-cross the hills around, and the fascinating Roman site of Conimbriga is just a short drive away.

    From £86 per cottage per night, based on 2 sharing. This includes breakfast delivered to your door each morning.

    Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina – Elvas, Alentejo

    i-escape: Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina, Portugal i-escape: Casa da Ermida de Santa Catarina, Portugal

    Set on the edge of the Caia reservoir in a forgotten corner of the Alentejo, this traditional farmhouse has been transformed into an airy, light-filled space, with glass walls looking out to water, sky and rolling olive groves. There are no neighbours for miles. The 6 colourful, comfy rooms have bags of space, and the tranquillity is all-encompassing. Spend your days kayaking, windsurfing and picnicking on the shore, before returning for lazy afternoons on the deck. There can be few more romantic places to escape the world for a while.

    From £65 per room per night, based on 2 sharing on a B&B basis.

    Casa Amora – Amoreiras, Lisbon

    i-escape: Casa Amora, Portugal i-escape: Casa Amora, Portugal

    A great option for people who want a quieter side of the Portuguese capital, Casa Amora is an intimate guesthouse in the cobbled neighbourhood of Amoreiras, away from the hustle yet just a short walk from the city centre. Set around a pretty courtyard, its 10 rooms and studio-style suites are each dedicated to a different Portuguese icon, with vintage furniture and silkscreen portraits. Staff are keen to make your experience of Lisbon a highly authentic one and are full of insider tips; manager Juan even offers walking tours tailored to your interests.

    From £65 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Basic Room on a B&B basis.

    Imani Country House – near Evora, Alentejo

    i-escape: Imani Country House, Portugal i-escape: Imani Country House, Portugal

    Thousands of visitors flock to the whitewashed city of Evora, whose Roman temple and maze-like old town form a Unesco World Heritage site. But you needn’t stay among the throngs; just a few miles outside town, this stylish rural hotel sits among orange groves and was created from the ruins of a sprawling farm. There are 2 pools, lavender-fringed gardens strung with hammocks, and 7 chic rooms that mix designer furniture with quirky flea-market finds (vintage sewing machines in a bathroom, an old bicycle above a bed). Best of all, the only sounds are birdsong, braying donkeys and the occasional buzz of a distant tractor.

    From £115 per room per night, based on 2 sharing a Standard Suite on a B&B basis.

    View our full Portuguese collection >>

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