Escape of the Week… Neeleshwar Hermitage

  • We don’t have many hotels named after gods, but Neeleshwar Hermitage is just that – a spoiling Keralan retreat which shares its nomenclature with Shiva, the God of Transformation (among other things). It’s not an accident; the warm and welcoming hosts encourage you to forget all troubles and ‘start your life anew’. It’s a bold claim, but if there‘s any idyllic hideaway that can do it, this cluster of 16 cottages (and one houseboat) on the calm and stunning Indian coast, is it.

    Neeleshwar Hermitage

    Just metres back from the beautiful beach (with swimmable sea) is the hotel’s large infinity pool and spacious wooden cottages, set within 12 acres of lush gardens. With its Ayurvedic spa, yoga lessons and sublime seclusion, the emphasis at Neeleshwar is staunchly – and triumphantly – on unadulterated relaxation.

    Neeleshwar Hermitage

    Rooms: The 16 traditional, thatched cottages are spread out in 2 tiers across the lovely gardens. They’re all pretty much identical, although half are detached while the other half are paired for families or friends. The only other difference is the direction they face – you can opt for a garden view, a pool view or a sea view.

    Inside, uniformity doesn’t stand for drab. Bedside tables and Planters-style twin chairs were carved by local craftsmen, and there are small writing desks as well as cavernous wardrobes. Contemporary art, silk bedrunners, a duck-egg blue wall and hand-woven rugs atop teak floors add a bit of pizazz. The beds are huge, with lovely white linens. Despite the ornate inclusions, the overall feeling is one of considered minimalism, which makes the cottages feel large – something that’s aided by the teak verandas leading out to the beautiful scenery. Mod cons haven’t been forgotten: as well as an in-house stereo system and WiFi, you’ll find a Bose dock for your iPod, a safe box, and air-conditioning to supplement the overhead fans.

    You can also opt (and we suggest you do) to explore the river with a night or two on  Neeleshwar’s houseboat, The Lotus. On board you’ll find 2 stunning all-teak bedrooms with large observation windows and a private outdoor area. Discovering the untrammelled backwaters on this gorgeous boat was the highlight of our stay.

    Neeleshwar Hermitage

    Food: You can choose from 2 restaurants. Fully licensed Annapuma sits in an open pagoda-style structure roofed in coconut palms, and is the perfect spot to enjoy a mix of North and South Indian, Middle Eastern and European dishes. They’re mostly vegetarian with specialities such as idli and dosa (spicy savoury rice cakes and pancakes respectively), bathal (similar to bahjis) and, of course, Keralan-style fish and chicken dishes. The second restaurant, Meenakshi, is close to the pool and the beach, allowing guests to dine with their toes in the sand beneath swaying palms. At lunchtime a blackboard menu offers fresh and delicious concoctions from the local markets, with fish and seafood featuring heavily.

    A continental breakfast is available in either restaurant until 10am, and a complimentary afternoon tea with locally made biscuits is served daily in Meenakshi. If you take a cruise onThe Lotus, you’ll find a bar and a modern kitchen, plus indoor and alfresco dining areas. A personal chef is part of the crew.

    Neeleshwar Hermitage

    Top Tip: Join in the Indian cooking lessons to hone your culinary skills – a different dish is taught on site every day and you can buy all the spices locally to take home with you. Also, from September to March endangered sea turtles hatch their eggs on the beach – a privilege to witness.

    Neeleshwar Hermitage

    Customer review: “Very friendly staff. Nice free upgrade of the room. Great place to unwind – still a very untouristy and authentic part of Kerala.”

    Marc, Belgium (28.03.12)

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

We’ve made it! i-escape hits 1,500 hotels

  • From 0 to 1500 in 13 years: Editor-in-Chief and founder member Michael Cullen looks back at the step-by-step progression of i-escape.com from birth to adulthood…


    When we first launched i-escape back in 2001, it was with a portfolio of 100 hotels painstakingly researched and written up from trips to South Africa, Morocco, India, Sri Lanka, Spain and the Caribbean. It had taken us nearly a year to put together, and we were very proud of it. There were exotic riads in Marrakech, rainforest eco-lodges on Dominica, chic fincas in Andalucia, even a private island off the Sri Lankan coast.

    Our 2001 homepage

    Remember this? Our homepage as it looked back in 2001

    Our team of 4 had visited every one of them, taken photos, met the owners, tested the pools and the mattresses and the cocktails – and published the results on this new thing called the internet. As the first bookings trickled in, our collective heads were spinning. We could scarcely imagine that, 13 years later, our collection would have grown to 1,500 properties, hand-picked from over 50 countries, with more queuing up to join every week.

    Read the full review of Riad Enija

    My first ever hotel review back in December 2000: Riad Enija in Marrakech

    But that figure of 1,500 has been at the back of my mind for several years now, as the optimum portfolio size: big enough to offer something for everyone, yet small enough for us to keep an eagle eye on standards. Alongside our core offering of boutique hotels, the noughties saw us add house rentals, city apartments and stylish B&Bs; we roamed the world from Argentina to Zanzibar, and from Malaysia to Montenegro. Three years ago we rolled out our family-friendly site, this year we launched our inaugural ski collection.

    Read our full review of Jawai Leopard Camp

    The 1500th property to join i-escape: Jawai Leopard Camp in Rajasthan

    So when my friends come to me for holiday advice – or indeed my cousins, neighbours, teenage godchildren, parents in the school playground, all with their own particular set of requirements – I’m confident that we’ll have something to suit them, and hopefully to delight them. Wanting to tack a short break onto her Lisbon conference, one friend asked for “a spoiling beachside escape in Portugal, with a great spa and organic food, and eco principles please”; another needed a “winter-sun house rental for a family of 5 with separate space for the in-laws, all on a budget of €1000”. Bingo: Areias do Seixo and Casa Los Geranios. (Sometimes, I admit, I cheat and use our own detailed search filters : I can no longer remember every place on our books).

    Read our full review of Areias do Seixo

    Handpicked for our friends: this is Areias do Seixo

    Of course there are some geographical gaps. If you’re set on going to Oman or Japan or Turkmenistan, we can’t help you (not yet, anyway). If you’re trying to find a bed within a few miles of your friend’s rural wedding venue, there may not be any red pins in the bull’s eye on our map (but then again, there may be – and if so you can be sure it’s a corker).

    Why, then, don’t we grow further? After all, we have 50-100 places applying to join i-escape every week, of which we choose just 1-2 for possible inclusion. And that, in a sense, is the answer. We want to remain extremely selective. We insist on keeping our listings pages reassuringly short – just the very best in each category and location; no-one wants to spend hours wading through endless similar hotels and so-so house rentals. We are determined to revisit and update each property every year or two, ensuring that our reviews remain as detailed and personal and trustworthy as ever; and to weed out any places that have gone off the boil. We like to maintain a close personal relationship with all of our owners. And you can’t do any of those if you have 10,000 or 100,000 places on your books.

    i-escape now covers over 50 countries worldwide

    Yes, there are still some countries we haven’t covered – but we’re getting there!

    So from now on, it’s basically one-in, one-out. We’re about to wave bye-bye to a clutch of places which got less than stellar feedback from our guests this year – nothing spectacularly shocking, I’m afraid, just underwhelming – in order to make room for new places in Astypalaia and Menorca, Comporta and Paternoster, Sintra and Salento (give yourself 10 points if you know which countries all those are in), as well as other secret hotspots to be revealed soon.

    For that to happen, we’re indebted to all of you who wrote in with suggestions for must-have properties and requests for new destinations, as well as feedback on hotels you’ve stayed in. I know you’re inundated with pop-ups and surveys, so your time is hugely appreciated. If you have booked through us this year but not yet submitted your feedback, please do – we’ll shortly be re-reading it all and counting your scores, in the annual shakedown that is our Guest Awards.

    Meantime I must return to the endless cycle of browsing through gorgeous boutique hotels; the enviable task of sending someone to review the standouts, and the unenviable task of choosing those which should make way. It’s enough to make me need a holiday. Now, where to choose…

    Take a look at what our the team and directors had to say about their favourite i-escape hotels, or hear from i-escape’s fans.

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Our Trips..., Travel News. Tagged , , , ,

Family-friendly getaways for autumn half-term

  • The stretch between the summer holidays and Christmas can be daunting, with ever-darkening days and the year racing to a close. For those who still have some vacation days up their sleeves – and who haven’t yet decided what to do for half-term – our Kids Collection Editor Nadine has rounded up 10 family-friendly places to stay, all with character, style, and availability.

    Sea Garden Cottages, Tresco, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, UK

    Sea Garden Cottages

    The Isles of Scilly feel like they’re in a bygone era: no cars, doors left on the latch, and the sun always seems to shine. And even when it doesn’t, there’s such great natural bounty on the doorstep that you’d barely notice. These well-equipped cottages all have superb sea views and good kitchens, plus there’s a Beach Cafe next door.  They come in 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom configurations; book the latter during October and you’ll get an exclusive 25% discount. Oh, and did we mention the sandy beach, bicycles for hire, hidden treehouses and indoor heated pool?

    Fellah Hotel, near Marrakech, Morocco

    Fellah Hotel

    Marrakech is a super place to bring children: colourful, creative and intriguing. Make the unique Fellah Hotel your half-term home and take advantage of its 20% discount for families, which includes free access to the kids’ club (plus a very tasty 25% off spa treatments for parents). This October, there’s a special design programme where kids learn traditional Moroccan crafts such as tiling, pottery and carpet-weaving, and create their own original object from recycled materials.

    Hostal Empuries, L’Escala, Catalonia, Spain

    Hostal Empuries

    There’s something for all the family at this eco-friendly seaside hotel, with a sleek spa, a choice of restaurants, a weekend kids’ club and family rooms. The special half-term family package includes dedicated spa water circuit and swimming pool times, bicycles, snacks and half-board meals. The beach in front is safe and sandy, and boat trips along the coast can be easily arranged. And pleasingly, Empuries is just 40 minutes from Girona airport.

    Anassa, near Polis, Cyprus


    There’s an advantage to heading to this swanky resort over half-term: there are oodles of facilities to enjoy (including the award-winning Thalassotherapy spa for maximum relaxation), and the nippers get their own pool, age-appropriate kids’ clubs offering a daily changing schedule of activities, and a veritable emporium of games and toys. You also get a proper family restaurant, a playground, and watersports of every stripe to choose from. If you book a pair of Studio Suites for half-term then the second is half-price, and free half-board for children applies if you book full- or half-board.

    Casas do Coro, Marialva, Beiras, Portugal

    Casa do Coro

    Most won’t be familiar with this historic frontier plateau, where Romans, Goths and warring Spaniards have plied their trade for centuries. Now the province is better known as a wine region, stuffed full of castles and (now peaceful) ancient hilltop villages. Within one such village you’ll find this charming collection of self-catering granite houses for 2-11. There’s a shared pool, garden and restaurant at its heart, and exciting expeditions including boat trips and mountain biking await. And until the end of October there’s a 10% discount for stays of 3+ nights, plus a free visit to the organic vegetable garden.

    Onar, Andros, Cyclades, Greece


    The Cyclades are some of Greece’s most accessible islands, just a couple of hours from Athens, and many claim unspoiled Andros to be the pick of the bunch. Set on the edge of a natural park, a short walk along a river from the sea, these simply stylish cottages for 2-7 exude homespun charm. The swimming pool is a natural pond, the owner is charismatic and helpful, and kids and teens will love tearing around the place without a care. And if you book for October, you’ll enjoy a 15% discount on the rates, plus free local wine or beer with every meal!

    Chateau Les Merles, near Mouleydier, Dordogne, France

    Chateau Les Merles

    Winery hotels can be stuffy and bore even those old enough to imbibe alcohol. Not this one. From its gastronomic restaurant to its large and gracious grounds, this honey-coloured chateau delivers relaxed fun for both parent (golf, cooking courses, massages) and child (swimming pool, playground, tennis court) alike. There’s a range of family-friendly accommodation, including an apartment for up to 6, suites for 3 adults plus kids,and self-catering villas for as many as 9. You can rent bikes, and there’s heaps to explore in this part of the Dordogne; you’re just 10 minutes from Bergerac airport, too. In October you can save 20% if you book 3+ nights – and if booking 5+ nights, 30% is discounted.

    Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy

    Borgo Egnazia

    Your children, whether kids or tweens, will thank you for bringing them to this immaculately designed rustic-chic resort, whose superlative amenities include a sumptuous spa, a gourmet restaurant, a golf course, a groovy cocktail bar and 4 swimming pools. For them, there’s a free kids’ club, a playground with a trampoline, a well-stocked games room, and a huge kids’ pool. And if they refuse to countenance seeing another piazza, Baroque church or fortified town, there’s the excellent Zoo Safari nearby. The half-board half-term package is applicable to the La Corte Splendida rooms.

    Villas Martinhal, Sagres, Portugal

    Villas Martinhal

    Autumn is a great time to visit this corner of the Algarve, as the weather is balmy and Martinhal has an 8% discount off all its 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom houses(as well as 4-  and 7-night half-board packages). This place is unrivalled for families: it has a sandy beach, a great kids’ club, a playground, a video games room and tennis academies. All villas have kitchenettes, and the resort’s restaurant offers kids’ portions. All ages can learn to surf or windsurf, and older kids can do a Junior Lifeguard Course.

    Llys Meddyg, Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

    Llys Meddyg

    A gourmet restaurant with cosy rooms may not immediately appeal for a family half-term holiday, but this relaxed hotel is right by the sea and close to Pembrokeshire National Park. Children are warmly welcomed, and over half the rooms can take sofabeds or extra beds; babysitting is also available. It’s got a special half-board half-term package, too.

    Check out our full list of family-friendly hotels with autumn availability >>

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

Escape of the Week… Insolito

  • When booking a blissful boutique stay it can be reassuring to know that you have a stunning beach nearby. Well, Insolito in Brazil has got that covered – 26 times. As well as having a glut of beautiful beaches, buzzy and hip Búzios also has an abundance of restaurants and great night life, all within easy reach of the hotel.


    Insolito is just as spectacular as its surroundings. Clean-cut, serene and chic, the Mediterranean gardens, 2 swimming pools and sweeping views make for a decadent getaway, particularly with the addition of the superlative spa.


    Rooms: Throughout the 5 different room types (Superior, Luxo, Junior Suite, Master Suite and Insolito Suite) there is one unifying theme: luxury. Kingsize beds are made up with top-quality white sheets and duvets, and everything is top of the range: mattresses are by Sealy, robes by Trussardie, towels are Karsten Zero Twist Towels. You also get a plasma TV, a DVD player and free WiFi. All of them are supremely calm; predominantly white interiors are punctuated with flashes of bright colour or attractive patterns in the Brazilian rugs and plush furnishings.

    We love the Luxo rooms, which have a private slice of garden, but our rooms of choice would be the Insolito Suites (if your budget will stretch to it). These have outdoor Jacuzzis on their wraparound decks so you get panoramic sea views as you soak – impossible not to love.


    Food: The food in A Galeria – the hotel’s restaurant – is a beautiful example of fusion cooking offering European food with a Brazilian twist.  Think salmon and caviar with fennel carpaccio and Sicilian lemon or perhaps foie gras to start, then perhaps lobster and quinoa risotto, rump of young bull with truffles and mashed olives, or catch of the day with cashew nuts. This is all enjoyed on the beautiful rooftop terrace with stunning views by day and gentle candlelight by night. Breakfast is a simple buffet of meats, cheeses, homemade bread, croissants and cakes, followed by eggs or pancakes cooked to order.

    If you want to venture away from the hotel, Insolito also runs Eden Beach Lounge, a laid back restaurant below the hotel (open from 11am to late) with a simpler menu and live DJ music. Alternatively, there’s a wealth of excellent eateries in town, or head to the lesser known ‘Centro Gastronimico’ in Porta da Barra for a number of restaurants in which to enjoy a more relaxed evening of delicious food.


    Top Tip: We’d recommend taking a boat trip along the Buziana coast, stopping off en route to swim. Boats leave from Praia da Armação and Ossos and take about 3 hours, finally delivering guests at Buziana restaurant for a seafood lunch.


    i-escape gift: a complimentary bottle of champagne, and a room upgrade, subject to availability on arrival

    Read the full review and book >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Exploring Cappadocia, Turkey

  • The gnarled yet graceful landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey is the stunning result of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Since then, numerous civilisations have passed through, all leaving their mark. The result is a magical and utterly captivating environment of extraordinary rock formations, rose-coloured ravines, stone-hewn churches, labyrinthine underground cities, ancient cave dwellings and castles perched atop rocky outcrops.

    Hot-air balloons viewed from Serinn House

    Hot-air balloons viewed from Serinn House

    With these aesthetic credentials, it’s easy to understand why scores of holiday makers – ourselves included – keep going back for more. Whether wine-tasting in Urgup or sedately strolling the cobbled streets of Mustafapasa, there’s plenty of cultural character and charm to drink in. What’s more, with magical and stylish subterranean boltholes like Evinn Cave House and Serinn House, or beautiful hilltop Museum Hotel, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to quirky boutique hideaways.

    What to do

    The region is beautiful whatever way you look at it, but nothing quite compares to a breath-taking balloon’s-eye-view first thing in the morning. The spectacular conical rock formations and graceful valleys look resplendent in the sunrise, making hot-air balloons a popular and unforgettable way to view the landscape.

    Goreme Open Air Museum

    Goreme Open Air Museum

    Cappadoccia also has a thrill-seeking heart and is popular with those attracted to more adventurous pursuits such as cross-country golf, quad biking, horse riding and mountain biking – argos in Cappadocia has easy access to such sports. Or, for a slower pace, we suggest one of the impossibly beautiful trekking routes from the pretty village of Uchisar, the highest point in Cappadocia. Here you can climb to the top of the citadel for panoramic views before hiking along the beautiful Pigeon Valley (named after the numerous dovecotes carved into the cliffs) to Goreme. Museum Hotel is an amazing base for this route.

    argos in Cappadocia

    Splendid Suite in argos in Cappadocia

    At night, sample the region’s delicious food and local wine, or watch as dervishes whirl at an atmospheric caravanserai. Alternatively, try the music recitals in the excellent underground acoustics of argos in Cappadocia, or just look up – Cappadocia’s clear skies are perfect for stargazing and it’s one of the best places in the world to see meteor showers.

    Where to eat

    For seductive romance, we head to award-winning Lil’a at the Museum Hotel. With traditional Cappadocian home-cooked food, a candle-lit dining room full of intriguing wood cabinets and views across Cappadocia’s enchantingly alien landscape, it’s a must-visit.

    Hezen Cave Hotel

    Hezen Cave Hotel

    You’re in Turkey, so it would be a shame not to have an authentic Anatolian kebab! Our favourite stop for this is Dimtirt, sat on top of a hill near Serinn House. We loved the Testi kebab: lamb stewed in a sealed clay pot for 4 hours!

    Breakfast at Serinn House

    Breakfast at Serinn House

    Seki, argos in Cappadocia’s eatery, overlooks the Uchisar valley – just make sure you remember to shut your jaw as you tuck into their gorgeous array of meze.

    Where to stay

    Labyrinthine subterranean dwellings have been built into the stunning landscape over centuries, so it’s unsurprising that they’re now being utilised for quirky and memorable hotels. Thankfully, there’s nothing caveman or Spartan about these boltholes, particularly in Urgup, Serinn House and Evinn Cave House are as stylish as they are quirky, employing minimalist design to offset the rugged character of the caves.

    Museum Hotel

    Museum Hotel

    Further west in Uchisar are the historical Museum Hotel (a cosy and romantic hotel built from the reclaimed ruins of a village) and argos in Cappdocia, a large, stunningly designed hotel where rooms have private plunge pools.  Finally, between all of these is Hezen Cave Hotel which sits in the somewhat quieter but no less charming village of Ortahisar. This is the perfect place to get away from it all and unwind – something made considerably easier by a sunset drink on the terrace.

    Serinn House

    Serinn House

    Find out more about our Cappadocia hotels in our destination guide >>

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

Introducing our new ski collection

  • Forget tired pine chalets and uninspiring interiors, our new ski collection is all about mountain boltholes with serious style – from hidden valley hideaways boasting magazine-worthy interiors and igloo-style eco pods allowing you to sleep slope-side under the stars, to decadent alpine lodges perfect for fabulous group escapes. Here we pick 5 of our favourites for some snow based inspiration.

    Whitepod, near Monthey, Switzerland


    Ski-lovers after something totally different will adore Whitepod – a remote eco-camp in Switzerland, offering stunning views and a real back-to-nature vibe. It comprises 15 uber-cosy, igloo-shaped pods (tents) with toasty wood-burners, fully equipped shower rooms and comfy beds, all clustered around a central Pod House (wooden chalet). This isn’t about noisy bars, busy streets and adrenalin junkies; it’s about getting away from it all and enjoying the pristine mountain surroundings. Best of all, Whitepod has private slopes suitable for beginner and intermediate-level skiers,  delivering what feels like your very own ski escape.

    Saanewald Lodge, near Gstaad, Switzerland

    Saanewald Lodge

    This ski-in/ski-out hotel near Gstaad is big on design and even bigger on views, but the truly great thing about Saanewald Lodge is its impressive value for money (a welcome respite from the area’s notoriously expensive offerings). A 1960s mountain lodge with clean lines and a hint of Bauhaus, this is a quietly funky bolthole located right on the slopes. Rooms are simple yet stylish, while the hotel’s terrace is the perfect place for a spot of alfresco après ski. There’s even an outdoor hot tub!

    Chalet Bibendum, near Chamonix, French Alps

    Chalet Bibendum

    Group escapes needn’t mean sacrificing luxury, and Chalet Bibendum is the proof: a stunning 4-bedroom chalet (sleeps 8) in the famously well-to-do Chamonix valley, offering a cosy house-party vibe. The chalet itself is a work of art – think crackling fireplaces, soaring beams and cosy bedrooms filled with quirky mountain touches. Owners Olaf and Jolanda are perhaps its biggest selling point – they’re happy to organise every minute of your stay to ensure you have the best getaway possible. Add to that fabulous food and easy access to the local ski fields, and you and your friends will never want to leave.

    Le Portetta, Courchevel 1650, French Alps

    Le Portetta

    Boasting the ‘sunniest terrace in the Trois Vallées’, Le Portetta is a stunning chalet-style hotel with an enviable piste-side position in Courchevel 1650. With family rooms and multi-room lodges, the hotel caters for families of all sizes – but don’t let the child-friendly tag fool you into thinking this hotels lacks finesse. Alpine-chic touches give Le Portetta an elegant feel throughout, and there’s a sophisticated on-site spa to ease aching muscles. The hotel has a prime ski-in/ski-out setting and there’s a children’s ski school a stone’s throw away, so it will suit skiers both little and large down to the ground.

    Mineral Lodge, near Les Arcs, French Alps

    Mineral Lodge

    A design-lover’s dream, this hidden mountain hotel in the French Alps is a temple to cool, contemporary design. From statement furniture and a striking open staircase to waterfall showers, digital art and designer lighting, this place is serious about style. There’s a state-of-the-art media room, salons with fireplaces, and a dining room where breakfast and dinner are served around a giant resin table. With just 5 rooms to choose from, peace and quiet come naturally here, whilst delicious food and easy access to the slopes (it’s located just 50m from the lift to Les Arcs) make it great for ski-lovers and tranquillity hunters alike.

    Take a look at our full ski collection >>

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Escape of the Week… Riad al Bartal

  • Though Marrakech gets much more international attention, bustling and compelling Fes is equally intriguing and besotting. Considered to have one of the most authentic medinas in the Arab world, the sprawling city is the cultural and religious heart of Morocco, and its medieval maze of exotic souks and alleyways is not to be missed.

    Riad al Bartal

    Amongst all of this is Riad al Bartal, an architecturally impressive guesthouse of zellig tilework and carved columns, with a beguiling serenity that contrasts with the dusty hubbub of the streets outside. This riad was one of the first boutique openings in Fes and in our eyes, thanks to attentive hosts, stunning traditional interiors and wonderful food, it is still one of the best.

    Riad al Bartal

    Rooms: In typical riad style, the 8 rooms and suites at Riad al Bartal lead from a central plant-filled courtyard. They are all beautifully furnished with local artwork and artefacts such as antique camel bags, old Berber rugs, artisan carvings and French colonial paintings. This wonderfully transforms the large, lofty spaces into cosy hideaways, particularly when coupled with the addition of a fireplace or ceramic wood stove.

    The cosy Double Rooms (Kirwan and Cordoba) are the smallest, with raised sleeping lofts and fireside seating below, while the Berber Room is similar in layout but offers slightly more space. We stayed in the stunning and vast, but surprisingly cossetting, Suite Agadez. If you’re looking for a bit more space, Seffarine, the 2-bedroom Suite, is a great option – it also has an amazing copper tanning vat for a bathtub. All rooms are suitably low tech (you won’t find TVs, radios, telephones or minibars), though there is WiFi in some communal areas.

    Riad al Bartal

    Food: The French owner, Raymond, employs fantastic local cooks meaning that the food is not only delicious, but also a spoiling reflection of Moroccan tastes and cuisine. During one dinner, we were served starters of miniature pastilla, guacamole and sweet tomato, and onion and cinnamon paste with fresh breads, followed by a chicken and aubergine tagine (complete with obligatory olives). However, it’s not just what’s on the plate that makes for a fantastic feast; the candlelit tables carved out of the courtyard foliage, the gentle murmur of voices chatting, and the strumming of an acoustic guitar all make for a relaxed and romantic atmosphere. Bon appétit, indeed.

    The breakfasts (included in the room rate) are just as tasty. You can expect a huge selection of breads, crepes, honey and cheese, olives, omelette and (our highlight) an amazing sweet potato jam. Should you wish to sample the gastronomic delights of Fes itself, the broad range of busy street-food stalls and spoiling restaurants ensures you’re spoilt for choice. Raymond, and his wonderful staff, will be more than happy to advise.

    Riad al Bartal

    Top Tip: The team can recommend official guides to show you around Fes. We think it’s worth it, at least on your first day, as you’ll learn more and avoid having to fend off touts the whole time. We also advise pre-booking supper at the hotel one evening (perhaps for your arrival day) – the leafy courtyard setting is magical, and the food is exquisite.

    Read the full review and book >>

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

Top 10… September Special Offers


Easy Escapes for October

  • As the leaves start to turn from green to red to golden brown and frost dusts the grass with silver, we’d suggest you avoid any end-of-summer-blues with an escape to the picturesque English countryside, a sunny sojourn to Sicily or an adventure in the alien landscape of central Turkey.

    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…

    Pig out in the UK – £208.50 per person (3 nights, 7-10 October)

    The Pig near Bath

    The Pig near Bath

    Autumn makes the English countryside glow; there’s nothing more romantic than a stroll across a golden field lit up by the warming evening sun, before curling up in front of a roaring fire. If that sounds appealing to you, look to the idyllic Somerset landscape that surrounds Bath.

    The Pig near Bath

    The Pig near Bath

    Stay: in amongst the Mendip Hills at The Pig near Bath, a fabulous foodie hideaway with spoiling rooms and its own deer park. A 3-night mid-week stay in a Snug Room comes to £208.50 per person.

    Travel: The Pig near Bath is a 2.5-hour drive from London, and 25 minutes from Bath and Bristol.

    Total cost: £208.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    Switch off in Sicily – £626.30 (5 nights, 6-11 October)

    Marina di Ragusa

    Marina di Ragusa

    Italy’s largest island – an ancient crossroads said to be the home of the Cyclops – has long been luring travellers. And thanks to its southern location, a visit in October is guaranteed to be exceptionally clement. Sicily is fascinating: its mountainous interior is bliss for hikers, its shores are paradise for beach bunnies, and those after historical wonder will be greeted by Byzantine churches, Baroque houses and Roman temples. So what are you waiting for?

    La Moresca

    La Moresca

    Stay: at La Moresca, an Art Nouveau villa just a stone’s throw from Marina di Ragusa’s golden beach. Its current offer of 5 nights for 4 makes a 5-night stay in a Double Room just £443 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Catania Fontanarossa, flying out with easyJet and back with Norwegian, for £155 per person, departing on Monday 6 October and returning on Saturday 11 October (direct flights).

    From the airport: We’d recommend hiring a car in order to make the most of the island. Rental with Rhino starts from £28.30 per person.

    Total cost: £626.30 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Sicily and other accommodation options

    Go underground in Turkey – £808 (7 nights, 5-12 October)



    At first glance this lunar landscape appears abandoned, but look a little closer and you’ll see the spectacular towns of Uçhisar and Göreme, the heart of ancient Cappadocia, burrowed into the rocks. With a maze of subterranean streets, ancient churches and an impressive 5,000 years of wine-making knowledge, this beautiful region just keeps on giving!

    argos in Cappadocia

    argos in Cappadocia

    Stay: at argos in Cappadocia, a gorgeous jumble of ancient stone houses and underground caves that scream style and sophistication. Hole up in front of your log fire, dine under the stars, and explore the flower-filled gardens. Thanks to the Best 7-day Advance Purchase Rate, a week-long stay in a Standard Room comes to £494 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Nevsehir via Istanbul for £303 per person with Turkish Airlines, departing on Sunday 5 October and returning on Sunday 12 October (overnight flight arriving on Monday 13 October).

    From the airport: The hotel will happily arrange transfers, and the shuttle bus service costs just £5.50 per person, one way.

    Total cost: £808 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Cappadocia 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 24th September 2014.

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Escape of the Week… Madrid Boutique Apartments

  • Well connected, varied accommodation choices and in one of our favourite European cities: there’s plenty in this cluster of boutique apartments to love. Add to that the bright and cosy home-from-home interiors and you’ve got a pad in Spain’s capital that you’ll never want to leave.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Though they’re new on i-escape, these apartments (ranging from 1 to 2 bedrooms apiece) have quickly established themselves as the perfect Madrid base, particularly for families or couples looking to experience the lively and bustling side of Madrid without losing the home comforts. They’re an ideal retreat, whether you’re looking to soak up some culture, sample some Spanish gastronomic delights, or do nothing more strenuous than sipping sherry by the Plaza.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Rooms: The sleek and contemporary apartments range from 1-bedroom boltholes with double bedrooms and spacious living areas (dotted around the city centre) to the airy 2-bedroom apartments located near Plaza Santa Ana and the iconic Gran Vía. We stayed in Santa Ana II which, with its bright rooms, colourful art and sleek bathrooms, is typical of these carefully designed and well equipped urban getaways. Next door is the appropriately named Santa Ana I which benefits from French-window views over the square – ripe for people-watching in the warm air of the evening, when the city reawakens. With comfy sofas, flatscreen TVs and DVD players, the apartments are also well equipped for the occasional bout of downtime.

    If you’re travelling en famille, we’d suggest Valverde I which is the quietest of the 2-bedroom apartments; it has a second bedroom with twin beds and access to a separate shower room. There’s even a piano and sculptural chandelier in the spacious – and super-stylish – living area. For a more romantic retreat, we liked the look of 1-bedroom Lagasca X (in sophisticated Salamanca) and Calle Mayor II (in super-central Los Asturias), both of which mix contemporary furniture with splashes of petrol blue and moody red.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Food: Each apartment is well stocked with all the appliances and utensils you could need, including a dishwasher and microwave (more than many other city rentals we’ve come across). You’ll be welcomed with a selection of basics like milk, coffee and bottled water. For the rest, you’re never far from a convenience store or supermarket and, if you don’t feel like whipping something up yourself, visiting chefs can be arranged.

    Should you decide to head out, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice – whichever district you’re in. Plaza Santa Ana is packed with choices, including Cinco Jotas (good Spanish fare) and Cervecería Alemana (a favourite haunt of Hemingway). You can also head around the corner to 100 Montaditos on Calle Príncipe (lots of choice and great for kids) or take a short walk to one of our favourite tapas bars, Lamiak at 10 De La Rosa.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    Top Tip: Madrileños are obsessed with rooftop bars. Our favourite has to be the terrace at El Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural centre located on Calle de Alcalá. It has panoramic views of Madrid, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the mountains beyond. For more offbeat tips and alternative things to do, take a look at our recent Madrid blog.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    i-escape gift: a free bottle of wine

    Read the full review and book  >>

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