DEC10

Spotlight on… Patagonia

 
  • Everyone’s talking about Patagonia, whether it’s Lonely Planet highlighting El Chaltén’s 30th anniversary or Top Gear courting controversy over Christmas – but what’s the real story behind this expansive region?

    Torres del Paine National Park

    Torres del Paine National Park

    Why go?

    Stretching across southern Chile and Argentina, Patagonia remains utterly wild, windswept and so unimaginably vast that it could encompass several countries. It has attracted explorers (Darwin), outlaws (Butch and Sundance), revolutionaries (Che Guevara) and writers (Chatwin) and many are still drawn to the idea of escaping it all in this sprawling wilderness.

    Glacier excursions with Eolo

    Glacier excursions with Eolo

    Highlights

    There’s so much to see that it’s best to choose just one region and take time to really get under its skin.

    Let’s kick things off in Chilean Patagonia, where the famed granite towers of the Torres del Paine National Park loom large over the continent’s southernmost reaches. Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and unique places on earth, it’s a trekking mecca with routes encompassing lagoons, glaciers (the vast Grey Glacier is particularly stunning), waterfalls and wildlife of all kinds. Most popular are the demanding El Circuito (5-6 days; 100km) and The W (4-5 days; 76km), both of which start at the main park entrance by Laguna Amarga and lead hikers around the Paine Massif.

    Awasi Patagonia

    Awasi Patagonia (granite towers in the distance)

    Tierra Patagonia

    Tierra Patagonia

    If you’re into architecture, you’ll be in hotel heaven. Shining examples include eco-friendly Tierra Patagonia, conceived by 3 of Chile’s leading architects to blend into its environment by using native lenga wood. Equally, modernist Remota hotel in Puerto Natels and the rustic-luxe Awasi Patagonia villas (with private 4x4s and tours) amplify their environment with conceptual design. For something more immersive, EcoCamp and Patagonia Camp offer comfortable domes or yurts with exceptional cuisine and breathtaking views.

    Remota

    Remota

    Patagonia Camp

    Patagonia Camp

    Across the border in Argentine Patagonia, at the tail-end of the Andes, there’s spectacular hiking around 3,405m Mount Fitz Roy, named after the captain of the ship that brought Charles Darwin to South America. Los Cerros sits just above El Chaltén, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding next year and was named one of Lonely Planet’s must-see cities for 2015. From here, make forays into the Southern Ice Field, kayak down the meandering Río de las Vueltas, or boat across Lago del Desierto.

    Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno glacier

    Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno glacier

    Visitors also flock to the 19-mile long Perito Moreno glacier, one of the world’s few advancing glaciers. Put on crampons and hike the sculpted surface, take a boat under the towering glacier wall, or watch as gargantuan ice columns splinter into Lago Argentino. Skip a stay in touristy El Calafate (where the region’s main airport resides) by booking into Eolo. Feel the silence, hear the wind, and gaze at unparalleled views of the valley, and even Torres del Paine on a clear day.

    Eolo

    Eolo

    If you want something more unusual and off-the-beaten track, head a few hours north to the remote reaches of Patagonia. Spa lovers adore the unique Puyuhuapi Lodge, with its thalassotherapy centre, thermal pools and pampering seaweed treatments. And you can book a tour to the hanging glacier of Queulat National Park – a fantastic resting place along the stunning and little-travelled Camino Austral.

    Futaleufu River

    Futaleufu River

    Across the border, the turquoise Futaleufu River’s white-water rapids draw paddlers every December to April, plus there’s world-class fly-fishing (on both Futaleufu and Yelcho River), with large native populations of brown and rainbow trout. The Secret Ranchito is the ultimate hideaway cottage here; stunning views and absolute, uninterrupted peace.

    The Secret Ranchito

    The Secret Ranchito

    When to go

    Late November to early March is the best time for outdoor activities. The weather can be changeable and the winds fierce, but it can also be glorious with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Lodgings and campsites are usually full during the peak months (January/February), so plan ahead or go just before or after. Winter (June-August) is extremely harsh and services are limited.

    Trekking Torres del Paine National Park

    Trekking Torres del Paine National Park

    Our top tip

    Although the Torres del Paine can be reached by air, boat or an arduous overland trip from Argentina, if you have the time and money we’d recommend taking the 3-night/4-day Navimag ferry trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales town, which follows a spectacular route through fjords and channels.

    Torres de Paine National Park

    Torres de Paine National Park

    See full accommodation options in Chilean Patagonia and Argentine Patagonia.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , ,
DEC08

Escape of the Week… Metairie Montplaisir

 
  • This foodie, family-friendly guesthouse is an idyllic bolthole near the fairytale medieval town of Carcassonne, deep in the Languedoc region of southern France. It’s intimate and cosy, yet each of the 5 rooms is large and groups can rent the stylishly renovated farmhouse in its entirety.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Owner Amélie has poured love into the building’s transformation and her passion for the guesthouse and the local area is infectious. It’s easy to see how its beauty can get under your skin – it’s set in bucolic gardens complete with a pool and a babbling river, and the popular village of Conques sur Orbiel is nearby.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Rooms: Wonderfully stylish and spacious, the 5 rooms in the main house are a triumph of colour and design. One of the largest, Carlota, is a beautiful light-filled space with a bioethanol fireplace (which opens out into both the bedroom and the lounge), plus a lovely wooden floor and sunny colours inspired by Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The bathrooms are excellent, too: all have walk-in showers, and Carlota has a white oval bath. We also love the look of The Atelier, a 2-storey cottage blessed with a large workshop-style window; it’s big enough to accommodate 3 child beds and makes a great option for families.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Food: Blissfully, breakfast is served whenever you like – and it’s a spread you certainly won’t want to miss. Croissants, warm brioche, local eggs, cured ham, coffee and jams made from the garden’s fruit all feature, and they taste even better when enjoyed under the chestnut trees in summer or in the charming dining room during winter. Lunch is also a culinary delight (homemade soups, carpaccio of scallops, chanterelle omelette), and the delicious dinners have led to cook and Amélie’s mother Françoise being awarded a Michelin fork. Expect the likes of homemade ravioli, stuffed courgette flowers and goats’ cheese terrine. If you decide to eat out, Amélie can recommend restaurants in the village and there are a host of options a short drive away in Carcassonne.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Top Tip: Resist the temptation to stay here all day! The Languedoc is one of the most rewarding regions in France, so get out and explore. You’ll find wild hilltop castles, vineyards and the Canal du Midi all within easy reach.

    Metairie Montplaisir

    Customer review: “We had such a beautiful time. This is one of those rare and truly special places. The attention to detail is spectacular and Amélie and her mum created the best food we had on our gastronomic 3-week trip across Spain and France. The pictures can’t do this place justice. Highly recommended!”
    Lisa, United Kingdom (08.09.14)

    i-escape gift: a picnic basket or an aperitif with tapas (according to season)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,
DEC05

Top 10 Christmas gifts for the travel fanatic

 
  • Advent has arrived and the main event is just around the corner. We’ve consulted our Christmas lists to bring you a rundown of some perfect pressies for the traveller in your life  – or for yourself, for that matter. Whether you’re trying to charge your phone in Chile, keep the kids entertained on a long trip, or make a record of it all when you get back home, there’s something for you here. Happy present hunting!

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    1. This nicely designed wall map lets you scratch off the countries you’ve ticked off of your bucket list (far better than putting post-its in an atlas). It will either leave you as smug as a travel bug, or become oddly addictive as you complete your i-escape booking and reach for a penny to scrape off the next destination. Luckily, unlike scratch cards, you’re guaranteed a win.

    Find one for £19.95 on scratchmap.co.uk

    2. Sadly, flights and baggage don’t always go hand in hand to their destination and you can end up being stuck with one set of clothes and no toothbrush. This lightweight gizmo keeps a tab on your possessions and alerts you to their location if they go awry. They may be hundreds of miles away, but at least you’ll know.

    Find one for $79.99 on trakdot.com

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    3. However you travel, you often arrive feeling like a drained, less than radiant version of the excited individual who started the trip. This ‘elixir of youth’ is a good step towards a remedy: perfect for once you’ve stepped off the plane or spent the day exploring the local sights.

    Find one for £32.00 from feelunique.com

    4. This may look like a simple, lightweight portable solar charger, but in fact it’s 2. That’s because for every one you purchase, another is sent to the Philippines to assist with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. It’s a handy piece of kit for any traveller and indispensable to those in need of emergency relief, making it an obvious stocking-filler choice.

    Find one for $79.00 on solarforphilippines.org

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    5. Trunki is now synonymous with quirky and adorable luggage for kids (it encourages them to carry their own), but it also has other useful kit for travelling tots. We particularly like these ‘Snoozihedz’ – great for the plane, train or car, and popular with little ones thanks to the cute characters.

    Find one for £19.99 on trunki.co.uk

    6. Help bring the analogue fan into the world of moving pictures with these popular, hand-cranked movie makers. It’s a personal way to create stunning memories that are perhaps more thought-out than their digital counterparts – a perfect holiday keepsake.

    Find one for £65.00 from lomography.com

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    7. When travelling with children you need to be prepared for every possible eventuality (and more), as well as potential deficiencies in the kid-friendly kit at the other end. Of course, you can check our Kids pages for helpful advice on exactly what to expect, but you can also pack yourself one of these ‘bambinoz’ (which attach a babyseat to any chair) to help free up your hands at feeding time.

    Find one for $49.50 from bambinoz.com

    8. We love these simple leather travel wallets from Aspinal. Well made in a range of colours, they’re the perfect place to stash your currency, tickets, cards and passport. Sometimes the classics are the best.

    Find one for £125 on aspinaloflondon.com

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    9. If you struggle to sleep in new beds, or just crave a restorative night’s rest, this simple spray has proved to be a rather successful aid for accessing the land of nod. Infused with lavender and wild camomile, it’s a natural remedy to a restless night. It’s available in a travel size, too.

    Find one for £16.00 from thisworks.com

    10. Ideal for the person who has everything, these exquisite hand-painted globes would make an impressive centrepiece to the home. They’re a wonderful testament to patience and an artisan approach. The results are achingly beautiful.

    Find one from £999.00 from bellerbyandco.com

    Christmas comes early: this year, we’re offering you the chance to bag yourself a great selection of gifts from Noble Isle or Balance Me if you book a 7-night 2015 stay.

    Posted in Our Favourite.... Tagged , , ,
DEC03

Book early with the family

 
  • You know the drill: put off the heated debate about where and when to go for that precious summer holiday, then lose weeks deciding whether to invite another family or the grandparents along, and bingo! Your idyllic villa, dream hotel or perfect resort is already booked up. So for summer 2015, don’t delay! 

    We’ve picked out some popular family-friendly boltholes that fill up fast – book now to bag yourself a holiday that the whole family will be excited about. As an added bonus, we’re offering one of 2 free gifts worth £100 for all 2015 bookings of 7 nights or more made before the end of December.

    Le Castel, Normandy, France

    Le Castel

    Holidays here are what childhood summers should be like. You get a large 19th-century Normandy chateau to romp around, and the weekly all-inclusive rates include breakfast, dinner, drinks and, best of all, up to 4 hours of childcare a day for over 3s. There’s also a programme of activities, along with a splash pool, all-day food, a woodland den, swings and a sandpit, croquet, and a marquee in the grounds that’s stuffed full of toys and games. Bliss!

    Monaci delle Terre Nere, Sicily, Italy

    Monaci delle Terre Nere

    This unique hideaway, set amongst wooded terraces and fruit trees on 40 acres of rich black earth that slopes up towards Mount Etna, has a welcoming, back-to-the-land vibe. There’s a pool, a box of toys and swings for little ones, and you’re a short drive from the coast and Etna National Park. It’s only 40 minutes to Catania airport, too. The retreat also works perfectly for discerning adults (the food! the wine! the handsome interiors!), so all ages will love it. There’s a 3-night minimum stay in July and August, and a 2-night minimum in May and June.

    Esplendido Hotel, Puerto Soller, Mallorca

    Esplendido Hotel

    This is a sure winner with families – a funky seaside hotel set on a safe, sandy beach, with not one but two swimming pools. Parents will appreciate the bistro-restaurant and spa, as will their offspring (there’s a kids’ menus, and tailored treatments such as mani-pedis are on offer). You can catch the tram into Soller for an ice-cream, enjoy a picnic in the mountains, take a boat trip, or relax on your sea-view terrace and admire the vista across the bay.

    Finca Malvasia, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Finca Malvasia

    It’s no surprise that these four 1- and 2-bedroom stone cottages are popular for relaxed family holidays. They’re well-priced and have a delightful pool area surrounded by palms and bougainvillea, plus a kids’ splash pool. The beach is just 10km away, too. The owners are knowledgeable and welcoming, and can provide oodles of kit for smaller fry, including beach toys. You can self-cater or arrange for breakfast hampers and lunch platters. There’s a 7-night minimum stay all year.

    Azur Hotel, near Antalya, Turkey

    Azur Hotel

    The winner of the ‘Best Value’ category in our 2013 Best for Kids Awards, Azur Hotel ticks all the boxes for a splendid family vacation. It’s set by the beach, with fabulous gardens, a small playground and a super pool. The staff couldn’t be nicer and half-portions are available in the restaurant. We recommend the stone bungalows for families as they’re a bit larger and closer to the restaurant for monitors to work. Note there’s a minimum stay of 1 week in the summer months.

    Marine Villa, Cornwall, UK

    Marine Villa

    West Country properties always book up fast in the summer, and this smart 3-bedroom Grade II-listed holiday house is no exception. With a contemporary makeover, an excellent kitchen and lots of thoughtful details (especially for younger kids), families adore staying here. There are swashbuckling activities aplenty on your doorstep (the house is set on a historic quay and tall ships are moored in the harbour), and the Eden Project is just a 10-minute drive. Note there’s a 7-night minimum stay in July and August.

    Monte da Vilarinha, Algarve, Portugal

    Monte da Vilarinha

    We think this is a perfect family escape: rural bliss in a national park, just a short distance from the Atlantic coast and its beaches. There’s a choice of contemporary-styled apartments and studios with snazzy kitchens, yet a substantial buffet breakfast is included in the rates. Kids will be in their element with a playground, a playroom, a pool, mountain bikes, a rope walkway, toys and an enchanted valley on offer. There’s a 7-night minimum stay from mid-June to August.

    Ammos Hotel, Chania, Crete

    Ammos Hotel

    Just 15 minutes outside Chania is this Scandi-chic seaside hotel, which delivers both style and service in spades. Younger folk will appreciate the shallow sandy beach, the kids’ pool and the toy-filled playroom, as well as local boat cruises. And all the studios and suites have kitchenettes for those evenings when the kids won’t sit quietly in the restaurant.

    Agro Can Gall, Ibiza, Spain

    Agro Can Gall

    This tranquil, welcoming finca is one of the most popular places to stay on i-escape. Set inland, away from the bustle yet within easy reach of the coast, the former farmhouse comes with a 25m heated pool with a shallow end, plus bikes to ride and a huge garden to play in. There are comfy white-on-white Family Suites and Deluxe Rooms with terraces to choose from, and local produce is deployed expertly in the kitchen. There’s a 4-night minimum stay, and summer bookings open in January.

    Merlin Farm Eco Cottages, Cornwall, UK

    Merlin Farm Eco Cottages

    Created from a former barn, with big picture windows and sleek décor, are these four cottages, all of which can host families. This is a super spot for children to frolic: there’s a pirate-ship sandpit, a slide and a grassy picnic area, and in the summer there are rabbits, guinea pigs and donkeys to pet. Parents are handed a useful welcome pack listing kid-friendly restaurants and sights, as well as local babysitters. Only breaks of 3, 4 or 7 nights are permitted.

    Here are a few top tips from our bookings team to help you secure a reservation at your chosen property:

    – When enquiring state the ages of your children and provide as much information as possible such as your preference for how you need the room/s set up, ask about any particular requirements for example a half-board option.

    – Don’t forget to mention that you are bringing your family – a surprising number of people do!

    – Every review on i-escape has a dedicated kids page so you know exactly what facilities and extras are available – be sure to take a look.

    Take a look at our full family collection or our fantastic book early giveaway.

    Posted in Kids, Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
DEC01

Escape of the Week… 4 Rivers Floating Lodge

 
  • Here at i-escape we pride ourselves on discovering the hard to find and reaching the hard to access. However, rarely are they quite as secluded as this 12-tent lodge, which  floats on the crook of southwest Cambodia’s Tatai River. The isolation is part of the magic. with nothing but wild rainforest, waterfalls and the meandering river to keep you occupied.

    4 Rivers Floating Lodge

    After a 20-minute boat ride (the only way to access the lodge), guests alight onto the central terrace, surrounded by the green of the rainforest and the glass-like calm of the largest freshwater pool in the world. From here on, kayaks are the main form of transportation, and you  can use them to explore the mangroves and spot the wonderful abundance of wildlife in the area.

    4 Rivers Floating Lodge

    Rooms: The 12 luxury tents arch out in 2 flanks from the central restaurant and communal area. They’re far from simplistic: an elegant rattan bed, wardrobe, chaise longue and other furniture all fit into the spacious, circular rooms, which are nicely designed and equipped with rain showers and wooden tub-style baths. There’s even a flat-screen TV and DVD player for lazy days. The main attraction, however, lies beyond the tent walls (which you can roll up for panoramic views) – a,  private deck with lounge beds and a ladder down into the clear waters of the river below.

    4 Rivers Floating Lodge

    Food: Since the 800 sq.m resort is floating, dining options are unsurprisingly limited. However, the restaurant offers a fantastically fresh menu which changes daily to protect guests from boredom. Most of the dishes are international or provide a twist on Cambodian favourites, with snacks available all day. For lunch we enjoyed green mango salad and fresh shrimp, eggplant piccata with tomato-sauce pasta,  and green-bean soup with coconut milk; for dinner,  we tucked into more substantial dishes like banana-flower salad with chicken, followed by chicken, beef or fish curry with rice.

    Alternatively, you can spend the day fishing with locals and catch a snapper to bring back for the staff to cook up for you.

    4 Rivers Floating Lodge

    Top Tip: This resort is best for couples who are happy wallow in seclusion and commune with everything nature has to offer, away from outside civilisation.

    4 Rivers Floating Lodge

    Customer review: “An amazing, unique and magical place to stay in a stunning area of Cambodia. All the staff were so wonderful and friendly, and the tents were unbelievably luxurious and comfortable. We could not recommend it more highly and were so sad that we were not able to stay longer.”
    Daisy, United Kingdom (24.12.13)

    i-escape gift: a 4 Rivers cap

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
NOV28

Just back from… Lanzarote

 
  • Desperate for some sunshine, our Assistant Rates Manager Olivia decided to head to Lanzarote for guaranteed good weather, volcanic landscapes and plenty of cocktail-fuelled down time, roping in her mum and sister for a girly getaway.

    Playa Blanca

    Playa Blanca

    I had always been wary of “Lanzagrotty” – that was until a couple of years ago, when a last-minute family holiday completely altered my opinion. The easternmost island in the Canaries is affordable and has something for everyone – even the Camerons holidayed there in 2014!

    White-washed villages, coloured shutters and impressive sculptures are dotted around the island, which is blissfully devoid of high-rise buildings thanks to the influence of native architect César Manrique – a welcome omission in a tourist hotspot!

    César Manrique's cactus garden

    César Manrique’s cactus garden

    Our trip began in the bustling Marina Rubicon, just east of Playa Blanca. Less touristy than its popular neighbour, with stylish bars and restaurants overlooking the water, it’s the perfect spot for tapas washed down by the local digestif, honey rum (a sickly sweet liquor that’s something of an acquired taste! ).

    We loved the busy Saturday market which runs along the length of the marina. Here you can pick out local products, handmade soaps and jewellery from amongst the usual jumble of souvenir stands.

    Timanfaya National Park

    Timanfaya National Park

    The beauty of this little island is that nothing is more than an hour’s drive away along mostly deserted roads, and from the southern tip we then moved on to Tiagua 81, a converted 19th-century country home which now houses self-catering apartments clustered around a communal pool. Set within 5km of Timanfaya National Park, it’s perfect for active holidays, with a store room for sports equipment, a wetsuit shower, and four popular cycle routes on the doorstep. But if, like us, you don’t like to stray too far from your sun lounger, then don’t be put off! We enjoyed a lazy day by the pool and made the most of the handy little kitchen – perfect for preparing light meals and keeping wine cool.

    Tiagua 81

    Tiagua 81

    From this central location you’re within easy reach of some of the island’s best beaches, too. Surfers’ paradise La Santa is a 10-minute drive away and sunset hotspot Famara beach is only 15 minutes further up the coast.

    Famara Beach

    Famara Beach

    After our stay at Tiagua 81, we couldn’t resist popping to see the yurts, cottages and donkeys at its sister property, eco retreat Finca de Arrieta. It’s a great choice for families and we were overwhelmed by the on-site facilities for kids – we only wished we were still young enough to bounce on the trampoline!

    Finca de Arrieta

    Finca de Arrieta

    Our final stop was the idyllic and stylish Villa Guatiza. Set in the northern village of Guatiza, this 200-year–old, two-bedroom farmhouse has been beautifully restored and is the perfect base for a laid-back self-catering stay on the island. Best of all, with the beaches and seafood restaurants of Arrieta less than 10 minutes’ drive away, you can do as much or as little as you please.  We struggled to drag ourselves away from the lovely gardens, the heated pool and the panoramic views from the front terrace.

    Villa Guatiza

    Villa Guatiza

    So, far from being grotty, our visit confirmed what we already knew about Lanzarote – this is an island worth visiting.  Apart from the year-round good weather and lovely beaches, it has plenty to do for people of all ages, whether you fancy cycling across the moonlike landscape, exploring one of the busy markets, admiring César Manrique’s legacy or just sitting back and sipping cocktails at sunset.

    Take a look at our full collection of Lanzarote hotels or explore the other Canary islands

    Posted in Our Trips.... Tagged , , ,
NOV26

Easy Escapes for December

 
  • December is the one month a year when it’s genuinely delightful (even desirable!) to wake up to frosty mornings, wrap up in layers, and warm your evenings with a roaring fire. Festive decorations and delicious eggnog just don’t work in the blazing sunshine, so why fight the wintry weather?!

    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…

    A British break – £130 per person (2 nights, 14-16 December)

    The Seven Sisters

    The Seven Sisters

    Escape hectic Christmas preparations with a romantic weekend in rural Sussex. Bring your Hunters for walks on the South Downs or stroll the coastal path by the Seven Sisters. The area is rich with traffic-free cycle routes and cosy pubs for restorative lunches.

    Blue Door Barns

    Blue Door Barns

    Stay: at enchanting Blue Door Barns, a great couples’ hideaway with fresh flowers and candles galore. Two nights in the The Sailor’s House comes to £130 per person, plus you’ll get a £60 gift voucher to spend in ‘The Snug’ (their onsite treatment room).

    Travel: the barns are just outside Lewes, a 2-hour drive south of London.

    Total cost: £130 per person B&B, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    Escape to Iceland – £391.15 per person (3 nights, 6-9 December)

    Iceland

    Iceland

    Viewing the Aurora Borealis is a completely magical winter experience, so gift yourself an early once-in-a-lifetime treat this Christmas, and head north to Iceland.

    Hotel Ranga

    Hotel Ranga

    Stay: at Hotel Ranga, a remote and quirky lodge where staff can even wake you at night if the Northern Lights appear. The food is fabulous and it’s a dizzyingly romantic setting; most rooms have Jacuzzis and volcano views. Their 3-for-2 offer makes a 3-night stay just £187.50 per person, plus you’ll have a surprise gift waiting in your room!

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Reykjavik with Icelandair for £170 per person, departing Saturday 6 December and returning Tuesday 9 December.

    From the airport: car hire through Rhino starts from £67.31 and this will allow you to explore this beautiful country more freely.

    Total cost: £391.15 per person B&B, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Iceland and other accommodation options

    ‘Tis the skison – £2,437 per person (7 nights, 20-27 December)

    French Alps

    French Alps

    Want a guaranteed White Christmas? Then head to the French Alps. The blue skies and snowy peaks of the Trois Vallees are awe-inspiring – and the ski season is in full swing. Spend your days on Courchevel’s slopes and your evenings drinking steaming vin chaud around a firepit. Festive heaven!

    Le Portetta

    Le Portetta

    Stay: at ski-in, ski-out Le Portetta. This luxe hotel is pure Alpine chic, with a lavish spa, flexible meal arrangements and rooms to suit families, friends and couples. Plus a fabulous sunny terrace for that all-important apres-ski! Amazingly, it still has availability for the Christmas period, with a 7-night stay in a Valley-View Family Room coming to £2,045 per person.

    Fly: from East Midlands Airport to Geneva with jet2 for £107 per person, departing Saturday 20 December and returning Saturday 27 December.

    From the airport: the hotel offer transfers from Geneva airport for £285 (one way).

    Total cost: £2,437 per person half board, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to the French Alps 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 26th November 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
NOV24

Escape of the Week… The Grazing Goat

 
  • Within a 5-minute walk of Marble Arch and near many of London’s most stylish shops, you’ll find a friendly slice of England’s countryside in The Grazing Goat – or at least a slightly more cosmopolitan version, with open fires, oak panelling and a fantastic restaurant to boot.

    The Grazing Goat

    This small boutique pub with rooms is ideal for a wintry visit to the capital for a spot of Christmas shopping or to catch a show, particularly as it’s a wonderfully peaceful bolthole to get back to at the end of the day. With friendly staff, a buzzy bar and a hidden-away location, it feels like a central-London secret – and one we’ll certainly be returning to.

    The Grazing Goat

    Rooms: We love the cosy décor in the rooms: the oak panelling, enormous sleigh beds and blue-grey walls make for cossetting boltholes, particularly in the winter months. Each of the 8 attractive double rooms is decorated in this way and though they’re divided into Superiors and Standards, neither room type is sub-par. All the mod cons are in place (WiFi, TV, iPod dock) and we really loved the little details, from the pots of miniature hydrangeas to the quirky wire lampshades hanging down from the beams.

    Best of all – and rare for London – is the peace and quiet, particularly in the top-floor rooms. Ours overlooked quiet mews to the back and we enjoyed a very peaceful night’s sleep – something aided by the superking beds clad in crisp linens.

    The Grazing Goat

    Food: Like the décor, there’s something of the refined country bumpkin that shows through in the cuisine. There’s a wonderful variety, from standard pub-grub (fish and chips, chicken pie) to more gastronomic triumphs such as rainbow trout with samphire, beetroot and horseradish cream, or saddle of rabbit with mustard fruits. Breakfast (Full English, eggs Benedict, pancakes or similar) is equally wonderful, though not included in the room rate.

    The bar is a buzzy and friendly spot to start the evening with a drink, particularly in cold weather when the log fires are burning. If you can get a seat, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy dinner from, though if it’s too noisy – or you want to book ahead – the first-floor dining room is a lovely light-filled space, with clusters of oak tables and sage walls.

    The Grazing Goat

    Top Tip: The food and (albeit slightly expensive) wine menu are excellent. Make sure you book yourself in for one night, or settle down early in the bar for the full hubbub.

    The Grazing Goat

    Customer review: “Small but beautifully appointed rooms and unbeatable location for central London/ Mayfair. We will definitely be back.”
    Kate, Switzerland (06.07.14)

    i-escape gift: small bag of Rococo goodies

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , , ,
NOV21

Top 5 Art Hotels

 
  • To welcome the stunning Artist Residence London to our collection of quirky boutique stays, we’ve rounded up a selection of hotels with an art-themed aesthetic. From Brazilian sculpture walks to eccentric Cotswold boltholes full of vivid canvases, these  spots are ideal for the artistically inclined.  

    Artist Residence London, Pimlico, London

    Artist Residence London

    Though subtler than sister hotel Artist Residence Cornwall, the latest addition to the Artist Residence collective offers a trendy foray into the world of innovative design. From the original Eine artworks and vintage inspired bathrooms to the beautiful bespoke beds, everything is finished with a creative flair. Even the cocktails in the basement bar (we enjoyed an elixir of Peking duck whiskey, celery bitters and avocado lemonade) employ a dazzling level of artistry. On top of that, Southbank’s buzzing cultural centre is a short tube ride away.

    Fazenda Catucaba, near Sao Luis do Paraitinga, Brazil

    Fazenda Catucaba

    As well as having walls adorned with art (much of it for sale), this 1850s farmhouse comes with its very own sculpture trail. Walkers can pass 10 angular timber works placed in the surrounding hills by New-York-based Belarussian sculptor Pasha Ra. It’s a beautiful and meditative way to explore the countryside with its mountains, lakes and coffee plantations. In fact, the whole hotel maintains an atmosphere of calm thanks to its wonderfully peaceful isolation at the centre of a 450ha estate.

    Art Hotel Luise, Berlin, Germany

    Art Hotel Luise

    While some hotels are content to hang art on their walls, this large Berlin hotel has turned its rooms into the exhibits. All have been designed by artists (a portion of the cost goes to their royalties), but that’s where the similarities between them end. You can choose to sleep in a pseudo aircraft cabin, or an oversized bed designed with a nod towards Alice in Wonderland. Or perhaps you’d prefer a reference to an artistic great with a stay in the Edward Hopper or Van Gogh tribute rooms?

    Oak House No 1, Tetbury, Gloucestershire

    Oak house No 1

    Gary and Nicky, the exuberant owners of Oak House No 1, have stayed true to form in their design of this Cotswold B&B. An eclectic selection of modern art (much of it by famous artists) means this isn’t your typical Gloucestershire stay, but it’s certainly a memorable one. We love it for injecting a cosmopolitan vibe into its stunning rural setting, but you needn’t take our word for it: it’s popular among A-listers, and Esquire magazine has named it ‘Best art hotel in the UK’.

    Hotel Casa de la Real Aduana , Patzcuaro, Mexico

    Hotel Casa de la Real Aduana

    This hacienda-style guesthouse with a wraparound veranda is a  delightful example of the Mexican highlands’ colonial architecture and imaginative heart. After being taken over by artist owners Gemma and Didier in 2004, it has become a creative hub featuring wonderful arts and crafts, as well and hosting music concerts in the music room or on the veranda. Guests have frequently mentioned the fantastic collection of works, which range from funky Mexican dolls to an exquisite carving of the Virgin and Child, but the real triumph is the wonderful renovation of this beautiful listed house.

    Posted in Top 5. Tagged , , , , , , ,
NOV19

Just back from… the South of France

 
  • This summer, Editorial Assistant Emily and her boyfriend Kristian embarked on an epic 400km drive across the South of France in order to check out some new hotels and visit some old favourites. They travelled across 3 regions, ate 2 Michelin-starred meals and had one hell of a time – all in the name of bringing you the best boutique boltholes, of course!

    France truly is timeless. I’m always bowled over by the unique personalities of every region, but there’s always something universally French, too; perhaps it’s the bustling markets, enticing bakeries, quaint boutiques and sociable squares. And this was as true as ever on our recent trip, when we travelled from Languedoc, across Provence and along the Côte d’Azur.

    We started by touching down in Nîmes and driving to the tiny hillside village of Saint-Victor-des-Oules to visit converted farmhouse Le Mas des Oules, with its apartments for 2-6.

    Le-Mas-des-Oules

    We immediately set about exploring the gorgeous Mediterranean gardens, taking a dip in the pool and playing pétanque, before retreating to our stylish sanctuary. Here, we discovered that Le Mas des Oules is as special on the inside as it is on the outside, with designer furniture, Farrow and Ball painted floors, modern kitchens and gorgeous antique pieces collected from the local markets. We were mightily tempted to cancel the rest of our trip, hole up here and tell the office that all planes out of the country had been indefinitely cancelled.

    Le-Mas-des-Oules-02

    Le Mas des Oules’ owners Emma and Michael suggested we head out to explore the Saturday market in nearby Uzés, which is considered the best in Provence – apparently many people travel for over 2 hours to reach it! I could have happily spent all day walking through the maze of cobbled streets, gazing at local crafts and eating delicious produce.

    Uzes-market

    But Kristian insisted we head off in search of some history, too. Having spent his boyhood holidays camping in the region, he was keen to revisit the 360m-long, 50m-high Roman aqueduct the Pont du Gard to see if it was as impressive as he remembered. I think it’s safe to say that it was!

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    After all this excitement, it was time for us to hit the road. We drove through Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie (famous for its pottery), Tavel (famous for its wine, particularly rosé) and UNESCO-listed Avignon, before reaching Hotel du Clos, just inland from Antibes.

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    After our journey we were ready for welcoming smiles and an afternoon of relaxation, which is exactly what we received at this Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms.

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    After a walk around the village of Le Rouret, a bracing jump into the pool and warming soak in the tub – and inspired by our baking-themed room – we headed to the restaurant for tea. We arrived to find a candlelit table on the terrace, with blankets in case we got cold, a glass of pastis for him, and champagne for me. Head chef Daniel Ettlinger creates truly magic dishes: we feasted on Spanish omelette topped with goat’s cheese, followed by a choice between a delicately battered sea bream fillet or duck breast with potato and asparagus. Our cheese platter and pudding were exquisite, too.

    Hotel-du-CLos

    The following morning, after an incredible breakfast (violet syrup on yoghurt is my new favourite food), we were back on the road, speeding towards the former Swedish royal residence Chateau Eza, located between Nice and Monaco, which offers breath-taking views along the Côte d’Azur (our jaws were open for most of our stay; the vistas really are incredible).

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    We fell in love with Eze, a tiny pedestrianized village 400m above the Med, but found it incredibly hard to leave our palatial suite with its sunken Jacuzzi, 2 bathrooms, plum velvet, oil paintings and plush sitting area.

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    But it’s not just the rooms and views that make this place special; there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant here, too! Having secured ourselves a table for lunch, we embarked on a 4-course culinary extravaganza, with a private dining terrace, views to die for, and smiling waiters whose recommendations would steer us through the following hours. Asparagus soup and crab topped with tangy Australian lemon caviar were highlights.

    Chateau-Eza

    With full stomachs, it was time to descend to Nice for the final stop of our epic journey. The city is synonymous with modern art, so where better to stay than Hotel Windsor, where rooms have been decorated by artists? There’s an ancient Chinese throne in the lobby, a giant musical bamboo mobile, a lift designed by Andy Warhol’s muse Ultra Violet, and original Tintin posters on the walls. We stayed in a bright room designed by François Morellet, but our favourite was Samta Beyahia’s Tunisian blue bedroom.

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    As we strolled from Hotel’s Windsor’s secret garden (complete with pool and parrots) through Nice’s centre to the Promenade des Anglais, we couldn’t help but think how special each hotel was, and just how different they had all been. Yet each retained the same quaint French charm, along with an exceptional eye for detail. All in all, we’d had a remarkable time.

    Many of our hotels in southern France get booked up quite far in advance; find out more about this incredible area and book your 2015 French sojourn. 

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