Top 10 hotels for wine lovers

  • A flute of crisp champagne? A robust ruby red? Or perhaps a fresh citrusy white? Whatever your preferred tipple, we’ve selected our top 10 wine-based retreats in which to brush up on your fine wines and sample the local grape. Whether it’s a romantic week away, a blissful break or an itinerant wine-tasting tour, there are acres of vines and countless groaning cellars to choose from. Claire Dowling picks the best.

    Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

    Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux

    Mouth-wateringly close to the world-famous wine estates of Latour and Lafite Rothschild, Le Boutique Hotel masterfully combines chic contemporary design with 18th-century townhouse charm. The stunning rooms with chrome lighting and luxurious bathtubs ooze design hotel style, while fresh orange juice and crisp croissants entice you into the hotel’s leafy courtyard, hidden away in the heart of Bordeaux’s historic centre. As you’d expect in a luxurious Bordeaux hotel, wine flows through every room (in one way or another): bedrooms are named after wine chateaux, there’s a complimentary bottle for i-escape guests, and even the modern art adopts a wine theme. Luckily they’re equipped with the expertise to back it up and after a busy day you can relax with a blind wine tasting in the hotel bar, led by their enthusiastic sommelier.

    Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza, Alto Agrelo, Argentina

    Cavas Wine Lodge

    The amicable owners of Cavas Wine Lodge can organise day-long wine-tasting tours that encompass 3 wineries, including lunch at one and serious tastings at all – perfect for getting you properly acquainted with the region. The lodge’s own vineyard produces a world-renowned Malbec, which you’ll be offered a glass of on arrival, and we also recommend a day of independent vineyard exploration, by bicycle. The breath-taking snow-capped Andes Mountains can be viewed from the super-stylish rooms, which offer indulgent kingsize beds, private plunge pools and wood-burning fireplaces. You can also indulge in exquisite contemporary Latin-American food, an innovative red wine bath at the Moorish spa, or a cooling swim in the picture-perfect pool.

    Cape Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia

    Cape Lodge

    A luxurious country hotel in a lush haven of pristine gardens, lakes and forest, Cape Lodge is situated in one of Australia’s premium wine-producing regions making a wine-tour top of the to-do list. A quarter of Australia’s top wines come from here, and the lodge’s staff will be able to supply some excellent vineyard and restaurant options (you’re spoilt for choice). Cape Lodge’s secluded lake-view rooms and suites, plus 2 residences for 4-6, provide a plush but understated place to unwind. When you’re not off whale-watching or honing your skills at the cookery school there are nearby pristine white beaches lapped by the aquamarine Indian Ocean. If that’s not enough, top-notch food at the lakeside restaurant and a plentiful supply of wine in the hotel’s remarkable wine cellar (over 14,000 bottles and 200 labels) will leave you utterly sated.

    La Casona at Matetic Vineyards, Rosario Valley, Chile

    La Casona at Matetic Vineyards

    Brush up on your organic wine production knowledge with a complimentary tour from one of Chile’s top producers before sampling some of their award-winning Syrah or signature Sauvignon Blanc in the California-style restaurant. Such tempting extras make this intimate family-owned 7-room colonial estancia an essential stay for wine buffs. Guests can learn about the principles of organic wine-making, bottling and storage before enjoying walks around the landscaped gardens, or relaxing in your calm room with its elegant furnishings and polished wood floors. The setting, in the rolling hills of Rosario Valley, allows for spectacular horse-back riding and fun trips to Valparaíso’s colourful houses and Viña del Mar’s trendy beach.

    Hotel TerraVina, The New Forest, Hampshire, England

    Hotel TerraVina

    Less than 2 hours from London, but a world apart, Hotel Terravina’s 11 fresh and cosy rooms are tucked away in the New Forest National Park, where ponies wander at will through the verdant countryside. With fantastic food and an amazing array of wines in the hotel wine cellar, owner Gerard – who won Best Sommelier in the World in 2010 – and Head Sommelier Laura provide flawless wine and food pairing advice. Gerard has even invested in a state-of-the-art enomatic machine to keep opened bottles perfectly fresh, enabling diners to try the lengthy wine list by the glass.

    Tenuta San Pietro, Near Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

    Tenuta San Pietro

    An intimate and chic 10-room, 2-suite hideaway with a fabulous restaurant, a 350-bottle wine cellar and an on-site tasting room; Tenuta San Pietro is surrounded by olive trees and vineyards in a relatively undiscovered part of Tuscany. Inside, the Norwegian owners have chosen Scandinavian minimalism for the individually decorated rooms,  creating a crisp contrast to the beautiful ancient towns and Baroque palaces of the local area. Spend the day following the wine road with a guided tour (arranged by the hotel) of the area’s most important producers, such as Terre del Sillabo and Tenuta di Valgiano, before relaxing by the infinity pool overlooking the stunning Garfagnana Mountains.

    Hotel Viura, Near Laguardia, Basque Country, Spain

    Hotel Viura

    A striking juxtaposition has been created between this architectural wonder and the charming traditional village in which it sits. And the strong look continues inside, where nature-inspired imagery, polished concrete, and walls of glass frame stunning bedrooms and an excellent restaurant. A visit to hilltop Laguardia provides the best views of the surrounding wine fields, or you can simply borrow the hotel bikes to cycle amongst them – be sure to stop by Briones’ excellent wine museum en route. Return for dinner under the wine-barrel studded ceiling of the hotel dining room, where an expert sommelier will offer and explain pairing for your chosen dishes.

    Aquapura, Douro Valley, Portugal


    Aquapura’s 71 rooms and villas take their decorative cues from the Douro Valley’s serene vineyards and winding river – earthy shades of taupe, yellow and grey reflect the open scenery viewed through expansive glass windows. From the in-house bodega’s own wine tastings (you’ll get one for free for booking through i-escape) to the renowned port and wine estates nearby, oenophiles (that’s wine-lovers, don’t you know) will be spoilt for choice here. And if all that love goes to your head you can always enjoy the plethora of treatments at Aquapura’s state-of-the-art spa and laze on the made-for-two daybeds by the pool.

    Inn at Occidental, Occidental, California

    Inn at Occidental

    Inn at Occidental offers a sense of seclusion, yet it’s just 15 minutes from the rugged pacific west coast and the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay filled wineries of the famed Russian River wine region. Playful rooms, plus a 2-bedroom self-catering cottage with handmade quilts and quirky touches, create a cheerful ambiance. If you can tear yourself away from your spa bath or warming fireplace, a bountiful home-made breakfast will prepare you for canoeing, hiking, riding or ballooning over the hotel’s stunning surroundings. On your return, lounge in the living room with some complimentary cheese and local wine – you’ll even get a bottle on arrival, as a thank you for booking through i-escape.

    Hawksmoor House, Near Stellenbosch, South Africa

    Hawksmoor House

    Conveniently nestled between picturesque Stellenbosch and the hubbub of Cape Town is this stylish old Cape Dutch country manor and wine farm. There are numerous must-visit estates nearby such as Zevenwacht and Vergelegen, which we consider must-sees for their incredible scenery as well their exceptional wine. To initiate you into these world-class wine fields, i-escape guests will receive a bottle of Hawksmoor’s own bottle to enjoy during their stay. You’ll find a beautiful fusion of fine antiques and modern touches in the large soothing rooms and at breakfast you’ll join other guests for a friendly morning on the veranda, gazing across the estate and as far as Table Mountain. The hotel’s pool is blessed with the perfect location for stunning sunsets – have a glass of estate wine at the ready and you’ll be all set for a blissful evening.

    Find more wine destinations and foodie havens in our full collection >>

    Posted in Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Easy Escapes for August

  • Holiday season is in full swing and our Facebook feed is full of dreamy holiday images – we’ve started daydreaming about where we’d love to be, from action-packed outdoor adventures and foodie wonderlands to totally chilled-out beach breaks! Make the most of our wandering thoughts and book yourself a last-minute getaway.

    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…

    Scottish Sojourn – £421 per person (3 nights, 18-21 August)

    Loch Ness Lodge

    Loch Ness Lodge

    With the Commonwealth Games and the Fringe Festival taking place this month, and the 40th Ryder Cup the month after, Scotland is the place to be at the moment. But there’s lots more to this tiny country than Edinburgh and Glasgow. Venture north and you’ll come across the dramatic highlands and the home of the mysterious monster Nessy. Spend days walking, kayaking and visiting the stunning castles that dot the surrounding landscape.

    Loch Ness Lodge

    Loch Ness Lodge

    Stay: at Loch Ness Lodge, a decadent retreat with jaw-dropping views over the world’s most famous loch. It feels wonderfully secluded, but is in fact just a 15-minute drive from Inverness. A turret at one end of the long, grey-roofed building adds a touch of Baronial grandeur, and the genuine smiles from the staff will mean you’ll never want to leave. Their current offer of a 10% discount on 3+ nights makes a 3-night stay in the Superior (Oykel) room just £283.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Inverness with easyJet for £100 per person, departing on Monday 18 August and returning on Thursday 21 August.

    From the airport: We’d recommend hiring a car to make the most of the area. Hire with Rhino starts from £75 for 3 nights.

    Total cost: £421 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    A Tuscan Treat – £451.50 per person (4 nights, 26-30 August)



    Lucca is a true gem in the Tuscan countryside. Although often overlooked in favour of Florence or Pisa, it’s one of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of Italy, enclosed within 4km of imposing 16th-century walls. Inside it’s a treasure trove of churches, palazzi, statues, towers and piazzas, from Romanesque to Renaissance. Plus, thanks to its winding lanes, it retains a delightfully medieval atmosphere.

    Tenuta San Pietro

    Tenuta San Pietro

    Stay: at gastro-hideaway Tenuta San Pietro, just 7km outside the town. Owned by a Norwegian family, Tenuta is the perfect combination of minimalist Scandi-chic and luxurious Italian elegance. Expect mouth-watering food, an impressive wine cellar (there are 350+ bottles), and a vast olive grove alongside spoiling touches such as an infinity pool with views to die for. Thanks to the hotel’s current offer of 30% off, a Luxury Double Room is just £277 per person for 4 nights.

    Fly: from London Stansted to Pisa with Ryanair for £142 per person, departing on Tuesday 26 August and returning on Saturday 30 August.

    From the airport: In order to fully experience Tuscan life, we’d recommend hiring a car; prices start from £65 for 4 nights with Rhino.

    Total cost: £451.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Tuscany and other accommodation options

    Thai Tranquillity – £1381.50 per person (7 nights, 12-19 August)

    Silavadee Pool Spa Resort's private beach

    Silavadee Pool Spa Resort’s private beach

    Koh Samui, just off the east coast of Thailand, has it all: white-sand beaches, elephant treks, hidden waterfalls, food markets, boat trips, exotic wildlife, water sports and spoiling spa hotels. Sip lychee martinis under swaying palms and let relaxation wash over you. Bliss.

    Silavadee Pool Spa Resort

    Silavadee Pool Spa Resort

    Stay: at hill-top bolthole Silavadee Pool Spa Resort. This tranquil haven, where dark teak and light cedarwood blend with bamboo and local textiles, has an indulgent spa, 2 huge infinity pools and a selection of restaurants. There’s currently a 30% discount, making a 7-night stay in a Deluxe Balcony room only £408 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Koh Samui with British Airways for £955 per person, departing Monday 11 August (indirect overnight flight via Bangkok arriving Tuesday 12 August) and returning Tuesday 19 August (indirect overnight flight via Bangkok arriving Wednesday 20 August), including all taxes.

    From the airport: Silavadee can arrange transfers from Koh Samui airport for £9.25 per person (one way). 

    Total cost: £1381.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Koh Samui 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 30th July 2014.

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

Escape of the Week… La Maison du Paradou

  • The Provencal countryside is strewn with delectable B&Bs ready to welcome you into the simpler bucolic pace of wandering lavender fields, sipping pastis and playing petanque. However, few match the luxurious charm of well-placed La Maison du Paradou – a 5-bedroom (and 1-cottage) getaway with 2 pools, stunning gardens and charming owners.

    La Maison du paradou

    This converted posting inn is perfect for those looking to escape a deux, though there is also a recently added self-catering house for 6 available for those with the family in tow (2 doubles, 1 twin/double).  Should you ever tire of the beautiful immediate surroundings, the B&B is only a short drive from some of Provence’s most impossibly pretty destinations including Arles, Nimes, Les-Baux-de-Provence and The Camargue with its flamingos and elegant white horses.

    La Maison du paradou

    Rooms: The 5 rooms of La Maison du Paradou are meticulously kitted out with all of the finery and detail you could hope for. Expect beautiful linen, large bathrooms (with robes, fluffy towels and numerous lotions and potions) and fantastic artwork throughout. You’ll even find jugs of iced water, colour-coordinated chocolates and a flatscreen TV with hundreds of films available for when you’re enjoying some down time. While all the rooms are beautiful, spacious and exquisitely designed, they’ve all got something a little different to offer. We love Le Jardin Secret which sits in the gardens, away from the house, and has its own semi-private terrace. The others are in the main house; Emeraude is probably the biggest room (and also has great views of the garden) while Violette has an incredible bathroom with cavernous shower and separate bath. As you’ll guess, each follows the colour scheme of its name in the rich fabrics and beautiful art.

    The newest addition, La Maison Bleue, is a 3-ensuite-bedroom self-catering house set adjacent to the main building. We’ve not visited yet, but it looks just as beautiful as the rest of the property and with a fully fitted kitchen, a dining room and an outdoor area it’s the perfect family-friendly Provencal bolthole.

    La Maison du paradou

    Food: Days at La Maison du Paradou begin with the ubiquitous French petit dejeuner. You’ll find baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat, fresh fruit salad, yoghurts, cold meats, cheeses and eggs any way you want them, all served with juices and tea and coffee made to order. It all takes place in the shade of the terrace or, should rain be threatening, in the beautiful vaulted salon. At this point you can also order light lunches of quiches, tarts and salads in advance, should you want to forgo excursions in favour of a day spent poolside

    In high season, there is also the opportunity to join occasional communal dinners of Mediterranean prawns, Provencal lamb and tarte tatin (or similar). Though when it comes to evening meals the surrounding villages leave you truly spoilt for choice. Close to home you can reserve a table at the exceedingly popular Le Bistro du Paradou for a fabulous no-choice menu that is achingly French in all the best ways: foie gras, roast chicken with Dauphinoise potatoes, a divine cheeseboard. Then, within striking distance, you have the double-Michelin-starred Oustau de Baumenièr in Les-Baux-de-Provence, or the mutually owned one-starred Le Cabro d’Or in the same village. Despite this culinary prestige, there are also plenty of welcoming, rustic family-run bistros nearby for no-nonsense local dishes.

    La Maison du paradou

    When to go: The hotel is open all year but there’s a particular abundance of things to do from Easter until the end of October when the immediate area has a varied calendar of events: concerts and festivals including the exceptional Arles photography festival (July-September).

    La Maison du paradou

    i-escape guest review: “Wonderful property and the owners Nick and Andrea were warm and welcoming hosts. I have already recommended to friends and family. Thank you.”

    Tracey, United Kingdom (23.07.13)

    i-escape gift:  a free bottle of champagne

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

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Top 10 Historical Hotspots on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast

  • Our Junior Editorial Assistant Emily has just returned from yet another visit to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where she spent her time exploring and marvelling at ancient sites (in between stints on the beach, of course!). Here she shares her top 10 favourites, all within easy reach of our fabulous boutique hotels.


    Turkey is one of the world’s most historically significant countries. It’s the place our ancestors started farming, home to the ancient city of Troy, and the birthplace of Santa Claus (aka St Nicholas). It was also travelled by St. Paul (the founder of Christianity), Alexander the Great and Hadrian, and was the honeymoon destination of Antony and Cleopatra. It’s littered with impressive sites – in fact, it’s believed that there are over 40,000 significant sites, of which only 300 have been excavated.

    This means that it’s impossibly hard to know where to begin! Here are a handful of my favourites, all easily accessible from our spoiling Mediterranean-coast boltholes. Pack up a camera, book a car and road trip from Antalya to Dalaman, enjoying stylish rooms, spectacular scenery and mind-blowing history along the way.


    Within striking distance of Tuvana Hotel:

    Tuvana Hotel is a haven in the heart of Kaleiçi (Antalya’s fortressed old town). The town is impressive in itself, and boasts a Roman harbour as well as a gate which was built for the arrival of Hadrian (of Scottish wall fame).


    1. On your doorstep is the Antalya Archaeological Museum, which houses over 5,000 artefacts and works of art from prehistoric to Ottoman times. My favourite section was the bit filled with the most ornately carved sarcophagi, some of which depicted scenes from Homer’s Iliad and Hercules’ 12 labours.


    2. Heading inland, just 35km away you come across one of Turkey’s more impressive – and well preserved – ancient sites: Termessos. Set in a national park in the Taurus Mountains, this fortress city encompasses a ruined theatre, an odeon, cisterns, tombs and, high above them, a necropolis. They’re scattered around a large area of rocky terrain, surrounded by pine trees and rare plants, with spectacular views.


    Within striking distance of Azur Hotel:

    Azur Hotel is located in the seaside town of Cirali, whose beach is flanked by the ancient site of Olympos and the natural phenomenon of the Chimera (flames which lap out of rocks on the hillside). It’s possibly one of my all-time favourite destinations thanks to its 2-mile stretch of sand and laidback atmosphere – plus it’s a nesting place for the endangered loggerhead turtle, which has been in existence for 40 million years!


    3. Combine a lazy day on the sand with a visit to ancient Olympos, a key 2nd century BC Lycian port city. You’re able to go off-piste and discover walkways, temple doorways, old staircases and hundreds of broken fragments which provide an insight into this once-great metropolis. There’s something incredible about walking under an archway into an overgrown glade to discover an amphitheatre – it’s a place for your imagination to run wild.


    4. Drive 15 minutes east (or, if you’re feeling adventurous, walk along the Lycian Way) and you’ll come to Phaselis, a 2500-year-old port town which straddles 3 picturesque bays. There’s a well-preserved aqueduct, streets lined with engraved pillars, and an amphitheatre on the hillside which looks up to Mt Tahtali.


    Within striking distance of Peninsula Gardens:

    Located just outside the pretty harbour town of Kas, you find the romantic cliff-top retreat Peninsula Gardens.


    5. The hotel can arrange boat trips to the haunting sunken city of Kekova (destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century AD). I loved drifting along between sections of heavily decorated rocks and daydreaming about what was once there. Stop off on the island and you’ll be able to view a Lycian necropolis and the remains of a Byzantine chapel.

    Lycian tomb nr Kevoka

    6. Just a short way inland is Myra, known for its amphitheatre (which is decorated with carved masks) and breath-taking rock tombs built into the sheer cliff; I strained my neck gazing up! The town has also attracted some pretty famous visitors, including St Paul and Hadrian. Next door is Demre, where you’ll find St Nicholas’ church and tomb (don’t tell the kids!).


    Within striking distance of Likya Gardens:

    Likya Gardens is the sister hotel to Peninsula Gardens, and is just a short hop away in neighbouring Kalkan. Here, each suite has a private pool – perfect for cooling off after a busy day of sightseeing.

    Likya Gardens

    7. The hotel has a beach club on the 12km stretch of sand at Patara. To reach the sand, you must first walk through the ancient city. So far archaeologists have uncovered an impressive parliament building where representatives from the Lycian League met.


    8. The Unesco-listed site of Xanthos was the capital city of the Lycian League. Many important monuments have been discovered here, including the Nereid Monument and the Tomb of Payava. Both are now exhibited at the British Museum – but don’t worry: there are still several spectacular ruins to marvel at.


    Within striking distance of Villa Mandarin:

    Our final stop is Villa Mandarin. Set in the unspoilt seaside town of Faralya, it’s a luxurious but laid-back hotel offering a romantic hideaway with a homely touch.

    Villa Mandarin

    9. The Lycian Way runs for over 500km from Fethiye to Antalya, and an interesting section passes just behind the hotel. Follow it and you’ll be able to descend from the village to impressive Butterfly Valley, which is home to 40+ varieties of butterfly and boasts some stunning stretches of beach.

    Lycian Way

    10. Atop a plateau lies Tlos, one of the oldest and largest settlements of Lycia. It’s worth visiting for its rock tombs, fortified acropolis and atmospheric theatre. It was subsequently inhabited by the Romans, the Byzantines and eventually the Ottoman Turks, meaning it’s one of the few Lycian cities to be continually inhabited until the 19th century.


    Find out more about this incredible area and to see other places to stay in Turkey.

    Posted in Our Trips....

Family Escape of the Month… The Chester Residence

  • As city breaks go, we can’t think of many more child-friendly destinations than Edinburgh. There’s an abundance of things to see and do, from castles to aquariums, and the bustling centre is easy to navigate with plenty of restaurant options for families.  On top of that, it just so happens that The Chester Residence – a chic, family-friendly bolthole in the popular and peaceful West End – is the perfect spot to enjoy it all from.

    The Chester Residence

    This stylish apartment-hotel displays Edinburgh architecture at its most regal: stunning Georgian facades with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping spindled staircases. Add to that a host of luxurious features, well-equipped kitchens and additional kid-friendly amenities, and you can see why it won ‘Scotland Hotel of the Year’ in 2012.

    The Chester Residence

    Rooms: The Chester Residence comprises 23 boutique self-catering apartments for 2-4. You can expect all the mod cons: huge flat-screen TVs, thick carpets, and a sleek palette of blacks and greys warmed by pops of aubergine and chartreuse. This is quintessential urban sophistication (with all the gadgets), but it’s far from pretentious. The apartments are also equipped with a host of entertainment and culinary features, so they’re perfect for families looking for an exciting break.

    While you can easily add a baby cot or extra bed to all the apartments (except the Luxury 1-Bedroom Apartment, Penthouses and Grands), we’d recommend the Luxury 2-Bedroom Apartments – Club and Mews – for families. They’re very similar in look and design (both have 2 ensuite bedrooms –  1 double and 1 double/twin), but  Mews leads into its own private garden, adding that bit more space for kids.

    The Chester Residence

    Food: The garden in super family-friendly Mews provides the perfect opportunity for a barbecue, but if you haven’t got outdoor space (or the Scottish weather isn’t being kind), you still have a well-stocked kitchen for rustling up dinner with ease. There are top-of-the-range Siemens appliances, dishwashers, built-in ovens and microwaves, plus a host of crockery and cookware from JosephJoseph chopping boards to Dualit toasters.

    If you want to step out for a meal, then there a few better places. Edinburgh is awash with quality eateries and the 24-hour concierge service is there to help you navigate them, arranging everything from takeaways to high-end restaurant bookings. We like Ondine for seafood, Tigerlily for afternoon tea and The Witchery for a romantic evening of excellently executed Scottish favourites (babysitting is available on request). There are a number of recommended family-friendly restaurants just a short walk away, too.

    The Chester Residence

    Kids’ activities: Edinburgh is a fascinating city with something for everyone come rain or shine, from the depths of The Dungeonswith their ghost and ghoul tours to the heights of Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city and fires a gun every day at one o’clock. There’s also Edinburgh Zoo, the aquarium and the new Museum of Scotland, as well as nearby beaches Seacliff, Portobello and Yellowcraigs.

    If you don’t want to stray from your comfy apartment, then there’s plenty to keeps kids occupied there too. You’ll find a DVD library, Nintendos, PlayStation games, toys, board games and books, as well as the private garden if you’re in Mews.

    The Chester Residence

    Baby equipment: There are Mammas and Pappas cots, high chairs and bedding, plus baby toiletries and door gates. Also, in addition to a play pen, you can borrow toys, books and DVDs.

    Customer reviews: “Wonderful stay and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. What a fabulous room we had – we didn’t want to leave it was that good!”
    Michael, United Kingdom (15.11.13)

    Read the full review and book  >>

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

Our favourite i-escape gifts

  • As you all know, we do our best to bring you honest reviews, helpful service and some excellent special offers. But what you may have forgotten is that many of our hotel partners also offer a little sweetener for booking through us: an exclusive i-escape gift, ranging from a local tipple to a spoiling session at the hands of a master masseuse.

    We thought we’d share some of the most exciting and quirky gifts on offer at our properties…

    Bude Barns

    Bude Barns

    Best of British:

    Bude Barns, England – a breakfast hamper with bacon, eggs etc.

    For budding chefs:

    Hameau Albert 1er, France – a cookbook from the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant

    Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam – a cooking class for two in the organic garden

    For fashionistas:

    Ca’s Penelope, Mallorca – handmade sheepskin slippers to take home

    Shakti 360 Leti, India – a cashmere scarf

    For animal (or sunset) lovers:

    Kanz Erremal, Morocco – a free camel excursion at sunrise or sunset if staying for 3 nights or more on a half-board basis

    Kurland, South Africa – a free 1-hour horse-riding session

    Kanz Erremal

    Kanz Erremal

    For him & her:

    Casa Turquesa, Brazil – a bottle of Cachaça for him and a turquoise stone pendant for her

    Karkloof Safari Spa, South Africa – a free private picnic

    For sporty types:

    Sea Stars Apartments, Egypt – free 1-hour kayak hire

    Mai Chau Lodge, Vietnam – free use of kayaks on Mo Luong Lake

    For the fiesta animals:

    Casa Natalia, Mexico – margaritas, nachos and salsa Mexicana on arrival

    For the long-distance traveller:

    The Purist Villas & Spa, Bali – an anti-Jetlag package for 2, a 30-minute neck and shoulder massage, a healthy mocktail and a Balinese offering box

    For the music fan:

    Hotel Lous Grits, France – a CD of music recorded in the local church

    Mine Hotel, Argentina – a free tango CD

    Mine Hotel

    Mine Hotel

    For twitchers:

    Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Soth Africa – a free bird book and a pair of binoculars per couple

    For those who want to escape Venice’s busy streets and stay in Murano! :

    Ca Maria Adele, Italy – a one-way boat trip to Murano and free entry to the glass factory

    Most educational:

    Castello di Gargonza, Italy – a free guided tour of Gargonza village

    Lion Sands Ivory Lodge

    Lion Sands Ivory Lodge


    Baudon de Mauny, France – a complimentary aperitif with the hosts on the first evening

    For the travel writer:

    Floroom, Italy – a customised moleskin notebook

    Llety Bodfor, Wales – a stylish paper-weight to take home

    Most personal:

    Ananda in the Himalayas, India – a custom-made signature Ananda Kurta pyjama set embroidered with your name


    Breezes Beach Club, Zanzibar – a handmade woven ring, made from local clove and cardamom

    Ananda in the Himalayas

    Ananda in the Himalayas

    The best smelling:

    Capella Lodge, Australia – a Capella oil burner and signature scent

    No 5 Maddox Street, London – a Geodesis scented candle to take home

    The future Christmas present:

    Posada de la Laguna, Argentina – a signature hand-carved wooden bird

    Santa Clara, Brazil – a ceramic starfish made by local artists

    The Guatemalan Bake Off:

    Nitun Reserve, Guatemala – a lesson in bread making

    The most alcoholic:

    Why House, Sri Lanka – a lesson with Baboo the barman in making an arrack sour, plus 5 small bottles of flavoured arrack

    Cliff Barns, England – a free bottle of Bisongrass Vodka with cocktail-making ingredients for signature cocktails

    Why House

    Why House

    The most itinerant:

    Water Home, Holland – a map of Amsterdam and a personalised programme of suggested activities in the city

    The most Zen:

    The Capaldi, Morocco – a hammam session and a half-hour massage (per person), plus a glass of mint tea on arrival

    The Sanctuary, Thailand – 2 complimentary yoga tickets and 2 steam room passes

    Two not to be enjoyed together:

    Hotel Martinhal, Portugal – 1-hour complimentary use of the tennis courts, plus a welcome drink on arrival at O Terraço bar

    Hospes Palau de la Mar, Spain – a day’s free bicycle rental (2 bikes), plus a bottle of Mistela liqueur to take home

    For the Wimbledon wannabee:

    Columbus Hotell, Sweden – a Björn Borg travel kit with shower gel, shampoo and body lotion

    The Capaldi

    The Capaldi

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Spotlight on… Laos

  • Nestled between Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma, this Indochinese country is fast gaining a reputation as the beauty of the East thanks to its incredibly rich culture, stunning natural scenery and colourful colonial towns.

    The Mekong

    The Mekong

    Why go?

    Due to years of political and geographical isolation, land-locked Laos has remained undiluted by mass tourism, and the whole country retains an old-fashioned charm. The Mekong River runs the length of the nation, while the Annamite Mountains spread over the eastern border from Vietnam. The result is a mix of stunning waterfalls, lush mountainside forests and, in the south, spectacular islands. Towns are full of reminders of the country’s past, from French cafés to royal Unesco cities and Buddhist temples, and the Laotians are extremely laidback and friendly. It’s hard not to be won over by this utterly fascinating country.

    Wat Si Saket temple, Vientiane

    Wat Si Saket temple, Vientiane


    The majority of visitors start at Unesco-listed Luang Prabang, the country’s third largest city. It’s a picture of sleepy provincialism seemingly lost to the world, hidden within verdant greenery and encircled by mountains and rivers. A blend of exotic colours and smells entice visitors to explore the narrow streets: frangipani flowers, coffee trees, spice stalls, river boats and incense-carrying monks are all permanent fixtures.

    Buddhist monks

    Buddhist monks

    The city is a delightful patchwork of colourful wooden houses that give a nod to their French-colonial past while also embracing the country’s Buddhist culture. Golden-roofed wats are decorated with mosaics of the life of Buddha and sit under wrap-around balconies and shuttered windows. Lung Pranbang’s charm is its simplicity and love of tradition; daily Buddhist Alms ceremonies, nightly markets, laidback river life and dreamy cafés all allow you to sit, gaze and just absorb your surroundings. Stay in one of our boutique hotels in the centre of town to make the most of this unique and charismatic place.

    Satri House

    Satri House

    If you’re feeling adventurous, head out from Luang Prabang into the incredible countryside. Some 85% of Laos is forested, and in the tranquil north you’ll find quiet riverside villages overlooked by craggy green mountains that are home to the Akha, Hmong, Ikhos and Khmu peoples. Muang La Resort, situated on the edge a traditional village in the Oudom Xay Province, is a peaceful mountain escape where you can fill your days with elephant rides, treks to remote hill tribes and visits to thermal pools.

    Muang La Resort

    Muang La Resort

    From northern Laos, it’s just a short internal flight down to the capital, Vientiane, home to the country’s most famous and important religious monument, Pha That Luang (a 3-layered gilded stupa that has become the national symbol). The Lao National Museum offers perspectives on Communism and the Vietnam War, while the vast number of elaborate temples and sculptures look further back in time. There are also plenty of traditional markets where you can barter for local handicrafts, silk, teak and textiles. You’ll also find steaming noodle stalls, special Laotian rice cakes, upmarket French brasseries and everything in between. Spend your days exploring and eating, before curling up on your terrace at Green Park Boutique Hotel with a Beerlao – the national beer – in hand.

    Green Park Boutique Hotel

    Green Park Boutique Hotel

    Further south again is the Champasak province, whose beauty will really take your breath away. Sights in this peaceful and rural region include the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou, which has structures dating from the 11th century and whose shrine is a centre for Theravada Buddhism. Also well worth seeing are the picturesque Khone and Pha Pheng Falls on the Mekong River, which plunge 21 metres into a waterway that’s home to a small population of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. The broader reaches downstream are known as Si Phan Don or Sipandon (‘4000 islands’) – huge riverscapes with paddy fields, stilted houses and tiny sandbank islands.

    Paddy fields

    Paddy fields

    Most visitors spend their time horizontally, and it’s easy to see why – but venture beyond your lounger and you can visit tiny villages with their own customs and practices. Try silk weaving, fishing (you can try to catch the giant catfish, the world’s largest freshwater fish) and buffalo breeding, as well as exploring local markets which feature some very alien delicacies! Retreat to isolated La Folie Lodge, which sits on the river island of Don Daeng, for complete relaxation and stunning beaches.

    La Folie Lodge

    La Folie Lodge

    When to go

    November to April is the best time to visit as the days are warm and dry but the evenings are cool. Temperatures begin to rise in March, and May or June see the start of the rainy season, which lasts until October; this, however, means that Laos’ many waterfalls look incredibly impressive!

    Kuang Si waterfalls, near Luang Prabang

    Kuang Si waterfalls, near Luang Prabang

    Our top tip

    There are no direct flights to Laos from the UK (or many other western countries). We think this provides a great excuse to combine a trip with a visit to one of its neighbours. Most people opt for Thailand, as you can catch one of the many boats which travel along the Mekong from there to Luang Prabang. Opt for a private tour and you’ll be able to visit waterfalls and kayak to ancient sites en route. Do ensure that you check the condition of the boats before you board. For bespoke trips, book though our Tailormade Tours through i-escape, who will create a holiday that’s perfect for you; we’re itching to go on the 10-day ‘Riches and Splendours of Laos’ tour, which takes in temples, mountains and the ’4000 islands’.

    See our destination guide for more information on Laos.

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Escape of the Week… Hotel Los Castanos

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

    Hotel Los Castanos

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

    Hotel Los Castanos

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

    Hotel Los Castanos

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

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

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

    Hotel Los Castanos

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

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

    Hotel Los Castanos

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

    Andrea, United States (08.06.13)

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

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,

Bucket and Spade List

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

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

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

    1.      Build a sandcastle

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


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

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


    3.      Send a postcard from your holiday

    4.      Go star-gazing

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

    5.      Explore a cave

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

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

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


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

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

    8.      Visit a real castle

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

    9.      Have a picnic in the countryside

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


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

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


    11.      Ride a donkey or pony

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


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

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


    13.      Photograph a famous landmark

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

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


    15.      Make a woodland den

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


    16.      Pet farm animals

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


    17.      Bounce on a hotel bed

    We like: Kurland, Garden Route, South Africa


    18.      Buy a holiday souvenir

    19.      Take a boat trip

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


    20.      Go on a treasure hunt

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

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

    Check out the rest of our Kids Collection >>

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