FEB28

Our summer short-haul favourites

 
  • With the chances of a long, hot UK summer looking slim, we have put together a range of short-haul favourites for super-easy getaways.

    The selection brings together family-friendly options from our 850-strong Kids Collection, including an indulgent retreat in France’s Languedoc region and a value villa holiday on the Greek island of Skiathos, as well as stylish couples’ escapes in sun-drenched destinations such as Croatia and Sardinia.

    Prices start at just £57 per night for a family of 4 in Greece and £65 per night for a couple in Sardinia.

    For Families

    Skiathos Holidays, Greece – great value on Skiathos’ upmarket Kalamaki Peninsula

    Skiathos Holidays

    Set in serene gardens on Skiathos’ secluded Kalamaki Peninsula, this collection of self-catering villas, studios and apartments (each sleeping 2-6) is sure to become a favourite with i-escape families. There are sofabeds, baby cots, highchairs and lots of outdoor space, and the child-friendly tavernas nearby will suit parents who don’t want to cook; breakfast can even be rustled up at the cabana-chic bar for an additional charge. Best of all, the beach is on the doorstep, so you can roll the kids out of bed and straight onto the sand. There’s plenty to explore nearby, too – hillside monasteries, wild coves, forest hiking trails and tiny, uninhabited islets.
    The Junior Suite (sleeping 2 adults and 2 children) is available from £57 per night (accommodation only).

    Country Kids, France – luxury apartments on a converted Languedoc farm

    Country Kids

    These 7 apartments (each sleeping 4-12) offer hassle-free family holidays that combine childcare with an endless list of activities. While the kids climb trees, bounce on trampolines, go on treasure hunts, head off on tractor rides and make new friends, parents can unwind with wine-tasting sessions, tennis coaching, massages in the spa, and canoeing on nearby lakes. Babysitting is provided twice a week so grown-ups can enjoy date nights at local restaurants, and on Fridays the littl’uns are treated to a breakfast pyjama party while parents have a much-needed lie-in. Everything is covered when it comes to food, too – summer rates are all-inclusive; at other times you self-cater in the fully equipped kitchens. There’s even a bar plus a shop selling homemade ready meals, and welcome hampers are provided on arrival.
    Apartments are available from £381 per night, based on 4 sharing on an accommodation-only basis. All-inclusive summer rates start at £1,034 per night, also based on 4 sharing.

    Finca Naranja, Spain – self-catering cottages in flower-filled fields

    Finca Naranja

    Architect Conchita Kien has designed 4 stand-alone cottages at her Andalucian finca, which sits in the mountains near Ronda. All are spacious, airy and clean-cut, with a unique fusion of Southeast Asian and Spanish décor. Two have mezzanine sleeping areas for up to 3 kids, while the others can fit an extra bed or baby cot. The ethos here is easy living from the word ‘go’ – fridges come stocked with ingredients for making delicious breakfasts, and at dinnertime guests can cook in their kitchenette or drive 15 minutes up the road to the restaurants of Ronda. There’s heaps of outdoor space, too, with a lovely pool, hammocks strung from trees, a chill-out area and honesty bar in a meadow, and a play area and trampoline for the children.
    A Deluxe Suite is available from £155 per night, based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing (breakfast ingredients included).

    For couples

    Domu Antiga - stylish new B&B in Sardinia’s mellow interior

    Domu Antiga

    Hidden in the tiny village of Gergei in the heart of Sardinia is Domu Antiga, a serene B&B which opened in 2013. This restored 19th-century farmhouse has just 3 bedrooms, all with beautiful rustic-chic touches such as embroidered linens, chunky rafters and turquoise shutters. It’s the perfect rural escape – wake to bountiful breakfasts served in the garden or in front of the kitchen fire, then head out to explore the island’s breath-taking interior – a sparsely populated wilderness of olive groves, gorges and megalithic ruins. Guests can even learn the secrets behind local cuisine through cookery courses and bread-making classes, available on request.
    Rooms are available from £65 per night, based on 2 people sharing (breakfast included).

    Likya Gardens Hotel, Turkey – uber-romantic retreat on the Turquoise Coast

    Likya Gardens

    This adults-only hotel on the edge of pretty Kalkan has just 7 slick suites, each with a private plunge pool, a sun-trap deck and a seafront cabana with butler service and an iPod dock. Sip cocktails while listening to your favourite playlist, then climb down the ladder for a dip in the sparkling Mediterranean below. Private gulet cruises around hidden coves can be arranged on request, and there are plenty of stunning beaches nearby. Come evening, tuck into a delicious Turkish dinner delivered straight to your terrace, or walk into the village for fresh fish and a friendly buzz.                                                                                                            Suites are available from £270 per night, based on 2 people sharing (breakfast included).

    Divota Apartment Hotel, Croatia – contemporary apartments in historic Split

    Divota Apartment Hotel

    Spread across converted stone buildings in the charming neighbourhood of Veli Varoš, this collection of rooms and studio apartments achieves a rare blend of authentic and modern. The interiors are sleek and contemporary, with white furniture and colourful artwork; some have terraces or balconies, too. Self-cater or head out to one of the bars and cafés on Split’s pretty waterfront; if you’re feeling lazy, breakfast can be delivered to your door for an additional charge. It’s perfect for couples seeking a ‘let your hair down’ holiday, but also caters for groups (some rooms and apartments interconnect, and there’s a 3-bedroom house for 6-7).
    Rooms are available from £92 per night and studio apartments from £121 per night, based on 2 sharing (accommodation only).
    Suites are available from £270 per night, based on 2 people sharing (breakfast included).

    Browse our Kids pages for more of our family favourites.

    For more romantic getaways, take a look at our full collection.

     

    Posted in Our Favourite..., Uncategorized. Tagged , , ,
FEB26

Easy Escapes for March

 
  • Spring is that most wonderful time when clear, sunny days call for romantic minibreaks and quiet beach getaways – you’ll get a good dose of vitamin D and still beat the summer crowds. But if afternoon strolls and languid lunches aren’t really your thing, there’s always the option of a long-haul adrenaline-fuelled adventure, instead.

    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…

    Vivacious Venice – £275.50 per person (3 nights, 12-15 March 2014)

    Venice canals

    Venice canals

    Venice tops a lot of people’s bucket lists, and with good reason. Where else can you meander through culture-rich islands (there are 118 of them to explore) with a shimmering lagoon on one side and grand historical palazzos on the other? It is a city full of beauty, where every twist and turn reveals a new artisan, gallery, church or canal.

    Gio and Gio

    Gio and Gio

    Stay: at 18th-century B&B Gio & Gio, just a 5-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, where 3 elegant bedrooms are filled with antique chests, 18th-century portraits and Murano glass chandeliers. A 3-night stay in a Double Room comes to £160.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Venice Marco Polo with easyJet for £115 per person, departing on Wednesday 12 March and returning on Saturday 15 March (direct flights).

    From the airport: catch one of the frequent buses or water taxis to Piazzale Roma, then take the vaporetto (waterbus) along the Grand Canal (towards San Marco) and get off at the Santa Maria del Giglio stop. Once on dry land, it’s a short walk to the B&B. Alternatively, you could take a private water taxi.

    Total Cost: £275.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting there and other accommodation options

    Cool Cote d’Azur – £383.90 per person (6 nights, 24-30 March 2014)

    Nice

    Nice

    A popular playground for the unfeasibly well-heeled, the Cote d’Azur sweeps along southern France and is dotted with hidden coves, hilltop retreats, cultural hotspots and glitzy towns. Late March is the perfect time to visit as the summer crowds are yet to descend and sunny days are near guaranteed (temperatures are pushing 20C). In fact, there’s no reason not to jet off right now…

    Hotel Du Clos

    Hotel Du Clos

    Stay: at stylish Hotel du Clos, a converted 17th-century farmhouse which oozes French elegance. Nestled in a hilltop village above Antibes, its sweeping lawns are surrounded by olive trees, a boules pitch and an alluring pool, plus there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant serving up delicious, contemporary French fare. The hotel is currently offering 6 nights for the price of 5, meaning a 6-night stay in a Standard Room is just £265.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Nice with Norwegian for £73 per person, departing on Monday 24 March and returning on Sunday 30 March (direct flights).

    From the airport: the hotel can arrange a taxi to collect you from the airport – a one-way journey is approximately £22.70 per person (based on 2 people travelling together).

    Total cost: £383.90 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to the Cote d’Azur and other accommodation options

    Captivating Chile – £1290.50 per person (8 nights, 17-25 March 2014)

    Volcano Villarrica

    Volcano Villarrica

    There’s no better place to explore the great outdoors than Chile’s Lake District. Scale active volcanoes and explore the lava-lined caves below – adventures don’t come more thrilling than this! Try white-water rafting, kayaking and canopying, before unwinding in one of the area’s 13 hot springs.

    Hotel Antumalal

    Hotel Antumalal

    Stay: at Hotel Antumalal, a lake-side retreat that once played host to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. The architecture is classic 50s Bauhaus and rooms have huge picture windows showcasing stunning park and lake views. After a day’s adventuring, return to a cosy fire and a fabulous treatment in the hotel spa. With 4 nights for the price of 3 in a Double Room, an 8-night stay comes to just £451.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Heathrow to Santiago Arturo Merino Benitez (flights via Paris Charles de Gaulle) with Air France for £640 per person, departing on Sunday 16 March (overnight flight arriving on Monday 17 March) and returning on Tuesday 25 March (overnight flight arriving on Wednesday 26 March). From Santiago, you can take an internal flight to Temuco with LAN for £52 return per person (numerous daily flights available).

    From the airport: the hotel offers one-way transfers from Temuco for approximately £33 per person.

    Total cost: £1209.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Chile’s Lake District and 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 26 February 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , ,
FEB24

Escape of the Week… Villa Samadhi, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

 
  • Nestled away in the heart of Malaysia’s capital, Villa Samadhi is the perfect retreat for couples who want to unwind after exploring the busy city. With a sweeping lagoon-style pool, sleek rooms and a rooftop bar with nightly cocktail gatherings, the hotel provides a personal service and romantic ambiance that makes it a cut above the rest.

    Villa Samadhi

    Kuala Lumpur is a destination with diverse influences and Villa Samadhi is a refreshing reflection of this in a city filled with carbon-copy chain hotels. Guests here are made to feel really special too; there’s a butler service, free cocktails in the evenings, complimentary fruit by the pool, in-room snacks, and a shuttle service to run you around.

    Villa Samadhi

    Rooms: The rooms are huge, even the great value Crib Rooms are 50sqm, and most come with a kingsize bed so high you almost need a ladder to climb into it. Each is different, but they all feature natural tones, interesting textures (polished dark wood, concrete made to look like leather) and sleek furniture. You also get a balcony or terrace, a minibar, air con and all the usual electronics (satellite TV, DVD player, iPod dock, WiFi). Our favourite was The Loft, a huge room with a private rooftop pool to splash around in. Similarly, the Luxe Crib, Sarang and Luxe Sarang Rooms each have a Jacuzzi plunge tub on the balcony or beneath a roof opening in the bathroom.

    Villa Samadhi

    Food: Mandi-Mandi, the hotel’s private restaurant, is fronted by inventive and talented Executive Chef Thiti Thammanatr. The modern Asian menu mixes world cuisines with creative flavours in playfully challenging and utterly delicious dishes. We gorged on mushroom soup accented by coffee, kaffir lime and a spoonful of truffle oil, a feather-light tranche of salmon served with a punchy lime salsa and moelleux au chocolat with candied orange. If you find yourself with itchy feet and curious taste buds (although we doubt you will), Kuala Lumpur is firmly on the map as a foodie hotspot with a number of destination restaurants and tempting street based offerings nearby.

    Food at Villa Samadhi

    When to go: Kuala Lumpur’s temperature hovers between 30-35 degrees all year round, with tropical rainstorms likely to erupt at any time. Peak times are December and January (making it essential to book well in advance), but the weather remains warm throughout the year. Monsoon season is between November and February and can be a little prohibitive if you’re planning to visit the east coast islands.

    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    i-escape guest review:  “Fantastic place with personal service and beautiful spaces. They really step out of their way to make the most of their guests’ stay”. 

    Emily, Hong Kong (12.10.13)

    i-escape gift: a welcome drink, dried fruit compote and bedtime chocolate

    Read the full review and book Villa Samadhi >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
FEB21

Top 10 family-friendly hotels in the Med

 
  • In the last instalment of our series looking at great family-friendly places to stay this year, our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, chooses her Top 10 around the Mediterranean.

    Almyra, Paphos, Cyprus

    Almyra, paphos, Cyprus

    The sun shines on this stylish resort 300 days a year. Families will be delighted by the excellent kids’ clubs catering for all ages, the huge range of watersports and games, the small sandy beach and the kids’ pool. On a practical note, everything for babies and toddlers can be provided by their Baby Go Lightly service.

    Azur Hotel, near Antalya, Turkey

    Azur Hotel

    Families will appreciate this great-value beachside hotel for its friendly service, lovely pool, safe lush gardens, and charming wooden cabins, but most of all for its location just a 5-minute stroll from stunning Cirali beach.

    Palmizana, Sveti Klement island, near Hvar, Croatia

    Palmizana, Sveti Klement island, Croatia

    This colourful family-run retreat has an enchanting Bohemian vibe. The island is car-free so kids can explore freely, plus the beach is shallow, there are 2 playgrounds and if you don’t fancy rustling up dinner in your villa’s kitchenette, the 2 restaurants offer kid-friendly fare and half-portions.

    Palazzo Radomiri, near Kotor, Montenegro

    Palazzo Radomiri, near Kotor, Montenegro

    One of the gems in our new Montenegro collection, this waterfront palazzo will suit outdoorsy families who will love swimming off the jetty, kayaking in the Bay of Kotor, and cycling along the coastline. Back at the hotel, you get kids’ menus, a large pool and babysitting on request.

    Modus Vivendi, Psematismenos, Cyprus

    Modus Vivendi, Psematismenos, Cyprus

    Chic yet cheap, these rustic self-catering suites are set around a sociable pool and great for discerning families on a budget. There are heaps of activities nearby including a Camel Park, Watermania park, and beaches.

    Villa Viganj, Peljesac Peninsula, Dalmatia, Croatia

    Villa Viganj, Peljesac Peninsula, Dalmatia, Croatia

    With spectacular sea views, a fenced turquoise pool and a playground, plus 5 bedrooms (including a bunk room), this 16th-century stone villa is ideal for 2 families travelling together. Shops and child-friendly cafes are within walking distance, and there are excellent watersports nearby.

    Montenegro Stone Cottages, near Herceg Novi, Montenegro

    Montenegro Stone Cottages, near Herceg Novi, Montenegro

    Perfectly placed with stunning views towards the coast, these 2 pretty self-catering cottages, set in a restored village turned gated community, are great for families with smaller kids, and those on a budget. There’s a shared pool, woodland to explore, and Herceg Novi’s beach and fort are just a short drive away.

    Xaghra Farmhouse, Gozo, near Malta

    Xaghra Farmhouse, Gozo, near Malta

    Perfect for large families and good value, this rustic farmhouse sleeps 6-8, and has a pool, baby equipment to borrow, and a well-equipped kitchen. There’s a house book with suggestions for local shopping and outings; boat trips and beaches are within easy reach, and beach toys are provided.

    Stone Cottages Hvar, Hvar, Croatia

    Stone Cottages Hvar, Hvar, Croatia

    This boutique hideaway is immersed in nature on the unspoilt south coast of this lovely Croatian island. Ideal for 2 families together – it sleeps up to 10 in a cluster of beautifully restored traditional dwellings – the residence has a great pool, tennis courts, a volleyball pitch, mountain bikes to borrow and extensive gardens.

    Med-Inn, Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey

    Med Inn, Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey

    This serene boutique hotel is just 10 minutes from Bodrum airport, and provides lovely Mediterranean gardens, large, colourful sea-view suites, and a decked jetty. Head out to find hidden beaches and coves, local markets, and ancient ruins; return to sample fresh fish in the family-friendly restaurant.

    Browse our Kids collections for more stylish places to stay as a family >>

    Posted in Kids, Our Favourite.... Tagged , , , , , , , ,
FEB19

Iceland highlights: From fire to ice to Reykjavik

 
  • As soon as we saw Monika Mukherjee’s photos from her recent trip to Iceland we just had to share them with you. Full of striking colours set off by the stunning Icelandic light, they really capture the feel of the country. Here, Monika describes her trip for us…

    Iceland is one of the places we’ve always wanted to go. We decided to go during winter, mainly because of the possibility of witnessing the Northern Lights. Iceland convinced us so much that we are already planning to go back there in the future.

    Northern Lights, Iceland

    Nature still shapes this country. The boiling water bubbles underneath your feet, volcanoes spout above your head and earthquakes shake things up.

    Reykjavik

    Reykjavik

    Reykjavik

    Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital. The city is among the greenest, cleanest and safest in the world.

    Reykjavik

    Reykjavik

    Reykjavik

    Iceland never stopped amazing us, with volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, rift valleys and lava fields offering a new view around every corner. It’s a land of contrasts. From fire to ice.

    Iceland

    Iceland

    Iceland

    Gullfoss, Iceland

    Gullfoss waterfall, known as ‘Golden Waterfalls’ is situated in the upper part of River Hvita. It’s Europe’s most powerful waterfall and the most popular tourist attraction in the country. Mostly during summer months you may see multiple rainbows at once above the river. We were stunned by the beauty and size of Gullfoss, it is definitely a ‘must-see’ during a trip to Iceland.

    Iceland

    To see the rift valley we visited Thingvellir National Park. This enormous geologic rift has created spectacular scenery, including dramatic cliffs and Iceland’s largest natural lake. It is also responsible for the volcanic activity which created the island. Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on Earth with more than 15 volcanoes that have erupted in the last century.

    Iceland

    Iceland

    Iceland

    Monika Mukherjee is a hobbyist photographer who spends most her time travelling around the world with her husband Anirban. She loves art and exploring new places. You can find out more about their trip to Iceland and follow Monika and Anirban’s other travels on their blog, Travel Magnet.  

    Posted in Guest Blogs. Tagged , ,
FEB17

Family Escape of the Month… Europa House Apartments

 
  • Away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, yet within striking distance of zoos, parks and all the main attractions, family breaks to London are a breeze at super-stylish Europa House Apartments.

    Toys at Europa House Apartments

    Staying here is like having the keys to your very own city pad – one that’s spacious, elegant, in a picturesque Little Venice location, and has secure underground parking (a rarity round these parts).

    Europa House Apartments

    Rooms: The sun streams into these 12 stylish apartments through huge windows, reflecting off the neutral furnishings and giving a wonderful sense of space. Subtle nods to the natural world are all around, with splashes of green and bronze in cushions, paintings and vases of fresh flowers. There’s plenty of room for the whole family to spread out and make themselves at home: the 2-bedroom apartments have a living room with a dining table, a hallway-cum-study, a kingsize ensuite bedroom, a twin room, an extra marble-clad bathroom (with a tub and powerful shower) and a very roomy kitchen.

    Europa House Apartments

    Food: The huge kitchens are perfect for whipping up snacks and family meals. You’ll find a fridge-freezer, a dishwasher, a washing machine and a tumble dryer, as well as all the usual kit like an oven, a kettle, a microwave and pots and pans. The utensil selection is so extensive we couldn’t work out what they all were! You’ll be welcomed with a pack of tea, coffee, milk, cookies, hot chocolate and mineral water, and there’s a small supermarket and fab delis nearby for stocking up. If you’d rather someone else did the hard work, a shopping service is available for an additional charge and you’ll arrive to find everything you ordered neatly packed away. If you fancy eating out, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants nearby or you can book a babysitter and head to The Warrington next door for some posh pub grub.

    Kitchen at Europa House Apartments

    Kids’ activities: Being so close to the canal, there are boat trips to enjoy and plenty of ducks to feed. There’s The Puppet Theatre Barge in Little Venice and the big London parks are great for running around and exploring. London Zoo is a bus or taxi ride away. Back at the apartments, there are games, kids’ DVDs and a secure garden with a playground. Our Kids Collection Editor’s daughter loved the sign on the toy cupboard door which says ‘Keep Out, Kids Only!’.

    Kids playground at Europa House Apartments

    Baby equipment: There are plenty of essentials to hand: baby cots, high chairs, baby baths, potties, changing mats, toilet steps, socket covers, children’s crockery and cutlery.
    Staff can book trained babysitters on request, although there’s a registration fee on top of the hourly rate so it isn’t a cheap option.

    Little Venice, London

    Press review: “Europa House, which is located in the willow-flanked Little Venice quarter, has already become a popular choice for families who prefer to stay away from the bustle of the city centre.”
    Centurion Magazine

    i-escape gift: A Geodesis scented candle

    Read the full review and book Europa House Apartments >>

    Posted in City Breaks, Family Escape of the Month, Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , ,
FEB14

Just back from… Selous Game Reserve, Southern Tanzania

 
  • When it comes to African safaris, it doesn’t get much wilder than the Selous Game Reserve. Remote, beautiful and simply enormous, this World Heritage Site, roughly the size of Switzerland, is home to one of the single largest remaining elephant populations in the world. Giraffe, buffalo, crocodile, hippo, zebra and wild dog can also be seen here, as well as more than 350 bird species.

    Zebra

    When planning our honeymoon, my husband and I chanced upon Selous because we were looking to combine a safari experience with a beach holiday. It’s an easy connection from this Tanzanian game park to the shores of Zanzibar or Mafia Island, and it’s also one of the few places where you can do walking safaris. Choosing Selous was most definitely one of the finest decisions we have ever made.

    Hippos

    We flew straight from London into Dar Es Salaam, then hopped into this nifty little Cessna plane for the 45-minute flight to Selous.

    Cessna

    The pilot flew low over the Rufijii River so we could spot hippos from the air, what a gent!

    Aerial View of Selous

    We stayed at the sublime Sand Rivers Selous. I just loved how remote this lodge was, we didn’t see a single other vehicle during our game drives. Perched high on the hill, our open-fronted suite had awesome views over the river.

    Suite at Sand Rivers Selous

    Our very own plunge pool set on the outside deck – the perfect spot for some après-safari chilling.

    Plunge Pool at Sand Rivers Selous

    Fly-camping by the river and sleeping under the stars was so special, an experience that will stay with me forever.

    Fly Camping at Sand Rivers Selous

    fly camping

    The boat safari was another big highlight of our trip. We took a picnic and went fishing on the bank before heading back up the river to get up-close-and-personal with the hundreds of hippos and crocodiles that patrol the waters.

    Fishing at Sand Rivers Selous

    Selous is a twitcher’s paradise; these white-fronted bee-eaters posed beautifully for me on the river’s edge.

    White-fronted bee-eaters

    My favourite wildlife sighting was this warthog: she darted across the track with her three teeny little babies close behind her.

    Warthog

    We were also lucky enough to spot this new-born impala in the bush; within minutes it stood up to take its first wobbly steps.

    Newborn impala

    Front of House Manager Flora’s nemesis! This cheeky monkey loved stealing the sugar bowls at lunchtime and taking them up into the trees to devour the contents.

    Cheeky monkey

    After a long day’s safari, coming back to such tasty fresh food was a real treat – Head Chef Daudi even makes his own pasta!

    Head Chef Daudi making his own pasta

    Sinking into the swimming pool at sunset, and observing the hippos in the river below doing just the same was pure heaven.

    HipposSee our destination guide for more information on Tanzania and where to stay.

    Posted in Honeymoons, Our Trips.... Tagged , , ,
FEB12

Spotlight on… California

 
  • With cities, beaches, national parks, deserts and vineyards to explore, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the USA’s Golden State…

    Point Reyes Headlands

    Point Reyes Headlands

    Why go

    California’s sunny shores have long attracted those seeking the American dream. People once flocked west in search of gold and fertile farming land; today, it’s the bright lights of Hollywood and the tech giants of Silicon Valley that bring in a steady stream of new arrivals. In fact, almost everyone you meet is transplanted from somewhere else, creating a heady cultural mix in the diverse cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

    But there’s more to California than urban glitz and glamour. The state’s dramatic coastline stretches for over 1200km, and along the way you’ll find some of the world’s most stunning scenery: the towering redwood trees of Marin County, the soaring cliffs and crashing waves of Big Sur, and the rolling vineyards of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  Head inland and you can hike through the pine forests of Yosemite or marvel at the desert landscapes around Palm Springs. And the animal population is just as varied: look closely and you might spot bears, otters, condors, whales, dolphins and more.

    Big Sur and the Central Coast

    Big Sur and the Central Coast

    Highlights

    San Francisco’s airport is extremely well served by international flights, so it makes sense to start our journey here.

    Golden Gate Bridge

    Golden Gate Bridge

    San Francisco is frequently rated as one of the world’s top cities, and it’s easy to see why: it has a spectacular bayside position, an unwavering enthusiasm for top-quality food and wine, some excellent family-friendly museums (our favourites include the Museum of Modern Art, the California Academy of Sciences and the Asian Art Museum) and renowned counter culture. It’s also home to some of the world’s most famous landmarks, chief among them the Golden Gate Bridge. Located in the heart of the city with views over Treasure Island is Hotel Vitale, which offers relaxed, contemporary style alongside a buzzy restaurant and cocktail lounge. If you want something a little more intimate, opt for The Parsonage, a cosy B&B with wonderfully welcoming hosts.

    Hotel Vitale

    Hotel Vitale

    North of the city lie the winelands of Napa and Sonoma, which are well worth a visit. Base yourself at one of the area’s stylish boutique hotels and spend a few days exploring, sampling local produce and tasting the finest vintages (we recommend the Russian River Valley for excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes). On your journey there, stop off in Marin County to discover huge redwood trees (many over 200 feet tall!) and go on an earthquake trail along the San Andreas Fault; Dancing Coyote Beach is a useful base nearby.

    Hot air ballooning above Napa and Sonoma valleys

    Hot air ballooning above Napa and Sonoma valleys

    Leaving San Fran in the other direction, you join California’s Highway 1, a stunning but challenging road which clings to the mountains, rarely losing sight of the Pacific Ocean.  The drive takes you through Big Sur, a rugged region of stunning beaches and redwood groves that has inspired writers and artists such as John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. Here, Post Ranch Inn is the ultimate romantic retreat, perched 1200 feet above the waves and set within 100 acres of grounds. Watch migrating whales from your terrace before cosying up in front of your fire, or study the stars with the resident astronomer. If you’d rather go retro, stay in a vintage trailer at Big Sur Getaway.

    Post Ranch Inn

    Post Ranch Inn

    After you’ve gasped at Big Sur’s natural beauty, venture further down the coast to the former Spanish colony of Santa Barbara, with its whitewashed buildings and red tiled roofs. Relax on one of the serene beaches, browse the art galleries and boutiques, and explore the working wharfs, where fresh catches for the many restaurants arrive every day. Keep your eyes peeled, as Santa Barbara is a celebrity hotspot: Brad Pitt, John Travolta and Oprah Winfrey have all been spotted here. Base yourself at the Spanish Garden Inn for relaxed luxury.

    The Santa Barbara Mission

    The Santa Barbara Mission

    Continue along Highway 1 and you’ll come to LA. A trip through California isn’t complete without a stop here, so set up camp at Palihotel Melrose (a funky hotel with a pop-up style restaurant in artsy West Hollywood) and take in the Venice boardwalk, Sunset Strip, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Muscle Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. Or see our other Los Angeles hotels for something a little more glamorous.

    Palihotel Melrose

    Palihotel Melrose

    After all the lush scenery of the coast, detour inland to explore the iconic Joshua Tree National Park, which spans 2 deserts. Stay at Hope Springs on the outskirts of the park and splash around in natural geothermal pools before hiking past alien-like geological formations, or base yourself at kitsch ranch Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-a-way for fun and folk music around the campfire. Those who prefer to be closer to the action should opt for the movie-star resort of Palm Springs, where the mid-Century Modern Movie Colony Hotel sits a stone’s throw from downtown restaurants and bars.

    Hope Springs

    Hope Springs

    Back on the coast, bordering Mexico at the very bottom of California, is San Diego: a stylish harbourside city with tonnes to do, from Balboa Park (which features museums, theatres, public gardens and even a zoo) to miles of sandy beaches and plenty of good eateries. Finish your trip in style and stay at oceanfront Tower23 Hotel or upmarket The Keating.

    The Keating

    The Keating

    When to Go

    The best time to visit is dependent on the type of trip you want to take. The shoulder seasons (March to May and September to November) are perfect for making the most of everything California has to offer: the weather is warm and sunny, and you could happily explore the desert, hike through national parks and paddle in the Pacific. Steer clear of the desert from June to September, when temperatures can soar, and avoid San Francisco and the northern coast in July and August, when a thick sea fog often rolls in. The winter can see rain, though it doesn’t tend to hang around for long.

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Our Top Tip

    California is vast; travelling from north to south, exploring the coast and the diverse interior, would make for a great American road trip. But unless you have several weeks to spare, it would be foolish to cram in everything. For shorter breaks, we recommend focusing on northern California (San Francisco, Napa and Big Sur) or the south (Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs).

    h2hotel

    h2hotel

    See our destination guide for more information on California and places to stay.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , , ,
FEB10

Escape of the Week… Anemomilos Apartments, Greece

 
  • Hidden away on one of Greece’s tiniest islands, Anemomilos Apartments is the kind of place you picture in your daydreams: sun-filled skies, turquoise seas, spotless whitewashed buildings, friendly faces all around and breathtaking views.

    Anemomilos Apartments

    If you want a slice of this paradise in the pretty Cyclades islands book early! It’s deservedly popular in the summer months, but we’d opt for a springtime break when the temperatures are warming up and the crowds haven’t yet descended.

    Anemomilos Apartments

    Rooms: Simple, clean and classically Greek, the studios and apartment have whitewashed walls, blue shutters, a blue striped sofa, a kitchenette and really special views. On top of this, we loved the additional touches like eye-shaped mirrors, old wooden tables, bamboo blinds and bedside candles (in case of any island power problems). It’s worth paying extra for the Blue Line Studios and their beautiful sea views but the village-facing Green Line Studios are lovely, too. All have air-con, WiFi and satellite TV, and most have a double bed as well as 1 or 2 single beds (sleeping up to 5) – great for breaks with the kids. One has been made accessible for wheelchair users. The Apartment Suite is larger than the others and has the added luxury of a separate living area and kitchen, 2 balconies and a pretty panorama over the old city, the castle and out across the turquoise sea.

    Anemomilos Apartments

    Food: The deliciously healthy breakfast is served with a pretty view from the bamboo-shaded pergola and includes omelettes, homemade cakes, jams, freshly-squeezed juice, yoghurt and fruit salad. For light lunches and nibbles, rustle something up in your kitchenette or order from the daily snack menu, which varies according to island stocks: maybe pies, dips and juices. Come dinnertime, saunter down to one of the churchside village squares to feast on specialities like fava (split pea purée), kontosouvli (roast sweetbreads) and hot apple pie.

    Anemomilos Apartments

    When to go: Without doubt, May-June and September are the best times: pleasantly warm and delightfully uncrowded (an island this size fills quickly). April and October are also lovely if you don’t mind the cooler sea / weather respectively. In high summer (July-August) you will be jostling for elbow room (and Anemomilos rooms) with Athenians, but there is a lovely friendly buzz in the tavernas and bars.

    Anemomilos Apartments

    i-escape guest review: “…From the moment our ferry arrived until we departed we felt cared for and looked after – no stress. This is a hotel and an island we would love to return to year after year – a true vacation…”
    Matthew, United States (06.08.12)

    Read the full review and book Anemomilos Apartments >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week, Kids. Tagged , , ,
FEB07

Snapshots from… Cirali, Turkey

 
  • Our Junior Editorial Assistant Emily has been raving about Cirali, a tiny seaside town in a crease of the Taurus mountain range, along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Here’s why she found it such a magical place…

    My boyfriend Kristian and I didn’t find much written about Cirali, so we didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as we arrived we were thrilled with what we discovered. The town is made up of a few dozen pansiyons (guesthouses), beachfront bars and little restaurants serving traditional Turkish food. All have lush well-kept gardens with views towards the mountains, and there are often several ducks, geese and cats roaming around!

    Cirali

    A 2-mile stretch of quiet beach curves its way from ancient Olympos, past Cirali and up the Lycian Way towards the Chimaera eternal flames. Our first glimpse of the peaceful beach was at sunset…

    Cirali's quiet beach

    At the far end of the beach sits the ancient city of Olympos; venture into the undergrowth and you’ll soon start to discover fragmented temple walls, sarcophagi and streets that once formed this previously great town.

    Sarcophagus in the ancient city of Olympos

    How much you see is up to you – we spent hours veering off paths, wading across streams and climbing rubble.

    Wading through streams in Olympos

    Cirali’s mosque is a magnificent building framed by the lofty peak of Mt Tahtali.  The call to prayer became part of daily our existence and was very helpful in telling the time when we were on the beach!

    Cirali’s mosque

    One morning we took the cable car up Mt Tahtali – which we looked up at every day from the town – and were rewarded with incredible views along the coast and across the Taurus mountain range.

    View from Mt Tahtali

    If you’re feeling energetic you can hire a guide and hike through the pine trees which line the slopes – it took a lot of effort to tear ourselves away from the beach, so the cable car was all we could manage…

    The cable car on Mt Tahtali

    One night, armed with torches, we set out to discover the Chimaera eternal flames. These small sulphurous fires have been burning on the rocks for centuries – the Ancient Greeks used them to navigate – and span a mile radius on the hillside behind the town.  In the still sweltering heat, we climbed the Lycian Way, over cobbles and under low hanging trees, for what felt like forever. But as we turned another dark corner we were finally rewarded with dozens of flames jumping from the hillside and dancing in the wind.

    The Chimaera eternal flames

    Just a short drive away is Phaselis (near Kemer), an ancient port town straddling 3 little bays, whose ruins are now a favourite weekend destination for local families.

    Phaselis

    There’s a well-preserved aqueduct, streets lined with engraved pillars and an amphitheatre up on the hillside.

    Phaselis' amphitheatre

    It’s easy to see why Cirali Beach has been named one of the best in Europe; not only is it busy with visitors in July and August, but summer is also when turtles arrive to lay their eggs in the sand.

    Cirali Beach

    A boat trip along the coast revealed countless hidden bays, and allowed us to spend the day snorkelling in the crystal-clear ocean. We even spotted a turtle and attempted to swim alongside it, but it was too fast for us…

    Cirali coast

    Cirali is such a beautiful and interesting part of Turkey, we can’t wait to return.

    If you’d love to explore this beautiful region take a look at Azur Hotel and our other hotels in Turkey >>

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