SEP10

Spotlight on… Sardinia

 
  • Set halfway between the North-African coast and the Italian mainland, with white sandy beaches, gleaming azure seas and an impressive history which has left behind spectacular architecture, it’s no wonder that Italy’s isle of romance is one of Europe’s favourite holiday destinations.

    Costa Smeralda

    Costa Smeralda

    Why go?

    Sardinia is a real Italian gem, with a searing sun, majestic stretches of coastline, and dazzling old towns and cities. But like all good travel destinations there’s more to it than that. Inland you’ll find lagoons, wetlands and mountainous peaks, and dotted across the entire landscape you’ll discover prehistoric and Catalan towns, all wholly individual and boasting exceptional cuisine. In fact, it’s such a perfect bolthole, it’s become a real hotspot for A-listers looking for some serious R’n’R – Rihanna and Gwyneth Paltrow have both spent time on the island this summer. So, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us!

    La Maddalena

    La Maddalena

    Highlights

    The second largest island in the Med, Sardinia is roughly the same size as Wales. And, like Wales, it’s evident that good things come in small packages. Blessed with stunning natural scenery and a coastline which extends for over 1,800km, Sardinia is a great place to spend a few days, or even weeks, driving from corner to corner, discovering something breathtaking around each bend.

    The island’s interior

    The island’s interior

    In the northeast lies the island’s most famous (and wealthiest) area, the Costa Smeralda. This is prime celebrity territory; come to marvel at the super yachts moored in every harbour, sip sparkling wine in swanky bars and catch some rays in one of the cute inlets.

    Stazzo Lu Ciaccaru

    Stazzo Lu Ciaccaru

    Whilst here, be sure to take a trip to the Maddalena Archipelago, a collection of islands that sit just off the coast. Boat trips from Palau will take you to some incredible hidden coves but be sure to explore the lovely main town of La Maddalena and to visit Garibaldi’s house on Isola Caprera. Base yourself at indulgent and super romantic Petra Segreta, or retreat to rustic-chic Stazzo Lu Ciaccaru, a converted farm with acres of space – both are within striking distance of the coast.

    Petra Segreta

    Petra Segreta

    Heading south you reach the Golfo di Orosei. It’s our favourite stretch of the Sardinian coast thanks to the Supramonte, a mountain range that rises inland and heads east to meet the sea; in places 1,000-foot cliffs soar from turquoise waters. Stay at Nascar Hotel, located just 50 paces from the beach, or at Albergo Mannois, in the compact Old Town of medieval Orosei, to make the most of this exceptional coastline.

    Golfo di Orosei

    Golfo di Orosei

    Cagliari, the island’s capital, is located at the far south of the island; its 2,000-year history shines through in its cobbled piazzas, Baroque churches and scattering of archaeological remains. Twitchers take note; the city’s surrounding salt marshes are home to an impressive array of bird species including pink flamingos, cranes and cormorants.

    Domu Antiga

    Domu Antiga

    We’d also suggest heading to the west coast to visit the attractive towns of Bosa and Alghero – a picturesque coastal road connects the two, so try not to get too distracted by the secluded coves as you drive the 1-hour route! Bosa stands on the Temo River, which you can follow downstream to discover a big beach, while its Old Town climbs the hill towards a castle containing 14th-century frescos. Alghero is lovelier still, its Old Town hanging above the water with piazzas and restaurants hogging the view. Its historical allegiance to Spain accounts for some of its architecture and street names, plus Catalan is still the main language spoken here. Cosy up in Su Dandaru in the heart of Bosa’s Old Town; its rooftop terrace boasts views up the river towards the beach, perfect for sundowners.

    Bosa

    Bosa

    Wherever you choose to base yourself, a trip inland is well worthwhile. You’ll come across Nuraghic ruins – Bronze-Age defensive structures found nowhere else on the planet – such as hillside Su Nuraxi at Barúmini, Sardinia’s only Unesco site, which was built in 1500 BC and gives breath-taking views across the plains. Plus, the island’s interior is home to the oldest olive tree in Europe (possibly 6,000 years old), postcard-perfect hilltop villages, wild horses, hidden waterfalls and approximately 4 million sheep! Lay your head at Antica Locanda Lunetta or Domu Antiga, both are gorgeous rural boltholes with just a handful of rooms and buckets of charm.

    Su Nuraxi

    Su Nuraxi

    When to go

    Spring, when the interior is coated in wildflowers, and autumn, when the crowds have left, are the best times to visit. Temperatures are pleasant and you’re guaranteed a spot on the beach. Avoid June-August if at all possible as temperatures soar into the 40s and tourists flock here in their thousands.

    The island’s interior

    The island’s interior

    Our top tip

    Whilst on the west coast, take a trip to the fairy-tale wonderland of Grotta di Nettuno, a prehistoric cave full of stalactites and -mites. Within are some incredible rock formations and Neolithic tracks which are believed to be 2 million years old. Catch the open-top bus from nearby Alghero, which winds through the countryside (and involves descending and ascending 656 steps once you get there!), or join a boat tour (weather dependent).

    Grotta di Nettuno

    Grotta di Nettuno

    See our destination guide for more information on Sardinia.

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
SEP08

Escape of the Week… Londa Beach Hotel

 
  • As summer draws to a spluttering close, we’re looking for a beachy bolthole where relaxation and near year-round sunshine are within easy reach. So, naturally, our eyes turned towards Cyprus and this hip waterfront hotel where the bronzed and the beautiful make the most of the pampering spa and superlative restaurant.

    Londa Beach Hotel

    This is horizon-gazing relaxation at its most unapologetic. Most guests spend their days simply moving between the hotel’s pool, small beach and spa before starting the circuit again. However, if a jaunt of more breadth is desired, Londa Beach Hotel is near numerous historical sites such as the boxy Crusader castle at Kolossi and the dramatic ancient Greek city of Kourion (Curium).

    Londa Beach Hotel

    Rooms: With 68 rooms spread over 7 floors, Londa Beach is a little larger than your typical i-escape hotel, but we still consider it an unequivocal gem. The interiors are finished to exacting standards. Think solid cherry wardrobes, high-thread-count sheets and designer lamps in spacious rooms. We suggest plumping for a front-facing sea view room where you’ll be treated to warm sunsets and the twinkling lights of ships in the evening. If you’re looking for a little more space, opt for a suite which comes with a sitting room and, in some cases, a second bathroom.

    At Londa, the divinity is in the detail and its features like spoiling Molton Brown toiletries, super-thick robes and a welcome gift of fruit and Cypriot delicacies that set this hotel apart from its more generic neighbours. We also love the more practical in-room additions such as a free Nespresso machine, a minibar and weighing scales (handy for that return flight suitcase).

    Londa Beach Hotel

    Food: Giovanni Caracciolo, the Italian chef at Londa’s La Caprice restaurant, has been producing cuisine with as much artistic flourish as gastronomic triumph since his arrival in 2012. Aubergine soufflés and house salads of octopus, snow-peas and cherry tomatoes are decorated with whorls and swirls of culinary colour and they taste fantastic, too. As you’d expect, fish features heavily on the menu, but there’s a wonderful range of flavours and sophistication. Whether you opt for the exquisite cod-filled tortelli, or plump for seabass with chips against a tomato, basil and olive backdrop, you can be confident of the quality.

    The buffet breakfast is similarly varied and healthy (and included in the rates). There are petite poached eggs and grilled cherry tomatoes (or crispy bacon and hash browns if you prefer); multigrain bread and nutty parma ham; or an excellent diced peach and apple salad. Wonderfully, this is all enjoyed on the hotel’s sea-facing terrace where you’re served by affable, white linen clad waiters. If you want to venture out for the evening, Limassol’s long drag of bars and restaurants has ample options.

    Londa Beach Hotel

    Top Tip: There’s a free walking tour of the old city every Monday at 10am, organised by the Cyprus Tourist Organisation - worth booking ahead if you are interested.

    Londa Beach Hotel

    i-escape gift: a 30-minute Harmonious Pain Relief massage (one per person per stay, except on Early Booking rates)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , ,
SEP05

Just back from… Morocco (part 2)

 
  • As well as exploring the less-trodden echelons of central Morocco, our Acting Assistant Editor Melissa couldn’t resist spending a few days amongst the famous feast-for-the-senses streets of Marrakech.

    Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

    Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

    My friend Roberta and I believe a good adventure requires lots of exciting things to see and do, and plenty of tranquil sanctuaries to rest and recuperate in afterwards. We stayed in 3 very different i-escape hotels during our May visit to Marrakech, each offering their own enchanting take on the Moroccan city hideaway. And in between haggling for leather shoes and gazing at hand-painted bowls, we discovered some wonderfully restorative pit-stops for lunch and light refreshments. Here, I name-check our highlights.

    Dar Zaman

    Dar Zaman

    The homely riad

    Perfect for a low-key, personable base, we fell for Dar Zaman instantly. How could we not when the small team provide such a warm welcome? Hassan in particular made our late-night arrival into this chaotic city utterly stress-free, meeting us from our car, ensuring everything was ready for our pre-requested dinner and carefully explaining a map of the city on our first morning. With just 4 guest rooms, this place feels more like a home than a hotel, and we felt utterly at ease from the moment we arrived.

    Villa des Orangers

    Villa des Orangers

    The tardis hotel

    Not what you’d expect in central Marrakech and all the more wonderful for it. Villa des Orangers has acres of space and offers utter tranquility from the moment you walk through the unassuming front door. Rooms are huge (most have private terraces), there’s an oasis of a walled garden filled with shady corners and a palatial pool, and the restaurant serves outstanding med-fusion cuisine. Agreed, it’s not the most authentic Moroccan menu, but it made a welcome change after a week of tagines.

    Ksar Char Bagh

    Ksar Char Bagh

    The grand palace

    If you want the wow-factor, Ksar Char Bagh has it in spades. Nestled in La Palmeraie, this imposing Moorish-inspired palace is one for the jet-set crowd. Every turn of a corner brings another photo-worthy vista. Service is hushed, the pool is lined with flawless white loungers, and the grounds sweep endlessly around the palace, punctuated only by gently swaying palms.

    The refreshments (all of which can be found in the medina)

    View from Café Arabe

    View from Café Arabe

    Café Arabe

    Our first choice for a sunset tipple. Head straight to the rooftop bar, where cute little tables and sprawling sofas await. It’s often busy, understandably, but the bellinis are fabulous and the cityscape views come alive at dusk.

    Dar Cherifa

    Dar Cherifa

    Dar Cherifa

    It’s seriously hard to find – ask a shopkeeper for directions if you get stuck – and the service is super laid-back, but it’s architecturally mesmerising so all is forgiven. Order orange cake (outstanding) with mint tea (of course), and leave any sense of urgency at the door.

    Terrace des Epices

    We stumbled upon this rooftop gem by accident and boy were we delighted. In the baking heat of the midday sun, we slid into one of the many shaded booths where water gently mists overhead. Add to that cold glasses of sweet, fresh orange juice and a Franco-Moroccan menu encompassing everthing from grilled meats to fresh salads, and we were ready to down our shopping bags for good!

    © Terrace des Epices

    © Terrace des Epices

    Now you’ve chosen your favourites, find out more about Marrakech

    Posted in City Breaks, Our Trips.... Tagged , , , , ,
SEP03

Alternative family-friendly city breaks

 
  • Bored by Barcelona? Been to Berlin? If you’ve roamed Rome, and are daunted by the prospect of taking the kids to sophisticated Paris or busy London, consider one of these compact cultural centres for a European break instead. Nadine, our Kids Collection Editor, suggests 10 exciting city destinations (and lovely lodgings) that all the family will enjoy.

    Valencia Boutique Apartments, Valencia, Spain

    Valencia Boutique Apartments

    Flat and with good public transport (an urban bus and metro network connects to the airport), Valencia is easy for families to explore. Hire bicycles to visit the science museum and Europe’s largest aquarium at the City of Arts and Science, then explore the numerous parks and gardens (with playgrounds) – there’s even an animal-tastic Bioparc. Get the Valencia Family Card (24/48/72-hour options) for free travel and museum entry, plus 15% off other visitor attractions. The beach is close by.

    Stay in the heart of the old city, just 5 minutes from all the historical sites and great shopping, in the sleek 1-3 bedroom Valencia Boutique Apartments – brand new on i-escape!

    The Yeatman, Porto, Portugal

    The Yeatman

    This fascinating historical city has more to offer families than you might think. We took our kids on a boat trip up the River Douro, explored the UNESCO-listed Ribeira district with its wonky-looking buildings, and tucked into Portuguese pastries for lunch. You can rent tandems to cycle to the beach or spot ducks and rabbits in City Park, and there’s a cool Oceanarium with touch pools and an underwater tunnel.

    We stayed in a Suite at The Yeatman. Kids are welcomed with colouring books and candy, plus it has 2 pools, a kids’ club space with heaps of toys and games (unsupervised outside school holidays) and a garden to run around. There’s round-the-clock babysitting on offer, so parents are free to go port-tasting, indulge in the sumptuous spa or unwind with an adults-only dinner (as we did).

    Madrid Boutique Apartments, Madrid, Spain

    Madrid Boutique Apartments

    You may not think of the Spanish capital as a great family-friendly destination: its climate is relatively challenging and kids aren’t likely to marvel at the wonders in the Prado or want to trawl fashion boutiques. However, there’s plenty to keep them engaged: take them on the cable car for excellent views over the city, or explore the parks, which include Casa de Campo (where there’s a large amusement park as well as the zoo). Retiro has a boating lake and plentiful street theatre, and football-mad tykes will enjoy a tour of Real Madrid’s stadium. On rainy days, try the Museo de America for its cabinet of curiosities. There’s also a lovely botanical garden next door to the Prado, and the Spanish take their children everywhere so kids are welcomed in all public places.

    Madrid Boutique Apartments have just been added to i-escape. These are large, bright and centrally placed, with 1 or 2 bedrooms and full kitchens, and epitomise living like a local in style.

    Apartment 43, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

    Apartment 43

    If you’re unfamiliar with this historic Spanish city, 12km inland from the Atlantic, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Best known for its surrounding sherry vineyards, it has a long history (Romans, Vandals, Moors, Castilians, Conquistadors) evident in its car-free medieval old quarter, and is a centre for flamenco dancing. Families will find it easy to explore, plus there’s a zoo, an Aqualand water park and beaches just 20 minutes away. Jerez is also home to a famous classical riding school which puts on a dancing stallion horse show every week. Visit al fresco cafes, plazas with playgrounds, and the lovely Botanical Gardens.

    Base yourself in the old city in loft-style light-filled Apartment 43 which has 2 ensuite bedrooms, kids’ DVDs, puzzles and books – self-catering in the open-plan kitchen is a doddle.

    Oltre Il Giardino, Venice, Italy

    Oltre II Giardino

    Kids will find this city on stilts absolutely fascinating. There’s a maze of alleyways to scamper through, exciting water taxis to travel in, abundant ghoulish history, magical evening gondola rides and colourful masks to buy. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is small enough for kids to engage with and has a lovely garden. Take the children swimming at the Lido and to see the pigeons at Piazza San Marco. Italians are unfailingly patient with younger fry, and the food suits even the fussiest of eaters.

    Oltre Il Giardino is an intimate villa hotel with a safe, secret walled garden and plenty of family-sized rooms to choose from.

    The Chester Residence, Edinburgh, Scotland

    The Chester Residence

    When discussing small cities that deliver big on culture, Edinburgh needs no introduction. There are heaps of museums, theme parks, ghost tours and zoos, plus activities specifically geared for families. All festivals, including the Fringe, have kids’ shows (we took ours to a great performance at the Pleasance this year) and there’s plenty of entertaining street theatre. Time your visit for the Science Festival in April or the International Children’s Theatre Festival in May. Our kids loved scrambling around Edinburgh Castle, and next time we’ll head for the Museum of Childhood and Butterfly and Insect World.

    The Chester Residence apart-hotel has spacious, stylish interiors, full kitchens, DVDs and PlayStation games. They can supply baby and toddler gear, and the West End location is wonderfully convenient.

    Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments, Granada, Spain

    Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments

    Don’t tell the nippers about Granada’s amazing history and cultural importance, just say you’re bringing them to Catherine of Aragon’s palace (the Alhambra is where she grew up). They’ll love its extensive gardens and towers, and you can buy a themed colouring book – best of all, kids under 12 are free (just be sure to pre-book your tickets). In inclement weather, head to the Science Museum where the exhibits are all translated into English; if you’re exhausted by sightseeing and shopping then tree-lined fountain-filled duck-ponded Parque Federico Garcia Lorca comes complete with a kids’ play area and provides a restorative picnic spot.

    We recommend centrally-sited Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments; most have kitchenettes and can take a baby cot, and some have swanky circular baths, too. Brunch boxes can be provided and groceries can bought for you.

    Residence Hilda, Florence, Italy

    Residence Hilda

    Most parents would shudder at the thought of bringing their lively darlings to hushed art galleries and temples of Renaissance beauty. However, this magnificent city also delivers family-friendly fun. Pre-book tickets to the Uffizi and devise your own checklist of artworks for the kids to identify in person (or hire a kid-friendly guide), then pop next door to the Children’s Museum, which brings history alive by showing how the Medici lived and ruled. Little ones can wonder at the size and scale of the Duomo, ride the Antique Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica, and visit nearby Bartolucci, a wooden toy workshop where Pinocchios have been made for generations. And there’s always time to stop for a gelato…

    We liked classy Residence Hilda for its well-equipped suites, comfy sofabeds and sleek kitchenettes. It’s just 3 blocks from the Duomo and there’s a playground round the corner.

    Water Home, Amsterdam, Holland

    Water Home

    We’ve all been to Amsterdam in our misspent youth, and thus we may not think of it for a family break, but you’d be hard-pushed to find a more kid-friendly spot. Excellent playgrounds are in every neighbourhood; the vast Vondelpark has a wading pool and a top-notch play park, and is rivalled only by Amstelpark, on the outskirts, which has one of the city’s dozen petting zoos as well as train rides, bumper boats and race cars. Museums include the Van Gogh, Dungeon, Tropical, and Maritime, and teens should visit Anne Frank House. Budding scientists will enjoy experimenting at Ontdekhoek discovery workshop. Families can explore the city via canal cruise, bicycle or cargo trike.

    For a real taste of Dutch life, stay on this well-priced canal boat: Water Home has one bedroom and another bed in the living room, plus helpful owners and a leafy outer deck.

    Istanbul Place Apartments, Istanbul, Turkey

    Istanbul Place Apartments

    Although it’s the largest city on this list and not necessarily an obvious family destination, the Turks actually love children and the city is sufficiently exotic and sight-filled that kids really take an interest. For boat trips, a cruise up the Bosphorus is a must, and the cute Princes Islands are safely car-free (folk get about by horse and cart or bicycle). Take the elevator to the top of the Galata Tower for 360-degree views across the Golden Horn; in the same area is the world’s largest model park which has a labyrinth and a playground. For something different check out the Basilica Cistern with its 336 marble columns and wishing corner. Don’t miss Topkapi Palace, which dazzles with dastardly deeds and boasts Abraham’s cooking pot amongst its relics. And there’s amazing shopping in the Grand Bazaar.

    Live like a local in Istanbul Place Apartments in Galata: great value for money, each of the 7 apartments can take extra beds and baby cots, and there is excellent food shopping nearby

    Find more family fun city breaks in our full collection >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids, Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
SEP01

Escape of the Week… L’Iglesia

 
  • Only an hour from Casablanca airport and easily added on to stay in Marrakech (3 hours away), El Jadida is a colourful fishing port with a fascinating history. Spread across 2 buildings (the restored Portuguese church and equally elegant consulate) on the pretty harbourfront, L’Iglesia is a sublimely relaxed and unpretentious hotel with cosy rustic rooms and an excellent restaurant.

    L'Iglesia

    However, it’s the location and surroundings (which look resplendent from the 2 huge roof terraces) that really make this place. The Unesco-listed town has an exciting history dating back to its colonisation by the Portuguese in the 1500s, and now it’s a thriving coastal destination with a strong arts scene and wonderful proximity to Morocco’s Atlantic-beaten beaches.

    L'Iglesia

    Rooms: After the impressive and cavernous rooms of the church and consulate, you’d be forgiven for wanting something a little cosier to bed down in. Luckily the 13 individually designed rooms and suites are just that. Half-height wainscoting stacks muted greys and tans under walls of Moroccan green, pomegranate and deep maroon, and hand-woven rugs cover planked or tiled floors creating a homely and rustic ambiance. The pared down charm of the rooms is reflected in the (actually rather blissful) lack of TVs, radios or DVD players. Instead, you’re treated to wrought-iron beds (some four-poster), crisp white sheets topped with embroidered covers, and Moroccan arches with shuttered windows (though there is free WiFi, air-conditioning and hairdryers).

    Dark wood dressers and carved armoires lend the consulate rooms (and 1 suite) an Art Deco feel, while the church’s 6 rooms and 2 suites are furnished with sleek mid-century desks and armchairs. Most rooms have ample space, but for a real treat, we suggest plumping for a Superior Luxe Room or a Suite Luxe, both of which have fantastic views.

    L'Iglesia

    Food: The day begins simply, but deliciously, with a breakfast of yoghurt, crepes, toast, jams, juice and coffee – all enjoyed up until 10am in the consulate’s restaurant (La Terrasse de L’Iglesia), on the patio outside, or in the cloister of the church. The pretty restaurant then opens again for lunch (until 3pm) and dinner (until 9.30pm), during which time it offers a daily changing menu of Moroccan and French dishes such as aubergine tapenade, seafood, spicy vegetable stew and meaty tagines. There’s also an excellent selection of wines.

    If you just fancy a daytime snack, there’s always owner Jean Dominique’s rooftop tea room, Café Do Mar, where a range of teas, coffees, smoothies, crepes and ice creams can be enjoyed amongst the spectacular sweeping views. Guests can also relax with cocktails and aperitifs on the consulate’s roof terrace, or in the church cloister, where music is played each evening from 7pm.

    L'Iglesia

    Top Tip: Arrange for Sylvie, a lecturer and expert on the history and culture of El Jadida and neighbouring Azemmour, to be your guide for an afternoon. She can give you an invaluable insight into the evolution of everything from El Jadida’s architectural styles to its multicultural heritage, which embraces Muslims, Jews and Christians.

    L'Iglesia

    i-escape gift: a pre-dinner glass of wine

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged ,
AUG29

Top 10 grownup getaways

 
  • Much as we love our family-friendly hotels, sometimes only a tranquil grown-up hideaway will do.  From a sophisticated gem in historic Lisbon to a blissful garden hideout in Greece, Susanna Trowbridge has hand-picked our top 10 adults-only sanctuaries for romance, refinement or just plain relaxation.

    Likya Gardens Hotel, Kalkan, Turkey

    Likya Gardens Hotel

    Hidden from the noise of the town, Likya Gardens’ modern rooms are well equipped with iPod docks and cushioned daybeds, plus each is assigned a private waterfront cabana so you can lounge beside the azure sea. For those with itchy feet, we suggest a visit to the ruins of Patara’s ancient city, where you’ll find an amphitheatre, temples and Roman baths.

    Memmo Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

    Memmo Alfama

    Relaxation doesn’t always need to be in the middle of nowhere and this chic Lisbon treasure proves it with its ruby-red rooftop pool, calming cream interiors and drenching rainfall showers. Sit atop its terrace, warmed by the fire pit, for unparalleled sunset views over one Lisbon’s few remaining archaic districts (most were destroyed in the earthquake of 1755). To learn more about Lisbon’s diverse past, join the hotel’s free walking tour around Alfama’s traditional cobbled streets – we strongly suggest you stop off at the stunning São Jorge Castle and the impressive Santa Engrácia church.

    Pianaura Suites, near Verona, Italy

    Pianaura Suites

    Being in the tourist-free Valpolicella wine region offers a tranquil tonic to the hustle and bustle of Italy’s more popular hubs, and this chic B&B only adds to the sense of romance and relaxation. Tucked away amongst the luscious green valleys above Verona, it effortlessly blends the classical (like shuttered windows) with the modern (such as iPod docks).To completely unwind, book a spa treatment or yoga class, and be sure to make use of the outdoor hydrotherapy pool – each i-escape couple gets exclusive use of the pool for 3 hours per day. For day trips, we recommend Lake Garda and its charming northern villages.

    BanSala, near Koroni, Greece

    BanSala

    These idyllic private villas sit in a verdant garden facing out towards the glistening Mediterranean Sea, making for a beautifully peaceful getaway. The open-air bar offers a fresh breakfast in the morning and an array of drinks in the evening – both of which are enjoyed poolside with glorious views. There are a plethora of water sports nearby including sailing, snorkelling and wind-surfing, and to finish off the day we recommend catching the sunset from the secluded sandy beach (just a 5-minute walk away).

    Trevose Harbour House, St Ives, Cornwall

    Trevose Harbour House

    This fresh colour-coordinated B&B gives off a cosy and romantic vibe, spot-on for a couples retreat. Rooms have been individually styled with characterful vintage furniture, and spoiling touches like thick bathrobes and Neal’s Yard toiletries are sure to impress. St Ives has dozens of independent art studios and plenty of local fish’n’chip shops, plus you’re just a short walk away from Porthminster’s sandy beach.

    Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios, Caribbean

    Jamaica Inn

    Like a picture-perfect daydream, Ocho Rios Bay has bright yellow sand, vivid turquoise water and soft blue skies. Jamaica Inn’s cottages are tucked away on a private cove to the east of the beach, so you get all of the area’s beauty with none of distractions and disturbances. Start the day with an authentic Jamaican breakfast (steamed callaloo, ackee and salt fish) and end it with an elegant 6-course gourmet dinner (perhaps including coriander snapper with chilli ginger sauce). In between, you can golf, sail or just sink into the oversized sofas on you balcony whilst listening to the gentle lapping of the sea. (Children aged 10+ are accepted during the summer months, but the cottages are so private you’re unlikely to be affected.)

    Pacuare Lodge, Siquirres, Costa Rica

    Pacuare Lodge

    For those who are willing to make the extra effort to go somewhere completely hidden, this Costa Rican jungle resort, accessed via white-water rafting, is the perfect match. Each palm-thatched wooden cabin offers views of the surrounding jungle and those lucky enough to stay in the Honeymoon Suite will get a private plunge pool and their own suspension bridge leading to a secluded observation platform.

    The Boathouse at Knotts End, Lake District, UK

    Boathouse

    With space for only 2, you’re guaranteed peace and quiet at this beautiful lakeside boathouse. The inside is open plan, full of warm hues and includes a queensize bed for a good night’s slumber. Outside there’s a rowing boat to explore Ullswater, and hiking the woodland walk to Aira Force waterfall provides equally impressive scenery. We can’t imagine many spots better than the oak balcony for a candlelit dinner under the stars or sunrise breakfast in the morning.

    Casa La Siesta, near Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

    Casa La Siesta

    As the name suggests, this Spanish bolthole is perfect for a lazy getaway in the rolling hills around Vejer de la Frontera, with the Los Caños de Meca beach just a stone’s throw away. The guesthouse has 7 chic rooms and, for those wanting added seclusion and indulgence, a separate self-catering Casita with a private 11m swimming pool. The extensive grounds mean dinner always includes home-grown herbs and veg alongside the authentic tapas dishes and, once full of Spanish cuisine, we suggest you book a massage session in the garden yurt to really wind down.

    Farm 215, near Gansbaai, South Africa

    SA012_Farm_215_38374_147KB_051109

    This secluded eco-chic farm sits in the wild landscape of coastal South Africa. Its private serenity is far removed from the crowded bustle of Cape Town (though only a 2.5-hour drive away) and the striking 25m outdoor pool, luxurious suites and breath-taking views make the journey utterly worth it. It’s also a hotel with a heart and the owners’ commitment to the environment has resulted in their impressive Fynbos Suites running on 100% solar energy, while waste is conscientiously reused or recycled. We suggest embracing the wildness and taking yourselves on a horse riding trail, or spending a day whale spotting from the rugged coastline.

    Discover more boutique getaways here >>

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AUG27

Easy Escapes for September

 
  • Summer’s starting to retreat and autumn is emerging, but we can’t bear the thought of torrential rain and howling winds just yet. If you feel the same way, distract yourself with a sunny getaway – a vitamin D boost before the cold sets in is just what the doctor ordered.

    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…

    Blissful Barcelona – £300.50 per person (4 nights, 9-13 September)

    Park Güell

    Park Güell

    Escape the dreary, grey autumn in the ultra-cool and colourful city of Barcelona. Go from the lush hillside parks full of dazzling mosaics to the golden sandy beaches, before finishing your days with sangria in one of the city’s many avant-garde tapas bars.

    39 Steps

    39 Steps

    Stay: at designer haven 39 Steps, a 1-bedroom apartment just minutes from Plaça de Catalunya and Las Ramblas. This bolthole, set in a 200-year-old building, is just a short stroll from the world-famous Boqueria market and some of the city’s best restaurants – perfect for foodies. Their current offer of 4th night free makes a 4-night stay just £203.50 per person.

    Fly: from London Gatwick to Barcelona with Monarch for £65 per person, departing on Tuesday 9 September and returning Saturday 13 September (direct flights).

    From the airport: we recommend that your take a taxi, as this is the easiest and quickest way to reach the apartment; prices start from around £32.

    Total cost: £300.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Barcelona and other accommodation options

    Portuguese Perfection – £402.20 per person (7 nights, 22-29 September)

    The Algarve

    The Algarve

    Much of Portugal’s coastline remains blissfully undeveloped, so it’s the perfect destination for some rural rest and relaxation. Drive from Faro to the Algarve’s western-most point, passing quaint white-washed villages, orange groves and hilltop castles, to discover untouched nature reserves (keep your eyes peeled for birds and dolphins) and hidden coves that showcase the power of the Atlantic.

    Monte da Vilarinha

    Monte da Vilarinha

    Stay: at Monte da Vilarinha, hidden along a winding road in a wooded valley, yet just a stone’s throw from some of Portugal’s best surfing beaches. Thanks to the hotel’s current 30% midweek discount, a 7-night stay in a Double Room in Casa do Forno comes to £261.60 per person.

    Fly: from Bristol to Faro with Ryanair for £102 per person, departing on Monday 22 September and returning on Monday 29 September (direct flights).

    From the airport: In order to make the most of this stunning stretch of coastline, we’d recommend hiring a car; prices start from £75 with Rhino.

    Total cost: £402.20 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to the Algarve and other accommodation options

    Cool California – £1243.50 per person (7 nights, 18-25 September)

    Sonoma

    Sonoma

    North of San Francisco lies the laidback wine country of Sonoma, in fact, it’s so chilled that locals often refer to it as ‘Slow-noma’. Understandable really, as the landscape is so beautiful it would be foolish to rush past its giant redwoods, rugged coastline and miles of vineyards.

    Inn at Occidental

    Inn at Occidental

    Stay: at the restful Inn at Occidental, in a town founded during the lodging boom in the 1870s. Spend your days exploring Sonoma County (one of our favourite places in California) – you’re just outside of wine country at the height of the grape harvest, with dozens of wineries and tasting rooms (and great restaurants) to choose from. i-escape’s exclusive  3 nights for 2 discount (midweek) makes a 7-night stay in the Ivory Room £501 per person, including all taxes.

    Fly: direct from London Heathrow to San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic for £688.50 per person, departing on Thursday 18 September and returning on Thursday 25 September (overnight flight landing Friday 26 September).

    From the airport: most guests opt to hire a car; prices start from £108 with Rhino.

    Total cost: £1243.50 per person, including all taxes.

    More info: Getting to Napa and Sonoma 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 27th August 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
AUG25

Escape of the Week… Villa Fol Avril

 
  • This may be an unassuming area of France, but with a sprawling national park and honey-stoned villages, the Perche (in southeast Normandy) is a destination you ignore at your own peril. It’s the perfect short-haul getaway for history-lovers, foodies and walkers looking for the intriguingly unfamiliar only a hop, skip and jump from busy Paris.

     Villa Fol Avril

    Villa Fol Avril – a charming converted coaching inn – is a triumphant blend of old and new, and from the converted stables to the modern decked swimming pool it’s the historical charm and pretty surroundings that resonate.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Rooms: Hosts Sandrine and Philippe share an exquisite eye for detail and have taken care to incorporate the character of the surrounding countryside into Villa Fol Avril’s 12 beautifully furnished rooms. Furniture, stair banisters and key-holders are all hand-crafted from local wood while linen bedcovers and cushions come from the long-established Maison Fassier in nearby Rémalard. New oak combines with original beams and attractive antiques have been introduced alongside sections of exposed stone or brick. The result is wonderfully light, airy and unobtrusively contemporary – a perfect homage to the building’s history.

    Two of our favourite rooms (Rooms 6 and 7) are nestled under vast oak beams on the second floor and display their unhewn charm through rustic furniture, a soft slate-blue colour palette and luxurious wool blankets. For a little more space, Junior Suite au Jardin and Exception each have a private terrace or balcony to extend the bedroom outdoors. Large bathrooms are impeccably presented with thick towels and decadent Damana toiletries.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Food: It’s not just the rooms that display the influence of the hotel’s surroundings; lunch and dinner are also infused with the delights of the locality; fresh local fare that is wonderfully spoiling without being needlessly fancy. Better still, in the summer it is enjoyed out on a sunny terrace where you can acclimatise to the gently bustling village life. In colder weather dining is relocated to the smart oak and chocolate linen-lined dining room (though be aware that in winter the restaurant’s opening hours are more limited, so you many have to dine elsewhere on certain days). Luckily there’s a surprisingly impressive choice of restaurants nearby (including the luxurious Chateau de Villeray at Condeau), although you’ll need wheels to reach them. Breakfast is a simple, but perfectly tasty, continental offering of croissants, fruit, yoghurt and coffee.

    Villa Fol Avril

    Top Tip: Most guests come for one to 2 nights. But you could happily spend longer here, as it’s a great base from which to discover this little known region of France. You could even do a day-trip to Paris if you wished – it’s less than 2 hours away!

    Villa Fol Avril

    i-escape guest review: “Lovely lovely place – great service and very quiet location, we were there late June and it was lovely and quiet, had the gardens and pool to ourselves often. We were upgraded to a garden suite which was fantastic – massive room, really nice style, and a lovely decked terrace to chill out on. Highly recommended!”
    Ruth, United Kingdom (28.06.14)

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
AUG22

Just back from… Morocco (part 1)

 
  • At the beginning of the summer, Acting Assistant Editor Melissa embarked on a mini Moroccan adventure with her friend Roberta. As well as exploring Marrakech (insights coming soon), they stayed in 2 surprisingly similar guesthouses in 2 strikingly different Moroccan landscapes. Both offered a homely welcome, enchanting accommodation and great-value for money while also displaying a strong relationship with their local community. Here, she takes us on a whistle-stop tour of their highlights.

    Douar Samra

    Douar Samra

    Tamartet

    Tamartet

    After arriving in Marrakech, it was an easy 1-hour drive through the Atlas Mountains to Imlil, a centre for international trekkers. But we weren’t at our destination yet; in order to reach our first base Douar Samra, we had to ascend a dried-up riverbed on foot or by donkey to the tiny Berber village of Tamartet. We went for foot, despite knowing full well that pull-along suitcases and dusty gorges don’t mix. Thankfully our hosts were waiting with plenty of mint tea and sweet biscuits at the top.

    Douar Samra

    Douar Samra

    We stayed in Douar Samra’s main building and were wowed by our beautiful room. Disclaimer: if you want mod-cons, go elsewhere. Instead we found a rustic fireplace, mesmerising mountain views, colourful woven cushions, and countless lanterns for after dark. That’s right, no electric lights. We loved it, although we’d recommend laying out everything you need for bed before dinner – riffling through yor suitcase is no easy task by candlelight alone. Somewhat surprisingly, there was free WiFi throughout – perfect for making our friends back home jealous!

    Waterfall hike

    Waterfall hike

    While here we embarked on an easy guided hike to a nearby waterfall, via mountain peaks and North Africa’s highest football pitch (complete with sheep spectators).

    North Africa's highest football pitch

    North Africa’s highest football pitch

     

    Then it was time to bask in the sun and soak up the far-reaching views from Douar Samra’s roof terrace. French owner Jacqueline is often also found out here, along with her delightful shih tzu companions. A pillar of the community, she works entirely with the local people to run and maintain the guesthouse – no wonder the authentic 3-course tagine suppers taste so good!

     

     

    Later in our trip we headed south through the Tizi n’ Tichka pass towards the Sahara, stopping in the expansive ochre landscape near Ouarzazate. An area of such biblical beauty called for a truly unique guesthouse, and the ancient mud-brick architecture of Kasbah Ellouze rose effortlessly to the challenge.

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Ait Benhaddou

    Ait Benhaddou

    Though just 3km from the famous UNESCO-listed Ait Benhaddou kasbah, in the remote village of Tamadaght, it feels like a world away. While its movie-star neighbour had a constant rotation of tour buses and faux-friendly shop owners, here we were met by curious children freely roaming the pathways and just one (somewhat sleepy) shop owner.

    Camel trekking

    Camel trekking

    Kasbah Ellouze’s French owners Michel and Colette live on site, as do a quartet of camels ready to take guests trekking through the dusty landscape. We took a short ride at dusk, during which we saw historic troglodyte caves, a stunning sunset and more of the surrounding village.

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Kasbah Ellouze

    Our favourite day was spent walking the desert road to Ait Benhaddou before rewarding ourselves with an afternoon by the pool, complete with chilled mint tea and tasty snacks. In the evening, we dined on a creative 3-course dinner including fig and chicken tagine (and homemade ice cream for pudding), before gravitating towards the roof terrace to star-gaze and put the world to rights over a delicious bottle of Moroccan wine.

    To find out more about Morocco, see our destination guide

    Posted in Our Trips.... Tagged , , , , , , ,
AUG20

Our City Breaks collection just got even better!

 
  • Calling all urbanites; we have just revealed our latest additions in some of the world’s finest cities. Our new city boltholes cover all townie tastes and interests, from an uber-stylish design hotel near Prague’s Old Town to a trio of eco-chic apartments in the elegant spa town of Harrogate. Better still, they’re all just a quick hop away making them perfect for easy post-summer getaways.

    Hotel UNIC, Prague, Czech Republic

    Hotel UNIC

    Hotel UNIC is an unpretentious yet gorgeous design hotel on a quiet street near Prague’s Old Town, with 1- or 2-bedrooms and suites to suit couples, families and friends alike. The ambiance is intimate and laid-back with vibrant colours, original artworks and super-comfortable beds. A relaxing restaurant-cum-bar, friendly staff and an alluring sun terrace all add to this city pad’s appeal.

    Boutique Houseboat, Berlin, Germany

    Boutique Houseboat

    Boutique Houseboat is a unique place to stay in the buzzing capital of Berlin. Set 15-30 minutes from the city centre, the stylish boat has a front-row position on the outermost pier of Rummelsburger Lake marina, with unobstructed views across the bay towards the downtown skyline. The floor-to-ceiling windows and private outdoor deck (stretching the length of the boat) are designed to maximise the experience of being on the water, and there’s a cool double bedroom, an open-plan living area (with double sofabed), and a minimalist white kitchen for self-catering.

    Riad Sapphire, Marrakech, Morocco

    Riad Sapphire

    This gem of a riad opened this year and offers 8 chic suites as welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of vibrant Marrakech. It’s tucked away in the quieter northern section of the medina, and the rooftop terrace, 2 marble courtyards, solar-heated hammam and small plunge pool – all with a contemporary Zen-chic sensibility – are particular highlights.

    Valencia Boutique Apartments, Valencia, Spain

    Valencia Boutique Apartments

    Bang in the heart of the city, with shops, cafés, restaurants and beautiful architecture all around, these 7 self-catering apartments are divided between 2 period buildings and offer great-value for money. Choose the Caballeros building for couple-friendly 1-bedroom options, or Micalet for 2- and 3-bedroom apartments with cathedral views. All have superbly equipped kitchens, and some have private balconies or terraces ideal for sunbathing and sundowners!

    Memmo Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

    Memmo Alfama

    Located in Lisbon’s historic heart, Memmo Alfama is hidden down a cobbled street lined with orange trees, just a rickety yellow tram ride from downtown. This super-chic, 43-bedroom retreat is a calming oasis of wood and stone, whose modern décor perfectly complements the building’s original features. However, the real jewel in Memmo’s crown is the rooftop terrace, with its shimmering red-tiled infinity pool, fabulous wine bar and jaw-dropping city and sunset views.

    Royal Parade Apartments, Harrogate, UK

    Royal Parade Apartments

    These 3 eco-chic apartments (sleeping 2-4, or 12 if taken together) are a stone’s throw from Harrogate’s famous Pump Rooms, as well as many local restaurants and cafés. Choose between classic French on the first floor, exotic Rajasthan on the second, and brassy Brooklyn with glorious views on the top – all brilliantly blend antiques and contemporary pieces. There are well-equipped kitchens (ideal for families and longer stays), and you can order a breakfast hamper if you don’t want to cook.

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse, Porto, Portugal

    Rosa Et Al Townhouse

    For foodies and artists alike this converted townhouse offers style and substance. The 6 bedrooms mix open-plan layouts with vintage-style radios and claw foot tubs to give a quirky yet contemporary finish. Add to that an enchanting herb-scented garden where guests enjoy lazy brunches of organic (often home-grown) goodies, and you’ll soon find yourself short of reasons to leave. It’s also easy to spill out into one of Porto’s buzziest districts full of galleries and restaurants, as well as the nearby majestic Rio Douro waterfront.

    Hotel V Nesplein, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    Hotel V Nesplein

    Set just minutes away from tourist hot-spot Dam Square, this luxurious Holland hotel is perfect for a lively city break. Each of the spacious industrial-style rooms feature modern furniture coupled with richly coloured walls to fit the hotel’s contemporary ‘urban inn’ concept. For a spoiling long lunch, we love the lively downstairs restaurant with dishes ranging from oysters to the more traditional Flammkuchen (a thin-crust pizza with crème fraiche and various toppings).

    No 131, Cheltenham, UK

    No 131

    With countless ornate cornices and grand facades, Cheltenham’s regal history exudes staunchly from its sandstone architecture and this recently renovated grade II villa is no exception. Thankfully, the owners haven’t shied away from injecting some contemporary flair into the 11 bedrooms, so you get salvaged antiques alongside high-tech gadgets, impressive art from the likes of David Hockney and Sir Peter Blake, and bathrooms with rainfall showers or restored Victorian tubs. The innovative British styling continues in the restaurant which offers an exquisitely executed menu of local ingredients, a dedicated cheese and wine room, and a unique selection of cocktails at the Crazy Eights bar.

    Click here for the full i-escape City Breaks collection>>

    Posted in New Hotels. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,