AUG15

Top 10 Paddler Pads

 
  • If you’re the kind of holiday-goer who is drawn by the lure of the lazily lapping tide or the adrenaline-fuelled adventure of diving or rafting, these are the hotels for you. We’ve picked our favourite waterside lodges, B&Bs and cottages for water-based escapades or beachside relaxation – now it’s time to dive in!

    La Finestra Sul Fiume, near Verona, Italy

    La Finestra Sul Fiume

    Between Lake Garda and Verona, this rustic yet charming B&B has an enchanting riverside setting with beautiful gardens, delicious breakfasts and welcoming hosts. Comfort is top of the agenda, and in summer a section of the river is closed off to create a natural pool – swim or simply laze in a hammock on the bank.

    The Boathouse at Knotts End, Lake District, UK

    The Boathouse at Knotts End

    The ultimate romantic escape, this little bolthole is tucked away on its own private lakeshore on Ullswater in the stunning Lake District. Sleeping just 2, the boathouse benefits from uninterrupted views over the water, which you can explore in your private rowing boat or jump in for a dip!

    Laguna Lodge, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

    Laguna Lodge

    Hidden high in the Guatemalan forest and sacred to the local Maya, Lake Atitlán’s jade waters lap just steps from this stylish eco-lodge, which benefits from stunning views, an excellent spa and exemplary vegetarian food. It’s only accessible by boat (guests use water taxis to get around), and you can explore by wild swimming or by borrowing the hotel’s kayak and snorkelling equipment.

    Sea Garden Cottages, Isles of Scilly

    Sea Garden Cottages

    You’d be forgiven for mistaking the shimmering blue waters running alongside this cluster of comfy cottages for the Mediterranean, but they’re actually right here in the UK, on the idyllic car-free Scilly isle of Tresco. Off the Cornish coast, with sea views, a sailing school and a restaurant, this is a dream British escape – empty white-sand beaches are just steps from your door.

    Rancho Encantado, Bacalar, Mexico

    Rancho Encantado

    This budget eco-resort has spacious thatched casitas and is set in verdant gardens, overlooking the unfeasibly blue waters of Laguna Bacalar. Found in the southeast of Mexico’s Yucatán and surrounded by wild jungle, the romantic lakeside casitas have beautiful local crafts and sparkling vistas. Spend time wild swimming, kayaking and taking boat trips, or travel 30 minutes to swim in a 100m-deep natural well.

    The Idle Rocks, St Mawes, Cornwall

    The Idle Rocks

    The small Cornish town of St Mawes overlooks the azure waters of the pretty Fal Estuary and The Idle Rocks – a chic and youthful hotspot – is perfectly placed to take it all in. This 20-bedroom boutique hotel has a sunny terrace  right against the lapping water where boats bob past and sails puncture the horizon. The watery environment even segues nicely into the nautical and Scandinavian influences (with a dash of St Tropez) displayed in the comfy rooms, and there’s also a fabulous restaurant serving fresh local seafood.

    Ahilya Fort, Madhya Pradesh, India

    Ahilya Fort

    Few hotels have a sacred relationship with the water that surrounds them, but Ahilya Fort, located above the stunning Narmada river, is one such magical place. The 18th-century fort stands alongside a ghat (a set of steps leading down to the holy river) which is still very much a part of local life. Wandering along the ghats at sunrise and taking a serene evening boat ride are truly dreamlike experiences and if you’re looking to cool off, there’s also a beautiful pool in the fort’s lush gardens.

    Palazzo Radomiri, near Kotor, Montenegro

    Palazzo Radomiri

    For many, a holiday to tiny Montenegro is typified by the stunning old towns and majestic palazzos that line the country’s beautiful (albeit short) Adriatic coastline. At this specific palazzo in Dobrota it’s all about waterside relaxation: if the large pool isn’t enough, just step out to the sun-drenched jetty and plunge into the bay’s crystalline water. All of this set to the backdrop of Europe’s ascending star of elegant and luxurious travel.

    Pacuare Lodge, Siquirres, Costa Rica

    Pacuare Lodge

    Despite miles of stunning Costa Rican coastline, some of the most exciting aqua-based adventures happen inland at riverside hideaways like Pacuare Lodge – an idyllic jungle retreat hidden deep in the rainforest and accessed by raft (or a jeep and basket across the river!). This is definitely a hotel for the intrepid, and the old adage that fortune favours the brave stands true as persevering travellers will be rewarded with luxurious cabins, paradise-like gardens and a truly unforgettable stay in one of the most unspoilt environments in the world.

    Unguja Lodge, Kizimkazi, Zanzibar

    Unguja Lodge

    If there are 2 words we like next to each other it’s ‘barefoot’ and ‘luxury’ and lucky for us, Unguja Lodge has got both in spades. With just 12 thatched villas and crystal clear, unspoilt waters all around,  snorkelling and diving are a must (you can even venture out for night dives). Plus, with the help of the organised tours, there’s the rare chance to swim with wild dolphins. If the animal abundance of the sea gets too much, there’s always time to laze by the large pool and soak up the friendly, laid-back atmosphere.

    Take a look at our full collection for more travel inspiration >>

    Posted in Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
AUG13

Spotlight on… Montenegro

 
  • With the development of yachters’ playground Porto Montenegro rapidly evolving and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic recently choosing Sveti Stefan Island to make his vows to long-term partner Jelena Ristic, Montenegro is fast establishing itself as a ‘must-visit’ European destination. Time to book a flight, we think.

    Perast

    Perast

    Why go?

    Having gained independence from Yugoslavia in 2006, this young country is working hard to transform its reputation and utilise its natural assets. Huge investments are being made to develop Montenegro’s flourishing tourism industry, and although this often manifests itself in the form of flashy yacht marinas and luxury resorts, it’s also a destination for the wild at heart. Beyond the imported palms and air-brushed architecture, you’ll find untouched 18th-century Baroque towns, a spectacular coastline, untamed national parks brimming with wildlife, and – perhaps unexpectedly – great-value for money.

    Hotel Hippocampus

    Hotel Hippocampus

    Highlights

    First things first: how to get there? Although flights are becoming more readily available, flying into Montenegro can still be inconvenient – services to the capital Podgorica may be cheap, but if you’re staying in or near the Bay of Kotor (which most people are), you’ll have to take on 80km of predominantly mountain roads once you land. Instead, take a few km off your journey and drive the stunning coastal road from Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia. At the very least you’ll have made the journey easier for yourself, and if you tag a stay in Dubrovnik onto your trip, you’ll get 2 destinations for the price of one. Either way, you’ll be in for a treat – as Byron once wrote, “At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between land and sea must have been on the Montenegrin coast”.

    Bay of Kotor

    Bay of Kotor

    And so to Kotor: our favourite coastal Montenegrin hub. Quieter than busy Budva (with its famous Stari Grad and buzzy nightlife), more authentic than Porto Montenegro (a flashy new marina that’s drawing international interest), and with just enough cafés, restaurants and bars to fill the summer nights, this UNESCO-listed waterfront town is Adriatic charm incarnate. Stay in original 17th-century townhouse turned artful Balkan bolthole Hotel Hippocampus, or decamp beyond the city walls to the peaceful shores of the Dobrota suburb, where Hotel Forza Mare and Palazzo Radomiri tempt those seeking indulgent modernity and traditional Venetian splendour respectively.

    Hotel Forza Mare

    Hotel Forza Mare

    Palazzo Radomiri

    Palazzo Radomiri

    While in Kotor, ascend the 1,350 steps of St John’s Fort – during summertime this is best done at dawn, when the heat and crowds are much reduced. Arching high above the town, embedded in the foothills of Mount Lovcen, the fort has countless nooks to explore, and the views from the top are spectacular. If you’re feeling brave, find a safe spot to climb through the walls to the utterly silent, rural mountain on the other side. It feels like stepping back in time.

    Kotor © Ggia

    Kotor © Ggia

    The Bay of Kotor is often perceived as more lake than sea, so still are the waters that lap at its edge. Don’t expect sandy beaches (that’s for another Euro suntrap); here centuries of Venetian rule brought walkways lined by deep azure water, from which jetties jut inviting refreshing swims and easy watersports. There’s surely no safer place to learn sea-kayaking, and the scuba-diving is excellent (The Independent recently quoted a marine biologist as saying that there are 42,000 fish species to be found in the area).

    Perast

    Perast

    Conte restaurant

    Conte restaurant

    Next, head north to the pretty village of Perast and its 2 iconic offshore islands: Ostrvo Sveti Dorde (a private monastery) and Our Lady of the Rocks (a very visitable church and museum). Take a boat to the latter for unrivalled views of the bay, and then return to gaze back at the islands over a lunch of fresh seafood and crisp white wine at the waterfront Conte restaurant.

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Aman Sveti Stefan

    Then it’s time to drive south to the original Montenegrin luxury resort: the inimitable, timeless Sveti Stefan Island. Now under the custodianship of the renowned Aman hotel group, this unique outcrop was originally a 15th-century fishing settlement, but over the years it evolved into one of the Adriatic’s most desirable destinations. Google ‘Montenegro’ and chances are you’ll see this islet several times over. If you have the budget, a stay on the island is an unforgettable joy. If not, wander the cypress sentries of Villa Milocer – once Queen Marija’s early 20th-century summer residence, it’s now Aman Sveti Stefan’s refined mainland wing.

    Lake Skadar © Diego Delso

    Lake Skadar © Diego Delso

    If the call of the wild brought you to Montenegro, head inland, where wolves and bears still roam, lilypad-covered lakes carve through mountains, and hair-pin roads bring bird’s-eye views and rattled nerves. Soar to the spiritual heights of Ostrog Monastery or meditate at the mausoleum at Mount Lovcen’s summit. Directly translated to mean ‘Black Mountain’, Montenegro is a country that can only ever be truly defined by its natural wonders.

    Lovcen National Park © Aman Sveti Stefan

    Lovcen National Park © Aman Sveti Stefan

    When to go

    Montenegro is busiest during the long, hot summer. We prefer visiting in spring or early autumn, when the temperatures are still high enough for swimming but it’s easier to explore the country’s stunning landscape. As autumn progresses into winter, rainstorms become more prevalent and many coastal businesses close.

    Villa Dubrovnik

    Villa Dubrovnik

    Our top tip

    As we’ve mentioned, Montenegro is crying out to be a dual destination. Once you’ve seen Kotor’s ‘Dubrovnik-light’ fortifications, drive just 40km across the border to visit the real thing. Dubrovnik has long been a major tourist hub, and a new dimension was recently added to its appeal when it moonlighted as King’s Landing in the cult TV series Game of Thrones. Fans now flock here to see the pier on which Sansa, Littlefinger and Shea gazed out to sea, and the setting of the infamous Battle of Blackwater Bay. Montenegro Stone Cottages are less than an hour from the famous fortified city, or you could choose to stay in the Pearl of the Adriatic itself, where luxury hotels and intimate apartments are perfect for honeymooners.

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

    Posted in Spotlight on.... Tagged , , , , , ,
AUG11

Escape of the Week… Fazenda Nova

 
  • This rural Portuguese retreat ticks a lot of boxes: gorgeous rooms, charming and knowledgeable hosts, a stunning location and impressive eco credentials to boot. Between them, owners Hallie and Tim have crafted a relaxing and utterly beautiful getaway from the centuries-old farmhouse and its stunning 10 hectares of bountiful gardens.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    There’s a holistic dimension to a stay at Fazenda Nova: large French doors lead you from the rooms to the gardens, which in turn produce a delicious spread for the breakfast and dinner table. The pretty saltwater pool and commitment to sustainability (there are solar panels and a reed bed to filter grey water) further brings the hotel in touch with its gorgeous natural surroundings.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Rooms: Accommodation is split between 7 Garden Suites, 2 Apartments and a Terrace Suite, all of which are thoughtfully decorated with a characterful minimalism. Balinese teak furniture, South African feathered headdresses and painted Moroccan doors sit alongside Eames chairs and indulgent Ren products – all brilliantly curated to epitomise rustic-chic. High end decadence is also unobtrusively introduced through hypnos mattresses, soft Belgian linen, sleek Artemide lighting and large state-of-the-art bathrooms.

    The Garden Suites have little gardens where beanbags sit under carob trees or pod chairs hang from the branches. The Terrace Suite is slightly more private with its own terrace and stair access. The larger Apartments are perfect for a small family (there’s a kingsize bed and a sofabed in the sitting room) or for those who like to be able to cook themselves the odd meal. You’ll find a fully stocked kitchen and one of them also has its own garden.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Food: Thanks to the numerous fruit-laden trees in the gardens, Fazenda Nova’s breakfast table groans under the weight of organic, home-grown produce like apples, plums and pears as well as fresh pomegranate and orange juice. You can also expect crusty homemade bread straight from the renovated 200-year-old oven. The restaurant, A Cozinha, (closed on Saturdays during peak season and Wednesday as well in off-peak months) offers a similar fusion of fresh produce and rustic themes, all enjoyed on the shady outdoor terrace. Expect a small but daily rotating menu of local food such as mackerel, sea bass, or bream alongside sweet roast peppers, courgettes, beans and wholesome salads.

    Dining out is easy, too: within 10-15 minutes you can drive to Cafe dos Mestres in Fuseta or Fialho in Pinheiro. The former is a well-priced restaurant serving typical Algarve food and heaving with locals, while the latter serves a not-to-be-missed arroz de marisco (a delicious simmering cauldron of rice and shellfish).

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    Top Tip: Check the blackboard in the hall for daily suggestions of what to do in the area – Hallie and Tim delight in suggesting where to go and what to buy, without being pushy. Alternatively, take a book to a quiet, secluded spot in the garden – a chair looking out over the orchards, a wooden shelter by the herb garden, or a bench under the olive trees – and soak up the bucolic delights of rural Portugal.

    Fazenda Nova Country House

    i-escape guest review: “We couldn’t have been happier staying here. Wonderful staff, enthusiastic and charming owners who helped us fill some perfect days in a beautiful place far from crowds. 3 nights was too short this time.”
    Aidan, United Kingdom (21.10.13)

    i-escape gift:  a gift of homemade olive oil

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
AUG08

Snapshots from… Skiathos

 
  • Skiathos proved a revelation for our Acting Assistant Editor Melissa this summer. Chosen on a whim, its combination of cool bars, authentic food and countless sandy beaches (plus a couple of great-value i-escape hideaways!) has earned it the title of her new favourite beach holiday destination. Here, she talks us through her week on this blissful Greek island.

    SkiathosAh Skiathos… Need I say more? Well, probably, because if (like me, 2 months ago) you know little about this 12km-long island, there certainly is a lot to tell.

    Let’s go back to June. Summer was marching on and we were keen to enjoy the UK heatwave. Unfortunately, the pesky matter of full-time employment kept placing itself squarely between us and a week of sunbathing at home. Thus, a holiday was in order.

    Skiathos Holidays lounge and bar

    Skiathos Holidays lounge and bar

    Three short weeks later our taxi dropped us off at Skiathos Holidays, a secluded cluster of self-catering studios and villas where we were greeted with freshly squeezed orange juice in the beautiful open-air lounge and bar. Having touched down at Skiathos’ tiny airport, it was an easy 15-minute drive along the dazzling south coast to our home for the week. Turning off the main road, down a dusty track lined with wild-flowered meadows and speckled with wandering hens, we saw the chic white façade of Skiathos Holidays draped in bougainvillea. Our taxi driver turned to us, “Are you staying here? This is my favourite part of the island.”

    Skiathos Holidays garden

    Skiathos Holidays garden

    While settling into our airy (and bargainous) Standard Studio, we quickly spotted the deep blue sea beyond the trees. Moments later, we were wandering out of the lawned garden and directly onto Vromolinos Beach. It really is that close.

    Porto Paradiso beach bar

    Porto Paradiso beach bar

    Walking in the sun-warmed shallows, we followed the chilled-out sounds emanating from Porto Paradiso beach bar. Maybe it was the enticing cocktails and comfy sunbeds, or maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours (thank you 7am flight from Stansted), but we genuinely were deliriously happy to arrive at this super-cool hangout.

    Skiathos Town

    Skiathos Town

    The next day, well rested, we set out to find Skiathos Town. (No need for a car: the island’s excellent bus service tours the length of the south coast.) This white-washed harbour-centric settlement is the closest thing Skiathos has to an urban centre, but rest assured there’s not a high-rise in sight – just pretty waterfront tavernas, cubic villas stacked up the hill, and pine-scented Bourtzi jutting out between the old and new ports.

    Boutzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Bourtzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Boutzi islet, Skiathos Town

    Bourtzi islet, Skiathos Town

    We couldn’t resist exploring this little islet and were delighted with what we found: another super-chic and wonderfully relaxed bar overlooking the glistening turquoise sea – there was even a rocky outcrop for pre-lunch swimming.

    Koula's House

    Koula’s House

    Later, between feasting on bargain gyros at No Name and sipping fabulous herb-laden cocktails at Ergon (best Mojito we’ve ever tasted), we went in search of one of i-escape’s newest additions: Koula’s House, a great-value hideaway with wraparound sea views that’s well hidden in a sleepy corner of town, just steps from the vibrant waterfront.

    Koutsouri beach

    Koutsouri beach

    By mid-week we were so relaxed we no longer felt the need to plan our day’s activities. Instead, we were taking leisurely picnic-style breakfasts on the balcony – fresh bread from the supermarket (5 minutes away) and delicious jams from aforementioned Ergon’s deli section – before ambling aimlessly in the sunshine. One day, we wandered the peninsula on which Skiathos Holidays sits, clambering down a dusty gorge to reach this heavenly hidden beach, named Koutsouri. Here we spend a few hours concentrating on the very important tasks of paddling, sunbathing and stacking colourful pebbles found the shallows.

    Taverna Sklithri

    Taverna Sklithri

    Of course, Greek salad is a must in a place like this – Bourtzi’s eatery does a fabulous rendition – and, unsurprisingly, seafood is also a local highlight. The prettiest setting we found for such a feast was Taverna Sklithri (1 bus stop from Vromolinos Beach). It stands almost entirely alone, on a tiny beach concealed from the road by trees and greenery, but descend the terracotta path and you’ll realise it’s a destination in its own right. Grape vines shade gingham-clothed tables and rainbow-hued chairs, and a few more trail along the sand, inches from the lapping waves – the fresh fish is outstanding. Come at dusk for pink skies­­ or later to watch the orange moon rise out of the inky-black sea.

    Airport picnic

    Airport picnic

    Before we knew it our final day had arrived. When all else fails and you have to accept that no, on this occasion you cannot simply stay and live in Skiathos forever, we recommend an airport picnic to soften the blow. After some mild confusion at security over the olive tapenade, we tucked into tasty cheese, salami and bread while all those around us despondently nibbled stale baguettes from the airport’s lone café. Yes, we looked ridiculous and had to use a plastic teaspoon as a knife, but this final flourish really helped maintain the holiday mood until the very last moment.

    Until next time, Skiathos!

    My particular experience of Skiathos was all about relaxation – gorgeous beaches, tasty food and fabulous cocktails – but rest assured there is plenty for the more actively inclined to explore here. Check out our destination guide for more info.

    Posted in Our Trips..., Travel Postcards. Tagged , , , , ,
AUG06

Top 10 family-friendly revisits

 
  • You may already know that at i-escape we pride ourselves on personally visiting all our featured partner properties to review them in depth. But you may not know that we also revisit them regularly to make sure the reviews are up to date and that high standards of style and service are still in evidence. Over the last year we’ve returned to dozens of places to delight anew in their charm and character, and to ensure that those included in the Kids Collection still offer great facilities, amenities and activities for families.

    Our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, chooses her favourite family-friendly hotels and rentals revisited in the past year by the team.

    Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech Palmeraie, Morocco – revisited by Nadine

    A jewel in any collection, this beautiful Bohemian country estate is set in lush grounds just 15 minutes’ drive outside Marrakech – perfect for families wanting space and tranquillity after visiting the bustling Medina. There are no less than 5 different swimming pools to cool off in and the inventive kids’ club (school holidays only) now offers activities such as Arabic calligraphy lessons and gardening workshops; camel- or horse-riding can also be easily arranged. Bliss.

    Jnane Tamsna

    The Cottage Charlestown, Cornwall, UK – revisited by Mike (Editor-in-Chief)

    Owner Antonia now has 3 charming cottages in this southern Cornish seaside village, each sleeping 2, 3, and 4 respectively. Mike liked them all, recommending Olivia’s (which sleeps 4) for a family with 2 kids, and The Cottage for a family of 3 plus a baby. His 6-year-old son loved the age-appropriate toys and films thoughtfully supplied, and there’s plenty of baby and toddler equipment, too. Antonia now offers meals for her guests which makes for a spoiling and easy dinner, perhaps after a day spent exploring the Lost Gardens of Heligan (just a 15-minute drive away).

    The Cottage Charlestown

    Xandari Resort & Spa, San Jose, Costa Rica – revisited by Ben F (Rates Manager)

    This vibrant, welcoming hotel, just 20 minutes from the international airport, is the perfect pit-stop for families flying in and out of Costa Rica. Kids needing to expel pent up energy will love the 40 acres of perfectly kept tropical gardens full of birds and lizards, which also includes 3 swimming pools. There are also walking trails, goats and turkeys, waterfalls, and crazy sculptures to be found. Ben reported that the bright colours in the spacious private villas are very appealing for children, and there’s a good kids’ menu of classic fare. If you can stay longer, there’s heaps to do nearby, from visiting a volcano to a rainforest canopy tour.

    Xandari Resort Spa

    Masseria Alchimia, Puglia, Italy – revisited by Nadine

    Nadine and her family had a relaxed holiday at this collection of minimalist-chic studios. Each takes extra beds or a cot, is self-catering (with an ingenious kitchen in a cupboard), and has a private sit out area. The Family Suite has space for 4 people, with 2 bathrooms and an in-room colour therapy tub which the kids loved! There’s a small playground, beaches and beach clubs at hand, and best of all, the Zoo Safari in Fasano kept both children enthralled all day.

    Masseria Alchimia

    Yab Yum Resort, Goa, India – revisited by Laila (Founding Director)

    For something different, these great-value thatched domes and simple cottages are set just behind Ashven beach in a magical sand garden. The property is securely fenced, the beach is wide and sandy, and kids get a dedicated menu and 2 paddling pools to themselves. Charming staff can arrange boat trips and tuk-tuk tours, so you’ll have everything you need for a laid-back holiday.

    Yab Yum Resort

    Europa House Apartments, London, UK – revisited by Nadine

    Within a large elegant townhouse in Little Venice are these 1-3-bedroom self-catering apartments, which provide comfortable living quarters for families who like being near the excitements of the West End, yet far from its noise and traffic. There are plenty of upmarket food emporiums nearby, plus a useful restaurant delivery service. My kids loved playing in the large communal gardens and having their own cupboard of toys, books and games with ‘Keep Out, Kids Only’ on the door!

    Europa House Apartments

    Chakrabongse Villas, Bangkok, Thailand – revisited by Ben R (Bookings Consultant)

    A real find, these exclusive suites and rooms are hidden in the extensive and safe grounds of a palace on the shores of the Chao Phraya river, right in the heart of the city. Ben thought the spacious Chinese Suite worked best for families as it opens onto a private gated terrace and has direct access to the swimming pool (which has fun inflatables for kids). With the choice of an in-house chef or self-catering options, a super-cool James Bond-style private motor launch for river tours, and a location close to city’s glittering temples and street markets, you’re all set for a memorable city stay.

    Chakrabongse Villas

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment, Prague, Czech Republic – revisited by Emily (Editorial Assistant)

    This Baroque 2-bedroom self-catering apartment makes a great home-away-from-home for families wanting to explore this beautiful city and its many sights. You’re just 15 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes’ walk from Wenceslas Square, plus the neighbourhood is brimming with restaurants, food shops and public transport. After sightseeing, the kids can flop in front of DVDs or family channels while parents cook in the well-equipped, modern kitchen.

    Vinohrady Boutique Apartment

    Chambers Hotel, Midtown, NYC – revisited by Nadine

    Nadine took her daughter Esme to New York City for the first time over February half-term and stayed at this stylish yet understated, friendly and intimate hotel. It’s just one block from 5th Avenue and subway stations, 2 blocks from Central Park, and a short walk to the bright lights of Times Square. There’s a milk bar downstairs (yummy cookies!), room service, an award-winning restaurant in the basement, and plenty of dining options on the doorstep. Kids are welcomed with dressing gowns, slippers and colouring books. Each floor has been differently decorated by an artist. Needless to say, Esme loved everything about New York!

    Chambers Hotel

    Ackselhaus & Blue Home, Berlin, Germany – revisited by Ben R

    These twin hotels boast adventure-themed décor – which Ben found to be pristine after their recent revamp – and no 2 rooms are the same. Those with kitchenettes and second bedrooms are the ones recommended for families. Kids under 6 stay for free and both hotels have gardens – one with a fish pond. Ben says the area (Prenzlauer Berg) felt family-centric with not too much traffic, and the immediate vicinity has lots of playgrounds, leafy parks, kiddies’ shops, and family-friendly cafes.

    Ackselhaus & Blue Home

    Check out the rest of our fantastic Kids Collection >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids, Top 10. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
AUG04

Escape of the Week… Mistley Thorn

 
  • Take a rundown estuary-side pub in beautiful Essex, add an enthusiastic Californian with a can-do attitude and you end up with Mistley Thorn, a cossetting B&B with a smashing restaurant and a buzzy bar. The pub is now a staunch feature on the county’s foodie scene and has also established itself as a delightful UK getaway, mainly on account of the warm welcome from American owner, Sherri.

    Mistley Thorn

    Not only is Mistley Thorn a gastronomic delight, it’s also an outdoor enthusiast’s haven. The Stour Estuary affords excellent bird-watching and the nearby Essex coast has some great beaches, we particularly like the sandy stretch at Wrabness. Mistley itself is a charming town with numerous examples of beautiful Georgian architecture, including the elegant Mistley Towers. Nearby you’ll find Manningtree with its numerous art galleries and a host of gardens for the horticulturally inclined.

    Mistley Thorn

    Rooms: There are 2 spacious Suites and tastefully decorated bedrooms (divided into Premium and Standard categories) at Mistley Thorn, all of which have kingsize beds (some can become twins). All rooms vary in size and outlook – we suggest plumping for a view of the Stour Estuary, which you’ll find in Standard Room 6 and all Premium Rooms (bar Room 5). But whatever you look out at, you can be sure that the interiors will be beautifully designed with original dark oak beamed ceilings, muted duck-egg green wainscoting, or burgundy hand-knitted throws over the beds. You’ll also find all of the usual accoutrements: WiFi, tea and coffee facilities and a dock for your iPod. Bathrooms have tempting REN toiletries, and Room 5 has a particularly spoiling double-ended tub.

    Mistley Thorn

    Food: Dinner at Mistley Thorn brings to mind 3 things: Prosecco, oysters and friendly locals. We happily enjoyed all of them during our visit, as well as the warm chatter of owner Sherri behind the bar. The oysters set the gastronomic tone at Mistley where the menu is dominated by fresh, sea-based delicacies such as griddled diver scallops with pea purée or Adnams beer-battered fish. The proximity to the veritable feast of Essex’s shores also gave rise to ‘Moules Madness’ – a Thursday tradition where diners descend to enjoy the shelly sea creatures cooked in various delicious ways including Thai-style or perhaps a more traditional French version with frites. If all this has you ‘hooked’ you can also take part in one of Sherri’s popular cookery workshops that she runs from her house next door. It’s worth noting that, despite the reverence of the ocean’s bounty, both lunch and dinner have  a number of options for vegetarians and those less inclined to seafood.

    A buffet-style breakfast of cereals and fresh fruit is provided for hotel guests, who can also enjoy a number of cooked options including full English. Homemade muffins and eggs Benedict make an appearance on Sundays, when the public are also invited in for brunch. If you want to head further afield for meals, there are plenty of options nearby, particularly of the gastropub variety, we suggest The Crown at Stoke by Nayland, or The Sun Inn.

    Mistley Thorn

    Top Tip: Were we to visit again, we’d stay 2 nights and take a cookery class with Sherri in the Mistley Kitchen. The hands-on workshops can cover anything from Indian seafood to French bistro, and if the restaurant is anything to go by, the food will be utterly delicious.

    Mistley Thorn

    i-escape guest review: “We particularly liked being able to enjoy a lovely place to stay in AND have our dog (very well behaved) stay with us. Also good that there is somewhere to park. All in all a very pleasant stay.”
    Benjamin, United Kingdom (18.03.14)

    i-escape gift:  a free room upgrade, subject to availability at the time of stay

    Read the full review and book  >>

    Posted in Escape of the Week. Tagged , , ,
AUG01

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

    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 >>

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JUL30

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

    Lucca

    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 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 30th July 2014.

    Posted in Easy Escapes. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
JUL28

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 , , ,
JUL25

Bucket & Spade Twitter competition