Snapshots from Bali

  • Assistant Editor Melissa has long been curious about Bali’s reputation as a tropical utopia – thank you Eat, Pray, Love. So, last month she and boyfriend Ben spent 2 weeks traversing this beautifully diverse island, hoping to find rest, relaxation and just a smidgen of adventure.

    It turns out there really are countless yoga retreats, verdant paddy fields, healthy juice bars and gorgeous beaches to discover, and the trip was an absolute hoot. Here, she shares some of the highlights…


    Our first stop was the surfers’ paradise of Uluwatu, where the beaches are speared with craggy cliffs and the lush vegetation camouflages the wild monkeys who roam the coast. Here we slept off our jet lag, watched tropical storms close in across the horizon, and paddled in the sun-warmed sea off Padang Padang Beach. It was the perfect laid-back introduction to the island.


    Next we travelled inland to Ubud and eco-paradise Bambu Indah, where antique Javanese houses provide romantic respite from the scooter-filled highways of town. During day trips into the centre, we joined classes at the renowned Yoga Barn, haggled for silk robes in the market, and sampled delicious vegan ice cream at the many health-food cafes.

    IMG_1328_edIMG_5290_ed While in the area we spent an afternoon at the world-famous Green School, a pioneering education centre. Here, children are taught in open-air bamboo classrooms, everyone recycles, and sustainability and community integration rank high on the syllabus. Check out founder John Hardy’s fascinating TED talk to find out more.

    IMG_1731_ed We also stayed at The Purist Villas and Spa, on the edge of Ubud town. It’s been recently renovated and we were blown away by the décor – think interior-magazine levels of perfection, with dreamy infinity pools and beautiful hand-carved woodwork. Despite initial appearances, the above photo doesn’t show a basin…


    It’s actually an enormous circular bathtub!


    Of course, no trip to Bali would be complete without a look at its iconic rice paddies. Locals will encourage you to take a tour around Ubud, but you’ll be one of countless tourists trudging a well-trodden route. Instead, we travelled further inland to the slopes of Mount Batukaru, where we joined a day-long guided trek through the peaceful landscape, culminating in a visit to the Pura Luhur temple.


    Next we headed towards Bali’s west coast and caught a fast boat to super-chilled Gili Air Island. It’s known for its non-motorised transport and excellent diving opportunities, and we revelled in the island’s slower pace of life.

    IMG_1607_edAfter 3 days, our achievements amounted to snorkelling with a turtle, finding the best beach bar for sunset cocktails, and taking the odd yoga class. If you’re the kind of person who needs constant activity, the magic of Gili Air may be somewhat lost on you. Luckily, we had no such problem…


    For the last leg of our holiday, I’d arranged for us to stay at The Bale in Nusa Dua (very convenient for the airport, yet wonderfully peaceful). This super-indulgent spa hotel was the perfect place to kill some time before our early-evening flight home and, having organised a late check-out, we spent the day swimming in our private pool, lingering over a decadent cooked breakfast and unwinding with a fantastic Balinese massage. It was the most relaxing pre-flight experience I’ve ever had, and the perfect conclusion to an incredibly restorative trip.

    Keen to book a Balinese break? Take a look at our full Bali Collection.

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

Top escapes for May half-term

  • Some say that the late May half-term holiday is the best of all to head away. The weather is at its best around the Mediterranean, not as scorching as high summer can be for little ones; prices are more reasonable than in peak season; and, for us in the UK, a convenient bank holiday means one day less of precious holiday time used. Our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, chooses 10 superb places to bring your family this summer mid-term holiday – check here for our full availability list.

    Grand Hotel des Bains, Locquirec, Brittany, France

    Grand Hotel des Bains

    At the end of the earth (Finistere) you’ll find this New England styled marine spa hotel overlooking the turquoise Atlantic Ocean. Outdoorsy families have 9 sandy beaches to choose from, rock pools to explore, and a heated indoor pool to splash in. There’s a sailing school nearby, the area is known for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and there are boat trips to be had.

    Offer: Free 2 hour surfing or paddle board lesson for children aged 6+

    Liodentra, Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece


    Within a pretty walled garden, this pair of tranquil stone villas (each sleeping 4-5, plus an additional annexe for grandparents) is centred on a sparkling pool and deck, and come with playground and barbecue. The adjacent shingle beach is safe for swimming, there are sandy ones 10 minutes’ drive away, and there are caves to find and kayaking to enjoy.

    Offer: 20% discount on a 7 night stay

    BridgeHouse, Beaminster, Dorset, UK


    The Jurassic Coast is terrific for families: fossil-hunting, donkey-riding bucket-and-spade beaches, Abbotsbury swannery, farm visits, walking, picnics – an endless list of adventures! Base yourselves at this cosy characterful hotel, just 6 miles inland in a mini-market town, which has Family Suites, offers early suppers for kids, and babysitters can be booked if parents want to enjoy the brilliantly executed food in the restaurant a deux.

    Offer: 20% discount Mon-Thurs 2 night minimum; £50 saver rate for Sunday night stays if dining in the restaurant

    Ea Astei, nr Guernica, The Basque Country, Spain

    Ea Astei

    Your kids will view the heated swimming pool as the main draw about this collection of cabins (all of which can take families). But you’ll be as delighted by the gorgeous long views across forested hills, the flexibility (and value) of being able to self-cater (plus fabulous local produce to sample), the nearby beaches, and local sights including Guernica and Bilbao. And its only 40 minutes from the airport.

    Offer: 7 nights for 5

    Xenon Estate, Spetses, Greece

    Xenon Estate

    Only a short hop from Athens is the beautiful Saronic island of Spetses, and on a secluded hillside you’ll find these three adjoined self-catering 1-4-bed villas (take one or all according to the size of your group). There’s a shared pool with a shallow end (the largest on the island we’re told!), and large lawns to romp around. Beaches and boat trips await, or simply relax under the olive trees.

    Offer: Exclusive to i-escape: stay 7 nights and pay 6

    Villa Guatiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

    Villa Guatiza

    Take one restored 2-3 bedroomed farmhouse only 25 minutes from the airport, add a splash of swimming pool, a sauna, warm and helpful owners, plus surfboards, buckets and spades and golf clubs, and you have the recipe for a totally relaxed family holiday. You get a generous welcome hamper on arrival, a well-equipped kitchen, and a supermarket is just 5 minutes away. Here, the living is easy.

    Offer: 10% discount 30 May – 4 June 2016

    Castello di Gargonza, nr Monte San Savino, Tuscany, Italy

    Castello di Gargonza

    You can’t beat a fortified medieval village for setting the imagination alight: explore its warren of narrow streets topped by a castle, or spot wild boar and rabbits on the estate. Head out on mountain bikes, return to splash in the outdoor pool. There’s a choice of comfortable great value apartments, even a 4-bedroom house; you can self-cater or dine in the restaurant as preferred.

    Offer: 10% discount on non-refundable rates; free cake/pizza/pasta-making classes with the chef

    Apartment 43, Jerez de la Frontera, Costa de la Luz, Spain

    Apartment 43

    Live like a local in this stylish light-filled apartment in the heart of this historic and fascinating town. You get a wonderfully equipped kitchen, markets and restaurants on your doorstep, the old town is car-free so easy to stroll around, and there are puzzles, books & DVDs to amuse the kids after sight-seeing. There are playgrounds, plazas, a zoo, Botanical Gardens, a waterpark; beaches are only 20 minutes’ drive away.

    Offer: 10% discount on a 7 night stay

    Le Castel, Normandy, France

    Le Castel

    This chateau complete with four acres of grounds offers exceptional family holidays. Interiors are homely and spacious, there’s no standing on ceremony, and kids facilities include playground, woodland den, gypsy caravan, croquet, bikes and trampoline. Stay in one of four large two-bedroom suites and enjoy communal dinners most evenings, or opt for the self-catering gites in the former stables.

    Offer: free pizza and pasta-making classes

    Istanbul Place Apartments, Galata, Istanbul, Turkey

    Istanbul Place Apartments

    You’ve a choice of stylish apartments across several 19th-century buildings in one of this fascinating city’s most eclectic neighbourhoods. Kids will delight in the glorious and gory history of the Topkapi Palace, boat trips up the Bosphorus, and shopping in the colourful Grand Bazaar.

    Offer: free 2 x 3hr babysitting

    Check out the full list of available getaways >>

    Posted in Kids. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

WIN a seaside getaway!

  • Whether it’s the coconut-strewn sands of Goa or the expansive horizons of the Algarve, there’s nothing we love more than a beach break. We’re sure you feel the same, so we’ve teamed up with ethical bag brand Saint Luke to give you the chance to win a seaside getaway – and some beach style to boot!

    One lucky winner (with one lucky friend) will be heading to arty St Ives for an overnight stay at the spectacularly positioned Boskerris (for those who can’t wait, rush to the end of the post to find out how to enter).

    Boskerris Hotel

    With 15 stylish rooms and a huge terrace overlooking Carbis Bay, the Boskerris will have you smitten from the moment you arrive. Designers Guild silks, soothing colours and deep damask chairs are dotted throughout, helping you quickly reset to Cornish time (an alfresco glass of fizz will do the trick, too!).

    Boskerris Hotel

    The hotel is a celebration of all things Cornish, from the delicious fare on the breakfast table (we loved the homemade muesli and local bacon) to the pretty nautical rooms. The interiors also make the most of the beautiful Cornish light, which has attracted artists for decades.

    If, after a leisurely breakfast, you’re tempted down to the shoreline, it’s an easy walk to the beach, and only a short way along the coastal path to the galleries, boutiques and restaurants of buzzy St Ives.

    Boskerris Hotel

    But that’s not all… To complete your Cornwall trip, Saint Luke is offering a St Ives bag from its range of eclectic and individual travel bags. The team at Saint Luke like nothing more than a seaside break, and their colourful, beach-ready bags – conceived on a trip to the Caribbean – are testimony to their wanderlust.

    Saint Luke

    Entering couldn’t be easier: all you have to do is head over to Instagram and share your beach pics to show us your #mybeachvibe. Don’t forget to tag and follow @iescapehotels and @saintlukeco, too!
    The winner will be announced on 13th May. Good luck!

    Posted in Competitions. Tagged ,

Our favourite recipes… fish satay, sauteed vegetables and corn fritters

  • Assistant Editor Melissa recently returned from Bali armed with this tempting Indonesian supper recipe. Kindly provided by the team at eco-resort Bambu Indah, who are renowned for growing organic produce in their gardens, it gives a taste of the delicious food she enjoyed in their stunning open-air restaurant.

    The team have included their favourite Bali bumbu (spice mix) and sambal (spicy sauce) recipes, both Indonesian cooking staples used in the hotel’s mouthwatering fish satay. They recommend combining the fish with sauteed vegetables and corn fritters for a tasty Balinese feast. Enjoy.

    Bambu Indah restaurantBambu Indah gardenBali Bumbu

    Bumbu, meaning “spice”, is a paste used widely in Indonesian cooking to season traditional recipes.


    1 cup shredded coconut
    100g shallots (peeled)
    100g garlic (peeled)
    1 whole chilli
    Turmeric (1 thumb length)
    Ginger (1 thumb length)
    3 slices of galangal
    A pinch of shrimp paste
    1 tsp pepper
    3 candlenuts
    150ml coconut oil
    Salt, to taste
    250ml water


    1. Leave the coconut oil and water to one side; combine all the other ingredients in a stone mortar (or food processor) until coarsely ground.
    2. In a heavy saucepan, combine the coconut oil with the contents of the mortar, and add the water.
    3. Cook over a medium heat for 1 hour, or until all the water has evaporated and the paste looks golden brown.
    4. Cool before using (it can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week).

    Bambu Indah kitchenSambal

    Sambal is a staple chilli-based sauce used in all Indonesian cuisines. It comes in different forms and can be cooked or raw. This is a cooked sambal.


    100g shallots
    100g garlic
    50g chillies
    A pinch of shrimp paste
    4 tbsp coconut oil


    1. Slice the chillies, garlic and shallots.
    2. Heat the coconut oil in a shallow pan and add the shallots, stirring constantly until wilted.
    3. Continue to stir while adding the garlic, chillies and shrimp paste.
    4. Remove from the heat when the mixture becomes fragrant.
    5. Allow to cool, then store in a jar to use as needed.

    Bambu Indah sambalFish Satay


    Bali Bumbu
    400g baramundi fish
    100g shredded coconut
    1 tsp salt
    3 tbsp palm sugar
    1 tbsp fried shallots
    Sticks for satay


    1. Stir together the fish and Bali Bumbu.
    2. Add the shredded coconut, salt, palm sugar, fried shallots and sambal. It should look like a yellow paste and be easy to mould.
    3. Take a piece of the fish and thread onto the satay stick. Keep doing this until each stick is full.
    4. Grill for 5 minutes on each side and serve.

    Bambu Indah gardenSautéed vegetables


    Garden vegetables: pak choy, aubergine, cabbage, carrot
    1 tsp coconut oil


    1. Wash the vegetables and bring a saucepan of water to the boil
    2. Boil the carrots until tender (approx. 3 minutes).
    3. Drain the water and chop the other vegetables.
    4. Add the coconut oil and garlic to a hot pan.
    5. Add the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes.

    Bambu Indah sauteed vegetablesFor the corn fritters


    4 tins of sweetcorn
    Half a cup of rice flour
    1 tbsp coriander seeds
    3 shallot
    3 cloves of garlic
    3 eggs
    1 slice of ginger
    Half a large chilli
    1 tbsp vegetable oil


    1. Mix the coriander seeds, chili, garlic, shallots, ginger, eggs and half a cup of sweetcorn in a blender.
    2. Stir the mixture in a bowl with the rest of the sweetcorn.
    3. Fry 1 tbsp of the mixture in hot vegetable oil until golden on both sides.

    Bambu Indah corn frittersBambu Indah fish satayReady for another culinary challenge? Try Italian focaccia or Portuguese octopus miga

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , , , , , ,

Just back from… Essaouira

  • After a vicious winter bug knocked the wind out of her sails, Head of Bookings Kate was in need of some recuperation. A 3-day trip to Essaouira in Morocco – best friend in tow and no kids! – proved just the ticket…

    i-escape: Essaouira holidaysi-escape: Essaouira holidaysi-escape: Essaouira holidays

    The small fishing port of Essaouira is perfect for easy breaks. There are twice-weekly flights from Luton, and you really do feel like you’ve travelled much further than 3 hours (note the airport is tiny, so don’t expect a cash machine or shop!). The town itself has a laidback vibe and is easily walkable, and we found the locals friendly, helpful and kind. And we ate great food in the sunshine – 20 degrees was a wonderful treat after the cold drizzle we’d left behind in the UK!

    i-escape: Essaouira holidays i-escape: Essaouira holidays i-escape: Essaouira holidays

    On arrival we were met by ex-Londoner Emma, who owns the wonderful Design House. This renovated 4-bedroom house is hidden in the medina and is super-stylish, with amazing retro furniture and cool details at every turn. It looks straight out of a magazine shoot, and it’s ideal for 2 couples, families with older kids, or a fun shopping/spa/sun break with friends.

    The Design House The Design House

    Emma is available to help guests with whatever they need, from giving tours of the medina to planning their whole trip. She can make restaurant reservations, arrange exciting excursions, share her shopping secrets, organise hammams and more… She seems to know everyone and loves the area, having lived there for 18 years. For our first night she arranged for an authentic meal made by lovely housekeeper/cook Amina to be delivered to the house. There was more food than we could eat in a week, and the chicken, olive and lemon tagine with a variety of vegetable side dishes was superb.

    The Design Housei-escape: The Design House, Essaouira

    We also dined at Madada Mogador and met with the French owner Christine, who is lovely. The hotel is an elegant mix of French and Moroccan style and occupies one of the best spots in town. Christine has added a fabulous restaurant with sophisticated French/Moroccan food, as well as a well-regarded cookery school; there will also soon be a boutique and gallery in the same street.

    i-escape: Madada Mogador, Essaouira i-escape: Madada Mogador, Essaouira i-escape: Madada Mogador, Essaouira

    Christine really cares about her guests’ feedback and has worked hard to improve their experience by tweaking the breakfast, investing in super-comfy mattress toppers, providing complimentary WiFi, and lending out mobile phones preprogramed with restaurant numbers. There’s even free tea and cake in the afternoon. We found the hotel charming throughout, and the terrace with its sea views is perfect for a relaxing weekend in the sun. The location is hard to beat, and it offers excellent value for money – especially in comparison to city breaks in the UK and Europe.

    i-escape: Madada Mogador, Essaouira

    We had another heavenly day at Le Jardin des Douars (just 20 minutes from Essaouira), where we were utterly enchanted. Manager Gregoire and his wife are passionate about helping their guests and run a simply gorgeous hotel.

    i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira

    The gardens are lush, the rooms and villas fabulous, and the restaurant has great European-inspired food. There’s also a beautiful spa for a special treat. Two emerald swimming pools on either side of the property mean families and couples can happily co-exist, and they’re heated so you can swim all year round. It’s a real winner of a hotel, and I have already dropped several very unsubtle hints about returning to my husband!

    i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira

    All in all, Essaouira felt very safe and fun. There are some great places to eat, enough shopping for any bargain hunter, and a super-soft sandy beach. Now when can Granny look after the kids…?

    i-escape: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira

    See our full collection of beautiful places to stay in Essaouira >>

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

Back to nature in Bali (with the kids!)

  • This exotic tropical isle holds much to entice families: fabulous sandy beaches, lush forests brimming with wildlife, plenty of opportunity for surfing and snorkelling, and wonderfully friendly locals. For a back-to-nature holiday which will linger long in the memory, Kids Collection Editor Nadine suggests these 6 super hideaways…

    Desa Seni, near Canggu

    i-escape: Desa Seni, Bali

    We could recommend this great-value eco retreat for many things: its proximity to the airport, the stunningly presented fusion food made from the best organic ingredients, the kids’ menu packed with international choices, the separate toddler pool in the delightful gardens, the yoga and spa treatments tailored to children… Yet the sheer beauty of the place is what most captivates guests of all ages. The antique wooden houses make utterly unique dwellings, and they’re surrounded by paddy fields and colourful wildflowers.

    Puri Ganesha Villas, Pemuteran

    i-escape: Puri Ganesha, Bali

    These 4 shabby-chic beachside villas, set just back from the sea on the unspoilt northwest coast, work perfectly for families with older kids. They come with smiling staff and are superbly spacious; what’s more, each has its own swimming pool and an acre of garden fronting the sand. The food is fabulous, the setting serene, and there’s a turtle sanctuary nearby. You can also take boat trips to spot dolphins, and visit a volcano and rainforest.

    Slow Gili Air, Gili Air

    i-escape: Slow Gili Air, Bali

    Found between Bali and Lombok, this idyllic car-free island offers a laid-back alternative to its larger cousins. We gave you a taster of airy architect-designed resort Slow Gili Air last week, and it’s also ideal for families. The vibe is chilled, and all villas have their own plunge pools, decks, kitchenettes and large gardens. Dive into turquoise seas, hang out with the locals, snorkel off the east-coast beaches in the hope of sighting turtles… Slow = bliss.

    The Menjangan, Bali Barat National Park

    i-escape: The Menjangan, Bali

    Adventurous older children with an interest in the natural world will love staying at this beautiful hotel, which is set in a protected park and surrounded by biodiversity – from forests with wild pigs and macaque monkeys to wonderful birdlife and coral-rich coasts. Activities include night-time safaris, terrific snorkelling and guided tours through mangrove swamps; there are riding stables, too. All rooms can fit an extra bed, and Deluxe rooms can interconnect. For larger families, the Residence (with a butler service) sleeps up to 6.

    Bali Luxury Private Villa, near Canggu

    i-escape: Bali Luxury Private Villa, Bali

    You get the best of both worlds here. This fully staffed, contemporary villa for up to 12 people has a swimming pool, open-sided pavilions, large grounds and oodles of baby and toddler kit, and it’s only 40 minutes from the airport. Yet it also has an authentic setting on the outskirts of a fishing village, with long views across paddy fields. There are bikes for exploring the emerald rice plains and friendly villages, plus black-sand beaches nearby. An unforgettable immersion into Balinese culture.

    Have a browse of our Kids Collection and the rest of our Bali hideaways >>

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

Why we love… Liguria

  • Liguria may be famous for its glitzy Riviera resorts, but there’s far more to this beautiful corner of northern Italy than beaches, boutiques and yachts. As always, we’ve journeyed beyond the tourist hotspots to seek out secret valleys, secluded coves and the very best places to eat, drink and stay. Here’s a look at some of our favourite hideaways…

    For fabulous feasting – La Sosta di Ottone III, Chiesanuova

    i-escape: La Sosta di Ottone III, Liguria, ItalyVibe: A tranquil retreat in an old stone house, with 4 pretty guest rooms, ancient beams and plenty of gastronomic flair. Butterflies flit among the vines on the terrace, and views soar out over wooded slopes to the Med sparkling far below. 

    Setting: The tiny hilltop hamlet of Chiesanouva, high above the Ligurian coast. The famous pastel-coloured villages of the Cinque Terre lie just around the headland, and scenic footpaths lead out in every direction.

    Why we love it: Last week’s focaccia recipe post gave a taste of the foodie delights which await at La Sosta, and delicious bread is just the start. As well as multi-course dinners prepared by talented chef Lucca, you can look forward to cooking classes, olive-oil tastings, a vast selection of wines, and breakfast spreads packed with local ingredients.  

    Top tip: Book a session of ‘dry-stone-wall watching’ – much more interesting than it sounds! Local guide Silvia Mertens will explain the history of the area’s Unesco-listed vineyards, which consist of stone-walled terraces carved into the steep hillsides, before you sit down to sample their wares.

    For super-stylish design – Villa Rosmarino, Camogli 

    i-escape: Villa Rosemarino, Liguria, Italy

    Vibe: An elegant pink palazzo that’s been given a thoroughly modern makeover by ad-exec owner Mario. Inside are 6 minimalist rooms adorned with contemporary Italian art; outside, banks of fragrant lavender and a turquoise pool flanked by lemon and magnolia trees. 

    Setting: On the edge of yellow- and ochre-hued Camogli, whose seafront promenade brims with restaurants and ice-cream parlours. It’s a short train or boat hop from glittering Portofino and Santa Margherita, and within easy reach of the magnificently moody Ligurian capital, Genoa.

    Why we love it: The impeccable interiors pair white walls and sleek furniture with eye-catching pops of colour, and the garden is perfect for lazy poolside siestas.  All in all, it’s a wonderfully stylish base in a pretty harbour town. 

    Top tip: Take the little ferry round to Portofino and climb up to the very splendid Hotel Splendido, whose terrace is a great spot for sunset aperitivi and people-watching.    

    For an authentic slice of village life – Relais del Maro, Borgomaro

    i-escape: Relais del Maro, Liguria, ItalyVibe: A friendly, family-run guesthouse, whose 14 elegant rooms are spread over 3 beautifully restored buildings. There’s also a flower-filled garden with a pool and a bubbling Jacuzzi. 

    Setting: Sleepy little Borgomaro – population 884 at the last count. It’s the main village in the peaceful Maro Valley, and just a 20-minute drive from sandy beaches.

    Why we love it: The village is enchanting – a crumbling jumble of houses lining a gushing river, with a 17th-century church and a square where children play barefoot. Relais del Maro’s owner Elena and her mother welcome you with big smiles, and you’ll soon feel part of local life. 

    Top tip: Stroll a couple of minutes up the road to Censin da Bea, a rustic trattoria in a converted watermill. There’s no menu; instead, dish after dish emerges from the kitchen and you help yourself to whatever takes your fancy – local salami and cheeses, slow-cooked stews, just-caught eels, creamy tiramisu and even the occasional snail.

    See our full insider’s guide to Liguria >>

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

Just Back From… North Norfolk (With the Kids!)

  • Over the Easter holidays, Kids Collection Editor Nadine enjoyed a short break in Norfolk with her 2 children, Esme and Cormac. They all loved exploring countryside crowned by big open skies, getting closer to nature, and wandering along the wild coastline.

    i-escape: North Norfolk

    We left London on an overcast Wednesday morning, which turned out to be a stroke of genius: no traffic meant only a 2.5-hour drive to the glorious North Norfolk coast. Our first stop was coastal charmer Wells-next-the-Sea for lunch – our first foray into local fish, crab and chips.

    i-escape: North Norfolk

    The beach is a small distance from the town – easily walkable, but with shorter legs to cater for, we opted instead for the little ride-on diesel train there and back. Fun! Once on the windswept sand, we found candy-coloured beach huts and a slope just built for sliding down. And the sun emerged!

    i-escape: Barsham Barns, North Norfolk

    After negotiating Norfolk’s twisting lanes, we stocked up at the excellent Walsingham Farm Shop and headed to our superlative accommodation: Barsham Barns, a cluster of 5 stylishly converted barns in rolling open countryside. We were berthed in Little Barsham, which has 2 bedrooms, an open-plan living/dining area complete with a wood-burner and beams, and a large private garden to the rear.

    i-escape: Barsham Barns, North Norfolk

    There was plenty of space to run around, and spring was positively singing all around – the first swallows had just arrived, the driveway was lined with thick rows of daffodils, and baby lambs frolicked in the field opposite. The kids lost no time in exploring while I admired the serene aesthetic (exposed brick walls, rich accent hues) and well-kitted kitchen.

    i-escape: Barsham Barns, North Norfolk

    There was another family in the barn next door. Well, apparently – we didn’t hear a peep from them, which proves what good soundproofing the thick walls have. A relief, given how noisy my 2 can be!

    We did manage to take a tour of nearby High Barsham (sleeps 12) and The Great East Barn (sleeps 14), though. Both have a wonderful sense of light and scale, and a stylish-yet-relaxed vibe; they would be terrific for a celebration or extended family get-together. And we had a sneak peek of the about-to-open Loose Box, which sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms.

    i-escape: Barsham Barns, North Norfolki-escape: Barsham Barns, North Norfolk

    The next day, under bright skies, we went birding for 4 fantastic hours at RSPB Titchwell Marsh. My children have been fully indoctrinated into the way of the feather and can identify most species. Cormac was stoked to see avocet just 5m away from the hide, and Esme liked the marsh harriers. I was overjoyed to see a shy water rail for the first time. On the way back to the barns, we popped into the famous (for those in the know about medieval pilgrimage sites, anyway) Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham.

    i-escape: RSPB Titchwell Marshi-escape: RSPB Titchwell Marsh

    On our last day we went on a seal-watching boat trip. We embarked at Morston, where we saw a Norfolk wherry and kids crabbing beside salt-marsh meadows alive with the song of skylarks.

    i-escape: Norfolk seal-watching boat trip i-escape: Norfolk seal-watching boat trip

    The boat chugged out to Blakeney Point, where we saw grey seals (slate-coloured fur with Roman noses) and common seals (cream, with rounded heads) at close quarters, to the excitement of all aboard.

    i-escape: Norfolk seal-watching boat trip i-escape: Norfolk seal-watching boat trip

    We bid farewell to the wondrous North Norfolk coast at the vast, shimmering expanse of Holkham Beach. Here, we found piles of razor-clam shells, dug trenches in the sand, and walked and walked to reach far-distant waves.

    i-escape: Holkham Beachi-escape: Holkham Beachi-escape: Holkham Beach

    And then, all too reluctantly, we headed home through the magnificent Holkham Estate, counting up our bird list on the way – an excellent 55 species!

    Posted in Our Trips..., Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , ,

Our favourite recipes… La Sosta’s focaccia & olive oil

  • We love a recipe that gets to the heart of a region and shows off what makes it special. This month we turn to culinary giant Italy and new i-escape addition La Sosta di Ottone III, who show us their recipe for focaccia: a flat bread typical of Liguria and the best way to enjoy its world-class olive oil. 

    Though everybody calls it ‘focaccia’, each city and indeed each bakery tends to make its own unique version. Variations usually include thickness – from very thin and crunchy to high and soft – and the amount of oil in the recipe.


    In line with tradition, we make our own ‘La Sosta’ version using stone-ground flours and sourdough. We love the slight acidity and extra crunchiness which these provide, but the recipe works with any flour you might have at hand or want to try, so experiment away!



    Recipe for 1 round baking tin with a diameter of around 28cm; feeds 4 to 6 people

    200g sourdough starter
    200g flour (the kind which you used to make the sourdough starter)
    200ml water
    Extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt to taste

    focaccia lievito madre


    1. Refresh your sourdough, then mix it with the flour and the water, making sure that the water is room temperature and not too cold. Knead the dough until it looks and feels smooth.
    2. Once the dough is ready, cover it with a cloth and leave it to rise for around 3 or 4 hours – the exact time depends on the sourdough starter, the flour you use and the room humidity, so after around 3 hours check how puffy it looks and see if it needs a bit more time.
    3. Spread a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the bottom of the baking tin, so that the focaccia won’t stick.
    4. Once the dough has risen, place it in the baking tin and spread it flat with your hands so that it fills the tin. Use the tips of your fingers to push down on the dough and make small “holes” on the surface (they don’t have to go all the way through to the baking tin, just make hollows). To make this process easier, wet your hands and sprinkle a bit of water on top of the flattened dough.
    5. Spread extra virgin olive oil on top of the dough, making sure most goes in the hollows – this is where the oiliness of the focaccia will condense, so use as much as you feel like.
    6. Sprinkle the salt on top – again the quantity depends on how salty you’d like the focaccia to be (bear in mind there is no salt in the actual dough).
    7. Place in the oven at 200 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until golden.
    8. Leave to cool down for a little while before happily devouring it!

    food blog

    One of the key aspects of focaccia, and in fact the backbone ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, is extra virgin olive oil. Italy produces around 300 varieties, each with a different mixture of basic flavors: fruttato (fruity), amaro (bitter) and piccante (pungent). At La Sosta we wanted to showcase this amazing variety by offering extra virgin olive oil tastings that take you on a sensory discovery of this often overlooked ingredient.

    So once you’ve made your focaccia, don’t be shy to dip it into your favorite olive oil for a mouthful of true Italian flavours!

    Mastered the focaccia? Try your hand at Portuguese Pasteis de Nata or The Mudhouse’s Okra Curry >>

    Thank you to Odile Arias and Sana Javeri Kadri for the images

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , , ,

Introducing the Gili Islands

  • Gili IslandsOur Senior Editorial Assistant Melissa reveals i-escape’s latest hot spot, the Gili Islands. An Indonesian island haven where the living is easy and turtles rule the waves – perfect for combining with Bali.

    In recent years people have started asking if Bali has changed – if certain areas have lost the chilled-out island atmosphere that once was. Well, we believe Bali still has a wealth of wonders to offer: Ubud’s rich culture, thrilling west-coast surfing, dense inland forests, dramatic mountains and achingly hip beachfront towns.

    But we also believe that the best desert-island escapism can be found just off Bali’s east coast, where a tiny archipelago dances to the beat of its own drum. Last month our Senior Editorial Assistant Melissa travelled with her boyfriend Ben to Gili Air, our favourite of the 3 Gili Islands, to see for herself why so many travellers struggle to leave this friendly enclave…

    Gili AirHaving battled through Bali’s chaotic Padang Bai port to catch our fast-boat transfer to the Gilis, we approached Gili Air feeling hot, bothered and rather grateful to leave behind the party-mad passengers heading to neighbouring Gili Trawangan. Despite their proximity to each other, it would be a mistake to think the 3 Gili Islands are similar. Gili T is all beach parties and Bintang, while sleepy Gili Meno has just a handful of romantic resorts. To our mind, Gili Air is the best of both worlds – it’s the kind of place where you can go back to basics with late mornings, lazy lunches and leisurely evenings chatting over cocktails. And there’s nowhere better to slow down than beautiful Slow Gili Air, a heavenly resort just inland from one of the island’s quietest beaches.

    Slow Gili AirOwner Julie welcomed us as friends. A long-time traveller herself, she settled here after globetrotting as a dive instructor. Her warmth and enthusiasm were infectious, and we found her commitment to employing island residents and supporting ethical initiatives admirable. Slow Gili Air felt like a very positive place to be.

    Moreover, our gorgeous villa truly felt like home, with a beautiful alfresco shower room, a handy kitchenette, and a shimmering pool overlooking the palm trees. It was hard not to feel at ease the next morning when, having joined the morning yoga session and taken a refreshing pre-breakfast dip, we tucked into delicious avocado and eggs on our private terrace. Afterwards, I wandered along to the spa, where a much-needed aloe vera massage soothed my mosquito-ravaged skin. In no time at all Slow Gili Air had transformed me from harried traveller to Zen island-dweller. No wonder people are loath to leave!

    Slow Gili AirSlow Gili AirLater that day we discovered the island can be traversed east-to-west in little more than 30 minutes, and lapped in about an hour or so (depending on how many mojitos are required en route). Palms fringe the sands and enormous driftwoods invite afternoons sat gazing across the sea, we gladly obliged.

    Gili AirGili AirAlthough many come here for the outstanding dive courses, we instead spent a fantastic low-effort day snorkelling just yards from the beach. We paddled amongst myriad tropical fish and came face-to-face with an enormous turtle as he gracefully ascended to the surface for a breath of air.

    Our last night rolled around all too soon, and we headed to our favourite beach bar, Mowies, to watch the sun set behind Bali’s distant silhouette one final time. As we lounged on our beanbags, Balearic beats in the background and fellow travellers mingling around us, we discussed just how feasible it would be to stay forever. Well, if Julie can do it…

    Gili AirGili AirGili AirReady to embark on your own desert-island dream? Check out the Gili Islands

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