MAY27

Interiors focus: South Africa and the South of France

 
  • It’s time for another round-up of some of our favourite hotel interiors, and this month we’ve done things a little differently… 

    Normally we’d pick one of our chosen destinations and put together a selection of stylish places to stay, but South Africa and the South of France have so many beauties that we found it impossible to choose between them! So, here’s a peek at some stunning interiors across both collections. This time round, we’ve also delved a little deeper to uncover the stories behind the looks.

    Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, Provence

    i-escape: Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, Provence, FranceThe look: A contemporary take on rustic French style, with flea-market finds and a sprinkling of designer pieces.

    i-escape: Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus, Provence, France

    The story: Model Anna Karin and her photographer husband Olivier swapped Paris for a new life in the tiny Provençal hamlet of Aigaliers in 2000. They now have 3 cats and 2 children, plus an idyllic 12th-century home that doubles as a B&B. They wanted to create an informal and welcoming vibe, so they washed the walls with soft colour and left floors and fireplaces distressed to showcase layers of history. They then trawled local brocantes for vintage furniture, pairing their finds with iconic pieces from international designers. The result is a fantastic blend of old and new, with plenty of texture: expect Eames chairs by gnarled tables, daybeds piled with relaxed linen cushions, and rough stone basins finished with the sleekest of taps. 

    Baudon de Mauny, Montpellier 

    i-escape: Baudon de Mauny, Montpellier, France

    The look: Louis XV meets Philippe Starck in a sumptuous city-centre chateau.

    i-escape: Baudon de Mauny, Montpellier, France

    The story: Frustrated by the lack of stylish places to stay in their buzzing home city, 7th generation heir Alain de Bordas and his wife Nathalie decided to transform the first and second floors of their 18th-century hôtel particulier (private residence) into a B&B. They clearly had a ball decorating the 8 rooms, mixing 230-year-old cornicing and regency chairs with glass-walled Italian power showers and playful Cole & Son wallpapers. They also added a selection of contemporary classics, including ‘Diamond’ chairs by Harry Bertoia, ‘Tulip’ tables from Eric Saarinen, and perspex Philippe Starck lamps. The finished scheme is fun and flamboyant – just what Montpellier has been waiting for. 

    Babylonstoren, Cape Winelands 

    i-escape: Babylonstoren, Cape Winelands, South Africa

    The look: A sleek white sanctuary on a working South African farm.

    i-escape: Babylonstoren, Cape Winelands, South Africa

    The story: Babylonstoren’s stylish interiors come as no surprise when you learn that owner Karen Roos used to be the editor of South African Elle Decoration. She purchased this 17th-century Cape Dutch farmstead in 2007 and spent years transforming it into a sophisticated holiday retreat, creating an imaginative restaurant in the former cowshed and building a spa pavilion from bamboo. She also turned a row of workers’ cottages into swish guest suites, adding roll-top tubs and contemporary pieces by the likes of Kartell and Philippe Starck. Almost everything is swathed in soothing white, creating a striking contrast with the colourful kitchen gardens outside.

    La Grenadine, Cape Town

    i-escape: La Grenadine, Cape Town, South Africa

    The look: A Franco-African fusion in the heart of the city – the perfect way to round off a showcase of South African and Gallic style!

    i-escape: La Grenadine, Cape Town, South Africa

    The story: Having met and fallen in love in – and with – Cape Town, Parisian couple Mélodie and Maxime decided to make their home in the city. They transformed an old stable building into their dream home and guesthouse, retaining all the charm of the original architecture while adding plenty of artistic flair. White walls are offset by bright pops of colour (an orange bathtub in one room, a pink door in another), and vibrant African prints adorn cushions and chairs. Metal and glass verrière walls reminiscent of Parisian apartments separate beds from bathrooms, and the linens were hand-embroidered at Mélodie’s family atelier in Mauritius. There are quirky touches, too, including mirrors made from old tennis rackets and keys used as light pulleys.

    See our full French and South African collections for more beautiful places to stay >>

    Posted in Our Favourite.... Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
MAY26

5 family retreats in Northern England

 
  • England’s northern counties offer all sorts of family fun: stupendous national parks (the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales), a huge range of outdoor pursuits (fell walking, potholing, birding, cycling) and much better value than many other corners of the UK. Our Kids Collection Editor Nadine makes a point of venturing northwards every year with her children (most recently to Manchester), and selects 5 of the best family-friendly places to stay.

    Augill Castle, Eden Valley, Cumbria

    i-escape blog / Augill Castle Augill Castle 5 Augill Castle

    Wonderfully old-school, this Victorian folly is equidistant between the Lakes, the Pennines and the Northumberland National Park, so there’s lots of hearty hiking to be had; you could also play at being Romans along Hadrian’s Wall. Alternatively, eschew the many attractions hereabouts for exploring the castle and its parkland, bouncing on the trampoline, delving into the dressing-up box, whooping it up in the playground, and dining on good, honest, locally inspired home-cooking.

    Swinton Bivouac, North Yorkshire

    i-escape blog / Swinton Bivouac Swinton Bivouac 4 Swinton Bivouac 5

    This is a completely delightful one-off: a collection of off-grid woodland shacks and canvas yurts, surrounded by acres of stone-walled meadows and pine forests in the Yorkshire Dales. Fetch up here for free-range adventures (castles, waterfalls, falconry lessons, horse riding), wholesome food in the stone barn cafe (there’s a kids’ menu, too), and exciting school-holiday activities such as learning about foraging and woodcraft.

    The Assheton Arms, Ribble Valley, Lancashire

    i-escape blog / Assheton Arms i-escape blog / Assheton Arms i-escape blog / Assheton Arms

    Just an hour north of Manchester, the unspoilt and under-explored Ribble Valley lies within the Forest of Bowland and is noted for its wonderful walking. Beneath towering Pendle Hill (of witch-trial infamy) is the charming village of Downham, whose convivial pub has a range of cosseting guest rooms to suit all, including dedicated family suites. There’s also a kids’ menu, along with deep bathtubs to splash in and a very warm welcome.

    Natural Retreats, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

    i-escape blog / Natural Retreatsi-escape blog / Natural Retreats i-escape blog / Natural Retreats

    Self-catering rarely feels as stylish, practical and fun as it does at these contemporary 3-bed eco-cabins, secluded on a leafy hillside. Go wild amongst trees, waterfalls, caves and footpaths; return to proper kitchens, glass-fronted open-plan living areas, and terraces for alfresco meals overlooking a lovely valley. For rainy days, there’s a play room with tents, a wooden kitchen and a pop-up tunnel.

    Twenty Queen Street, Ulverston, Lake District

    i-escape blog / Twenty Queen Street i-escape blog / Twenty Queen Street i-escape blog / Twenty Queen Street

    Only 15 minutes from Windermere, the pretty market town of Ulverston makes a handy base for exploring all the Lakes have to offer. At its heart is this quirky 3-bedroom self-catering Georgian townhouse, restored with a beguiling mix of vintage and modern decor. Period details sit happily with the swish kitchen and snazzy designer chairs, and there’s a roaring fire. Other pampering touches include mini bathrobes, toys and games for children, and an honesty bar with a cocktail kit for the grown-ups.

    See a full list of our family-friendly places to stay in northern England >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , ,
MAY24

Just Back From… Andalucia

 
  • i-escape blog / Ronda's Roman Bridge

    Bookings Consultant Emylou and her boyfriend Stefan have just returned from a trip to sunny southern Spain, where they feasted on local dishes, drank in glorious views and were seriously spoiled in some very special hotels…

    i-escape blog / EmylouMy imaginary Andalucía was a place of eternal golden sunsets basking the mountains in a warm glow, with orange trees stretching as far as the eye could see and a beautiful Spanish man playing the guitar by my side. As it turns out, the real Andalucia was exactly that (beautiful Spanish man optional, of course).

    The former Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus is a region of simple pleasures, and the best meals of our trip were eaten in dusty, lopsided ventas (farm shops with a few plastic tables offering beer and regional fare). We feasted on tortilla española, garlic olives, manchego, and heaps of jamón ibérico sliced directly from the hoofed leg propped in the corner of the kitchen. All accompanied by wine that went down way too easily at EUR 1.20 a glass…

    i-escape blog / ventas food

    Our first stop was just outside the largest of the famous white villages, Ronda. Here we checked into the stylish but wonderfully relaxed Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera, set on the edge of a beautiful little valley dotted with farmhouses and criss-crossed by dusty roads. The suites are massive and the art collection really impressive – it has a distinctly old-world, colonial feel. It was too chilly to swim in the garden pool, but we were thrilled with the wood-burning fireplaces in each room.

    i-escape blog / Hotel la Fuente de la Higuerai-escape blog / Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera i-escape blog / Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera

    We spent a lovely day strolling through Ronda’s cobbled streets, crossing the famous Roman bridge, browsing quirky little shops (selling all those bits and bobs we never knew we wanted!) and admiring the bull ring. We’d never want to watch a bull fight but, as Ronda is the home of bull fighting, we were interested to learn about its history and admire the architecture.

    i-escape blog / Ronda i-escape blog / Ronda

    From there we moved onto tiny Gaucín, where historical inn La Fructuosa gave us a window into Spanish village life. The views from its terrace are incredible, and we could see 50+ miles to the Rock of Gibraltar and even across the sea to Africa. Gaucín is so friendly, and we were greeted with a kind smile and a warm ‘hola!’ from every passer-by.

    i-escape blog / La Fructuosai-escape blog / Gaucini-escape blog / La Fructuosa

    We loved the innovative design of our final stop, Hospes Palacio de los Patos in Granada. It sits in a restored mansion which has been fused with an ultra-modern steel and white-marble building.

    i-escape blog / Hospes Palacio de los Patos i-escape blog / Hospes Palacio de los Patos i-escape blog / Hospes Palacio de los Patosi-escape blog / Hospes Palacio de los Patos

    Granada is home to the world-famous Alhambra Palace, one of the largest and most intact examples of Moorish architecture in the world. Thanks to poor planning, we didn’t manage to get tickets to go inside (advance purchase is crucial, apparently!), but we enjoyed a nice stroll around the outside and marvelled at how imposing this massive fortress would have seemed to invaders hundreds of years ago.

    i-escape blog / Alhambra Palace

    We simply loved Andalucía, and we left feeling that Andalucía loved us back.

    Find our more about Andalucía in our travel guide >>

    Posted in Our Trips.... Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
MAY19

Our favourite recipes… Abalone House’s Bojito

 
  • This month’s culinary creation is a slice of Cuba with a distinctly South African twist. Say hello to the ‘Bojito’ – Abalone House & Spa’s answer to the Mojito, which showcases some of the best brandies in the world. Summer’s almost here, so it’s the perfect time to crush some ice, raid the garden for a handful of mint, and kick back with a taste of the Western Cape.

    BOJITOIngredients
    30ml brandy
    1 lime, cut into chunks
    1.5 teaspoons brown sugar
    100ml lemonade
    Handful of fresh mint (keep some for garnishing)
    Crushed ice

    Glass to use
    Tumbler or highball glass

     

     

     

    Method
    1. Muddle the brandy, lime, brown sugar and mint, and pour into a tumbler or highball glass.
    2. Add crushed ice and stir the mixture.
    3. Top up with more crushed ice and the lemonade, and give it another stir.
    4. Garnish with fresh mint.

    IMG_8872

    The ‘Bojito’ is obviously a winner on its own, but Abalone House & Spa (set in the beautiful coastal town of Paternoster, 2 hours from Cape Town) is also the stage for some dramatic pairings of food and brandy. Think spiced chicken-liver parfait, toasted brioche and apple chutney, or slow-braised oxtail with smoked bacon, black mushroom puree, butternut and parsnips – all carefully matched with one of South Africa’s iconic brandies.

    IMG_9164

    Untitled-1 copy

    Fancy something with that drink? Try Six Senses’ Octopus Miga or  The Mudhouse’s Okra Curry >>

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , , , , , ,
MAY16

Our favourite foodie haunts in Southern France

 
  • Provence, FranceIn a region packed with fine cuisine, we’ve found the best places to indulge your inner foodie. Whether you’re after traditional French fare, Michelin-starred restaurants or the very best market-fresh ingredients, it’s all here in the south of France. Oh, and you might want to settle in with a cuppa, we’ve got a lot to cover…

    Provence

    Best for: Getting under the skin of authentic French cooking.

    A taste of the area: Being so far south, Provence’s cooking tends to come with a Mediterranean twist. Look out for petit farcis (aubergines, courgettes and peppers stuffed with seasoned mince) and tender slow-cooked lamb with a purée of anchovies, olive oil and capers.

    Don’t miss…

    Le Bistro du ParadouLe Bistro du ParadouLa Maison du Paradou…Le Bistro du Paradou, one of France’s favourite restaurants. But don’t expect high-end haute cuisine; this is a wonderful no-frills place near St Remy, where delicious country fare is served in a relaxed setting. French to the core, it has a set menu where wine is included in the price but water is charged extra! Think foie gras with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, roast chicken with Dauphinoise potatoes, and a cheese board plonked down on your table. Book ahead or be disappointed. Stay 300m down the road at La Maison du Paradou, so you can easily roll into bed afterwards.

    La MirandeFR078_La_Mirande_146286_174 …Cooking classes with the very best Provencal chefs in Avignon. Taking place in La Mirande’s beautiful 19th-century kitchen, they’re hands-on affairs after which you sit down to feast on your efforts. Make time to dine in the hotel’s 14th-century restaurant, too: we sampled a faultless selection of foie gras, cauliflower soup, and chocolate served with Camargue sea salt and caramel ice cream. For more foodie fun, the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wine fields are just outside the city.

    Uzès MarketUzès MarketLe Mas des Oules…Uzès’ huge Saturday market – the best in Provence. The Place aux Herbes will be jam-packed with shoppers haggling over olives, pâtés, crusty bread, sun-ripened fruit, veg and ocean-fresh fish. We couldn’t resist the juicy oysters. Keen to cook up a storm? Stay a 10-minute drive outside town at Le Mas des Oules, a bucolic collection of self-catering hideaways with private terraces amid lavender-filled gardens. The Pont du Gard is also within easy reach, so pack a picnic and spend a sunny day by the river.

    Cote d’Azur

    Best for: Upping your quota of Michelin-starred dining experiences.

    A taste of the area: Wriggling along the south coast, the Cote d’Azur’s is famed for its fruits de mer: huge platters of spider crabs, clams, lobster and mussels, best washed down with a crisp white wine. Bouillabaisse is a particular favourite, accenting the seafood with fragrant tomatoes, saffron and garlic.

    Don’t miss…

    Le Clos Saint PierreHotel-du-closLe Clos Saint PierreHotel du Clos…Michelin-starred Le Clos Saint Pierre, near Antibes. Head chef Daniel Ettlinger cultivates an outstanding, daily changing menu du marché, and diners can stay just a 5-minute stroll away at Hotel du Clos. Sitting on the pretty vine-draped terrace by candlelight, we were blown away by the delicate battered sea bream fillet in broth and the duck breast with potato and asparagus. Of course, we had to sample the cheese course (when in France…), but it was the dessert that really stole our hearts: fresh cake cubes with yoghurt, cherries, raspberries, ice cream and chocolate macaroons.

    Les-Rosees-1_edLes Rosees…Two-Michelin-starred Le Moulin de Mougins, when it reopens this year. Set in a pretty medieval hilltop village that’s famous for its restaurants, it was badly damaged by a storm in late 2015 and is currently being given a full makeover. Under the guiding hand of head chef Erwan Louaisil, its new incarnation is sure to exceed expectations. We advocate staying in nearby Les Rosees, a peaceful and romantic retreat where you can feast on home-cooked food made with ingredients plucked straight from the organic garden.

    Languedoc

    Best for: Wine – it has been described as one of the “most exciting and spectacular places to make wine on Earth”, and produces twice as much as Australia!

    A taste of the area: Classically French cuisine rules the roost: grilled snails with herbs and garlic, rich slow-cooked cassoulet (with juicy ham hock, duck leg, pork belly and white beans) and, of course, lots of wine.

    Don’t miss…

    Domaine Saint Hilaire FR026_Domaine_Saint_Hilaire…Domaine Saint Hilaire’s prize-winning wines. Nestled among 80 hectares of vines near the village of Montagnac, this seductively peaceful wine estate creates very tasty tipples. Dating back to the 1800s, the house has 4 guests rooms (no need to order a taxi after the wine-tasting!) and their bottles can be bought at caveau price. Even better, i-escape guests receive a free bottle as part of an overnight stay. Come in autumn to help with the grape harvest (and avoid the summer crowds).

    Serjac4_ed St Pierre de Serjac Serjac11_ed…The recently relaunched St Pierre de Serjac winery. Not only does it provide a fascinating insight into wine-making (and tasting), it’s also surrounded by countless other domaines where you can sample vintages of every colour, age and varietal – the Picpoul de Pinet is top of our list. Rather uniquely, the Serjac estate is also a fully-fledged family-friendly resort, so parents can indulge guilt-free while their kids swim in the pool, cycle through the vineyards and compete on the tennis court. For a particularly special evening, request a babysitter and dine à deux in the elegant candlelit restaurant. Try the excellent basil cocktails, then relax over smoked tuna tartare, roast pigeon and Tonka bean chocolate. Divine.

    Appetite whetted? See our full collection of French fancies

    Posted in Foodie. Tagged , , , , , , ,
MAY15

The best French honeymoons

 
  • No part of the world says romance quite like the south of France. With its sparkling Riviera coastline, ancient villages and rolling hills awash with lavender fields and vineyards, the region is fluent in sunshine, slow living and spoiling seclusion. It’s also a doddle to get to, meaning you’ll spend less of your honeymoon travelling and more indulging in some of the best views and cuisine in Europe. We’ve found 5 places that show off what makes this area the perfect post-wedding destination.

    For sublime silence – Domaine Les Roullets, Oppede

    Domaine Les Roullets

    This beautiful farm conversion lies deep in the Luberon, within striking distance of some of France’s most iconic villages. Each seems to boast a world-class restaurant, as well as a captivating history and a host of cultural offerings (opera in a disused quarry, anyone?).

    Domaine Les Roullets

    But what makes this B&B extra-special is how supremely peaceful it is: no kids, no traffic, just the sound of birds and the breeze in the trees. The gorgeous countryside stretches away from the garden, but if you’re feeling lazy you need do nothing more than stroll from the terrace to the pool, aperitif in hand.

    For fantastic food – Tiara Yaktsa, near Cannes

    Tiara Yaktsa

    At first sight, you may think this place is all about the stunning views, which seem to extend from every part of the hotel. But once you sit down to dine, you’ll quickly realise that the food is pretty special, too. The presentation alone is a feast for the senses: think edible flowers scattered over your fish, delicate gold leaf on your dessert, and mini macaroons with your after-dinner tea.

    Tiara Yaktsa

    Outside lie a peaceful pool and a garden with double Balinese daybeds – perfect for a lazy morning before pootling off in the car to discover the seaside towns and gorgeous inland villages nearby.

    For stargazing – Metafort, Vaucluse

    Metafort

    This zen-like Provencal B&B feels like the Holy Grail for France-loving honeymooners: an airy, design-focused 17th-century house above an unspoilt and very pretty village. With stunning views from the infinity pool and a small but perfectly formed spa, romance comes easily here.

    Metafort

    The real treat of Metafort, though, is Sous les étoiles – a beautiful room at the top of the building, which has a private roof terrace and a bed that can be wheeled outside. And what could be more magical than sleeping alfresco, under the twinkling stars?

    For a touch of glam – Chateau Eza, Cote d’Azur

    Chateau zEa

    The French Riviera is a magnet for style and wealth, and Chateau Eza is a royal retreat befitting the scene. Think Michelin-starred food, gilded beds and jaw-dropping views – what better place to start married life?

    Chateau Eza

    Once the winter residence of Prince William of Sweden, the 400-year-old chateau is now a fabulous restaurant and hotel filled with princely extravagances.  The surroundings are nothing short of regal, either, having inspired such artistic royalty as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.

    For a taste of the vine – Le Clos Saint Saourde, Beaumes de Venise

    Le Clos Saint Saourde

    You might not associate romance with caves, but this Provencal farmhouse with rooms built into a rock face is a captivating testimony to their coexistence. Exposed stone walls, incredible bathrooms and cast-iron beds keep the interiors feeling rustic but indulgent – perfect for hibernating after a day spent sipping wine by the sparkling pool.

    Le Clos Saint Saourde

    The endless rows of vines you see around here are the vineyards of Beaumes de Venise and produce a wonderful, sweet Muscat wine. Take trips to nearby wineries for tastings, then savour the bottle you’ll find in your room as a perk of booking through i-escape.

    Check out all of our romantic stays in the South of France >>

    Posted in Honeymoons, Top 5. Tagged , , , , , ,
MAY13

Family-friendly South African safaris

 
  • South Africa is synonymous with safari. And in recent years many lodges and camps have upped their game, creating imaginative introductions to the unique flora and fauna for children of all ages. Our Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, ticks off 5 of the best places where families can discover this beautiful country’s living wonders.

    i-escape blog / Cheetah at Samarai-escape blog / Makalali Private Game Reserve

    Makalali Private Game Reserve, nr Kruger National Park

    Scale and superlatives characterise the Kruger. South Africa’s first national park (and some say its best), it’s also one of the largest in the world. It boasts 4 distinct veld ecosystems, with 500+ species of bird, 147 species of mammal and 114 reptile varieties. Set in a private reserve of 26,000 hectares, Makalali consists of 3 separate camps a few kilometres apart, all with awesome views of the Drakensberg Mountains. Children are greeted with a special colouring book and games, and receive a ‘Brat Pack’ on safari drives. What’s more, private family drives are available for those with kids under 6 in tow, and babysitters can be booked if you want to enjoy adults-only dinners and game viewing. Best of all, there’s a 2-day ‘Junior Ranger’ course for 6-15 year olds, which ends with a graduation certificate and ceremony.

    i-escape blog / Makalali Private Game Reservei-escape blog / Makalali Private Game Reserve i-escape blog / Makalali Private Game Reserve

    Samara, Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape

    The vast and cloudless Great Karoo, with its sparse vegetation, well-preserved fossils and magnificent mountains, forms the spectacular setting for this alluring homestead. Views stretch for hundreds of kilometres, and the owners have carefully reintroduced cheetahs, mountain zebras and rhinos following years of over-grazing and hunting. Kids are well catered for with personalised arrival packs, nightly changing storybooks, a kids’ menu and indoor and outdoor play spaces. The ‘AardvARK’ programme takes children on adventure safaris while parents head out on their own game drives and offers a huge range of activities, including tracking, orienteering, creating bushman paintings and planting native Spekbloom. Superb.

    i-escape blog / Samara i-escape blog / Samara i-escape blog / Samara

    Grootbos, near Hermanus

    Only 2 hours east of Cape Town, on the way to the Garden Route, is this pristine wilderness retreat: a private nature reserve covering 2,500 hectares of coastal fynbos, with discreet suites hidden in ancient milkwood forest. There’s a dizzying number of species to discover – 100 varieties of bird, 760 exotic flowers – plus expertly guided walks to assist. Here you get the marine ‘Big 5’: humpback and southern right whales can be spotted by boat (and sometimes even from your deck) from June to December, and seals, dolphins and great white sharks also frequent local waters. There are seals and penguins at Dyer Island, too. Children can also enjoy horse-riding, treasure hunts, tree planting, picnics, long sandy beaches, exploring caves and larking about in the pool.

    i-escape blog / Grootbos i-escape blog / Grootbos i-escape blog / Grootbos

    RiverBend Lodge, Addo, Garden Route

    Only an hour north of Port Elizabeth, this unpretentious family-friendly lodge sits in a private concession in the malaria-free Addo Elephant Park – which, as the name suggests, was founded to preserve elephants (you can expect buffalo, hyena, zebra, lion, kudu, jackal, warthog, eland and hartebeest, too). Safaris are planned with families in mind (where possible you get your own private vehicle), and there are also snake and raptor demonstrations, guided bug hunts and mini ranger courses. Children get a welcome pack which includes books about Africa, and they can have huge fun in the fenced swimming pool (with a shallow end), playroom and sandpit. Larger families can book the Long Hope Villa, which comes with its own pool, personal chef and game ranger.

    i-escape blog / RiverBend Lodge i-escape blog / RiverBend Lodge i-escape blog / RiverBend Lodge i-escape blog / RiverBend Lodge

    Jaci’s Safari Lodges, Madikwe Reserve

    If you’re flying in or out of Johannesburg, consider the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve – it’s 3.5 hours from the city and offers simply amazing wildlife viewing. In thick bushveld forest, beside a river, are these 2 colourful thatched lodges, each with a swimming pool. Families should make a beeline for the pioneering Safari Lodge, considered one of the most child-friendly in South Africa. Its ‘bush bumbles’ give kids their first taste of safari, and there are special family drives for those with children over 5; younger kids can enjoy separate daytime jungle drives. In addition, parents can take an evening drive while children have an early supper, returning to find their offspring bathed, fed and ready for bed. The rangers here are some of the best in the region, and the veld is teeming with birds. And, if you’re lucky, you could see the ’top 10’: lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, white rhino, giraffe, hippo, wild dog, brown hyena and cheetah.

    i-escape blog / Jaci's Safari Lodges i-escape blog / Jaci's Safari Lodges i-escape blog / Jaci's Safari Lodges

    If you’d like some more help planning your dream South African family holiday, have a look at our new Tailormade Tours partner. They can arrange as much or as little of your trip as you like.

    See the rest of our South Africa collection >>

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , , , ,
MAY11

Cape Town top tips

 
  • With its rugged peaks, Atlantic beaches and delicious food, Cape Town is a firm favourite among i-escapers. We’ve asked insiders in the know for their top tips for exploring this beautiful city.

    i-escape blog / Camps Bay

    Enjoy the view

    “Watching the sunrise from Signal Hill is one of the best ways to start the day in Cape Town. There’s nothing like seeing the twinkling lights of the city fade away as the sun comes up over the mountains, coffee in hand.”
    Taryn, More Quarters and Cape Cadogan

    “I’d highly recommend hiking up Table Mountain (or Lion’s Head) for unbelievable panoramic views across the city and surrounding peaks. Head there as soon as you see the weather is clear – otherwise the top might be covered by a ‘tablecloth’ of cloud for days on end.”
    Ben, i-escape Rates Manager

    i-escape blog / Table Mountain ©Shizhao i-escape blog / Table Mountain ©South African Tourism

    Wine and dine

    “Sandile’s on the upper level of Cape Town train station is one of the city’s most unique dining experiences. Sandile himself has no formal chef training, but he cooks up a storm in a big metal shipping container. All the recipes have been passed down to him by his elders, and you can expect true African cuisine.”
    Cobus, Cape View Clifton

    “Don’t miss the opportunity to eat super fresh, innovative Japanese food at Kyoto Garden Sushi in the Gardens district.”
    Elize, Ebb Tide

    “Whenever I stay near trendy Kloof Street I always pencil in at least one trip to Arnolds, which does a huge and healthy(ish) breakfast for under a fiver (the exchange rate is particularly favourable to UK visitors at the moment). It’s a hub of activity and great for people watching.”
    Ben, i-escape Rates Manager

    “Vibrant Bree Street has become the city’s hippest strip, with all manner of exciting bars and eateries. Our favourite pit stops include speakeasy-style cocktail emporium The Orphanage, tiny bar Outrage of Modesty, and Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar for extraordinary Fynbos infusions.”
    Nikki, i-escape co-founder

    i-escape blog / Grand Beach Cafe boutique

    Shop, shop, shop

    NAP Living in the Cape Quarter is bursting with unique locally made items, from clothes and accessories to stunning furniture. Indulgent finds include olive-oil hand cream, driftwood mirrors, comfy linen sofas, glass light balls, and beautiful jewellery made from silver, leather and pewter. Expect anything that falls into the category of ‘feel good’!”
    Cobus, Cape View Clifton

    “Woodstock, a short cab ride from the city centre, is a once-gritty suburb that’s become a hub for Cape Town’s art and design scene. Its derelict warehouses are now contemporary galleries (we love the Goodman Gallery, which showcases some of the biggest names in South African Art), while Salt Circle Arcade, the Woodstock Foundry, the Woodstock Exchange and the Old Biscuit Mill all have clusters of boutiques. Don’t miss the organic chocolate bars at Honest Chocolate and the gorgeous homewares and beauty products at sister stores Indigenous and Kingdom.”
    Nikki, i-escape co-founder

    “I love Kloof Street for its vintage clothes shops and record stores (there’s even a small cinema complex called Labia!). It’s easy to while away a few hours just browsing and stopping for coffee. On my last trip I stayed at excellent-value An African Villa, which is just a stone’s throw from the action.”
    Ben, i-escape Rates Manager

    i-escape blog / Kalk Bay

    Get on your bike

    “Hire bikes from the Camps Bay strip and cycle to Hout Bay, stopping for a coffee from the Detour coffee truck that’s parked next to the sea between 7am and 11am.”
    Elize, Ebb Tide

    Watch wildlife over lunch

    I love heading south to Kalk Bay to potter around the antique, art and book stores and to have lunch in one of the many great fish restaurants; you can spot whales from their terraces from late July to mid-October. If you have time, combine it with a visit to Boulders Beach, where you can swim with wild penguins.”
    Ben, i-escape Rates Manager

    i-escape blog / Boulders Beach

    Hit the beach

    “Our manager Dirk loves Beta Beach in Bakoven. It has azure blue waters against a stunning backdrop of the 12 Apostles and Lion’s Head. It’s also away from the crowds and perfect for sun-worshipers.”
    Taryn, More Quarters and Cape Cadogan

    “Llandudno Beach is undoubtedly one of the city’s most picturesque beaches, with plenty of sheltered spots by the boulders where you can settle in. Depending on the waves, it’s also one of the top surfing spots – if you can brave the cold water!”
    Cobus, Cape View Clifton

    “Muizenberg Beach is a popular spot with surfers. The beautiful sand is flat and wide (so great for kids) and it’s lined with colourful changing booths. In winter (May to July), you might spot a whale, too!”
    Taryn, More Quarters and Cape Cadogan

    i-escape blog / Muizenberg Beach

    For more, see our full Cape Town guide and our fantastic places to stay >>

    Image credits: Table Mountain cable car © shizhao; boats and Table Mountain © South African Tourism
    Posted in Travel Tips, City Breaks. Tagged , , , , , ,
MAY06

Just back from… Carcassonne

 
  • For her latest family adventure, our Kids Collection Editor Nadine headed south to Languedoc in search of warmer climes, history and fantastic food…

    i-escape blog / Just back from… Carcassonne

    We flew in to Carcassonne, picked up our hire car and headed south for 30 minutes, fetching up at Languedoc Hideaways, located between the authentic market towns of Mirepoix and Limoux.

    i-escape blog / Limoux i-escape blog / Mirepoix i-escape blog / Mirepoix

    The brand-new venture from hospitable Tilly and Will (former owners of nearby Le Tresor), these big old barns turned great-value boutique gites enjoy a glorious view over valleys, vineyards, woods and a small lake.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    We stayed in the largest cottage, Le Jasmin, which has an open-plan kitchen-diner-living room next to a big bathroom on the ground floor, with a hammock by the front door and a deck for alfresco meals to the rear.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    The main bedroom on the first floor has enormously high ceilings, and sits next to a TV snug. Above is an attic bedroom carved out of the huge roof space and accessed via a spiral staircase.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    Tilly, Will and their 2 boys live in the middle of the estate, and our 4-year-old, Cormac, made himself at home there immediately, commandeering Jake’s toys. On the other side is 3-storey L’Etoile, which has a master bedroom at the top, a living room with a sofabed below, and a kitchen/diner on the ground floor.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    Separated from the main barns, beside the fenced infinity pool, is a little 1-bed cottage, Le Figuier, which is ideal for couples.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    The kids spent their time charging about the ample grounds, which boast a treehouse, a small orchard, hammocks, a trampoline and a mini-playground.

    i-escape blog / Languedoc Hideaways

    There are chickens to feed, too.

    i-escape blog / Langedoc Hideaways

    Tilly showed us the raised beds where she grows vegetables for the light suppers she creates on request. There’s also a communal Sunday night BBQ (changeover days are Saturdays), and an open-air ‘Barn Bar’ housing table tennis, an honesty bar, squashy sofas and a pool table.

    i-escape blog / Langedoc Hideaways i-escape blog / Langedoc Hideaways

    You get a bottle of the local tipple, Blanquette de Limoux (the inspiration for Champagne), as a thank you for booking through i-escape – a delightful accompaniment to the scrummy take-away pizza we enjoyed on our first evening. On other nights, we eschewed cooking in the well-equipped kitchen for dinner in a local winery restaurant (where, to our astonishment, the kids behaved appropriately!) and tasty cassoulets picked up in the village.

    i-escape blog / Château de Montségur

    The highlight of our daytime excursions was exploring 2 Cathar castles. The first was the legendarily besieged Château de Montségur – it’s a steep climb to the top, but you’re rewarded with amazing 360-degree views and 17th-century ruins that offer hours of make-believe. The other, medieval Château de Puilaurens, is accessed via a twisting pathway designed to repel attackers and sits atop a breathtaking rocky outcrop. Our 8-year-old daughter, Esme, morphed into Lady Marcia for the rest of the trip.

    i-escape blog / Château de Montségur i-escape blog / Château de Montségur i-escape blog / Nadine at Château de Montségur i-escape blog / Château de Montségur

    For our last 2 nights, we headed 10 minutes north of Carcassonne to supremely comfortable and colourful 5-bedroom B&B Metairie Montplaisir. It’s owned and run by the charming Amelie, who cannot do enough to ensure that her guests have a memorable and relaxed break, organizing everything from walking tours to winery visits.

    i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir

    We stayed in the vibrant Carlota Suite, which features Mexican folk art and has a huge bath as well as a walk-in shower.

    i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir

    Breakfast was a feast of local delights, including homemade yoghurts and home-baked pastries. In the evening, we dined on divine duck and chocolate mousse (Amelie’s mother is a superb chef).

    i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir

    Although too chilly to swim in the pool, we did have fun exploring the large gardens. We also peeped into the other rooms, which work for all configurations of party from couples with a baby to families of 5.

    i-escape blog / Metairie Montplaisir i-escape blog / Carcassonne

    Our last full day was spent in the UNESCO-listed, fairytale-inspiring town of Carcassonne. We entered via turreted gates and meandered around cobbled streets, marvelling at the restored stone buildings and imagining life in bygone days.

    i-escape blog / Carcassonne i-escape blog / Carcassonne

    Amelie had provided us with a treasure hunt for the children, which led them from fountain to chapel to crenellated window in the search of clues to solve a hidden-knight mystery.

    i-escape blog / Carcassonne

    We also toured the castle, had lunch beside the moat and succumbed to purchasing medieval costumes for the kids, who lost no time in getting into character and battling on the ramparts.

    i-escape blog / Carcassonne i-escape blog / Carcassonne

    On our last morning, we left Metairie Montplaisir after fond farewells to Amelie and her team. But our trip wasn’t quite over yet, and on the way back to the airport we stopped to explore the highest limestone cave in Europe: the impressive Gouffre de Cabrespine, whose depths could supposedly house the Eiffel Tower.

    i-escape blog / Gouffre de Cabrespine

    The children were less awestruck than their parents by the pillars, stalagmites-and-ctites, underground rivers and columns akin to creamy-coloured ice formations, so a playground was quickly found for one last hurrah.

    i-escape blog / Nadine and her son in Gouffre de Cabrespine

    What a fabulously fun holiday!

    Posted in Family Travel, Kids. Tagged , , , , ,
MAY05

Easy South African road trips

 
  • With magnificent scenery, good highways and great-value car hire, South Africa lends itself perfectly to memorable road trips. But with so much to see and do (plus huge distances to cover), narrowing down where to go can be tricky. We’ve put together 4 manageable itineraries – 2 starting in Cape Town and 2 in Johannesburg – to help you make the most of this stunning country, however many days you have to play with… 

    City and coast (7 days)

    i-escape: Cape Town

    Fly into Cape Town, cradled in a bowl between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, and spend 3 days soaking up its culture and beautiful natural setting – our favourite spots are the colourful district of Bo Kaap, the gallery-lined streets of Bree and Loop, and the verdant Kirstenbosch Gardens. Stay in the heart of town at French-style guesthouse La Grenadine, or marvel at the sweeping views from Cape View Clifton, an ultra-chic hideaway perched above the beach in the trendy suburb of Clifton.

    i-escape: La Grenadine, Cape Town

    i-escape: Cape View Clifton, Cape Town

    Next, drive a couple of hours up the Cape’s idyllic west coast, which is well off the beaten tourist track and all the better for it. Head to Abalone House & Spa in the secret foodie hub of Paternoster and spend 4 days lazing on empty white sands, exploring nature reserves, pottering around farmers’ markets and feasting at gourmet restaurants, before journeying back to Cape Town for your flight home.

    i-escape: Paternoster, South Africa

    i-escape: Abalone House & Spa, Paternoster, South Africa

    i-escape: Abalone House & Spa, Paternoster, South Africa

    Have a bit more time to spare? Squeeze in a few days of vineyard tours and tastings in the Cape Winelands. There are more than 150 wine estates to visit, plus an array of spoiling boutique hotels.

    Best time to go: The South African summer (November to April), when the Western Cape is at its warmest and sunniest.

    See our full Cape Town, Cape Winelands & West Coast collections >>

    Whales and wildflowers (10 days)

    i-escape: Hermanus, South Africa

    After 3 nights in Cape Town, head 1.5 hours southeast to Hermanus, which is sandwiched between rolling hills and surf-pounded sands. Southern right whales visit its waters to mate, and the area offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world; stay at Hermanus Beach House or Grootbos for a couple of nights and you might even spot one from your lounger.

    i-escape: Hermanus Beach House, South Africa

    i-escape: Grootbos, South Africa

    Next, venture inland through the semi-arid plains of the Klein Karoo to the historic town of Swellendam. Spend a night here, at Bloomestate or Schoone Oordt, and explore the antelope-filled Bontebok National Park or the peaks of the Marloth Nature Reserve.

    i-escape: Schoone Oordt, South Africa

    From Swellendam, it’s back to the coast and along the Garden Route, which stretches east from Mossel Bay. It’s dotted with beaches, lagoons and indigenous forests, and famous for its vibrant wildflower displays. Allow 4 days (3 nights) to drive its length, breaking your journey in the buzzing towns of Knysna or Plettenberg Bay (we have a range of beautiful hotels  to choose from).

    i-escape: Garden Route, South Africa

    i-escape: Garden Route, South Africa

    i-escape: Garden Route, South Africa

    End your trip in Port Elizabeth, which has plenty of domestic connections back to Cape Town for your flight home; The Windermere Hotel makes a great base for your final night.

    Have a bit more time to spare? Tack on a visit to one of the malaria-free game reserves to the north of Port Elizabeth – the elephant-rich Addo or the majestic Samara.

    Best time to go: August to September, when the flowers are in bloom and the whale-watching season in full swing.

    See our full Hermanus and Garden Route collections >> 

    Bright lights and bush adventures (7 days)

    i-escape: Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge, South Africa,

    Start with 3 days in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. There’s plenty to see, from the Soweto Township and the haunting Apartheid Museum to the trendy galleries and bars of Melville. Base yourself at The Peech, a funky hotel with a bistro and champagne bar.

    i-escape: The Peech, Johannesburg, South Africa

    i-escape: Johannesburg, South Africa

    From Jo’burg, it’s an easy half-day drive to the Madikwe reserve, which offers some of the best malaria-free wildlife viewing in Africa. Covering a remote corner of the ‘Tswana homelands, close to Botswana, it has open bush, abundant rivers and spectacular rocky outcrops known as inselbergs (perfect big-cat terrain). Choose between a family-friendly stay at Jaci’s Safari Lodges or a bit of luxury at Sanctuary Makanyane, and enjoy excellent safaris by foot and Jeep.

    i-escape: Madikwe, South Africa

    i-escape: Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge, South Africa

    i-escape: Madikwe, South Africa

    Have a bit more time to spare? Hop over the border into Botswana to marvel at the mighty Okavango Delta and the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert.

    Best time to go: Autumn (April-May), when cooler temperatures make for more comfortable safaris – though you’ll see plenty of wildlife at any time of year.

    See our full Johannesburg and Madikwe collections >>

    And a bit of everything! (10 days)

    i-escape: Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

    After an overnight stopover in Johannesburg, journey south to the province of Kwazulu Natal, which encompasses everything from beaches to savannah. Head first to Three Trees at Spioenkop, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Drakensberg Mountains, and spend 2 days learning about South Africa’s turbulent past; it overlooks a key battlefield of the Anglo-Boer War, and hosts Simon and Cheryl run fascinating tours.

    i-escape: Three Trees at Spioenkop, South Africa

    From Spioenkop, it’s a short drive to Karkloof Safari Spa, which sits on a 3,500-hectare private reserve. Stay here for 3 nights and combine a bit of pampering with game drives to spot giraffes, elephants, rhinos, zebras and more.

    i-escape: Karkloof Safari Spa, South Africa

    i-escape: Karkloof Safari Spa, South Africa

    Next it’s on to slick Indian Ocean hideaway Days at Sea for a few days of total relaxation. There are miles of powdery beach on the doorstep, and you might spy dolphins as you laze by the infinity pool.

    i-escape: Days at Sea, South Africa

    i-escpe: Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

    End your trip in cosmopolitan Durban, where you can pick up a flight back to Johannesburg for your onward connection.

    Have a bit more time to spare? Carry on up the coast to Kosi Forest Lodge, set amid the enchanting wetlands of the Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. You’ll see wallowing hippos, soaring eagles and amazing sunsets.

    Best time to go: Whenever you want – the climate in Kwazulu Natal remains balmy throughout the year, though nights can be chilly in July and August and the coast sees a bit of rain in spring (September and October).

    See our full Kwazulu Natal collection >>

    If you need more help planning your dream South African holiday, take a look at our new Tailormade Tours partner. They can arrange as much or as little as you like, and their expertise extends to neighbouring countries, too.

    Posted in Travel Tips. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,