By Nadine Mellor
Now that school’s out for summer, it’s time for i-escape’s end of year Report Card for those family-friendly boutique hotels and guesthouses which Exceeded Expectations. Find out who won top marks across a broad curriculum and who was most popular.
Best in Geography: Hotel Husafell, West Iceland
Teacher says: With on-site geothermal pools (open year-round) and floor-to-ceiling windows for viewing the midnight sun in summer and the Northern Lights in winter, this contemporary hotel is a perfect place from which to explore the astounding geographical wonders Iceland offers. Glaciers, ice caves, waterfalls, golden beaches, ravines, lava fields and geysers are all at hand.
We say: the ‘Into the Glacier’ experience heads you 40m below the surface through a glowing blue tunnel into the heart of the ice mass.
Best in Classics: AthensWas, Athens, Greece
Teacher says: The birthplace of democracy, Athens is both an ancient citadel of learning and culture and a forward-thinking city with a playful retro side. AthensWas, an upscale design hotel, combines these attributes to groovy modernist effect, and has knock-out views of the Acropolis and Parthenon – especially from its roof-top restaurant, a 2-minute walk away. The hotel is in a pedestrianised area so you can easily explore the historic Plaka district and immerse yourselves in the incredible Acropolis Museum which has kids’ tours.
We say: The hotel can also arrange a guided tour of the city
Best in Astronomy: Camp Adounia, Sahara, Morocco
Teacher says: The best night skies are found in places with big horizons far and from urban light pollution so that you feel as if the stars are tumbling down on you. Camp Adounia is a secluded bivouac of eco-tents with carpets and cushions in the mesmerising Sahara Desert, an eight-hour drive south from Marrakech. This simply beautiful place delivers utter stillness, with sand-boarding and camel-riding during the day, and magnificent night skies for stargazing round the campfire while listening to nomadic drumming – a truly memorable family experience.
We say: Bring your own monocular/small scope if you have one, and a tripod for long photographic exposures at night.
Best in Literature: Westbrook Court, Herefordshire, UK
Teacher says: Hay-on-Wye is the UK’s premier book destination, and this stylish countryside-set B&B comprising five spacious suites (four are duplexes) in a modern barn structure is just 10 minutes away. Rooms feature second-hand books from Hay for both adults and kids; there’s even book-print feature wallpaper! Many a celebrated author and illustrator has stayed here, including children’s favourite Jacqueline Wilson, and the friendly owners have good connections with the Hay Festival and local booksellers. They also run a literary-themed weekend each spring, with kids workshops.
We say: Be sure to book a foraging session, a kayak down the Wye, or go wild swimming.
Best in PE: Noah Surf House, Lisbon Coast, Portugal
Teacher says: This beachside eco-chic hotel will keep even the most active kid in clover for days. There’s an on-site skate park and surf school. Bikes and paddle boards can be rented to explore the Lisbon coast by land or sea. There’s also a heated swimming pool and kids’ yoga classes. You can take a guided walk along the cliffs and frolic on the fab beach below.
We say: Don’t miss the evening sing-along around the firepit!
Teacher says: You don’t just sight the Big 5 at this family-friendly safari lodge in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve. There’s a ‘Top 10 mammals’ to spot: lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, white rhino, giraffe, hippo, wild dog, brown hyena and cheetah. There are several wildlife hides (including one in the middle of a waterhole for budding shutterbugs) and special game drives morning and evening for families.
We say: Some of the best birding in South Africa is found here (checklists are provided)
Teacher says: Mostly found on arid plains northeast of capital Colombo, the ancient wonders of Sri Lanka date back at least 2,500 years. Sites to discover include the crumbling historical capitals of Sinhalese civilisation, irrigation lakes, incredible frescoes and statues, spectacular cave temples, and the holy rock fortress, Sigiriya, a World Heritage site. Water Garden Sigiriya has been carefully designed around water courses, with a vast pool (plus separate kids pool), spacious villas and open terraces all positioned to best view the enigmatic outcrop.
We say: Don’t miss the nearby beautiful Dambulla caves, famed for its painted Buddha images.
Teacher says: For science, technology, engineering and maths lovers Berlin has it all. Impressive new architecture dominates the city (check out the Reichstag dome which is a great feat of engineering), and its largest park, the Tiergarten, has a lake with paddle boats and hidden bridges (plus a column to climb for great city views). There’s a superb Legoland in Potsdamer Platz and a hippopotamus aquarium at the zoo. The vast, award-winning German Museum for Technology has an aeroplane on its roof and 14 exhibition spaces, with lots of hands-on science and tech activities for kids. Stay at this pair of eclectic hotels in Prenzlauer Berg, for their themed rooms and relaxing courtyard.
We say: The nearby Sony Centre has a light-up roof, an IMAX and an English-speaking big-screen cinema. Stroll around Schoneberg, where Albert Einstein lived for years!
Most Popular Prize: Azur Hotel, Cirali, Turkey
Teacher says: With the most bookings over this last academic year, idyllic and great-value Azur Hotel on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast wins the popularity prize. Contributing factors include its close proximity to a stunning beach, beautifully lush flowering gardens, a large swimming pool, wonderful service and excellent food.
We say: Take a boat tour along the coast or walk up to the natural flames of Chimaera, which flicker up out of the ground!
Best All-Rounder: Haus Hirt, Salzburger Land, Austria
Teacher says: For being such a brilliant family hotel all year round, superbly welcoming Haus Hirt in Bad Gastein is our worthy winner. There’s a free kids club, equipment to borrow and an indoor pool. Daily imaginative activities for both kids and adults include an array of outdoor and indoor pursuits. For example, in summer you could try gold-panning, archery, cycling, horse riding, golfing and fishing; in winter there are snow sports (there’s a shuttle bus to ski school) and cable cars. During the evenings, kids can enjoy bonfire nights, movies and discos.
We say: Daily guided family hikes in the mountains are included in the rates. Beginners can also give climbing a go.
Looking for more? Explore over 900 stylish family hideaways in our Kids Collection