It’s the tail end of summer 2018, and our precious annual leave allowances are languishing. Maximise your remaining holiday with a well-chosen minibreak – here are our top 9 destinations


1  Mahón

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Mahon

Why go?

Sleepier than its hedonistic Balearic siblings, but with no less charm, we love Menorca’s relaxed vibe. The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its coastline dotted with glorious golden beaches, and capital Mahón (or Maó) is a charming harbour town with plenty of 18th-century architectural assets.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Cugo Gran Menorca

Cugo Gran Menorca

R&R is the order of the day in this stately stone manor house in Menorca’s southeast corner. A glittering 26m infinity pool flanked by daybeds is a major facilitator – take a refreshing dip followed by a snooze in the sun. If you get the urge, you’re close to stunning coves and Mahón, but you’ll be forgiven for just staying put and enjoying your surroundings.

Casa Alberti

Like its sister property Jardi de ses Bruixes, this is a small hotel with plenty of soul. It’s perfectly located in the old town, 5 minutes’ walk from the harbour, with free electric bikes for exploring. That’s if you can tear yourself away from the hotel’s peaceful courtyards, ideal for chilling out in.

Hotel Petit Mao

This cool townhouse hotel is a Menorcan home-from-home, packed with vintage curiosities and reclaimed furniture. Head to the walled garden and relax beside the pool with a chilled glass of wine (i-escape guests get a complimentary bottle) as the sun sets. Magical.


2  Beyond Marrakech

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Jnane Tamsna

Why go?

Morocco’s most vibrant and exotic city, Marrakech is a wealth of ancient monuments, labyrinthine souks, opulent palaces and colourful gardens. But beyond the rose-coloured walls lie colourful gardens and dense palm groves, a great alternative if you want some breathing space and just a taxi ride from the medina.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Dar Zemora

Dar Zemora

Surrounded by beautiful gardens, this lovely country villa is a tranquil and stylish oasis. Be as social or private as you please: browse the library, relax in the large sitting rooms, or idle the day away by the pool. A perfect retreat for second-time visitors to Marrakech or those looking for a more peaceful base.

Jnane Tamsna

If staying in the medina feels too suffocating, Marrakech’s peaceful Palmeraie is the answer. This 9-acre estate in Marrakech’s Palm Grove is a 15-minute taxi from the centre of town; ideal for dipping into the action then retreating to the fragrant courtyards and relaxed, bohemian atmosphere that feels a world away from the chaos.

The Capaldi

A 35-minute hop from Marrakech, this extravagant country estate has expansive mountain views and charming hosts who pamper you like close friends. Head out to explore the Moroccan countryside then return to internationally inspired cuisine with delicious local ingredients.

 


3  East Algarve

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Praia Verde beach

Why go?

One of our favourite corners of Portugal, the low-key Eastern Algarve is a rare pocket that hasn’t fallen victim to over-development and is perfect for a short beach break.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Conversas de Alpendre

Conversas de Alpendre

A perfect small hotel celebrating all things Portuguese: peaceful gardens full of gnarled cork and carob trees, furnishings by local artisans and a restaurant serving regional dishes. For a special occasion, book the show-stopping tree-house.

Praia Verde

Close to a magnificent sandy beach, in a great, unspoilt location, it’s hard to believe Praia Verde is just a short hop from Faro Airport. There’s plenty to do on your doorstep, too – cycling, dolphin watching, castle visiting – best of all they have a fantastic rustic restaurant on-site; wood-fired pizzas, Josper-grilled meats and imaginative salads.

Pensao Agricola

Between the historic town of Tavira and the picturesque fishing village of Cacela Velha sits this uniquely restored farmhouse, with quirky style, excellent food and the warmest of welcomes. It’s a perfect base for the eastern Algarve’s picturesque countryside and breathtakingly beautiful beaches.

 


4  The Basque Country

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Getaria

Why go?

Go to The Basque Country for the scenery – sandy beaches, high mountains, vibrant cities and quaint country towns; the food – Michelin-starred restaurants and legendary pintxos bars, and the warmth and hospitality of the Basques themselves.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Ea Astei

Ea Astei

Ea Astei offers the best of both worlds – forested hills for miles around, and sunny beaches dotted along the coast. And with half a dozen within 10km of the hotel, you’re spoilt for choice. Eco-lovers, plump for the zero-energy Garden House, the first of its kind in Spain.

Hotel Villa Soro

San Sebastian is magical, and Hotel Villa Soro serves as the perfect base to maximise your enjoyment of the city. Unfailingly helpful staff will pore over maps to help you seek out the best of its world-class restaurants (world-famous Arzak is just up the road) and there’s complimentary bikes to help you explore, before retiring to the elegant bar and a comfortable night’s sleep.

Saiaz Getaria

The seaside town of Getaria is a sweet place with a happy vibe and a great beach. On a clifftop above the Old Town, with views of sea and sky to the west, is Saiaz Getaria, a 15th-century house turned hotel with a warm, homely feel. Splash out on a room with a sea view – they really are magical.

 


5  Porto

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Porto

Why go?

Porto is the place for a weekend city break, and now is the time to visit. Lisbon’s edgier sibling, Porto has a UNESCO-listed centre, but with a distinctly modern edge – including thriving culinary and cultural scenes and a growing array of stylish places to stay.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog / The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Boutique Apartments Porto

Boutique Apartments Porto

If you want more space without compromising on style, plump for these stylish seafront apartments, housed in a 19th-century mansion, sleep up to 5 and showcase up-and-coming Portuguese artists throughout. Arrange for a gourmet breakfast to be delivered to your door, then hop on the tram into town for a day of sightseeing.

1872 River House 

Rising from the ashes of a 19th-century fire-damaged building, 1872 River House ticks all the boxes for a weekend break. Intimate and beautifully renovated, the 8 rooms face either river or rooftops (we love the former), and boast rain showers, sleek furniture and deep, dreamy beds.

Rosa Et Al Townhouse

This great-value design hotel sits in Porto’s hippest neighbourhood, close to galleries, restaurants and boutiques. Sleek mid-century furniture and modern-art add to the creative buzz, and the organic, home-grown food – some from the herb-scented garden to the rear – is a real treat.

 


6  Wiltshire

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Castle Combe

Why go?

A beautiful corner of South West England, Wiltshire boasts magnificent ancient monuments, rolling countryside and quintessentially English villages. And, at only 2 hours from London, it’s perfect for an easy minibreak.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Nadder Valley Barn

Nadder Valley Barn

Escape to the country: this gorgeous barn rental for 2-4 offers tonnes of space for families and couples alike, and the boho-chic interiors guarantee house envy. This is a perfect place to unwind, but there’s plenty to do nearby should you wish: Salisbury, Stonehenge and Tisbury are all a short drive away.

Timbrell’s Yard

A riverside watering hole turned stylish boutique hotel in beautiful Bradford-on-Avon (50 mins from Bristol, 20 from Bath, full of 17th-century cottages and picture-perfect cobbled streets). Timbrell’s Yard itself is a chic and friendly bolthole, with great gastro-pub fare and stylish Nordic furnishings.

The Old Bell

Staking its claim as the oldest hotel in England, The Old Bell is steeped in history and packed with period character. Inside, it’s all sumptuous furnishings and cosy nooks, perfect for reclining with a cocktail and a good book. And if you do fancy venturing out, the best of the Wiltshire countryside is on your doorstep.

 


7  Verona

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Verona

Why go?

Honey-hued Verona is perhaps most famous for a certain pair of star-crossed lovers, and makes for an utterly romantic weekend city break, or a perfect stopover en route to the Italian Lakes.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Verona Boutique Apartment

Verona Boutique Apartment

A show-stopping suite-for-2, with views of the Adige river, this is the perfect romantic bolthole. Luxe furnishings and state-of-the-art mod cons are truly spoiling touches, and the fabulous location lets you live like a local – popping out for morning pastries and hopping between brilliant restaurants and bars.

Pianaura Suites

This pair of spoiling suites is perfectly placed for dipping into the sights of both Verona and Lake Garda. Occupying 17th-century farmhouses, interiors are bright and airy, and lavender and poppies bloom outside. There’s also a spa room and hydrotherapy pool for maximum relaxation.

La Finestra Sul Fiume

Immerse yourself in nature in the Veneto countryside: this intimate and restful riverside B&B, just 30 minutes from Verona, has blissful gardens and a natural pool. This is foodie country too – don’t leave without sampling the tortellini, and try your hand at making your own.

 


8  Catalonia

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Girona

Why go?

Time-forgotten medieval villages untouched by mass tourism, Michelin-starred food and the sandy beaches of the Costa Brava make Catalonia a no-brainer.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Castell D'Emporda

Castell d’Emporda

Once a ruined medieval castle overrun with feral cats, today Castell d’Emporda is a luxurious hideaway, with 2 huge pools and a stunning roof terrace. You’re close to Girona and beautiful beaches, yet nestled in a peaceful village between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava.

Alemanys 5

These stunning apartments in the heart of old Girona, within walking distance of the major sights, are a stylish base for a long weekend. The exposed stone walls and warm lighting marry ancient and modern, and we loved the views of the Jewish Quarter’s narrow streets from the roof terrace. One sleeps 2-4, the other 2-6.

Hostal Sa Rascassa

A pine-covered hill, metres from an unspoilt cove with crystal-clear waters – who wouldn’t fall under the spell of this restaurant-with-rooms’ magical location? The food is the real highlight, however, with Catalan favourites, fabulous seafood and great wines all served beneath trees bedecked with fairy lights.


9  Valletta

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Valletta

Why go?

UNESCO-listed Valletta, Malta’s capital, is Europe’s 2018 City of Culture. Plan the Baroque St John’s Cathedral, 5,000-year-old Hypogeneum and Grand Master’s Palace into your weekend trip, or take to the waters to explore the rocky coastline.

Where to stay

The i-escape blog /The last days of annual leave: 9 brilliant breaks / Valletta Vintage

Valletta Vintage

The wunder-architect responsible for converting some of Valletta’s most stunning historical buildings has also worked his magic on Valletta Vintage, a collection of self-catering apartments-for-2 decorated with a changing selection of local art and gorgeous mid-century furniture. Heaven for design lovers.

Casa Ellul

This 17th-century townhouse is home to 9 suites, each with individual character and original features, paired with stylish modern touches. The supremely comfortable beds guarantee a good night’s sleep, and thoughtful staff offer great recommendations on excursions and eateries.


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