By Imogen Cox, Digital Marketing Executive

As 2023 draws to a close, we’re reminiscing about our many travel adventures over the last 12 months. We visit all of our boutique hotels and properties, and then revisit them regularly to see how they’re getting on. With 1,500+ hotels, that keeps us pretty busy, but there’s nothing we love more than catching up with our fantastic hoteliers and finding out what’s new in their corner of the world. Here, we take a look back over the year and select our favourite i-escape stays…

The Directors

Director of Research & Content

Habitas, Namibia

“Just 45 minutes’ drive from Windhoek takes you to Habitas Namibia; it’s a doddle to get to, yet feels as remote as it is beautiful. 12 luxury tents are set upon a hillock so you look down across an endless vista of savannah and bush. Inside, you feel spoilt with bespoke furnishings, a huge comfy bed, aircon and a decent shower. Outside, there’s every chance of wildlife sightings without crowds.

I  loved their desire to tailor each day to each guest. So, apart from game drives, we enjoyed morning yoga, spa treatments, gin tasting and medicinal walks that unlocked some secrets of the bush. There are painting forays, bush dinners, bongo lessons – what’s not to like? In the afternoons our minds would go blank as we cooled off by the pool, lying there agog at the sight of distant dust devils spinning across the vast plains below.”

Director of Hotel Partnerships

Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, Madeira

Estalagem da Ponta do Sol ticks all the boxes: great design, friendly staff, chic white rooms, amazing ocean views, delicious dinners, sun-drenched clifftop pool (with sauna, steam room and hot tub, too), and all of it extremely reasonably priced (€150 per room per night).

Its location on Madeira’s sunny south coast means the views are gob-smacking. And it’s the perfect base for exploring. They offer a free shuttle to nearby beaches and Funchal, and the drop-off points for all the best Levada and mountain hikes are nearby (music to my ears). I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite spot on the island, and I would recommend it with total confidence to almost anyone – except perhaps families with younger kids because of the funky, grown-up vibe (like Friday night parties at the open-air bar).”

Director of Operations

Chateau de Saint Paterne, France

Chateau de Saint Paterne totally exceeded our expectations. The whole place had a grand yet homely feel. It retains some traditional French aristo-chintz (pretty spiral staircase, oil paintings, parquet flooring, antiques), but many of the rooms also have quirky touches like sunken baths, hidden bunk beds and secret interconnecting doors.

The dining room was beautiful, and the set menu made eating a doddle. Pre-dinner drinks are also included (as many as you feel up to), and it’s all quite reasonably priced. We dined there for 3 nights and each time it was better and better.

The grounds were another huge plus, especially for kids – acres of space, a Wendy House, trampoline, badminton, table tennis, swings and goats.”

The Hotel Specialists

Head of Reservations

The Lumiares Hotel & Spa, Portugal

The Lumiares is slap bang in the middle of Lisbon’s tourist melee but feels very serene, grown up and elegant, with beautiful contemporary décor created by an all-Portuguese array of artisans. It’s great for families with older kids as the two-bed apartments are super spacious, with TVs in all the rooms, SMEG appliances in the kitchen and lovely bathrooms. Our room was in a soothing, modern rustic style, featuring swoon-worthy Portuguese hangings and cushions.

Lumi, the rooftop restaurant, gives you glorious views at breakfast; we tucked into a big buffet spread of pastries, pasteis de nata, fruit and yoghurt. Their watchword is great attention to detail, as exemplified by the complimentary minibar, free drink at the restaurant, lots of pre-arrival info, and communication via WhatsApp. They also have a small spa and gym for those able to take a break from the family.”

Read more about Kate’s trip to Lisbon & Cascais with her son

Bookings Consultant

Lume, Italy

“Wow, what a stunning townhouse. Pictures really don’t do Lume justice.  It’s a gorgeous B&B with a stunning sea-view roof terrace and rooms that blend period romance with boutique glamour, right in the heart of Siracusa. Owners Ronan & Hanawa are a couple of incredibly cool cats from Paris. The style they’ve injected into this place floored me. It’s jam-packed full of the most incredible pieces (collected by their auntie in her antique shop in Paris over many years), and they really know how to marry style and decor.

There are only 5 rooms and 1 apartment, but all are completely unique in shape and style – most of them huge with big bathrooms. Not a duff room option in sight. On the ground floor there’s a small massage room, a steam room and a cafe. Up top is a huge roof terrace where breakfast/aperitivi are served, and this is the real focal point rather than an afterthought.”

Bookings Consultant

Kasbah Bab Ourika, Morocco

“I had been eager to visit Kasbah Bab Ourika for years. Poised majestically atop a hilltop in the Ourika Valley, this hotel offers 360-degree vistas of the snow-draped Atlas Mountains, traditional Berber villages, and the verdant river valley below.

Everything is centred around an internal patio, leading off to the rooms, a lounge, a bar, and a glass-fronted dining room. Furnishings are plush leather chairs, vintage carpets, nostalgic radios and clocks, and cushions draped in local fabrics.

Our room, the Deluxe Suite, had the most incredible terrace views. I did yoga here and watched stunning sunsets and sunrises. My top tip? Bring binoculars, a sketch pad or a journal, to make the most of the vistas. Days effortlessly slipped by as we lounged by the pool, read books in the gardens, sipped sundowners, and then stargazed into inky night skies.”

Read more about Marta’s trip to Morocco during Ramadan

Bookings Consultant

Don Totu Dimora Storica, Italy

“Located in the sleepy village of San Cassiano, far off Puglia’s beaten path, is Don Totu. It houses just six elegant rooms, and beyond, exquisite grounds that would make any jet-setter envious. Several narrow staircases lead to the roof, which has panoramic views and comfortable places for sunbathing.

The hospitality here is second to none, and the on-the-house aperitivi at sundown is the cherry on top. Keeping it local, breakfast is buffet-style with regional flavours and plenty to choose from.

For entertainment, there are free bikes for exploring San Cassiano. For the more adventurous, you can hire a classic Vespa for the day to sightsee in true Italian fashion. There are optional free yoga sessions, and a spa with traditional Turkish bath, steam room and an “emotional shower” (a shower in a cave with disco lights – cool!).  I was utterly charmed – one of my all-time favourites.”

Read more about Leah’s visit to Puglia’s elegant palaces

The Creatives

Kids Collection & New Hotels

Algarve Design Houses, Portugal

“We LOVED the Algarve Design Houses – they are a thing of beauty. We stayed in the Olhão House. You enter and the tall steep stairs are in front of you; climb these for the two bedrooms, both ensuite, double or twin. They look out over the courtyard and some rooftops. At ground level entrance there’s a high-ceilinged, open-plan living/dining/kitchen with tall picture windows/doors opening onto the very cool patio. The spiral staircase here leads up to a vertiginous set of steps to the roof terrace, where I enjoyed the sunset and the soft light across the town one night.

It was perfect for us in terms of access to the seafront, boat trips, fish and seafood market, shops etc. Being here defined living like a local. The house is tucked away in a side alley but only 1 block from the main drag, so it was easy to stroll about. The plunge pool, heated to an extent, is very small, but I imagine it comes into its own in the summer when you’re in that high, cool, white courtyard.”

Read more about Nadine’s trip to the Algarve with her kid


Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

“I adored Lunuganga, it was the highlight of our honeymoon in Sri Lanka. Its resplendent Italianate gardens, which are open to the public, are an oasis of calm in a slice of wilderness near Bentota. This was the home of Geoffrey Bawa, the renowned architect of Sri Lanka’s Houses of Parliament – and a man with impeccable taste!

His beautiful gardens comprise lily ponds, walkways, romantic pavilions and inspirational views over a blissfully quiet lake. Scattered among them are 10 rooms and suites of various sizes, housed in converted plantation buildings. Ours was an old cow shed transformed into an art gallery, and it showcased antiques from Bawa’s private collection.

We had amazing food here (beautiful curries and dahls, fresh salads, complimentary afternoon tea with homemade banana bread), and the new infinity pool overlooking the lake is a showstopper, but it was the tranquillity that won us over. Definitely one for the romantics.”

Head of Digital Marketing

Country Kids, France

“We had a glorious stay at Country Kids with our 2-year-old daughter, who is the perfect age for this kid-friendly farm retreat in Languedoc. We stayed in a family-sized apartment on their ‘Absolutely Everything Included’ rate, which really is what is says. Along with all food and drink, the week includes two on-site- or off-site activities, a spa treatment, two nights of babysitting, daily housekeeping and a fantastic kids’ club, open all day (for kids from 3 months old).

We arrived with the slight apprehension that this ‘organised fun’ might not allow for much time to do our own thing, but we soon got into it and quickly loved it.  There weren’t many items on the planner that were restricted to fixed times – breakfast, lunch and Kids’ Club, for example, were all available for long periods. It was only the elements that needed to be organised and involved others that were set in the diary, like massages, electric boat hire, family yoga and swimming lessons – all incredibly good fun. We left feeling utterly spoilt.”

Read more about Ben’s family holiday to the south of France

Digital Marketing Executive

Dar Zemora, Morocco

“We arrived at Dar Zemora, in the peaceful Palmeraie of Marrakech, and were met with a gorgeous, generously sized suite with a seating area, dressing room, four-poster bed and a stunning bathroom. However, the showstopper was the private terrace, which genuinely was at least twice the size of my flat at home! It was so peaceful, with sunloungers, a day bed and a dining table where we had a delicious lunch. We peeled ourselves away to explore the grounds and take a dip in the stunning pool, then kicked back with a hammam and massage at the on-site spa.

Overall, I thought the place had an understated theatre to it. It’s bold and exuberant with hand-painted ceilings, local art and striking colours. I felt completely relaxed here and loved getting lost in the maze of small rooms off the dome-roofed central area (a library, a games room and a gorgeous relaxation room with those striking pink and blues). The photos don’t do this place justice, you really can’t capture the calm and tranquil nature of it. Complete relaxation at its finest.”

Read more about Imogen’s week in Marrakech & Agafay desert

Editorial & Marketing Assistant

Kefalonia Seaview Villa, Greece

Kefalonia Seaview Villa is undeniably a showstopper. The first thing that took my breath away was the view from the terrace: the kind of view that is physically hard to pull your eyes away from. And it’s all yours. There’s no noise, no obstructions, no neighbours. Just you, your swish villa and the far-reaching seascape that meets Zakynthos on the horizon. Heaven.

Then there’s the sleek infinity pool, designed for the wow-factor with a sunken sofa and fire pit inside it. Inside, the rooms were lovely and spacious, with pale linens, stone and rattan features, and brass finishes. It felt new and stylish without being at all sterile; comforting but free of clutter. We spent hours on the patio, splitting our time between the pool and the cloud-soft loungers, soaking in the views.

It’s a great base for exploring Kefalonia and, as the ferry literally couldn’t be closer, you can easily spend a day on Zakynthos, too. If we’d had more time we would have. Next time, perhaps…”

Read more about Alice’s week in Kefalonia’s coolest villas

Rates & Distribution Executive

Clos des Apres, France

Clos des Aspres is a relaxed 5-bedroom guesthouse with a pool, plus a cottage for bigger groups (with its own pool), located in the Occitanie region. The views from here towards the Pic du Canigou are stunning, and the ambience is very relaxed, quiet and enjoyable; we spent the afternoon in the Mediterranean gardens, lazing around on hammocks and in the pool, the dogs popping over from time to time for a belly rub.

Breakfast was delicious, with local products like Ortaffa honey, their own olive oil and freshly baked croissants. If you want to self-cater other meals, there is a kitchen and a living room for guests to share in the main house, and an honesty minibar with very affordable prices. Or you can eat out in one of the surrounding villages – we headed to a restaurant in Laroque des Alberes (15-min drive) and loved the casual vibe.

They welcome children of all ages, and there is a little swing and slide park plus many more activities within a short drive. Both families and couples would have a great time here. We would love to come back one day.”