The i-escape blog / Michael Cullen

By Michael Cullen, Co-founder

It’s that time of year where we look back at what you had to say about all the hotels and villas you booked through us in 2023. From one-night pub breaks to sumptuous summer holidays, we read every bit of feedback, counted all your scores, and creamed off the 10 winners.

This process is not only essential, it’s also uplifting and insightful – buoyed by all your generous praise and wonderful comments; plus a smattering of less-wonderful ones, which really do help the owners improve their offering, and ensure that our portfolio remains the best of the best.

So, without further ado, here are your 2023 winners.

1 Zante Beach Villas, Zakynthos, Greece

The Zante Beach Villas (for 2-5) are set on a private headland with sea-lapped terraces and steps straight into the water. To quote our guests, they are “a slice of Paradise” in a “great location, with a really special host, Antonia”, who “was incredibly welcoming and ensured we had everything we could possibly need”. What a spot for lazy summer days. “The views and the colour of the sea were amazing”, while “the well-maintained gardens added a touch of serenity”. And “waking up to morning swims and lovely food in the local taverna was bliss.”

La Dama del Porto, Lake Maggiore, Italy

La Dama del Porto, home to 5 rooms and a gourmet restaurant by the lake, opened last year – and already it has a big fanbase. “Matteo, Davide and family have put their hearts and souls into this lovely small hotel, and it shows”, says one. The rooms “are super clean, elegantly minimal with comfortable beds and plump pillows”. The “lake-front village of Cerro is an authentic and peaceful oasis, especially after the tourist hot spots around Maggiore”. But best of all is the food: “the best dining experience we had on our entire 3 week trip through France and Italy! An absolute gem, and wonderful value.”

Riad Dar Zaman, Marrakech, Morocco

Our most recent guest sums it up perfectly: “What a find! Riad Dar Zaman is an absolute gem. The decor is gorgeous, rooms charming, food delicious and the location super. However, what really makes Dar Zaman special is the people.” Hear hear: In any hotel, staff are the fairy dust. So hats off to Hassan and Adhil who “look after your every need with smiles and open hearts”; to chef Karima who “cooks food with love” and is “a super teacher”; and to the “charming owner”, Peter, who “has created the perfect escape”. Staying here is “like living with friends you have always known”.

4 Kefalonia Boutique Villas, near Fiskardo, Greece

Kefalonia Boutique Villas, a cluster of hillside houses (each sleeping 2-6), is “a blissful and traditional Greek bolthole, with wonderful restaurants nearby, pretty Fiskardo 10 minutes away and two lovely little pebbly beaches in walking distance. Our family of 5 had the happiest week here”. Like most i-escape rentals, it’s a cut above average. “A bit above our normal budget”, says one, “but so worth it for a totally relaxing, luxurious experience”. And several guests echoed that “the villa looked beautiful in the pictures – and was even better in real life!”. The verdict? “We would go back in a heartbeat”.

5 Agroturismo Son Ametler, Mallorca, Spain

Agroturismo Son Ametler is a rustic-chic 11-room hideaway at the foot of the Tramuntana mountains. One guest describes it as “a beautiful property, in tranquil surroundings, run by a lovely team of people”. It also scores very highly for food, sustainability and seclusion. “Each dinner we had was simple, delicious and made using local ingredients”; another praises the“delicious pescatarian alternatives”. Impressively, there is “no plastic, free drinking water (still and sparkling), solar power … and electric car charging”. Best of all, the hotel and its “delightful pool area” are “very quiet, the only sounds being the morning cockerel, the birds and the cicadas”.

6 La Maison Papillons, Provence, France

La Maison Papillons, a “beautifully restored property, with a lovely saltwater swimming pool overlooking the Cevennes hills”, is beloved both by those who “just like to mooch around the pretty villages close by” as well as more “sporting types”. Many cite “swimming in the river an exhilarating experience”, while one rates her “balade to the Ardèche Gorge more than worth the trip”. Moreover, there is “a real sense of care for the environment”, with “much-loved chickens” and “natural products”. “Breakfast is superb, the beds are superb, everything is superb – a huge thank you to the lovely Caroline and Olivier”.

7 Villa Jacaranda, Varkala, India

It’s wonderful to see this relatively no-frills – but “really special” – Indian homestay among our winners. Proof, more than ever, that experience counts higher than luxury. Villa Jacaranda is “a beautiful house with four guest rooms and a glorious garden within a central courtyard”, but once again it’s the people who make it. “Owner Ajay built the house himself” and has “carefully curated every room’s furniture, paintings and wall hangings”; he even “bakes the bread for breakfast”. And the dinners – “enormous feasts … served on your own terrace” – rate as “the best food we ate in all of Kerala”.

8 Stow House, Yorkshire, UK

This “excellent B&B in a really beautiful part of the Dales” will delight couples, families and dog-owners alike. Stow House hostess “Sarah was excellent at providing us with local knowledge and the most delicious breakfasts”, and “we thoroughly enjoyed her recommended walk to Bolton Castle”. Bedrooms, including a “lovely large room on the top floor”, boast “beautiful interiors” and “spectacular views”. One i-escaper called it “the best B&B we have ever stayed in, and I am sure we will return”. So book early.

9 Convento, Olhao, Portugal

This chic, affordable guesthouse in a charming town near the eastern Algarve’s island beaches is a longstanding i-escape favourite – and repeat winner. Convento is “a beautiful oasis of calm and simple elegance in the middle of the heat and bustle of Olhão. Service is delightfully friendly; breakfasts are a joy. I will keep on returning”. Another guest says that “from the moment I passed through the unmarked door, I felt relaxed”. One of its trump cards is “the wonderful roof terrace, with a pool and lots of areas to sit – even on a busy day it doesn’t feel crowded.” You also enjoyed “the strict ‘no shoes’ policy, meaning the entire place is spotlessly clean” yet “laid back and welcoming”.

10 Elies Hotel, Kardamyli, Greece

I’m both thrilled and concerned to see Elies win another Top-Rated Award. Thrilled because I have been championing them since they opened; and concerned that I may no longer find space for my yearly holiday there. But we must give praise where it’s due – as it is here! “One of the most wonderful hotels I’ve ever stayed at: all the privacy of your own cottage, but with the benefits of room service and fantastic food on hand”. There are “loungers on the beach”, “private terraces for outdoor lunches”, and “hammocks dotted around the olive groves”. So: “if you need to switch off and reset, just go”. And I’ll see you there!

How we chose our winners: scores are based on ratings from verified i-escape guests submitted during 2023. These may differ slightly from the scores shown on our hotel reviews’ feedback section, which draw from the previous two years, and are constantly updating.