The i-escape blog / The idea behind iescape+ / Michael Cullen headshot

By Michael Cullen, Director & Co-founder

2020 has been an annus horribilis for the hospitality sector, so this year we pay a very special tribute to those hotels, rentals and B&Bs which have not only held it together in the face of lockdowns, quarantine, covid cleaning and distancing measures; but which have gone above and beyond to delight and reassure their guests. Bubble-sized rentals and UK staycations have done especially well – as you’ll see below.

All of this year’s winners have taken the pandemic in their stride, and come out smiling. They’ve kept their covid-messaging friendly, made handwash stations and face coverings feel like part of the fabric, replaced buffets with innovative menus, and been lenient with date changes. Recognising that our holidays were even more important this year than ever before, their staff have remained upbeat and – while keeping their physical distance – have managed to bridge the human one. Kudos to them all.

The Boathouse at Knotts End, Lake District, UK

This converted boathouse on the shores of Ullswater is “a beautiful bolthole for two, with breathtaking views in complete seclusion” – a “perfect antidote to covid stress”. Guests “loved the fact there is no TV or WiFi”, and relished “lovely walks around Aira Force and kayaking from the boathouse”. All in all, a “lovely, quiet, relaxing place – we didn’t want to leave”.


2  Foxham Barn, Wiltshire, UK

Foxham is a “beautiful, well-appointed barn in a magical setting” which offers “a wonderful antidote to city life”, and “a truly idyllic and restorative escape”. Guests get “acres of glorious woodland and meadows” to themselves, and spend lazy days “rowing and swimming in the private lake (our two teenagers loved it too)”, and “taking our toddler’s tea up to The Folly”. Most importantly, “the owners care deeply about the environment – and it shines through”.


Blenheim Cottage, Oxfordshire, UK

This gorgeous riverside cottage for 2-4 on the edge of Blenheim Palace park has had “an incredible job remodelling the space – making it quite modern yet full of charm”. “Everything was so thoughtfully arranged and immaculate, with lovely details (Le Labo soap, monogrammed sheets)”. It “felt like staying in a hotel – without the other people”. An “absolutely amazing place” and “we can’t wait to return”.


4  La Villa du Guern, Brittany, France

“As i-escape regulars, this was possibly one of the most spectacular hotels we have stayed in”, says one guest: “unique French chic in the heart of gorgeous Brittany”. Still not convinced? It has a “heated pool, stunning views, gorgeous location and exceptional breakfast”. And “the house is beautiful, modern, spotless and full of light”, while its “grounds are immaculate… with a beautiful beach just below”.


5  Conversas de Alpendre, Algarve, Portugal

This “lovely family hotel in pretty grounds with charming owners” seems to get everything right: “Excellent service. Amazing breakfast. Lovely people. Gorgeous place.” “The decor is very stylish, the ambience is laid back”, and it’s “brilliantly clean and covid friendly”. Wherever you go, “the owners clearly know people, as we seemed to be given the best table everywhere we went”; and they organised a “great boat trip around the Rio Formosa coastline”.


6  Borgo Farneto, Le Marche, Italy

These villas for 2-6 guests occupy – as you can see – “the most gorgeous setting” in the Italian countryside, with “breathtaking views of rolling hills and an incredible infinity pool”. Inside, they are “spacious, beautifully designed, and finished with traditional materials in a shabby chic style”. Owners Sabine and Conrad “are charming and effective hosts” who have “taken the time to consider what it would be like to stay there”. Borrow “electric bikes to explore the nearby villages”, or drive to Sirolo for “turquoise sea on a white shingle beach: well worth the journey”.


 Villa Kynthia, Crete, Greece

This “lovely period villa with large rooms, a beautiful secluded garden and swimming pool” is set in a “gorgeous small harbour village, truly under the radar, with very few tourists”, plus “good tavernas and a sandy little beach”. And “the whole atmosphere is very relaxing and calming”. This is “the kind of place we thought didn’t exist anymore”. Thank heavens that, amid all the craziness, it does.


8  Kefalonia Boutique Villas, Kefalonia, Greece

This cluster of chic villas sits “in an amazing position with a beautiful view” over the island’s west coast. Each villa has a “large terrace – which was perfect for spending the day by the pool, or cooking on the BBQ in the evenings”. It’s a 5-minute drive to “a beautiful little bay with crystal clear water and a lovely restaurant”. Owner “Shari is nothing but wonderfully helpful”; “without a doubt we would go back in a heartbeat.”


9  Modus Vivendi, Psematismenos, Cyprus

“Hidden away within a walled garden”, these “spacious rooms overlook a beautiful pool, over which hang pomegranate and lemon trees.” They are “furnished with so much taste and love” by the “accommodating, welcoming and responsive hosts”. The small village is “not touristy at all”, and you can pick up “delicious home cooked meals from Lenia’s Taverna on the doorstep”. No wonder guests say “this really was paradise”.


10  Rukgala Retreat, Hill Country, Sri Lanka

Guests love the “beautifully designed rooms” which “overlook the gardens and a stunning lake”; and “the food, which was the best we had in Sri Lanka – every meal was a real delight”. But what really sets Rukgala apart are the “absolutely amazing” activities and experiences: “There is soooo much to do around Rukgala: kayaking on the lake, sunset bike tour (epic!), swimming in a private waterfall (a privilege)”, not to mention “popping in to a local weaving factory on our walk” and “brilliant yoga classes, tailored to all abilities”.  Just what we all need after a year of cabin fever.


Small print: scores are based on ratings from verified i-escape guests submitted during 2020. 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. We include all guest scores, but we do not publish all guest comments.