Liz Simpson, editor of hip hideaways site www.i-escape.com, picks stays that will linger in your memory but not on your bank statement
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Price per night: from £40 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? This 450-year-old, family-run haveli (private mansion) lies deep inside Jaisalmer’s unique ‘living’ Fort and is steeped in history, from its ornately carved stone and winding steps to the delicate alcoves, gorgeous archways and faded ancestors’ photos on the walls. The bigger bedrooms are pillared and balconied, and adorned with beautiful old stone, wood carvings and jewel-coloured silks and velvets.
What’s nearby? Jaisalmer Fort is a maze of narrow lanes; inside are Jain temples and the City Palace. Take a jeep into the Khuri Dunes to ride camels and climb the sandy slopes.
When to go: High season is October-February – it’s cooler and less humid. February’s Desert Festival combines dance, camel races and turban-tying contests.
The Minho, Portugal
Price per night: from £54 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? If you’re looking for chic on the cheap, Portugal (quietly) boasts this ancient millhouse, hidden-away beside the crystalline waters of the Vez River. Bedrooms have a fresh, light and cared-for vibe, there’s a leafy garden with a pool to laze in and – best of all – you can swim in the river, where several natural jacuzzis have been hollowed out of the riverbed.
What’s nearby? Hikers will be in their element: you’re on the doorstep of the pristine Peneda-Gerês NP and the less-travelled Soajo Mountains. Trout fishing in the River Vez is some of the best in the country, and there are beaches a short drive away. There’s also a lot of pleasure to be had in doing very little: kicking back with a pile of books is a restorative joy.
When to go: May-September is best. North Portugal is a bit cooler and wetter than Mediterranean Portugal, but still generally warm in summer and mild in winter.
Wedmore, Somerset, UK
Price per night: from £85 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? A refurbed historic inn, set in a village so picturesque that you’ll start snooping at house prices. But while the rooms are delectable – with claw-foot bathtubs – and the relaxed pub downstairs is buzzy, it’s the food that’s scribbled its name onto our consciousness; the kitchen’s led by River Cottage’s Tom Blake, who cures his own ham and bacon, and insists on daily fresh fish from Brixham and locally reared meat.
What’s nearby? Hire bikes or go hiking to get the most out of the Somerset Levels, and make sure you bring your binoculars during the winter months as the area teems with birdlife, including incredible murmurations of starlings.
When to go: Any time of year, especially winter, for cosying up in front of the fire. Key village events to mark on the calendar include Harvest Home in August (cider and jollity), a beer festival in September and Wedmore by Lamplight in December.
Price per night: from £76 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? This classy hotel in a medieval village near the Costa Brava has just five exquisitely decorated rooms and a suite-apartment. The garden houses a saltwater pool and wisteria-covered terrace, and you’re just 4km from dipping your toes in the sea.
What’s nearby? Dolphin-spotting, windsurfing, diving and hot-air ballooning are all available nearby. You can hire a bike from the hotel to explore nearby villages or cycle to the unspoilt sands at Sant Martí d’Empúries. The Dalí triangle is always worth exploring – you’re 50 minutes from Figueres, where you can ogle the surreal spectacles housed in the Dalí Museum.
When to go: The best months to visit are May, June and September when it’s warm but not too hot.
Near Carcassonne, France
Price per night: from £60 (incl tax)
Why here? This quintessentially French maison de maître’s original features – an elegant staircase, panelling and marble fireplaces – are still in place, but they’ve been pepped up with a racy cocktail of contemporary prints and fabrics, jazzy chandeliers and angular lamps.
What’s nearby? The Pyrenees are on your doorstep for hiking (the owners will suggest routes and provide a packed lunch. ‘Welcoming’ doesn’t cover it…). Or explore local villages on two wheels. Carcassonne’s UNESCO-listed and walled Cité offers fairytale drawbridges and cobbled streets.
When to go: For wildflowers, May-June; for skiing, December-April; for autumn colour, September-October.
Price per night: from £71 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? There are literally hundreds of riads in Marrakech, so choosing one can feel a little overwhelming. You can count on Riad Dar More to tick all your boxes though: it’s an intimate haven with elegant interiors and only five-minutes’ walk from Marrakech’s ever-frenetic nerve centre, the Djemaa el-Fna.
What’s nearby? Souks, musicians and the Djemaa el-Fna’s inimitable buzzing atmosphere; riad-owner Dominique and her staff can advise you on the best spots to visit, or arrange guided tours – including treks out to the Atlas Mountains, trips to Essaouira or forays into the desert.
When to go: The best time to visit is November-March. June-August is likely to be pretty sizzling.
Vejer de la Frontera, Spain
Price per night: from £64 (incl breakfast)
Why here? Small and perfectly formed, this four-room guesthouse in the heart of old Vejer is kitted out with eye-catching art and brightly coloured fabrics and kilims. Rooms are fresh and stylish, some with sitting areas and kitchenettes – although foodies will quickly sniff out the rated tapas bars and restaurants a short stroll away.
What’s nearby? Vejer’s labyrinthine cobbled streets help make it one of Andalucía’s most bewitching towns. You’re a short drive from sandy beaches, beautiful cliff walks and Cádiz, one of Europe’s oldest cities.
When to go: Vejer is worth a visit at any time of year, and its proximity to the sea means that even in summer (May-October), it rarely gets unpleasantly hot.
Price per night: from £95 (incl breakfast and tax)
Why here? The ivy-coated Beckford is a great restaurant, laid-back bar and a sublime countryside hideaway with fine walking on your doorstep. The eight bedrooms are chic but cosy while the menu ranges from fine fare in the restaurant (pan-fried Brixham hake) to upmarket pub snacks at the bar.
What’s nearby? You’re 20 minutes from Longleat and Stonehenge, half an hour from Bath and surrounded by classic hiking countryside.
When to go: Open all year – stay on a Sunday, when classic films are shown in the pub via a projector.
Price per night: from £86 (incl breakfast, taxes and use of bicycles)
Why here? This beautifully designed chic guesthouse just south-west of Salta is fantastic value for money. There are just five rooms, set in a lush garden fringed by the distant Andes mountains.
What’s nearby? This is a great base to visit the high-altitude plains of the Puna, and the salt lakes and sculptural desert of the Andes beyond. Owner Fabrizio knows the area intimately, and runs a range of tours to Cachi and Cafayate, but also to the wilder parts of the north-west that no other agents go to.
When to go: September-May is best, though be aware that downpours in the rainy season (late December to February) may make roads to the remoter parts of the Calchaquí Valleys impassable.
Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Price per night: from £80
Why here? This relaxed resort of beautiful, private villa-apartments overlooks a tranquil golden bay in Puerto Escondido, with exclusive access to the lovely beach below. Sundowner margaritas at the bar are a ritual not to be missed.
What’s nearby? The calm waters of Carrizalillo are perfect for learning to surf (there’s a school), or go to Playa Zicatela to see how the pros handle the pipelines. Book a boat tour to see dolphins and sea turtles, go sports fishing or just borrow a bike and pedal to Puerto’s other beaches.
When to go: Puerto Escondido is warm all year round (typically 25-30ºC), with a slightly hotter, rainier season from May to October. Prime time is November (World Surfing Championships) to Easter.
Price per night: from £160 (half board, including tax and donation) for 2013
Why here? This hilltop lodge is a mere 30-minute drive from the Ngorongoro Crater – a wildlife-dense Unesco-site – which makes its prices all the more astonishing. Perched on a hill with panoramic views, its 15 tented lodges aren’t luxurious, but life’s little pleasures are all in place: hot showers, comfy beds, hot-water bottles at night.
When to go: June-September is dry season, ideal for game viewing as animals congregate around waterholes.
Near Venice, Italy
Price per night: from £116 (incl breakfast and taxes)
Why here? This gastro retreat on the vineyards of Mazzorbo Island, a 40-minute vaporetto ride from the city, serves some of the most exciting food in Italy, and is currently out-dazzling Venice’s traditional highlights for foodies in the know. There are only six rooms, which adds to the exclusive, intimate feel.
When to go: Venissa is seasonal and open from mid-April to early November every year. Steer clear of summer – Venice is very busy, hot and uncomfortable.
Price per night: from £110 (incl breakfast, taxes and afternoon tea)
Why here? This effortlessly rustic-chic guesthouse feels right at home in Alaçati, the best-preserved town on Turkey’s Aegean coast. Start with breakfast, served on the vine-shaded patio. Then spend your days padding Alaçati’s cobbles, exploring the coast or lazing in the pool garden; come evening, it’s a joy to venture out to the gourmet restaurants up the road. Meanwhile, the Roman ruins at Ephesus (150km) make for perfect day-tripping.
When to go: For gentle coastal walks, go April-May. To enjoy the beaches without the crowds, go in June or September.
Rates shown are per room per night based on two people sharing unless otherwise specified.
The original versions of these reviews can be found at www.i-escape.com.
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