The hip hideaways booking experts at i-escape.com suggest their top 10 picks for hot and happening travel for 2014…
Early 2014 is set to be one of the best winters ever for glimpsing the Northern Lights, and this striking new hotel (it opened mid 2013), perched on stilts near Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park, has to be one of the most spectacular bases for witnessing them. The bar has vast walls of glass so you can watch the aurora borealis dance outside as you sip cocktails; there’s also a restaurant serving sophisticated Icelandic food, a steaming outdoor hot pool, and 46 Scandi-chic rooms with minimalist furniture and soft sheepskin-covered chairs. Between scanning the sky for the lights, you can hike up glaciers, watch geysers erupt, dive in the icy-clear waters of the Silfra rift (the crack between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates), and unwind with a massage in the spa.
Also opened in 2013, the aptly named Villa Buena Onda (meaning ‘good vibes’ in English) is hard to beat for couples seeking pure relaxation. This stylish hideaway has got its location nailed – set atop a hill, with breathtaking panoramas of the Papagayo Gulf, it’s within walking distance of beaches and bars, yet secluded enough to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The seven spacious suites have private patios or balconies, all meals are included in the price, and there’s a pool with ocean views and a swim-up bar.
Another new opening in 2013, Saanewald Lodge is a cool ski-in, ski-out hotel set right on the slopes near Gstaad, Switzerland. It offers excellent value in an otherwise expensive area, and your ski pass (issued when you arrive) gives free access to the valley train, so you can ski for miles then get back in a flash to the hot tub, sauna and tasty rustic food. The hotel also offers plenty during the summer months, including hiking, biking, spectacular cable-car rides and a terrace for alfresco dining.
The coastal Maremma region adds a heavenly slice of seaside to the rolling hills of classic Tuscany – a great option if you want to combine beach time with day trips to vineyards and medieval hill towns. Close to its white-sand beaches and natural parks, as well as the idyllic islands of Elba and Giglio, is Locanda Rossa, a luxurious yet family-friendly farmhouse conversion with 13 serene rooms and four apartments sleeping up to six. It also has a restaurant and a heated outdoor pool, all surrounded by olive trees and sweeping countryside views; you can even glimpse the sea glinting in the distance.
For a small country, Montenegro crams a lot in, making for an incredibly varied European holiday. There are black mountains, dramatic nature reserves, walled cities, sheltered bays and historic islands – all crowd-free and easily accessible via Dubrovnik (just along the coast in Croatia). Opened in 2012, Hotel Hippocampus is one of the country’s most stylish and romantic places to stay: nine Balkan-chic rooms with gilded doors and abstract art, plus a sophisticated restaurant, an elegant courtyard and a sunny roof terrace, all hidden away behind an unassuming 17th century façade in the beautiful old town of Kotor.
Escape the Greek-island crowds and head to Ekies All Senses Resort in Halkidiki (or Chalkidi) – a scenic mainland peninsula with pine-fringed coves, idyllic beaches and legendary sights such as the monastic enclave of Mount Athos. This funky, family-friendly hotel overlooks the crystal-clear Vourvourou Bay and has everything you need to unwind: a holistic spa, a choice of restaurants, a pool, a sea-facing deck for cocktails, a fun tree-house lounge, and a beach with safe, shallow water. What’s more, Karadi, one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, is only 300m away.
Few tourists venture beyond the Sardinian coast, but head to the island’s interior and you’ll discover a land of vineyards, olive groves, gorges, wild horses and Nuraghic ruins. In the middle of it all, close to the World Heritage site of Su Nuraxi and the wild hilltop plains of the Parco della Giara, is this small but stylish B&B. Opened in 2013 in the small village of Gergei, it has whitewashed walls and terracotta floors, logs crackling invitingly in the corner, and three beautiful bedrooms with chunky rafters and embroidered linen. There are bountiful breakfasts to wake up to, and authentic pizzas a short stroll down the road. Best of all, cookery classes are arranged on request for anyone who wants to learn the region’s age-old culinary secrets.
This serene mountain escape, perched beside a river in northern Laos, is ideal for walkers, photographers and anyone who wants to get off the beaten track in 2014. Fantastic treks and 4x4 trips with local guides will take you to remote hill tribes, stunning landscapes and wild jungles - all virtually untouched by tourism. Back at the resort, you can bathe in thermal spring-fed pools, unwind with a massage, tuck into superb Lao-French fusion food, or just relax in one of the ten rooms, spread between thatch-and-bamboo buildings and furnished with balconies, locally woven textiles and traditional art.
This blissful five-bedroom retreat will charm romantics and families alike. If you want to see the Loire Valley without the coach-loads of tourists, this your place: it’s hidden away in the village of Ste. Hermine, an easy drive from Nantes, La Rochelle and the beaches of the Vendée's 'Coast of Light', with vineyards down the road. Start the day with homemade pancakes, pastries and raspberries from the gardens; end it by the smouldering log fire. The rooms are pretty special, too: stone walls, beautiful sitting areas, super-kingsize beds, and impeccable bathrooms with rainfall showers and tubs-for-two.
El Jadida is an as-yet-undiscovered gem on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, with some great beaches, a lively arts community and a Unesco-listed old town. It’s only an hour south of the airport at Casablanca, and can be easily combined with a city break in Marrakech. It’s home to a very stylish place to stay, too – L’Iglesia, a beautiful boutique hotel set in a restored Portuguese church and consulate building, complete with a restaurant, a massage room, a roof terrace with ocean views, and a stunning lounge-bar in the old church nave.