Away from the coast, off the beaten track, yet only two and a half hours from Malaga airport, Capileira is spectacular, full of life and dead cheap. Traditional houses built into the side of the Alpujarras come with tineos (terraces) with awesome views across the mountains. If you want a pool, pay a bit more (around £50 a night for two) and stay at the Finca Los Llanos or the Rural Real de Poqueira. Winding paths lead to rivers, the surrounding villages and vertiginous peaks. A clutch of inexpensive restaurants around the square and in the steep cobbled streets that radiate from it are generous and wonderful.
In April I travelled to Belize with my four year-old son. We drove north and on the outskirts of Sarteneja is Shipstern Nature Reserve where we spent two nights staying in the guesthouse that the reserve built in 2012. The guesthouse is clean and comfortable, the food is great and most importantly it is right next to the forest. Morning bird walks can be conducted straight from the guesthouse front door and the observation tower, that gives views from above the tree canopy, is 50 metres away. Tourism revenue helps finance the reserve and also the co-management of other protected areas in Belize that Shipstern are work in. The relative isolation of Sarteneja limits the numbers of tourists to Shipstern Nature Reserve, a shame for the reserve and also for tourists missing out on a great wildlife experience. The wonderful team of rangers and guides led by Heron Moreno, offer an array of interesting walks and tours and some exciting trips such as the night tour of the lagoon, spotting Morelet’s crocodiles by lamplight from a canoe and climbing into bat caves as the winged mammals zipped past our heads. Both father and son were enthralled.
One of the projects that the team at Shipstern are focussing on is the planting of tree species that are affected by illegal logging. The reserve has a nursery for mahogany and they plant within the reserve and at schools to raise awareness of the issue. My son had the opportunity to plant one of the saplings and a plaque now announces his contribution to the reforestation.
Marari beach lies between the Alleppey backwaters and the cultural hub of Cochin in Kerala. It is just 1 ½ hours drive from Cochin Airport and within a few hours’ drive of all major tourist destinations in central Kerala. BUT it is totally deserted and incredibly remarkable with the string of tranquil fishing villages dotted along the coast each having a unique character. Only the local fishermen, their traditional colourful wooden boats and the abundant wildlife share the beach, so you are virtually alone to enjoy the endless white sand, the vibrant green coconut palms, the cool sea breeze and the azure ocean.
There are only a few accommodation options and my husband, 1.5 year old daughter and myself stayed in the Palm Villa - one of the villas at Marari Villas resort. The villa is right on the beach which is very rare, it is beautifully decorated with traditional Indian furniture and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. We were surrounded with 24-hour care and immediate response to all our "needs and wants". Privately cooked and serviced food on the open terrace was delicious and it was so relaxing to soak up the sun on the loungers in the sandy garden and cool off with a swim in the warm sea.
Marari beach and Marari Villas became my personal stunning discovery. Next time I come to India I will only go to this place.
Two cabanas which sleep two people each, set in a nicely landscaped garden overlooking a small stream. The cabanas are functional, each with good showers, nice bed linen, air con and fans.
Ajith, the manager, is a nature fan, ex Yala jeep safari driver and can tell you all about the birds that surround the cabanas - kingfishers and woodpeckers nesting in the tree trunks. Good food, good tea, peaceful, excellent value. He made us a packed breakfast for our 5am safari start and accommodated my friend's gluten intolerance.
For a Yala national park safari use Sanjaya (driver) www.yalasafarijeep.com
I've been with him four times and each time have seen leopards. He's good on birds too.
38 Galmadawwa Road, Punchiakurugoda, Tissamaharama
It’s a very nice budget hotel with good sized, modern rooms. Location is convenient, one stop from the Passeig Gracia shopping area, near Plaza Catalunya, the Ramblas and some of Gaudi’s buildings. The staff was really friendly, we had a great time at the hotel.
Certaldo Alta is a short train ride from Florence. The new part is less interesting, apart from a twice weekly market so head for the old part, Certaldo Alta either on foot or using the cable car from the square. Here you will find a lovely Tuscan hill town with few tourists, some interesting history and quiet bars and restaurants. In the summer there is a music and arts festival so you can listen to jazz in part of an old church surrounded by ancient frescoes. Even better, stay for the night in the nearby Fattoria Basseto, a former Benedictine convent, that is now a budget hotel and hostel. In one of the rooms there is a black and white photograph of the family who still own it, taken in the 1950's by Cecil Beaton.The owners are lovely, you will want to stay, arrange a cooking class at a nearby farm, and not return to Florence!
Via delle Città, 50052 Certaldo FI, Italy
+39 348 4370285
Google map: bit.ly/11ucXCG
Why leave one crowded tourist honeypot to spend 24 hours in another? Because San Gimignano offers more than towers and tourist tat. It sits amid some of the most beautiful landscapes this planet has to offer, so if you need a break from masterpiece-bagging, lose yourself among the rolling olive groves and vineyards where the hills are dotted with fabulous, tranquil, rustic places to stay: agriturismi. Clusters of ancient farm buildings seemingly assembled by the god of aesthetically pleasing structures-in-stone have been arranged artfully throughout the San Gimignano area. Take your pick from one of the 90 or so near the 'Medieval Manhattan' and you will see this town's best angle - from afar on your poolside veranda with glass of Vernaccia in hand.
An hour by road, San Gimignano is an easy day trip away from Florence. Great website with everything you need to arrange to stay at an Agriturismo in this stunning area: www.sangimignano.com/en/services-and-facilities/accommodation/farmhouses/
Google map: bit.ly/YFa2nc
A broad wooded valley north of Lucca, the Garfagnana is a ruggedly beautiful area of Tuscany hidden between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines, often overlooked in the stampede for the art-laden cities further south. If you are tired of galleries, museums and crowds or simply prefer nature to culture, a 24 hour escape to Barga, one of the 'Borghi piu Belli d'Italia' with its twisting lanes, artistic residents and incredible panoramic views will refresh your crowd-weary soul and renew your appetite for all that Florentine art. Among the elegant medieval merchant's houses are several flower filled stairways leading to the cathedral which surveys the town from above. The vista over the tiles and verdant valley towards the Apuan Alps is ample reward for the climb. There are plenty of trattorie for the obligatory sampling of delicious regional fare.
Barga can be reached from Florence by train but it is not a straightforward journey as you must leave the train on the valley floor. Simpler and quicker to drive - around two hours from Florence. Stay in the impressive and serene Villa Moorings in the town or in one of the many nearby agriturismi.
Villa Moorings: www.villamoorings.it
Via Roma 18, Barga (LU) 55051.
+39 0583 711538
Google map: bit.ly/Zg84hR
This is a great little gem of a place that might be the only one its kind in the world. It has taken the boutique hotel concept and turned it inside out - with the design and coolness factor turned up high. The 'hotel' moniker is misleading; it has but one room. It's a very stylish and beautiful room, mind you. The rest of the place consists of an art space, a design and a 'product' shop full of interesting items for the home, a beauty/skin care boutique, a clothing shop, a cafe, and a small interior garden. Confused? That's normal. But just drop in and you will feel that it all somehow makes sense. The cafe in particular is a great spot to eat and re-charge during a day of sight-seeing.
Staalstraat 7B, 1011 JJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 523 5059
Google map: bit.ly/17Hy2Nl
* Jeff is our Been there local for Amsterdam. You can read his profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/amsterdam-local-jeff-funnekotter.jsp and follow his tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/jefffunnekotter
A perfect base for reaching anywhere connected with the Gallipoli campaign is the charming boutique hotel, The Gallipoli Houses. Built, owned and expertly run by Eric Goossens and his wife Ozlem, the hotel is perfectly placed in the village of Kocadere, in the heart of the Gallipoli National Park.
Externally, the rooms are designed to blend in with the rest of the village, however the accommodation is modern, comfortable and has every convenience that you will need. The food and wine are carefully prepared and selected so that you have the opportunity to enjoy an authentic taste of Turkey. For those seeking to further their knowledge of the campaign of 1915, then you will find Eric a veritable encyclopedia on the subject.
I cannot think of a better place to stay to enjoy your visit to the Gallipoli peninsula
An amazing traditional ryokan in the heart of the preserved area of Kyoto (the next street along is where you can spot geisha in the evenings)
It's a prime spot for shopping for lunch at the amazing department store food halls, a walk along the river, transport links and also very close to some of the most beautiful shrines.
They provide a traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner in your room. We were blown away by the daily variations.
Dinner was an experience I want to repeat - outstanding.
The staff were also incredibly helpful in creating a vegetarian option for my mother and were really concerned about giving her the best they could.
The service is incredible, the atmosphere fantastic, and I wouldn't miss the opportunity to experience a tea ceremony in the ryokan's own tea house located in the courtyard.
229-2 Nishinocho, Yamato-Oji Higashi-Iru, Shinmonzen, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0088
Just to show that these tips do work, when I had a long weekend in Marrakesh with my family I contacted Abedellatif who was recommended as a guide in the Villa Dinari post, even though we weren't staying there. He was really charming, and an excellent guide. He showed us lots of places we'd never have found, even with a guide book, because he was born and brought up in the Medina. We enjoyed his tour so much that we went on a tour with him to the Ourika Valley and saw a wonderful local market. I really do recommend him, and if we ever do go back to Marrakesh we'll definitely stay at his lovely home (he took us there for tea on our way back from the Ourika Valley).
Villa Dinari Alpha 41, Lots Bouzaoui, Commune al Ouidane, Marrakech Morocco
+212 524 32 89 22
Over the past six years we have been to some fantastic farms at Easter in different parts of Yorkshire. Farmstay.co.uk is run for farmers and you can choose self catering cottages on working farms. Our children have seen lambs being born, bottle fed the orphans, helped train sheep dogs, had quad bike rides, even taken the elastic bands in for show and tell!
Each farm has been slightly different but the enthusiasm of the farmers and love of what they do has been fantastic and has proved an experience to remember. This year we are going to Teesdale - Toby Hill farm and have high hopes for yet another great adventure. Support local farmers and have a fantastic holiday to boot!
Nestling amid the Quantocks, Blackmore Farm is a perfect base for exploring Somerset. From the four-poster bed in the 15th Century manor house to the romantically cosy Shepherd’s Hut (complete with en-suite), the range of fantastic accommodation suits all tastes (including wheelchair-accessible). Breakfast in the Great Hall, complete with log-fire, amid suits of armour, a stags head and a range of ancient weaponry. The spacious Cider Press offers a self-catering option – great for informal family gatherings. Visit the farm shop and tea-room (awarded “Cycle Somerset Best Coffee Stop 2012”) for delicious local produce, including ice-cream produced with cream fresh from their own dairy herd. The hosts, Ann and Ian Dyer, are warm, welcoming and immensely helpful.
A family run dairy farm set in rolling Somerset countryside with an incredible restaurant. Food is sourced from the farm and neighbouring land celebrating all that is fresh and local. A warm welcome, fair prices and food created with love.
We visited this lovely Bed and Breakfast a few weeks ago, which is a beautifully restored barn on a beef and sheep farm. After a day exploring the Peak district (with many options for walking, cycling etc), this is the perfect place to completely relax.
The owner, Jane Bassett was very welcoming, made a delicious breakfast and told us all about the farm including her part-time role as Midwife during lambing season! Highly recommend for a peaceful stay on a really interesting working farm.
We - my wife and I and our then 15-year-old youngest daughter - were walking Hadrian's Wall a few years ago, with pre-booked accommodation. The rain set in as we left Birdoswald Roman fort; we crossed the River Irthing on a new bridge and walked alongside the ancient Roman bridge; and there, built in the remains of a milecastle, was our next bed for the night: Willowford Farm, run by a couple from Manchester, Liam and Lauren, who breed sheep. Our rooms, with a view over the farmyard, had footbaths - very welcome after a long day's walk - and their home cooked evening meal, for meat-eaters and vegetarians, was superb: they're part of a consortium of farmers who produce locally sourced food. The next morning, as we put our damp boots on for the next bit of the walk, we were entertained by Milly the dog in the farmyard. Willowford had the best food and the nicest people of our whole walk along Hadrian's Wall.
The Secret Garden B&B is run by John Fernandes and it's a wonderful place. It's very private, with only three rooms, and everything is taken care of with personal touch. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and the breakfast provided is generous and good.
The location is also very strategic, comfortably nestled among a housing area, but within walking distance to restaurants and shops.
John is a very hospitable host. He took us around the town, gave us good advice on places to eat and visit, and ensured that we are comfortable and have everything we needed, including helping us to arrange for transportation. He also invited us for evening happy hour so we could meet and chat with him and other travelers.
The Secret Garden B&B is a really good find with reasonable price. Don't miss it!
Docharn Lodge B&B is a jewel in the Cairngorm National Park. It is the only B&B in the Highlands to have accommodation better than some five-star hotels we have stayed in throughout the UK (they even have Molton Brown products, fluffy robes and slippers, a wee nip of whisky and wine in the rooms!) Newly opened - get there quick before they have no room. Such wonderful hosts, it's a haven in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.
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