Why go? At Las Chimeneas, a mountain retreat in the stunning Alpujarras, you can learn to cook some of the region’s finest food (plus Spanish and Moorish specialities) under the tutelage of ex-Moro chef Tom Ryalls. Wander the finca belonging to owners David and Emma Illsley, picking organic almonds or pomegranates, or foraging for herbs before returning to the kitchen to learn how to put them together. Savour a glass of wine and watch Tom build a fire in a hole in the ground before making an authentic shellfish paella (fresh fish and seafood is brought up the winding roads in a little van).
Food highs: Apart from Tom’s four cookery demonstrations, Alpujarran cuisine is cooked in Las Chimeneas’ kitchen by two local women, with hearty soups in winter and chilled gazpacho or ajo blanco in summer. Take a day trip to village markets to learn about the region’s produce or head out on a short hike to a nearby bar and pair every drink with a free tapa.
Spiritual high: In spring, wander amongst almond blossom, in other seasons stride up into the mountains. Or just sit on a balcony, watching the light fall on white villages.
HOW TO DO IT Inntravel’s Moorish Flavours of the Alpujarras week costs from £980 per person, including seven nights’ accommodation, most meals, all activities and return transfers to Malaga airport (inntravel.co.uk).
The Mani Peninsula
Why go? The Mani Peninsula at the wild southern tip of the Peloponnese is mainland Greece, but not as you know it. Expect rugged beaches, villages with tumbledown stone houses and savvy Athenian tourists. Worth making a dash from the capital (a four-hour drive away), Kinsterna is a five-star spa hotel set in a lovingly restored 17th century mansion. From the infinity pool and grounds criss-crossed with the channels of the ancient kinsterna (cistern), to the pretty kitchen gardens and Coco-Mat bedding, this is refined rusticity.
Food highs: The homemade olive oil is an earthy, nutty joy on pretty much anything. Breakfasts, on the terrace overlooking those Aegean blues, come with homemade yogurt, honey, jams and feather-light tsaitia (herb/cheese pies). Dinner is more polished – a jus here, a bisque there – but still honest Greek food centred around local organic meats, fresh fish, and some very decent estate wines. Culinary classes include bread-making in the old stone ovens and tastings of wine and grappa-like tsipouro.
Spiritual high:Hire the hotel’s speedboat to circle the nearby island citadel of Monemvasia. Then climb to the heights of this rock-top town for views across the Aegean. Top your trip off with a local herb-infused oil massage from Kinsterna’s deft therapist, Poppy (short for Calliope).
HOW TO DO IT Flights from Gatwick to Athens cost £114 return (en.aegeanair.com). Double rooms from €120, B&B (kinsternahotel.gr). More info: discovergreece.com
Why go? The spa is the focus at Dormy House, a smart Cotswolds retreat. Its raison d’être is to make your shoulders ease as soon as you arrive, but the hotel’s contemporary design and hearty, seasonal, local food should have equal billing. The main entrance leads you through the kind of lounge you want to luxuriate in, with its open fireplace, leather sofas and huge, knitted footstools. The Scandi-style spa is sublime, with exclusive Temple Spa treatments, vast sundeck and a sense of fun – that’s absent in many beauty salons – its Veuve Clicquot nailbar sets the tone: a glass of fizz is just as acceptable here as herbal tea.
Food highs: In the Potting Shed restaurant, the menu nods to chef Jon Ingrams’s time in international hotels; tom yum soup and tempura prawns sit alongside British comfort food classics like cottage pie with cheesy Marmite mash, fish finger butties and ‘cheeky trifle’. It’s casual, well priced and packed with locals. Across the hall, the Garden Room restaurant is the smarter option, but only a notch – if you’re expecting starched linen you’ll be disappointed. Staff enjoy engaging with guests and confidently talk through the menu, recommending the signature Rioja risotto and recalling every variety on an impressive cheeseboard. The menu varies from adventurous ras el hanout-seared tiger prawn, burnt avocado, harissa, and bill-to-tail duck terrine, grapefruit and chicory, to crowd-pleasing steaks cooked in the kitchen’s Berta charcoal oven. Local game is always offered in season, and at breakfast the milk (in vintage-style bottles) is from nearby Holmleigh Dairy.
Spiritual high: It’s all about detail. Throughout the hotel are fun touches such as ‘beware of the chef’ signs on the kitchen door, and a prevailing atmosphere that says your next G&T is only a few minutes away.
HOW TO DO IT Double rooms from £230, B&B (dormyhouse.co.uk).
Why go? Amsterdam’s reputation for being a feel-good city now has less to do with its coffee shops and more to do with a new generation of trend-setting cocktail and wine bars. It’s easy to navigate by bike, tram, or on foot, and even its touristy canal trips are fun. The upmarket canalside neighbourhood of Herengracht is home to a new hotel, Waldorf Astoria, that’s the perfect base for a decadent weekend. The building, converted from six merchant houses, comes with fantastic views of the canal, and it’s an easy stroll to the Saturday morning farmers’ market on Noordermarkt, where you can wolf down waffles topped with everything from apple and cinnamon cream to Nutella, and broodje (sandwiches), or stock up on cheeses and organic vegetables.
Food highs: Amsterdam’s food scene fiercely embraces locally grown produce, and at tiny Gartine (gartine.nl) there are polardrod filled with ham, cheese and salad from the owner’s garden. At cocktail bar Tales and Spirits (talesandspirits.com) there are bitterballen (meatballs) and Brandt & Levi organic sausages, along with trendy small plates like pork buns and duck liver lollipops. Further out, towards the west of the city, BAK (bakrestaurant.nl), in a converted dockside warehouse, offers natural wines by the glass, oysters, steak tartare, and risotto using foraged wild flowers and herbs. Back at the hotel, Librije’s Zusje has gained two Michelin-stars in its first year. Meaning ‘little Zusje’, it’s the second restaurant from Dutch culinary stars Jonnie and Therese Boer of renowned Restaurant De Librijie. Here, their one-time protégé Sidney Schuute has brought his love of Asian cooking into the mix. There are touches of old-style Michelin in a rich signature dish that combines foie gras and oysters, as well as plenty of lighter, contemporary ideas such as green teamarinated cod. We finished with a deconstructed apple tart and extraordinary petits fours. The room, dominated by a huge table from which the sommelier decants world-class wines, hums with affluent Amsterdam foodies. This doubles up as the breakfast room with windows onto the hotel’s peaceful gardens.
Spiritual high:From the exquisite pastries displayed in glass domes in the entrance lounge, to the glass of silky red wine waiting in your room, Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries and fabrics in soothing tones of pale lavender and ochre, it all feels very indulgent.
HOW TO DO IT Double rooms from £395, room only (placeshilton.com/wa-amsterdam).
The Exmoor Coast
Why go? Dodge the dodgems at Butlins in Minehead and, as you head west along the Exmoor coast, you’ll be met by a natural playground of moorland, woodland and, at Great Hangman Point, the highest cliffs in the country. On Friday evenings, in-the-know weekenders from Birmingham and London head for Cross Lane House restaurant with rooms, beside a little packhorse bridge in the postcard-cute village of Allerford. Restored with the help of the National Trust, this medieval farmhouse is now home to four well-dressed bedrooms, a smattering of quirky period details (in our bedroom a 17th century wig-cupboard doubles as a shelf for a kettle), and a restaurant as busy with locals as overnighters.
Food highs:New head chef Rob Blackmore’s menus aim high. Making the most of local suppliers – and an expanding kitchen garden – dishes such as juniper-cured salmon, and lamb cannon with spring vegetables are an elegant match for artful table settings; jewel-coloured water glasses glow under candlelight. Close links with wine merchant Christopher Piper make for an urbane wine list; alongside classic grapes are a Lebanese rosé, a Devonian sort-ofsauvignon and a Somerset pomona. Breakfast caters for those not going for the ‘full Exmoor’; try the silky porridge, fresh figs or local whortleberry (bilberry) jam on toast. Further afield, The Rising Sun in Lynmouth does decent mussels but if you’re visiting on a Friday, stock up on smoked trout terrine, fresh sourdough and homemade cannoli from Minehead Farmers’ Market then head out on a hike.
Spiritual high: Pick up one of the free walking guides that owners Andrew and Max have put together and stride into the salty air. A 30-minute ramble through fields and woods brings you to Bossington’s wild pebble beach, but carry on to Porlock Weir for a restorative pint at the Bottom Ship.
HOW TO DO IT Double rooms from £115, B&B (crosslanehouse.com). More info: visit-exmoor.co.uk
Why go? Sand dunes, endless beach and sky and beautifully cooked seafood from the surrounding waters. The low-rise-motel look of The Gallivant hotel has a lovely retro feel – bright and breezy blue and white rooms are comfortable beach-shack chic. You won’t get a sea view from any of the rooms (you’ll have to climb up through the dunes for that), so book a Deck room with a private outside space instead. Down the road is picturesque Rye with antique shops, pubs and tea rooms, or you can visit the Snack Shack at the Fish Hut in Dungeness and eat that day’s catch (fillet of the day in a bun, lobster roll) in a deck chair.
Food high:Daniel Perjesi (ex The Capital, Club Gascon, The Hambrough), is in charge at The Gallivant, and ingredients don’t travel further than 15 miles if he can help it. Dungeness cod, prawns and whatever Russell, one of the local fishermen, catches, as well as Winchelsea salt marsh lamb and fruit and veg from the surrounding area. Breakfast is livened up with a ‘recovery station’ stocked with ‘endless bloody marys’, and tea and cake is served at 4pm for residents.
Spiritual high:Salty air, open skies and miles of sand to tramp along, or build sandcastles with, will build up your appetite and make you feel very much alive.
HOW TO DO IT Double rooms from £95, B&B plus tea and cake (thegallivant.co.uk).
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