The Ockelbo region of central Sweden is just a couple of hours from Stockholm but is quintessential Scandinavian wilderness. Lakes are pristine enough to drink from and mountain cabins – until lately the preserve of hunters tracking moose and bear – are being converted into holiday cottages.
At the vanguard of the region’s renaissance, Belgian couple Jeroen Sleurs and Sam Lormans have transformed an old parish hall and blacksmith’s cottages into seriously cool b&b Stilleben (still life). It’s a beauty worth framing, from the kitchen garden that gently rakes towards the lake, to the bright, hand-knotted rugs and fabrics that contrast perfectly with tone-on-tone Scandinavian grey walls and wood floors.
Eat Nominally a b&b, with few other restaurants nearby, Stilleben offers a one-dish dinner and lunch menu of simple, vegetable-rich cooking. Sam’s artistic touch is seen in everything from the colour palette of homemade breakfast jams (assembled from the cloudberry, lingonberry and blueberries that grow wild in surrounding hills), to standout salads picked from the kitchen garden, jewelled with nasturtiums. Traditional Swedish breads are made in an old 19th-century hole-in-the-wall oven and, adhering to Jeroen’s strict permaculture philosophy, all food is either grown or bought locally.
Sleep The deluxe sauna suite in the blacksmith’s cottage has garden views, a sauna and private bathroom. A film prop designer, Sam has an eye for style and detail: note the hand-knitted traditional Swedish slippers in colours to complement each room’s décor.
Do Get steamy in Stilleben’s striking blackwood sauna, which appears to float over the lake. Extend the trip with an overnight stay at sister-property Kabin, a wonderful 1950s-style wooden cabin on a private island in a nearby lake. Off-grid, this little red-painted hunter’s lodge comes with candles, kerosene lamps and its own canoe plus a hamper of ingredients and recipe cards packed by Sam, and a pretty camping-style kitchen in which to cook.
Two nights at Stilleben and two nights at Kabin, full-board, costs from £1,425 per person including return flights to Stockholm and train transfers to Ockelbo (simplysweden.co.uk).
Words: Sarah Barrell. Photographs: Chris Graham/Simply Sweden and Stilleben
Twenty minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, Les Sources de Caudalie is the epitome of French country chic. There’s a stone manor house at its heart, a small lake, and a hard-working kitchen garden, plus a hamlet-like extension of new suites. Great food and wine are the focus at this gastronomic getaway, but even the finest dining (the hotel’s main restaurant, La Grand’Vigne, holds two Michelin stars) is done without fuss.
Eat The three restaurants at Les Sources have most tastes covered. Celebrate a special occasion with dinner in La Grand’Vigne and enjoy a meal where even the table salts stick in the memory (one of ours, blended with Bordeaux pimento, was the colour of roast peppers). The cheeseboard comes with fresh cottage cheese, from a local dairy, served with a dot of cherry jam. For more earthy cooking, try sea bream with crab soup and homegrown herbs fresh from the kitchen garden in the more casual La Table du Lavoir restaurant. Or choose from small plates and fabulous local wines at Rouge, a Basque-influenced wine bar and food store in the hotel’s gardens.
Wine buffs should join a tour of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, the adjacent vineyard; try before you buy in the wine shop, or order different vintages by the glass in Le Rouge, or to pair with your meal at La Grand’Vigne.
Sleep The newer, cabin-like suites (designed to reflect the oyster fishermen’s huts of Cap Ferret, in the nearby Arcachon Bay), with their whitewashed timber walls, retro-influenced furniture and spa-like bathrooms, are the ones to splash out on; in the evenings you’ll be serenaded by frogs as you return to your room along flower- and water-lined pathways. While some of the rooms in the main building are decadent, we would check in at Château Le Thil, a boutique b&b a kilometre away. It’s cheaper than Les Sources, but under the same management, so you can still use the hotel’s facilities.
Do Book a treatment in the hotel’s Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa, a sybaritic space where treatments are based around the polyphenols in grape seeds (said to have anti-aging properties), or go for a dip in the hotel’s indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
Double rooms cost from €216, suites from €666 and doubles at Le Thil from €180, all room-only (sources-caudalie.com).
Words: Rhiannon Batten
The Mayenne region boasts historic and cultural sites which rival the Loire’s but its off-the-map status means fewer crowds. One of the nicest ways to see the region is by bike, with your luggage carried for you. Follow the flat, wide and quiet Mayenne River towpath past locks, mill houses, bridges and châteaux on Cycling for Softies’ Mayenne and Sarthe route, staying at two hotels with excellent, smartly presented food. Bikes are delivered by a helpful English-speaking guide and cycling at a gentle pace is a lovely way to spend undistracted time together.
Eat & sleep The route starts and ends at Moulay, and the garden gate of château-hotel La Marjolaine. From here it’s 20 miles to the Perier du Bignon hotel in Laval, a converted townhouse with a smart restaurant and lovely pool, then back to Moulay for a final night.
Do On day one get to know your bike with a test run to Mayenne with its castle, panoramic river views, Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Bizeray (you’re cycling – indulge without caution!) and the Au Grand Bi bike shop (stock up on padded shorts). On day two, cycle to Laval via La Guinguette, a riverside restaurant at Montflours where you can lunch on the menu du jour (€11.70 including 1/4 bottle wine, which may or may not help with the pedalling). Day three is a chance to explore Laval’s winding streets, old château and Franck Renault’s cheese shop (3 Rue des Déportés). Return along the river on day four; buy a picnic from Laval’s shops and food market (Tuesday and Saturday, rue Charles Landelle) before you leave.
From £845 per person for five nights, dinner, b&b, including bike hire and luggage transfers. Transport can be added on from around £188 per person including return ferry, TGV tickets and taxi.
Words: Lulu Grimes
The Watergate Bay Hotel, just east of Newquay, has been radically transformed over the last decade, with a contemporary wing, several restaurants, a 25m pool and a dedicated Kids’ Zone (play rooms, an outdoor play area and a games room) adding to a beachside café and watersports hub. Cornwall’s answer to a ski resort, with a lively après-surf scene, it’s popular with food lovers, saltwater lovers, dog lovers and, most of all, families.
With the play areas, scheduled activities, children’s suppers, a clever baby-monitoring system and terrific babysitters, it’s a relaxing place for parents; you can even drop over-threes off for supervised play sessions in the evening while you enjoy a romantic dinner in peace. There’s no compromise on the appeal to adults though: the food and atmosphere attract plenty of non-parents.
Eat Restaurants include the Living Space, a lounge bar with an all-day menu of burgers and sharing plates, and Zacry’s, a stylish brasserie serving rich local venison with creamed white beans, cavolo nero and salsa verde. For ultimate romance, however, Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s social enterprise restaurant, is just across the car park. This gives 20 apprentices a year the chance to train as chefs, and the result is some exquisite Italian-influenced cooking; sit by the windows in early summer and spot dolphins while you tuck into plates of brill with jerusalem artichokes, greens, chilli and mint.
Sleep 69 bedrooms are split between the original Victorian hotel, a sea-facing Ocean Wing and the Coach House, which has no sea views but comes with brilliantly practical family suites (kettles are up high, out of reach of curious toddlers) and shared access to ‘parents’ kitchens’.
Do Book an intuitive massage with Roxy, in the hotel’s spa, do a few lengths in the stunning infinity pool, or head to the Ocean Room. A bar/lounge tucked beyond the spa that’s adults-only after 7pm, it’s just the place to curl up with a glass of rioja and watch waves catching on the beach below.
Double rooms cost from £160, family suites from £255, both b&b.
Words: Rhiannon Batten. Photograph: David Griffen
In the Deep Mani region of the wild southern tip of Greece’s Peloponnese, Citta dei Nicliani is a real retreat for couples who want to get away from it all. Banish thoughts of the cutesy white-washed villages on Greece’s islands and picture remote, Ottoman-era hilltop towns where, as in this case, old stone buildings are registered national monuments. But this is no austere museum. Run by the welcoming Sepsas family, Citta dei Nicliani is a homely hotel centred round a leafy courtyard where rustic Greek food is served and wine tastings can be arranged.
The building’s Ottoman towers have a weighty history, home to the Greek Royal Gendarmerie and the German army during the Second World War, and are now decorated with paintings and engravings by Greek artists, and crisp white linens.
Eat Breakfasts come with lovely local honey, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, breads and juices; a joy either in the sunny conservatory or on the terrace. Guests pre-order dinner, in the morning, from a daily-changing menu offering everything from locally caught lobster to hearty moussaka, cooked by family patriarch, Illias. Son Panagiotis attends to the wine, selecting from a cellar of some 400, mainly Greek, labels.
Sleep The Grande room, the largest of seven, has a centrepiece bed overhung by a simple chandelier. A little wooden staircase leads up to a traditional loft reading room where you can cuddle up on the sofa with a cup of tea or coffee. Engravings by Miltos Pantelias and stone sculptures by Irini Gonou add a sensual touch to the raw stone walls.
Do Ask Panagiotis to map out the best local beaches and pack a picnic for you – then beat a retreat to a secret bay for the day.
Double rooms from €80 b&b. The hotel is a two-hour drive from Kalamata airport and four hours from Athens. Flights from the UK to Kalamata cost from around £60 return (easyjet.com).
Words: Sarah Barrell
The Oitavos is an ultra-contemporary hotel outside Cascais where ocean-coloured interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows frame a protected landscape of sand dunes and rugged coastline.
Eat Breakfast on the terrace in early spring sunshine and enjoy the sea air as well as deliciously light levain and fresh cream waffles, fruit, local hams and smoked salmon. At lunch and dinner, chef Cyrill Devilliers’ exquisite cooking focusses on local seafood – scallops come in a creamy broth with crunchy sweet walnuts, fish rice is a show-stopping dish with a mix of seafood cooked in a lobster and clam bisque. There’s also a separate sushi and sashimi bar.
Sleep The glass-fronted Forte, set apart from the rest of the hotel, is the most romantic suite. Enjoy uninterrupted sea views from bed, your own whirlpool bath, a rainforest shower and his-and-hers sinks. The Forte is also fully catered, with its own butler; you can order breakfast, lunch and dinner à deux if you don’t want to venture out.
Do Book an ocean-inspired relaxation massage for two, bask in the Ipsylon bar with iris-infused Magellan gin, juniper berries, fresh orange and lime. Or, drive along the coast to secluded Praia da Adraga beach and Restaurante da Adraga. Go at sunset and order a glass of Douro Valley white and giant butterflied tiger prawns and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect beachside dinner.
Double rooms start from €155, b&b, The Forte from €1,500 full-board. Return flights from various UK airports to Lisbon cost from £95.36 (flytap.com).
Words: Alex Crossley
The restaurant at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s luxury hotel, has held two Michelin stars for 31 years but it’s far from stuffy.
Eat You could order from the à la carte but you really should let head chef Gary Jones show off his favourite seasonal dishes with the tasting menus. And don’t miss breakfast. Long tables are packed with fruit, cereals, compotes, cheeses, charcuterie and pastries, and the cooked menu is a roll call of well-executed classics.
Sleep The 32 bedrooms are decorated with an eclectic mix of traditional country and quirky contemporary style; settle into Opium, a garden suite, for shades of scarlet and Oriental fabrics or Hydrangea, in the main building, for antique furniture, views over the hotel’s lavender path and a party-size Jacuzzi.
Do The organic vegetable garden feeds the kitchen, and is a spectacle in any season, while a water garden, herb garden, orchard and Japanese tea garden are perfect for lovers to get lost in. Or, book yourselves onto a course at Raymond’s on-site Cookery School.
Double rooms cost from £570, b&b.
Words: Laura Rowe. Photograph: Jason Ingram
Tuscany has no shortage of swoon-worthy hotels, but Relais Borgo Santo Pietro scores highly on the romantic barometer. A 13th-century honey-coloured stone village with a Renaissance mansion at its heart and an avenue of wispy cypress trees along its approach, this is the Tuscan idyll at its most manicured perfection.
Surrounded by 13 acres of gardens, abundant with headily scented roses, no detail has been forgotten and, with just 15 rooms, it feels more like a house than a hotel. There’s an infinity pool to relax around, and a new spa set among herb gardens that uses cult beauty potions from the centuries-old Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
Eat Sit under a loggia and order the spaghetti ‘Martelli’ with fresh lobster or, for a blowout, the 10-course ‘carta bianca’ tasting menu. Head chef, Andrea Mattei, has the pick of the hotel’s gardens with local meat and fresh seafood delivered daily – even the olive oil is the Cristal of oils: Manni, from southern Tuscany.
Sleep The eight rooms in the manor house are a tribute to Empire style, with jewel-hued velvet curtains, wooden floors, exposed beams, original frescoes, antiques and glittering chandeliers. But for ultimate seclusion, get the key for La Casa dell’Unicorno. Set apart from the main building, with its own garden, there’s a lighter touch to the décor here with limestone floors, billowing linen curtains, dove greys and cream.
Do Take a pizza-making class together at the newly opened cookery school, or a wine tasting in Borgo Santo Pietro’s cellar. Order a picnic and take it to the ruins of the nearby Abbey of San Galgano, or ask the hotel to organise a candlelit dinner for two in a private grotto.
Double rooms start at €410, b&b.
Words: Aoite O’Riordain. Photographs: Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library and Stefano Scata
New York is a classic romantic destination, particularly Soho with its neighbourhood bars, restaurants and shops. Make the most of them by checking into Hotel Hugo.
Eat Grab a leather booth at Il Principe, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant, and dig into chef Kristine Mana-ay’s old school Italian cooking. Try the rigatoni with lobster and truffle and share a sfogliatina (caramelized puff pastry with vanilla gelato and caramello sauce). Keep an eye out for familiar faces – it’s a known celeb spot.
Sleep Make the most of beautiful views of the Hudson River by booking a deluxe room on the west side of the building. All rooms are plush, with 300-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, walnut-clad walls and Argan Source toiletries in Italian-tiled bathrooms.
Do Hire a scooter from the hotel’s Vespa fleet, or head to the rooftop bar, one of the hottest in Manhattan, and watch the sun go down over the Statue of Liberty with a Hugo cocktail (St Germain with mint, lime and prosecco) and small plates of grilled hanger steak crostini.
Doubles from $300, room only. Return flights from London to New York cost from £360 return (virgin-atlantic.com).
Words: Janine Ratcliffe
If the 1953 film Roman Holiday were remade today, Audrey Hepburn’s runaway princess would be ordering Franciacorta at Aroma; the rooftop restaurant at the Palazzo Manfredi Hotel has the best view of the Colosseum.
Eat The tasting menu features local specialties such as veal cheek on cauliflower cream and curry chips, spaghetti with pork ribs and fennel and Roman-style saltimbocca with artichokes. Aroma’s signature soufflé (chocolate and raspberry, or vanilla and orange) is the most popular dessert.
Sleep Of the 16 elegant rooms in this 17th-century villa the Suite Colosseum is the grandest, but the more affordable Master Room has quirky wallpaper, a lovely fireplace and luxurious linen and fabrics. Windows in both bedroom and bathroom open onto the Colosseum.
Do A Scooteroma tour whizzes you through the traffic to legendary bakery Panella, cutting-edge restaurant Stazione di Posta in trendy Testaccio and sandwich/pizza hybrid Trapizzino. Our tour took in a pit stop to The Aventine Keyhole – a breathtaking view of the Vatican through the peephole of an ancient door.
Double rooms from €290, b&b.
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