Need something to look forward to after the holidays? Discover our edit of affordable design-led boutique hotels and blow-the-budget villas in Europe and beyond. By Jessica Jonzen
Casa Iris, Italy
Casa Iris is a truly heavenly Italian interiors dream – in fact it must be the only B&B to share a renovation team with the Sistine Chapel. Located in Orbetello, a peninsula surrounded by a lagoon in Southern Tuscany, Casa Iris has three en-suite bedrooms in a 16th century palazzo owned by stylist James Valeri and his husband Matthew Adams. The couple left New York’s East Village to renovate the palazzo, which had been in James’ family for over a century. Collaborating with Maria Rosaria Basileo, whose previous projects include the Sistine Chapel and Villa Borghese, layers of decorative wall art dating from the 18th century were revealed.
These extraordinary historical frescos are now the focal point of the house, contrasted with concrete and resin floors. A true labour of love, James and Matthew scoured Italy to find historically correct 16th century marble sinks and mid-century Italian furniture, installed Murano glass chandeliers and commissioned brass light fittings from Rome. The fabulous breakfast at Casa Iris is sourced from the local markets, and is the perfect start for a stroll to the sea and hot springs, or a bike ride through the bucolic countryside. Divine.
Le Barn, France
A 50-minute drive southwest from central Paris, you’ll find France’s answer to Soho Farmhouse. Located on a rambling estate in Rambouillet forest, Le Barn was built on the grounds of pre-existing natural horsemanship school La Cense, and the school’s magnificent horses graze in the paddocks surrounding the hotel. Hotel guests can book rides through the forest and even horse whispering classes.
Designed by the Paris-based studio be-poles who were behind Le Pigalle in the capital’s 9th arrondissement, Le Barn has a distinct aesthetic which blends rustic country style, Parisian art nouveau and British utilitarian design (Falcon Enamelware tableware features in the bedrooms, along with Barbour canvas curtains – a specific request from Le Barn’s co-founder Edouard-Jean Daehn.)
The main building houses the restaurant La Serre (the greenhouse) where simple, seasonal dishes are served overlooking the surrounding fields. L’atelier next door hosts cookery and cocktail-making classes, and the main lobby and bar area is a relaxing space to read a book or play a board game – look out for Clark, the resident dog. A spa and wellness area can be found in a former flour mill, with two Nordic baths for guests to use. The en-suite bedrooms are pared back but stylish, with plywood walls, comfortable beds and outdoor balconies.
El Fenn, Morocco
It might be one of the reigning stars of Instagram, but El-Fenn in the heart of Marrakech has been the passion project of owner Vanessa Branson (Richard’s sister) since 2004. Originally a showcase for Vanessa’s extraordinary collection of art, El Fenn is a glorious confection of interconnected riads taking up an entire acre of the medina and one of the only hotels in the area with a pool. Make that three, including the roof-top plunge pool. And speaking of the roof-top, El Fenn boasts one of the best in the city with textured hessian canopies, wicker lanterns and those Insta-famous striped cushions making it a visual feast. The food is fabulous, too.
The rooms range from small doubles to three-room suites, and there’s a five-bedroom Annex Riad with its own pool a two-minute walk away which can be hired out privately, along with round-the-clock service. The jewel-coloured bedrooms are the perfect canvas for Vanessa’s ever-evolving collection of art.
Harbour House, Greece
One of the original waterfront family homes in the harbour town of Livadi on the Greek island of Serifos, this three-bedroom house is brimming with character. A short stroll from two lovely beaches and with a choice of tavernas, shops and bars on the doorstep, the house is brilliantly located for exploring Lavadi and the rest of the island.
Inside, the interiors designed by London-based studio Howark Design, are a charming combination of traditional white walls, original tiled floors and vintage furniture and artwork. A family living room, kitchen, double bedroom and original outdoor bathroom on the ground floor are connected to the first floor by an outdoor staircase in the beautiful courtyard, draped in bougainvillea. Upstairs, a twin and a double bedroom both have patio doors leading onto a covered terrace with views across Livadi Bay – the perfect spot for a morning cup of coffee or a sundowner. A family bathroom with walk-in shower and gorgeous hand-painted basins, and a useful kitchenette are also on this level. Delightful.
Babylonstoren, South Africa
Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town is this extraordinary 600 acre working wine farm set at the foot of the Simonsberg mountains. It’s also home to arguably one of the Wineland’s most stylish hotels – which isn’t surprising considering that its owner Karen Roos is the former editor-in-chief of South African Elle Decoration.
The 18th century Cape Dutch farm buildings are expertly contrasted with contemporary minimalist design to create a tranquil but rejuvenating retreat. The 13 shuttered and whitewashed one and two-bedroom cottages which make up the original Farm Hotel line a shady avenue which leads to Babel, the hotel’s restaurant which is so good it has a two-month waiting list. A nine-room lodge is also available for groups.
Guests can get involved in the workings of the farm (only if they’d like to) from picking grapes, harvesting honey or collecting eggs to baking bread in the bakery. If that all sounds too much like hard work, there’s an outstanding spa, a beautiful dam-like swimming pool and bicycles and canoes available to hire. A truly special escape.
Castello di Vicarello, Italy
Here’s another Italian beauty which caught our eye, this time an extraordinary nine-suite hotel which is available for exclusive hire for a really special occasion. Set within 100 acres of organic vineyards, olive groves and farmland in the glorious Maremman countryside in Tuscany, the ‘castle’ dates back to the 11th century (although thankfully has all the modern amenities you’d expect from a luxury hotel.)
With two infinity pools with views across the valley, massage therapists on call, yoga classes and fitness sessions in the surrounds of the estate and hikes in the surrounding countryside, there’s plenty to keep you active. You can also learn about the estate’s award-winning wine or enjoy a cookery class in the medieval kitchen with the estate owner’s own mama.
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