Inside Jeddah’s newly opened Heritage Hotels

Set on the Red Sea, Jeddah has played an important role as a key trading port in centuries gone by and as gateway to Mecca. While today, it’s a vibrant modern city, attention has turned to restoring and regenerating the UNESCO-listed historic old town at its heart, Al Balad. Its iconic merchant houses, built of coral stone and teak, and with their distinctive latticework balconies known as rawsheen, are being sensitively returned to their former glory.

Now, three of these exquisite historic houses have been opened as Heritage Hotels, the first in Saudi to have that classification. Intimate and luxurious, the original features of the buildings have been carefully kept and restored while plumbing and electricity have been skilfully added in an unobtrusive way. The furniture, crafts and artworks were principally sourced from local artists and artisans, some of whom can be visited in their nearby studios.

Distinctive latticework balconies have been restored on the historic buildings including Beit Al Rayess (Jeddah Historic District)

Former merchant house, Beit Jokhdar, has been sensitively returned to its former glory (Jeddah Historic District)

Each of the buildings has its own personality. Nineteenth-century Beit Jokhdar is perhaps the jewel in the crown with nine rooms and suites, including a two-bedroom Royal Suite with its own private hammam. The building’s wonky floors, original floor tiles, and green woodwork transport you back in time to its glory days.

Nearby, charming Beit Al Rayess is all creams and browns, and is effortlessly cool. While it now has modern plumbing, a ceramic bowl outside the bedrooms is a reminder of what the original family would have used for their ablutions.

Finishing the trio is the chic but homely Beit Kedwan, with just two bedrooms plus living areas, making it ideal to be hired in its entirety by a family or two couples. Like the others it has a private roof terrace to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Al Balad.

At just one square kilometre, the pedestrianised old town is literally on the doorstep and easy to explore on foot. The souks sell everything from spices and clothing to glittering gold jewellery. Many artisan workshops and artist studios are open to the public, most notably in the shady flower-filled alleyways of the quarter taken over by the Zawiya 97 collective.

Chic but homely Beit Kedwan can be hired in its entirety (Jeddah Historic District)

Beit Jokhdar has the most rooms out of the three newly restored heritage hotels (Jeddah Historic District)

Some of the other historic houses are now museums and do spend some time at the Tariq Abdulhakim Centre, a new museum and cultural centre, covering the life and times of Saudi Arabia’s most famous musician and composer, and with fun interactive music installations. teamLab Borderless, the Japanese art collective, are due to open a much-anticipated space in 2024.

Then it’s back from the hum of the streets to the tranquil oasis of the hotels where sweet figs, aromatic Saudi coffee or refreshing teas await behind the original wooden doors of the hotels.

No meals are included but Johkdar has an excellent restaurant, and if you splash out on breakfast it’s a feast in every sense of the word which will last you through the day. Imagine a selection of freshly baked breads, a trio of fragrant dips, earthy foul mudamas which has been simmered overnight, warm halloumi drizzled with honey, eggs any style, and a selection of fresh exotic fruit.

The good news is that another 34 historic houses are due to be restored into heritage hotels over the next three years.

More information: Rates start from SAR 2,200 (approx. £463/$587) which includes airport transfers but no meals. albaladhospitality.com

Escape to Costa Navarino, Greece’s secret luxury destination

Facing the twinkling Ionian Sea, the 1,000-hectare development of Costa Navarino spans five sites on the coast of Greece’s Peloponnese region, a vast peninsula west of Athens. It first opened its doors in 2010; now it includes flagship stay The Romanos, A Luxury Collection Resort; the family-friendly Westin; a unique W Resort with unusually strong local character; and a just-opened, ultra-luxury Mandarin Oriental resort. Guests have access to restaurants, shops and wellness and sports facilities, and cycling and walking paths scatter the area. You could easily treat it as a self-contained world, but there is far more to this project.

The Romanos is the pre-eminent resort within Costa Navarino, featuring a little over 300 rooms, with almost half of them equipped with their own infinity pools (using water from sustainable irrigation systems). Its Blue Flag sand-dune beach hosts a monitoring and protection programme for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), and patches are frequently cordoned off as nesting areas. The resort also offers surprisingly good value for money in its plethora of dining options, including the excellent beachfront Barbouni, which has a heavy focus on local Greek cuisine and sustainably sourced seafood.

Many of Costa Navarino’s buildings have been inspired by local architecture (Costa Navarino)

Many of Costa Navarino’s buildings have been inspired by local architecture and the nearby Mycenaean ruins. Indeed, the site of the storied Palace of King Nestor – which was described in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad – and its exquisite frescoes are but a ten-minute drive away. The wider area of the largely still-off-the-beaten-path western Peloponnese is also rich in history and archaeology, and the UNESCO-listed Ancient Olympia site, birthplace of the Olympic Games, is just 90 minutes’ drive from the hotel.

Along similar lines, Costa Navarino’s ‘Messinian Authenticity’ experiences focus on getting people out of the resort area through immersive activities, such as regional cookery classes held in a local village, olive harvesting (Kalamata, of olive fame, is the nearest big town and international airport) and olive oil- and wine-tasting sessions, all managed and run by local community agrobusinesses.

Costa Navarino spans five sites in the region (Alamy)

One of the delicious dishes at Koos Restaurant (Christos Drazos Photography)

Along similar lines, Costa Navarino’s ‘Messinian Authenticity’ experiences focus on getting people out of the resort area through immersive activities, such as regional cookery classes held in a local village, olive harvesting (Kalamata, of olive fame, is the nearest big town and international airport) and olive oil- and wine-tasting sessions, all managed and run by local community agrobusinesses.

Before its redevelopment as a resort, the area was mostly made up of disused farmland with limited vegetation; following its reinvention it has seen the biggest olive tree transplanting programme in Europe take place, in addition to the planting of 9,900 new indigenous trees. Costa Navarino has been credited with bringing about a significant economic revival in the south-western Peloponnese, employing and training thousands of locals and attracting international visitors to a lesser-known corner of the Greek mainland.

While notable oversights are still present – including the Canadian-made toiletries in the bathrooms of the Romanos – the resorts here stand out in terms of tourism sustainability and community engagement credentials in Greece. In a country where visitors often focus on the beauty of its islands, Costa Navarino offers a world-class mainland alternative with bountiful nature, crowd-free beaches and historic sites from Greece’s Heroic Age.

Booking information: Rooms from around £280pn at The Romanos in spring/autumn; costanavarino.com

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The best places to stay in the Canadian Rockies

Fairmont Château Lake Louise

Bar view inside the Fairmont (Fairmont Hotels & Resorts)

This hulking, 539-room hotel commands one of Canada’s knockout locations: on the edge of the Rockies’ most famous lake, with a horizon filled by spiky summits. In winter, you can even walk out of the door, strap on your skates and glide straight out onto the ice. And while the building looks curiously incongruous in this setting – more Las Vegas casino than mountain hotel – there’s no denying the luxury level or the grandstand mountain view from the rooms. There are several restaurants to choose from, as well as an impressive spa, and staff can arrange activities ranging from canoeing to horseback treks. A new wellness centre is also in the works.

More information: Rooms from around £210 per night, excluding breakfast; fairmont.com/lake-louise

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge as a 1970s-inspired feel (Alamy)

A part of the Marriott’s upmarket Autograph Collection, this is as close as the Rockies gets to a boutique resort. There is an undeniably retro, 1970s-inspired feel to the design, which seems more metropolitan-modern than mountain resort, and you’re certainly getting a unique setting for your money. It’s located way out in the sticks of Kananaskis Country, about an hour’s drive from Canmore; as such, there is ample opportunity for outdoor adventures nearby. Alternatively, simply head over to the hotel’s Nordic Spa, explore the indoor waterpark or hit a few holes on the golf course.

More information: Rooms from around £299 per night, excluding breakfast; marriott.com

Post Hotel

A beautiful winter scene at the Post Hotel (Erik McRitchie/Post Hotel)

Established in 1942 as a ski lodge by renowned local guide Jim Boyce, the Post Hotel ranks as one of Lake Louise’s most enticing stays, and now operates under the prestigious Relais & Châteaux banner. Set in the middle of Lake Louise’s busy service town, the hotel has retained much of its original 1940s ambience, with walls crafted from local stone and hand-hewn logs, giving it the appearance of a more rustic escape. But this is an upmarket affair these days, and few could quibble with its 20,000-bottle wine cellar, saltwater pool, excellent restaurant and classy spa. Main lodge rooms are pleasant enough, but the waterfront cabins on the Bow River are quieter and have more character.

More information: Rooms from around £275 per night, excluding breakfast; posthotel.com

Skoki Lodge

Skoki Lodge was Canada’s first ski lodge (Alamy)

This log-built backcountry stay was Canada’s first commercial ski lodge, raised in the remote Skoki Valley in the early 1930s by members of the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies. At an altitude of 2,164m, it’s seriously remote and is only accessible by hiking or skiing in via the 11km trail from Lake Louise. Once you arrive, it’s like stepping back in time: there’s no running water or electricity, the only light comes from candles and kerosene lamps, and it’s heated by wood-burning stoves. Meals are served communally, so you’ll be on first-name terms with everyone by the end of the day. And if you’re a stargazer, the night-time skies are out of this world.

More information: Rooms from around £200 per night, including all meals; skoki.com

Prince of Wales Hotel

Epic scenery surrounds the Prince of Wales Hotel (Prince of Wales Hotel/Colin Way)

In the early days of Canadian mountaineering, guides were shipped over from Switzerland to blaze the trails and cajole guests up to the summits, so there’s often an Alpine feel to the region’s old hotels. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Prince of Wales, which overlooks Upper Waterton Lake. Thanks to its gables, green-tiled roof and timber cladding, it appears as if torn straight from a Swiss chocolate box. From the uniformed bell-hops to the traditional afternoon teas, you’ll find an old-fashioned refinement here not common in the Rockies. Don’t miss dinner in the Royal Stewart Dining Room, which has a floor-to-ceiling window looking onto the water.

More information: Rooms from around £150 per night, excluding breakfast; glacierparkcollection.com

Lake O’Hara Lodge

Lake O’Hara Lodge is the ultimate off-grid Rockies refuge (Alamy)

Hidden in the backcountry of Yoho National Park, beside a photogenic lake that requires a permit to visit in summer, this is the ultimate off-grid Rockies refuge. The only way in or out is via a rough 11km access road, which is closed to public traffic; guests are ferried up from the parking lot aboard a shuttle bus in summer (Jun–Oct), or ski in during winter. The old lodge was built in 1926 and its eight rooms are still furnished in 1920s style, but it has since been bolstered by the addition of lakeside cabins built from local cedar wood. The location offers access to many trails off the tourist radar, and the lodge is a fun place to share tales of your adventures. There’s no wifi, no phone reception and no distractions – just silence and hikes galore.

More information: Rooms from around £500 per night, including all meals; lakeohara.com

Tekarra Lodge

Tekarra Lodge is charmingly old school (Alamy)

For something more traditional than Jasper’s modern hotels, Tekarra Lodge is the ticket. It’s charmingly old school, with each of its small cabins having been furnished in a rustic, frontier style: cosy lounges, log fires, self-catering kitchenettes and a cute gabled porch for watching the sunset. Its setting, on the banks of the Athabasca River, means that it’s a little removed from the bustle of Jasper Town, but that hasn’t stopped its restaurant from becoming a local favourite – the house special of meatloaf made with elk, bison, wild boar and forest mushrooms is well worth trying. Look out for evening craft sessions, talks and marshmallow cookouts by the campfire.

More information: Rooms from around £170 per night, including breakfast; tekarralodge.com

Cathedral Mountain Lodge

One of the premier cabins at Cathedral Mountain Lodge (Calgary Photos/Cathedral Mountain Lodge)

If it’s timber cabins you’re daydreaming of, then it’s hard to top the ones at Cathedral Mountain. Flung up on the less-touristed slopes of Yoho National Park, the cabins here feature all kinds of spoils: stone fireplaces, wood burners, polished timber floors and private verandas offering majestic vistas of Mount Stephen, Field Mountain and Cathedral Mountain. Better still, there are no TVs in any of the rooms, helping you to cut down on screen time. Meals are served in the main lodge, designed by Vancouver architect Brad Lamoureux, or if you want to take in the outdoors, ask for a picnic to eat on the banks of the Kicking Horse River.

More information: Rooms from around £320 per night, including breakfast; cathedralmountainlodge.com

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is even more magical when the northern lights put on a display (Fairmont Hotels & Resorts)

Dating back to the 1920s, this is the oldest and grandest of Jasper’s resorts, located on a sprawling 283-hectare estate surrounded by forests, peaks and the glittering expanse of Lake Beauvert. Originally built for railway tourists, it’s by far the plushest place to stay in the national park, with lodge rooms, suites and signature cabins set among trimmed lawns and pine trees. This is definitely not a place where you’ll be roughing it: take a dip in the heated outdoor pool, relax in the spa or dine out in one of the five restaurants. The hotel even has its own boathouse, where you can hire a canoe for the day and go exploring on the lake.

More information: Rooms from around £214 per night, excluding breakfast; fairmont.com/jasper

Mount Engadine Lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge is the only place to stay in Spray Valley Provincial Park (Nick Fitshardinge)

While the crowds flock to Banff and Lake Louise, the quieter, wilder, emptier valleys of Kananaskis Country feel gloriously peaceful by comparison, even in the peak months of summer. This small cabin complex is the only place to stay in Spray Valley Provincial Park, and it’s a favourite for hikers and bikers looking to explore the trails in blissful peace and quiet. There’s a choice of comfortable cabins or rooms in the lodge, or you can go wild in one of the canvas glamping tents – or even a Mongolian-style yurt. Canmore-based Skala Adventures (skala.ca) leads guided treks to top trails nearby, including Commonwealth Creek, Rummel Lake and Tent Ridge.

More information: Rooms from around £200 per night, including breakfast, packed lunch and dinner; mountengadine.com

Moraine Lake Lodge

Moraine Lake Lodge are a set of modern cabins in Banff National Park (Moraine Lake Lodge)

Located 15km south of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake Lodge offers a glimpse of another equally celebrated panorama: the Valley of the Ten Peaks, which features on the back of the Canadian $20 bill. It’s a setting that the lodge makes good use of. This collection of modern cabins in Banff National Park is the only place to stay on Moraine Lake proper, with its well-equipped, private lodges set among peaceful forests of pine and larch. It’s also a great excuse to get out on the water. Slip away before breakfast, borrow one of the hotel’s canoes and paddle out onto the lake long before the day trippers arrive. The only downside is that the hotel is only open from mid-June to mid-September, so it sells out fast.

More information: Rooms from around £825 per night, including breakfast; morainelake.com

Fairmont Banff Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs is built in Scottish Baronial Style (Fairmont Hotels & Resorts)

This landmark Rockies hotel is a surreal sight, given that it looks like a Highland castle has been picked up, transported across the Atlantic and plonked down on the Canadian mountainside. Built in the 1880s as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s campaign to attract tourists to the Rockies, its extravagant, turreted edifice has been designed in Scottish Baronial style, and it affords a commanding view over Banff Town and the Bow Valley. Now owned by the Fairmont chain, it’s the epitome of mountain indulgence: huge rooms, a championship-level golf course and a 3,700 sqm spa fuelled by Banff’s famous hot springs. The Rundle Bar makes a fine spot for a sundowner, too.

More information: Rooms from around £353 per night, excluding breakfast; fairmont.com/banff-springs

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Immerse yourself in Devon’s outdoors at The Mole Resort

All images: The Mole Resort

Quaint villages, delicious scenery, superb local produce, the last remaining horse-drawn barge in the country – there’s a long list of reasons why Devon is one of the UK’s favourite holiday spots. Since opening in the summer of 2023, destination resort The Mole Resort – a stone’s throw from the peaceful parish of Chittlehamholt – has allowed guests to experience the joys of such green and pleasant land in the luxury of a countryside estate. Presided over by a magnificent manor house set within 50 hectares of rural Devon countryside, the grounds include modern eco lodges, a nine-hole golf course and a boutique spa, as well as offering endless activities – all of which has made it a huge draw for families, couples and groups of friends looking for a tranquil English retreat with a healthy dose of adventure.

Fabulous stays

Catering to groups of different sizes – and not forgetting their four-legged friends, as accommodation is dog-friendly – 58 eco-conscious lodges sit along the edges of The Mole Resort’s estate gardens amidst around 50 hectares of verdant surroundings. Constructed with sustainable timber and materials, the lodges beautifully integrate with the nature beyond, with private balconies for guests to enjoy the extraordinary views – including from their own outdoor hot tub, ideal for soaking in after an active day out. Inside, the lodges are fully geared up for a self-catered trip, with fully equipped kitchens, spacious bedrooms and open-plan living rooms. Guests are welcomed with little touches like local tea, coffee, milk and Devon fudge, and are able to pick up ingredients in the on-site farm shop, which stocks basics and local artisan products.

Alternatively, the resort’s magnificent Manor House comprises 12 elegant rooms replete with four-poster beds, crystal chandeliers and large bathrooms, as well as a wide range of bars and restaurants that provide a fantastic choice for those who want to indulge themselves with locally inspired food and drink. Speaking of which…

The food and drink

The food and drink also offers a more literal taste of the best of Devon. With the southwest famed for its rich clotted cream, fantastic cheeses, lobster, crab, and flavoursome lamb and beef, the resort’s excellent chefs have made the most of the county’s local produce by sourcing from nearby farms – designing seasonally changing menus that express a modern take on British cuisine.

Situated in the manor house itself, upmarket restaurant Devon View – awarded AA Two Rosettes seven years in a row – is named for its incredible vistas of the countryside beyond, and serves breakfast, dinner, and a classic afternoon tea complete with buttermilk scones, finger sandwiches and sweet patisserie – a perfectly English treat after an active day out. The Bistro is a more casual affair, offering sandwiches, toasties and salads for lunch, which can be taken on the outdoor terrace overlooking the estate grounds. The Cellars Pub serves up classic gastropub fare along with local beers, ales and ciders, while the Library is the spot for after-dinner cocktails.

Active days

Explore The Mole’s grounds

Named for the river quietly flowing nearby, The Mole Resort is nestled in impossibly green North Devon parkland, with spectacular views everywhere you look – from Exmoor and Dartmoor to the Atlantic and Jurassic coasts. Guests are furnished with a resort map to help them explore the enormous estate, and those who stroll around will discover pristine gardens attended to by proud groundsmen, while wild red Exmoor deer often emerge from the surrounding woods to peer at the golfers. The grounds also offer access to incredible walking and cycling routes, and resort staff will happily help you plan your route. With more people than ever looking to keep fit on their holidays, a stay here ensures that guests leave feeling better than ever.

Activities abound

Surrounded by such blissful scenery, a stay at the resort can be as peaceful or as active as you like, with no less than 40 different activities to choose from, many of which are included in the stay’s cost. Guests can enjoy golf, tennis, pickleball, five-a-side football, or HIIT classes, or else do their own thing in the on-site gym and indoor and outdoor swimming pools – or simply relax in the leisure club, complete with sauna, jacuzzi and boutique treatment rooms. There are also ways to stay active that allow guests to get outdoors and make the most of the gorgeous natural surroundings, including bushcraft and survival skill learning, pottery, combat archery, axe throwing and evening campfires.

And there’s more beyond the grounds too, with organised half and full-day trips, whether it’s exploring a working honey farm in South Molton, wandering through the themed ‘garden rooms’ at RHS Rosemoor in Torrington, or serenely floating down a canal on the aforementioned Shire horse-drawn barge while sipping on local ale. Kids and grown-ups alike can burn energy on outdoor high ropes, and even head out surfing – after all, Devon is the UK’s first surf reserve.

Beyond The Mole

Given everything that’s on offer at The Mole Resort it would seem nigh on impossible to get bored, but nobody would blame you for being lured by the delights of Devon beyond. Roamed by its famous wild ponies, the iconic Dartmoor is just 30 minutes’ drive away, offering stunning scenery and wild swimming spots such as Sharrah Pool, Tavy Cleave and Spitchwick – should you wish to combine your hike with a bracing dip (Sharrah particularly remains as icy as it is beautiful all year round). With towering cliffs and deep valleys that are ideal for experienced hikers, the equally beautiful Exmoor is also just an hour’s drive away.

It would also be remiss not to explore the beaches that North Devon is famous for: the picturesque estuary of Instow is the perfect place for a swim followed by a pint in the local pub, The Instow Arms, while the pebble cove of Lee Beach is a prime spot for crabbing and rock-pooling – surely a mandatory activity when so close to the British seaside.

For anyone wishing to pull back country life for just a moment, the city of Exeter is also within easy reach – visit the stunning Exeter Cathedral, walk along the ship canal, and then soak up the relaxed buzz of Exeter Quay with a coffee in the sun. Finally, enjoy some of the best seafood in the county at the local quayside favourite Rockfish. Even in the town, you’re never far from the country air and taste of the sea – and this is why Devon is simply the perfect English getaway.

Feeling inspired?

For more information, visit The Mole Resort’s official website.