The Complete Guide To: Mediterranean hideaways

Harriet O'Brien finds peace and solitude in the most unlikely of places


HIDDEN HAVENS ON THE MED? YOU MUST BE JOKING

HIDDEN HAVENS ON THE MED? YOU MUST BE JOKING

Given that the Mediterranean coast runs in a loop along the edge of southern Europe, the western seaboard of the Middle East and the northern shores of Africa, there's a fair bit in which to hide yourself away. Of course, some parts are more convenient and desirable than others. But even at the height of summer there are still many semi-secret places in the most popular tourist destinations where you can enjoy a satisfying degree of seclusion. The trick is to find a villa or peaceful hotel with enough private land to keep the rest of the world at bay.

I'D LIKE A CLASSIC MEDITERRANEAN VILLA

Sun-soaked terraces, whitewashed walls clad with bougainvillea, interiors designed to keep out the heat - Spain offers plenty of villas with these classic features. But for privacy, great views and a wonderful setting, it would be difficult to improve on the aptly named El Refugio, near the village of La Herradura in Andalucia. Set on a hillside above the village, the property sleeps 10 and offers a superb outlook over the Med, a fabulous cascade pool and gardens well screened by trees and shrubs. What's more, peace need not rule out lively entertainment, particularly for those with teenagers in tow. Malaga - with its evident attractions for the younger crew - and Granada are both about an hour's drive away. Closer to home, local facilities include a beach, tennis courts and golf courses. El Refugio is available through CV Travel (020-7384 5850; www.cvtravel.co.uk) and costs from £1,960 to £2,605 per week. Dozens of flights to Malaga are available from airports across Britain.

Other travel companies providing seaside villa rentals in Spain - and offering a good choice of secluded accommodation - include Elysian Holidays (01580 766 599; www.elysianholidays.co.uk) and Ilios Travel (08700 600 607; www.iliostravel.com).

AND FOR A SPANISH ISLAND IDYLL?

Diagonally grouped in the western Mediterranean, the Balearic Islands are about 160km off the eastern coast of Spain. Of the main islands - Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca - the latter is generally regarded as the most exclusive and tends to attract the sort of visitors who prefer to relax in their own space rather than party their days and nights away.

In the south-west of this comparatively undeveloped island is a sublime villa set in vast private grounds. Santa Maria is just a 10-minute drive from Mahon airport, yet it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the island's main city. Beautifully furnished with Turkish fabrics and Chinese antiques, it is very much a place to chill out with family and friends. It offers accommodation for parties of up to 10 adults and six children, with bedrooms variously in the 200-year-old main building and in wonderfully converted cow sheds and pigsties. There's a private rocky cove, a beach 15 minutes' walk away through the grounds and a generous swimming-pool. Guests also have the services of full-time staff, including a resident cook. Santa Maria costs from £6,475 weekly (£9,555 in peak season) through A&K Chapters (0845 0700 618; www.akchapters.com). Menorca receives far fewer flights than neighbouring Mallorca, but some scheduled and charter departures are available.

Try Holidays (0870 754 4545; www.tryholidays.com) also has a number of luxury and rural retreats in the Balearics; as does Iglu Villas (020-8544 6401; www.igluvillas.com).

SOME FRENCH RIVIERA GLAMOUR?

After a time with a slightly tarnished reputation, France's Mediterranean coast has moved back to the top of the chic list. In a prime location in this region is a 1930s seaside villa just outside the village of Agay, 31km from Cannes, that oozes discreet glamour. It sits within a well-tended walled garden on its own rocky promontory above the sea - and although there's a sandy beach very close by it's more fun to wander through the garden and down the small, private walkway to an area with swimming ladders among the rocks and places to sunbathe and fish. The villa sleeps up to six people and can be rented through Dominiques Villas (020-7738 8772; www.dominiquesvillas.co.uk) for £1,570 per week (rising to £2,750). The price includes return crossings on Eurotunnel or P&O Ferries to Calais for one car with passengers (up to nine people are allowed). Among other companies offering secluded villas in the area are the Individual Travellers Company (01798 869461; www.individualtravellers.com) and Palmer and Parker Villa Holidays (01494 815411; www.palmerparker.com).

A TOUCH OF ITALIAN PIZZAZZ?

Perennially stylish, Sardinia is also large enough that you can escape the crowds. You can even find a quiet haven right on the coast, near Santa Margherita di Pula, just past the island's capital, Cagliari, and close to its southern tip. The Is Morus Relais hotel (00 39 070 921171; www.ismorusrelais.it) is set among myrtle, juniper and olive trees just a pebble's throw from a beautiful long, soft, white-sand beach.

Around the hotel, blotting out the rest of the world, are seven hectares of private parkland. You'll find everything you could need here: a gourmet restaurant with a sea-view terrace; a bar on the beach; a swimming-pool with mesmerising ocean views; boats to hire - and golf courses nearby. With 55 bedrooms and 18 villas this is not exactly a small boutique hotel, yet it manages to retain an intimate and tranquil atmosphere. Half-board accommodation costs €192 (£132) per night for a double room. Scheduled flights to Cagliari are available from Luton on easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com).

Among UK tour operators providing holidays and accommodation in Sardinia, Simply Travel (020-8541 2201; www.simplytravel.co.uk) has a good choice of tucked-away hotels and a range of secluded villas. Just Sardinia (01202 484858; www.justsardinia.co.uk) offers a select villa portfolio and the option of sailing breaks in the area.

FOR SOMEWHERE LESS 'DISCOVERED'?

Try Croatia, where properties have only recently started to become available as holiday rentals. Cottages to Castles (01622 775217; www.cottagestocastles.com) is one of the few UK agencies specialising in this area. Among its seaside accommodation in Istria and Dalmatia is Villa Marija on the island of Krk in the north of the country. Seven kilometres from the town of Malinska, this old stone house is hidden away in woodland, its well-tended garden and swimming-pool enclosed by thick walls. It is owned by an English-speaking artist whose works hang on the walls and who lives nearby. Sleeping four, the villa costs from £660 per week (rising to £1,570 in the high season).

Croatia has far fewer flights from the UK than most EU countries. The easiest access to the north of the country is via Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital - you can fly there on Adria Airways (020 7437 0143; www.adria-airways.com) from Gatwick or on easyJet (0905 821 0905, www.easyjet.com) from Stansted.

ANYTHING WARMER?

Malta is as far south as parts of North Africa, and has an increasing number of flights from Britain on Air Malta (0845 607 3710; www.airmalta.com) and British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com). But if you're in search of guaranteed peace and privacy, you should head for neighbouring Gozo. In addition to its clear blue waters and stunning scenery, this tiny island has a delightful, timeless quality. It also offers some lovely atmospheric villas built from local honey-coloured limestone.

Commanding great views over the countryside to the sea beyond, Villa Orchidea at Ghasri feels remote yet is just a short walk from the nearest shop and a 20-minute stroll from the beach. Few expenses have been spared to cultivate the luxury look here. Each of the villa's three bedrooms has a bathroom with whirlpool tub, while outside is a pool that looks as if it's been imported from a Hollywood set and generous shaded terraces with elegant loungers. Sleeping six, the property is available through Meon Villas (0870 909 7550; www.meonvillas.co.uk) from £709 a week.

Other companies with similar properties include EHS Travel (01993 700600; www.ehstravel.co.uk), which has a selection of quiet, converted farmhouses on Gozo and a wonderfully secluded, simply furnished villa just off the north coast of Malta - Villa Veduta at Ghajnsielem sleeps two to four people and costs from £465 weekly.

AND FOR SOME GREEK CHIC?

Small islands are, of course, perfect hideaway territory and Greece, in particular, offers a wealth of choice. For sheer style it is difficult to find a more impressive retreat than Perivolas Hideaway on Santorini, the most southerly of the Cyclades islands. This amazing apartment suite is part of the Perivolas Traditional Houses Hotel near Oia. Its interior is a picture of minimalist chic - all white except for the pastel shades of throws and cushions - and its extraordinary facilities include a steam bath, a massage pool and a swimming-pool, half of which is indoors and half outside on a private terrace. As you would expect, such a set up doesn't come cheap: the apartment is available through Wimco (0870 850 1144; www.wimco.co.uk) for £2,520 per week for two people, with breakfast. Santorini is served by charter flights from a range of UK airports.

Other companies operating in Greece include Filoxenia (01653 617755; www.filoxenia.co.uk) which offers a selection of very stylish island villas as well as an appealing choice of small and beautifully situated hotels in little-known places.

To stay in a real rustic Greek house then head for Crete. Here Pure Crete (020-8760 0879; www.purecrete.com) combines conservation with commerce, restoring traditional stone-built Cretan cottages and offering them as holiday rentals. Undoubtedly one of the most romantic properties is The Stonemason's House close to Lake Kournas in the mid-west of the island. Exuding charm, this two-bedroom stone house is set in a pretty valley overlooking the small white church of Embrosnero village. It has been furnished simply but with great care by the owners Yannis (the ersatz stonemason) and his wife Maria, whose cooking is locally renowned. The couple live nearby and will provide meals when required. The house costs from £355 per person per week (with only a marginal rise to £465 in peak season), based on four sharing, inclusive of charter flights from Gatwick to Chania.

ANY OTHER SUN-DRENCHED BEAUTIES?

Tranquillity is pretty much guaranteed at the Columbia Beach Resort (00 357 2583 3000; www.columbia-hotels.com), between Limassol and Paphos on Cyprus. This fairly new hotel has been designed to look like an old Cypriot village, complete with tiled roofs and thick stonework. It is an all-suite hotel, its 95 large and luxurious bedrooms set around a central pool, and, practically on the coast, it offers spectacular sea views. Yet possibly of greater significance, the ethos of the resort and its sister property Columbia Beachotel (currently under renovation) is to provide good value for money in a very peaceful environment. Junior suites at the resort cost from €370 (£250) per night for two, including breakfast. There are plenty of flights from the UK to both Paphos and Larnaca airports.

A BIT OF TURKISH DELIGHT?

For a relaxing holiday with a twist of adventure, take to the water. From a boat you can reach many stunning parts of Turkey's Mediterranean coast that are almost inaccessible to land travellers. And for added atmosphere, make that boat a Turkish gulet. Although traditionally fishing vessels, these twin-masted ketches are today built for comfort and are chartered out complete with crew and luxury amenities such as air conditioning, CD players and internet links. Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; www.hiddenturkey.com), for example, offers a new gulet this year: from April the deluxe Aleyna will sail between Gocek and the harbour village of Kalkan. The route takes in the sunken city of Kekova, where you can snorkel over the outlines of 4th- and 5th-century buildings, the canyon gorge of Butterfly Valley and the 18km-long stretch of white sand at Patara beach. With just four master cabins, Aleyna can accommodate eight to 10 guests - rather fewer than the average gulet - and is therefore ideal for private charters, for which individual itineraries can be arranged. Private charters for a week cost from £2,100 per person based on two people taking the entire boat (for, say, the ultimate honeymoon), or from £825 per person based on eight people sharing. Prices include flights from London or Manchester to Dalaman, transfers and seven nights' full-board accommodation. In addition to cruises, Exclusive Escapes offers stunning and secluded Turkish coastal properties to rent as well as a select choice of boutique hotels. Meanwhile Top Yacht (01243 520 950 www.top-yacht.com) also organises gulet charters in Turkey, and can arrange gulet-style trips around Croatia as well.

A BOLT HOLE IN TUNISIA?

It would be a mistake to think of Tunisia simply as a package holiday destination. The range of accommodation here has improved enormously over the past few years and you can now visit the country's stunning beaches and extraordinary Roman ruins from quiet and exclusive bases.

For a peaceful retreat, Tunisia specialist Wigmore Holidays (020-7836 4999; www.aspectsoftunisia.co.uk) offers Dar Dhiafa on the island of Djerba. This boutique hotel is an elegant conversion of four traditional houses and has 14 bedrooms, two swimming-pools, a Turkish bath, a Moroccan café and an excellent restaurant. Wigmore Holidays arranges four-night breaks here from £599 per person (based on two sharing) with flights from Gatwick and B&B accommodation.

WHERE CAN I GET RIGHT OFF THE BEATEN TRACK?

While you may not find many villa hideaways in parts of the Mediterranean Middle East and North Africa, you will, of course, escape the crowds if you venture to newly emerging (or re-emerging) destinations. Despite the ongoing issues there, the Lebanon is attracting increasing interest as a holiday destination. Cox and Kings (020-7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk), for example, has this year re-introduced the country to its brochure after a fairly long gap and reports healthy interest. In particular, the company offers an eight-day Land of the Phoenicians trip that takes in Tripoli, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre on the Mediterranean coast as well as the spectacular Roman remains of Baalbeck inland. The holiday costs from £995 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Heathrow and B&B accommodation.

Meanwhile Explore (0870 333 4001; www.exploreworldwide.com) provides an opportunity to travel through northern Libya. Its 15-day Lost Cities of the Roman Empire itinerary takes in ancient ports, desert oases and troglodyte caves. But the highlight of the trip is a visit to the ruined city of Leptis Magna, with the Mediterranean forming a dramatic backdrop. The holiday costs from £1,115 per person (based on two sharing), including flights from Heathrow to Djerba in Tunisia, all other land and air transport and B&B accommodation.

Libya is the central feature of the North African Treasures cruise organised by Voyages of Discovery (01444 462 150; www.voyagesofdiscovery.com). This two-week trip along the southern Mediterranean coast takes in Benghazi and Tripoli as well as La Goulette in Tunisia, from where Tunis and Carthage can be visited. The cruise departs in November and already a good number of bookings have been taken. Prices are from £1,919 per person (based on two sharing) inclusive of all meals and flights - outward from Gatwick to Alexandria, and returning from Lisbon to Gatwick.

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