Escape the city: weekend minibreaks

Suzanne King

Travel writer and editor

Feeling in need of a little self care? Try a quick weekend away: all the restorative holiday power and none of the long-haul, out-of-office organisation. We've picked the best easy-access escapes from some of our favourite cities around the world

Escape from... London

Escape from London

To… The New Forest, Hampshire

Approx. time from town: 2.5-hour drive 

Visiting the New Forest from London can be a (welcome) shock to the system. One minute you’re in amongst the mayhem of a 21st-century metropolis; a couple of hours later you’re splashing through fords, cooing over the free-roaming ponies and dithering over which idyllic thatched cottage will be yours after the big lottery win. It’s a place to get your Enid Blyton on (that’s the much-loved, home-grown children’s author, for those who didn’t grow up in 1940s rural England): pack up a hamper and head off to explore forests turning gold in the autumn sun and heathland splashed with bronzing bracken and purple heather.

Stay: Chewton Glen is a luxurious country house hotel with countless awards under its belt and accommodation options that include quite possibly the world’s poshest treehouses.

Escape from... Paris

Escape from Paris

To… Chantilly, Picardy

Approx. time from town: 1-hour drive

For a small town, Chantilly, north of Paris, has some big claims to fame – it’s the birthplace of Chantilly cream and lace and home to a famous racecourse. It also has a very grand château, filled with treasures and surrounded by glorious formal gardens and forests where, on a still, sunny day, you can catch the autumn foliage at its most spectacular, reflected in the water features laid out by André Le Nôtre in the late 17th century.

Stay: At Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal Chantilly, hidden away in the forest, the surroundings are rustic and the interiors grand – even the spa comes with chandeliers.

Escape from... Cape Town

Escape from Cape Town

To… The Cape Winelands, Western Cape

Approx. time from town: 1.5-hour drive

Capetonians are well and truly spoiled on the natural beauty front. Not only do they live in one of the world’s most stunning cities to start with, but they only have to drive a short way west to find themselves in the lovely Cape Winelands, all gently rolling vineyards and quaint colonial farmsteads. Head to Stellenbosch for graceful streets shaded by oak trees and lined with pretty whitewashed buildings, then on to Franschhoek, with its stunning mountain backdrop and stellar foodie reputation.

Stay: People travel far and wide to stay and eat at Le Quartier Francais, a boutique hotel in the heart of Franschhoek, with rooms and suites gathered round a central courtyard and pool.

Escape from... Hong Kong

Escape from Hong Kong

To… Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Approx. time from town: 30-minute drive

Downtown Hong Kong is easy to escape. Jump on an express ferry from Central Pier and 35 minutes later you’ve left the Blade Runner-esque skyline behind and arrived on hilly Lantau Island – criss-crossed with walking trails that reward the energetic with fantastic views over land and sea. Make the long, rugged trek up to Sunset Peak; get up early to catch the sunrise from Lantau Peak; or follow the Tung O Ancient Trail – a coastal path from Tung Chung to the old fishing village of Tai O, famous for its stilt houses, salted fish and shrimp paste.

Stay: Converted from the old colonial police station, the Tai O Heritage Hotel has nine smart rooms and suites, all with sea views.

Escape from... New York

Escape from New York

To… Montauk, New York

Approx. time from town: 2.5-3-hour drive

Heading to Montauk in summer can mean enduring nose-to-tail traffic on the highway and crowds of partying hipsters at the other end. Once Labor Day weekend is out of the way, however, this Long Island resort reverts to quieter, sleepier ways. The self-proclaimed “drinking town with a fishing problem” is the perfect place to blow away big city cobwebs – spend days sailing or surfing, taking strolls along windswept beaches, scoffing finger-licking lobster rolls and soaking up sunset views over a waterfront cocktail or two.

Stay: At The Surf Lodge, where whitewashed walls, wooden floors and hammocks meet Frette sheets and iPod docks in rustic-chic style, and the restaurant serves fresh-from-the-boat seafood.

Escape from... Rome

Escape from Rome

To… Orvieto, Umbria

Approx. time from town: 1.5-2-hour drive

90 minutes north of Rome, Orvieto delivers everything you could ask of an Italian hill town, including a dramatic setting (perched atop a huge volcanic outcrop), impressive cathedral (a glorious Italian Gothic affair) and unexpected extras (the underground warren of cool tunnels and caves, say). Mooch around its narrow, cobbled streets, taking photos of pretty window boxes and artisan workshops, and wandering wherever the mood takes you – just make sure it takes you to San Giovenale on the western edge of town, where the little piazza has knock-out views over valley and hills.

Stay: Griffin’s Resort, a short drive from town, is tailor-made for unwinding, with its peaceful rural setting, well-tended gardens and infinity pool with a view.

Escape from... Sydney

Escape from Sydney

To… The Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Approx. time from town: 2-hour drive

The Blue Mountains have been luring weekending Sydneysiders for well over a century now. And no wonder. Up here, just a couple of hours’ drive from the city, the air is fresh and eucalyptus-scented and the scenery simply spectacular. The adventurous can explore it in endless intrepid ways: abseiling, canyoning, mountain biking and tackling extreme bushwalk trails through rainforest gullies and steep ravines. The not-so-sure-their-knees-are-up-to-it can enjoy gentler pastimes: pootling round antiques shops, soaking up the views and visiting local gardens bursting into spring colour.

Stay: The family-friendly Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains has activities and facilities for all ages, from games rooms and pools to Segway tours, golf and a brand new spa.

Can’t get away for even a weekend? Don’t be downhearted – try our trips for taking a ‘staycation’ in your very own town

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