Category Archives: Travel

Why I can’t resist hotel bathroom goodies

What do you check out first at a hotel? The view from your room? The myriad of TV channels, the mini bar, or the bounce factor of the bed? Me, I’m straight into the bathroom to stake out the toiletries – and then, if they’re any good, they will be straight into my bag.

I hide them and then wait for the bathroom to be re-stocked either at turndown or when the room is cleaned the next morning, and then I repeat the process until I’ve gathered a hoard that I can only just squeeze into my burgeoning bag. I don’t think I’ve had to pay for shampoo for years and I’ve never needed to buy body lotion (really, who does? It’s a product that I’m sure people only bother with when it’s on offer for free in hotel rooms!).

The excitement of finding some really amazing products – C.O Bigelow at the Bowery hotel; Bamford products at Limewood; Pen and Ink at the Hoxton Holborn and Bramley at The Pig – is way more thrilling than a freestanding bath or a four-poster the size of a London studio flat.

My husband hates it: “isn’t our bathroom full of stolen hotel stuff already?” he’ll protest. “But we’ve paid for this in our room rate – it’s ours!” I insist. He’s right though, we have enough mini White Company bottles to open our own shop.

But why stop there. There’s almost always an individually wrapped Scottish shortbread biscuit taken from a hotel room languishing in the bottom of my handbag, I literally never buy pens and pencils. Slippers? Of course. Fruit, nail files, shower caps and even flannels have all made it into my luggage.

From Paris I took an especially nice corkscrew, in Morocco I came home with a full-length djellaba and a pair of leather slippers from the riad I was staying at, and a friend of mine smuggled a woollen Nina Campbell blanket from a country hotel in Devon that we stayed at because she loved it so much (and then later had to deny it when the hotel called to enquire of its whereabouts).

While towels and linen are the most commonly stolen items from hotel rooms, hotel managers complain that everything from kettles (suddenly just taking the Nespresso pods doesn’t seem so bad, after all) to batteries are considered fair game by light-fingered guests. One manager at a five-star luxury hotel once told me that they were considering replacing their swanky Bang and Olufsen TVs because so many remote controls, at £235 a pop, were being nicked.

Perhaps most ironically, the tenth most stolen hotel item is the bedside bible – I’d never stoop so low. But you’ve got to admire those sinners that are so brazen.


This article appeared in Metro on  2 March 2015

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Family-friendly festivals

Want to go to a festival but worried you can’t now that you have little ones? Don’t worry, try these out for size. Have kids, will party


What: Set in the rolling Cotswolds, on an 800-year-old deer park, this is possibly Britain’s poshest festival with food from St John, Polpo, Ottolenghi and Mark Hix, and its own spa.

Who’s playing? The line-up has yet to be announced but last year included Rodriguez, Empire of the Sun, Noah and the Whale, Martha Wainwright, Tom Odell, The Bees.

What to wear: Boden dresses with Joules wellies.

Family fun: The House of Fairytales, award-winning children’s Unicorn Theatre and The Oxford Museum of Natural History are all on hand to excite your children, while Boutique Babysitting might give you a chance to catch the main stage action unencumbered by babies.

Stay: Boutique camping options include tipis, huts, yurts, and even a bus – all come with hot showers, luxury toilets, baby-changing facilities and a chill-out area – there are even “barrow boys” who will greet you and take your luggage.

When is it? 6-9 August. Adult weekend family camping £143.50, under 10s £5. Cornbury Park, Charlbury,


End of the Road

What: At the End of the Road festival, in Wiltshire, set against the backdrop of Larmer Tree Gardens, with stages resembling front rooms, complete with standard lamps and pictures on the chintzily-papered walls. Expect thoroughly British food from Pieminister and music quizzes, too.

Who’s playing? Sigur Ros, Belle and Sebastian, Eels and Dinosaur Jr played last year, while there’s also comedy and film.

What to wear: Cath Kidston, Hunter boots and Barbour jackets.

Family fun: A dedicated children’s area offers performances, workshops and activities for little people.

Stay: Choose between the family campsite or the suitably middle-class accommodation at Toby of Fairlove Yurts.

When it is? 28-30 August. Adult weekend camping £160, under 2s free. Larmer Tree Gardens, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire,


BoomTown Fair

What: Hosting limitless winding streets and eccentric venues to explore, BoomTown Fair is a fully working city created by an ever expanding network of musicians, artists and creative. The four-day festival celebrates ska, reggae, dub, swing, punk and more.

Who’s playing? Altern8, Chas n Dave, Dub FX, Lady Saw (full live band), Ms Dynamite and the Dreadnoughts.

What to wear: DMs and denim.

Family fun: KidzTown now takes up a whole zone of the “city” and in 2014 will have its own dedicated main stage. There are arts and crafts workshops to entertain little ones, too.

What mums say: ‘I think the children’s area was absolutely brilliant and I know that from real experience cause my son had the best time ever and never wanted to leave it.’ Anne-Marie Williams, mum to Laurie, 6.

Stay: Camping is included in your ticket price and you can choose a ‘neighbourhood’ to camp in, from Chinatown and El Barrio Loco to Kidztown or Mayfair Avenue depending on your mood. If you’d rather “glamp” you can upgrade to the Boomtique Village for £30, which gets you access to luxury showers, wood-fired saunas and hot tubs, a chill-out lounger and a beauty station (like you’ll really have time for hair-straighteners??). You can even opt to stay in a tipi or luxury yurt.

When is it? 6-9 August. Adult weekend camping £150, 6 and under free. Matterly Estate, Nr Winchester.


Camp Bestival

What: Bestival’s family-friendly little sister bill’s itself as the greatest family show on earth at a castle campsite by the sea. While other festivals offer a “family area” this is a family festival with live acts, DJs, comedy and theatre.

Who’s playing? Basement Jaxx, James, Johnny Marr, Laura Mvula, The Wedding Present.

What to wear: Bright, beachy clothes.

Family fun: From circus and theatre workshops, to bouncy castles and soft play tents, a Dance Space tent, fairground rides and sandpits, children will be in heaven here. There’s a separate Toddler’s Area and a Breastival Mother and Baby Chill Out zone – we approve.

Stay: All the campsites are family-friendly, but you can also choose the boutique Tangerine Fields experience which offers pre-pitched tents or gypsy caravans, with proper loos and hot showers (

When is it? 30 July-2 August. Weekend camping from £180, under 11s free. Lulworth Castle, Dorset,



What: Latitude’s Best Family Festival Award (at the UK Festival Awards) is testament to its diverse and inclusive atmosphere. Arranged around the banks of a lake, the laidback and impressively organised Latitude is one of the most idyllic and civilized summer festivals around.

Who’s playing: Damon Albarn, Two Door Cinema Club, Royksopp,

What to wear: Boho vintage cotton.

Family fun: A dedicated kids’ area, with childrens activities that range from face-painting to pond-dipping to pizza-making and theatre workshops, they will never get bored.

Stay: Choose between the family camping area – think kids yoga and pop-up beaches – or pay to stay at Yurtel, a luxury canvas hotel with a bar, brunch included, and a pop-up spa (

When is it? 16-19 July. Weekend ticket with family camping £182.50, Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk,


Green Man

What: In the beautiful Black Mountains of Wales this small festival has been going for more than a decade and has built up a reputation as a family-friendly, independent destination that has a knack for picking future Brit and Ivor Novello award-winners before they make it big.

Who’s playing: Beirut, Neutral Milk Hotel, First Aid Kit, Daughter, Lanterns of the Lake, Anna Calvi.

What to wear: Opt for clever, low-key cool – think Toast or a classic Breton stripe top.

Family fun: As well as music, there’s comedy, poetry and literature, an area just for under 12s called Little Folk and another for teens. Mums will be appreciative of the spa and therapies, while dads will approve of the local cider, ale and quality food.

Stay: Hot showers and luxury camping areas come as standard at the award-winning intimate festival. Or make a week-long holiday out of it with a Settler’s Pass ticket (£199) which covers the festival entry and your camping for seven nights in the wild beauty of the Brecon Beacons National Park where you can go horse riding, caving, fishing, canoeing or stargazing in one of only five official “dark sky reserves” in the world.

When is it? 13-16 August. Adult weekend camping £159, children £5, infants free. Glanusk Estate, Crickhowell, Wales,


The Eden Festival

What: Scotland’s boutique festival has nine stages, a kids arena, circus tent, drive-in cinema, caberet, comedy and workshops, all with a new-age-y, chilled-out vibe.

Who’s playing: Calvin Harris, Dub Mafia, Beans on Toast.

What to wear: There’s a hippyish feel, so plait your hair and dig out your love beads.

Family fun: The Shellycoat kids tent is where you’ll find environmentally-friendly arts and crafts (is there any other kind?), performances, forest skills workshops and a play area – all for free. There’s also kids yoga, treasure hunts and an end-if-festival kids parade.

Stay: There’s a family camping area if you want to bring your own tent, or if you’d prefer to let someone else do that hard work for you, hire a bell tent with full standing headroom and a bed made up through Yippee Yurts – they even provide luggage portering and a barbeque.

When is it? 12-14 June. Adult weekend camping £85, under 12s free. Raehills Meadows, Dumbries and Galloway.



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A romantic room with a view

This gorgeous, romantic bolthole in the English Lake District has been converted so beautifully that it’s hard to believe it was once used as a coach house.


Subtly blending into the landscape, it’s a secret luxury escape beneath a creamy vaulted ceiling. With spa treatments in the cabin and a snug mezzanine to hide in, there’s no need to step outside…


You can admire the view over Coniston Water while curled up with your lover this Valentine’s weekend (yes, it’s still available!), or take a romantic walk through the eight acres of grounds.


I’d check in myself, if I wasn’t already at the races at Ascot…


£495 for 2 nights (sleeps 2) (13/14/15 February, including handmade chocolates, wine and welcome pack), / 01824 520008


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10 of the best welly weekends

Grab your Barbour jacket, pull on your Hunter boots and get outdoors for a bracing winter walk – and you can reward yourself with amazing grub and a gorgeous room for the night at the end of it

There’s nothing more exhilarating on a frosty, clear winter’s day than a country walk over fields and hills, and given you can burn up to 400 calories an hour on a good hike, it’s little wonder the likes of Jessica Biel, Matthew Mcconaughey and Reece Witherspoon are fans. Aside from the amazing views, fresh air and vitamin D, our favourite walks include a welcoming inn at the end, with a roaring fire and delicious dinner. So pack your wellies, kids and dog, and make a weekend of it, as we’ve found the best places to enjoy a rural, rambling escape.


The Milk House, Sissinghurst

This rustic-chic pub and restaurant with rooms is brilliantly located just across the fields from Sissinghurst Castle in Kent (it’s a pleasing 30-minute ramble away). Welly boots and dogs are practically uniform at this timber-framed building. All exposed beams and open fireplaces, there’s a lounge-y bar with comfy leather sofas and a more formal 9though still relaxed) dining room with a menu that sources 80 per cent of its produce from within a 20-mile radius. The four bedrooms are a tribute to Farrow and Ball and the local theme continue with a range of bath products from Kent, too.

Doubles from £90,


Woolley Grange, Wiltshire

This homely small manor hotel welcomes families and dogs – if you haven’t brought your boots, you can borrow one of the many pairs lined up in the entrance hall. And if you haven’t brought your dog, you can even borrow the resident King Charles Spaniel puppy Rex and take him for a stroll around the grounds or over the fields down (or down the lane if you’re pushing a buggy) to Bradford on Avon, or head even further a-field to Ilford Manor which is surrounded by hanging woodlands and then walk back along the river.
Rooms at Woolley are eclectic and homely, combining antique furniture with modern design, while the relaxed lounges are the perfect place to warm up with a hot chocolate after a long walk.

Doubles from £120,


The Lord Crewe Arms, County Durham

With properly hearty, country food – think shins, hocks, and shanks of meat – Simon Hick’s modern British menu is as robust and humble as this 12th-century former Abbots Priory. Delightfully understated, but in a very stylish way, this pub with 12 bedrooms is warm and welcoming – grab an armchair in the enormous inglenook and settle in with the weekend papers and a pint of Lord Crewe Brew before heading out to the hills. The pub sits at one of the highest points on the North Pennine Hills and is surrounded by heather-clad walks, but fishing and shooting are also available if you really want to give your Barbour a workout.

Doubles from £105,


Askham Hall, Cumbria

Askham Hall makes a very glamorous home from home – owner Charlie Lowther and his wife Juno have renovated and transformed his family home, a Grade I-listed manor house, complete with a medieval tower, to create a 13-room hip-yet-unpretentious hotel with history. The rooms are relaxed yet grand; a winning cocktail of antique beds, dinner-plate showers and jaw-dropping Lake District views. Sitting in the middle OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the 70,000-acre Lowther Estate, you’re literally surrounded by walks, from challenging fell climbs to a gentler walk across the estate to the George and Dragon pub in Clifton where most of the food is sourced from the estate itself, or a potter around the Hall’s romatic gardens and woodland and into Askham village.

Doubles from £150,


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The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

Since opening last summer this immaculate pub with rooms, owned by Lady Bamford (the brains behind nearby Daylesford Organic), has recently won Michelin Pub of the Year. Behind its alluring honey-hued Cotswold stone walls and sage green paint, the handcrafted interior has antique furniture, stripped walls and open fires – while the menu stocks artisan ales and wine from small vineyards. Expect thoroughly stylish, and seasonal, food such as pot roast partridge or cacao nib crusted venison with girolles, celeriac and figs. While this may be the poshest pub in Britain, it is also surrounded by fields and farms – dogs are most welcome (they even provide dog beds for free). There are walking maps to borrow and you can hoof it over the fields north to Daylesford Organic to visit the spa, farm shop and restaurant there. Chipping Norton, Burford and Stow on the Wold are all close by.

Doubles from £135,

Bar area and dining room, Bel and the Dragon, Churt, Surrey BelDragon_churt3

Bel and the Dragon Churt, Surrey

Less than an hour from London, but a welly’s throw from the National Trust-owned Devil’s Punch Bowl – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offering incredible views, this fabulously-restored country inn has 14 bedrooms, a restaurant and bar – complete with a cosy lounge with an open fireplace and an inviting sofa. The new pizza oven and chalk-topped tables are proving a huge hit with families, while the josper grill (for the juiciest steaks) and wine served by the magnum – you just drink what you can – keep grown-ups more than satisfied.

Doubles from £95,


Ockendon Manor, Sussex

Surrounded by the South Downs National Park, this Elizabethan Manor House welcomes guests with a roaring log fire and a cosy, wood-panelled bar. Set in nine acres, and with the South Downs Way, Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park all on the doorstep, you’ll be spoilt for choice for walks. And at the hotel, you can spoil yourself in the state-of-the-art spa and at the Michelin-starred restaurant.

Doubles from £179,


The Gunton Arms, Norfolk

You can’t get much more rural than a 1,000-acre deer park, which is where you’ll find this eccentric-yet-unpretentious pub and B&B owned by an art dealer and interior designer. The buzzy restaurant and bar, headed up by chef Simon Tattersall, who worked with Mark Hix, attracts north Norfolk’s finest, from muddy booted walkers and farmers to artists and landowners alike, who come to watch Tattersall cook over a vast 16th-century open fireplace. As you’d expect from a deer park close to Cromer – venison, crab and seafood abound. Just the thing after a misty country walk.

Doubles from £95,


The Grove, Pembrokeshire

Between the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the Preseli Hills, the boutique Grove hotel, and its award-winning restaurant makes a chic retreat after a wild winter walk. Nab one of the fire-side seats in the lounge a snuggle up with a spicy glass of red wine and a great book. Book the Winter Warmer package and the hotel will pack you off in the morning with a walker’s hamper containing a flask of traditional Welsh cawl and tasty bites to keep you warm and toasty on your walk. Then head back to a roaring log fire, a soothing bath with a box of Wickedly Welsh chocolates and a full body massage courtesy of The Grove’s In Room Spa before delicious candlelit meal beside the fire in our award-winning restaurant (£200 per person per night).

Doubles from £165,


The Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall

There can be few more rugged or wild corners of Britain than the Zennor peninsula in Cornwall, and after a bracing walk, through cow fields, out to the tip of Zennor Point, you’ll be more than ready for a pint of real ale by the fire in the bar. This is pub-grub at its best and most local, from the ham hock terrine to the venison stew, even the soda bread with locally-churned butter is lip-smackingly good. Rooms are cosy but charming, with brilliant beds – you’ll feel so at home that you won’t want to leave. Dogs are welcome and wellies are practically obligatory round these parts.

Doubles from £110 – or book the fantastically good value Winter Escape: £130 a couple for dinner, bed and breakfast, Sunday to Thursday.


This article appeared in Metro on 26 January






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Family holiday? Top travel trends 2015

Want to know where to book for the year ahead? Read this ultimate family travel guide to where, and what, is going to be hot in 2015, from country weekends and mini breaks to holiday rentals and multi-generation escapes


Once all-inclusives meant ginormous resorts with bad buffets and dated entertainment, but in recent years the all-inclusive has been given a make-over. Think glammer, better quality and independent.
“New parents are increasingly keen for us to recommend the kind of small, stylish, independent accommodation they holidayed in before having children but with the added benefits of three meals a day and drinks included without succumbing to a typical package holiday hotel,” explains Sian Williams, founder of Baby Friendly Boltholes.

Country Kids Chestnut House


lla Pia, Tuscany
This 17-room house has the relaxed vibe of a home, but none of the cooking – Brit owners Kevin and Morag take care of all that for you and there’s a fully-stocked fridge, bar and coffee machine for any snacks in between that you can help yourself to. Seven nights from £1,070 in a family room which sleeps two adults, two children and has room for a cot.

Villa PIa
Villa PIa

Country Kids Chestnut House, Languedoc-Rousillion
You want the wild beauty of the French countryside, and the privacy and freedom of an apartment, but you also want a free drop-in crèche on tap, included activities like sailing, vineyard tours or tennis, a couple of nights babysitting, suppers, a pool with a bar, and a deli so you needn’t go out to buy delicious local food. That’s just the start of the options that are all part of the price at this luxurious small family retreat. Sleeps five plus room for a cot. From £3,500 per week.

Chestnut House
Chestnut House


Mas de Thau, South of France
This converted French winery opened last summer as a self-catering country estate. Your first supper and daily breakfasts are included along with a bumper welcome pack and a communal meal each Sunday.

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But unlike other self-catering holidays, this one comes with a daily maid service, two night’s free babysitting, a wine-tasting evening, kids club and crèche and a petting farm, a complimentary massage for parents and a blissful pool. Sleeps four plus room for a cot. From £1,200 a week.



The latest way to get back to nature – hug a tree, quite literally. Now you can play, stay and eat in amongst the tree canopy.

Alnwick Treehouse, Northumberland
This wooden turreted restaurant is reached by a wobbly bridge and trees can actually be seen growing out of the dining room floor. In the evening, it’s lit with candles for a magical, Faraway Tree experience that you’ll never forget.

Center Parcs Longleat and Sherwood
The new two-storey, four-bedroom treehouses at Longleat and Sherwood Forest are a real Swiss Family Robinson affair, with wooden bridges and gangways connecting the different wooden cabins and a deck with an outdoor hot tub, sauna and games room. Brilliant for groups or large families.


Forest Holidays Treehouses
Available in Deerpark in Cornwall, Keldy in Yorkshire, Thorpe Forest in Norfolk and in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, kids will love staying in these treehouse hideaways. Some have wooden walkway entrances, others come with outdoor hot tubs, and all have wood-burning stoves and bathrooms. Sleeps up to ten.

Cleveley Mere, Lancashire
W.O.W ­– leave any notion of a DIY wooden shack at the door, or should that be rope bridge. This futuristic tree-top retreat is seriously luxurious and even has its own harbour and boat, as well as bikes, pedaloes and canoes that can be borrowed. Sleeps four. From £129 a night,


BeWILDerwood, Norfolk
This award-winning forest adventure park is home to treehouses, jungle bridges, swings, slides, walkways and even mazes all set in and around the trees. There’s also storytelling, nature walks, boat trips and a tree-based café to keep the whole family occupied.


Take the kids, the grandparents, the auntie and uncle, the nanny, even the dog – in the last year, one in six travellers in Britain has been on a 3G holiday, that’s three generations on one trip.
And the trend is growing, as more of us choose to travel with friends or family, either to share the cost of larger accommodation, or to help share the burden of childcare.
More than one in ten 3G-ers said that the main motivation for taking their parents or other relatives on holiday was to relieve to load of caring for their children.
“We took went away with our brother and sister-in-law, their kids and our parents last year,” says Nicola 40. “It was lovely for the grandparents to spend time with all of the grandchildren while they still can, and they got to try things that they wouldn’t have done on their own. It also made our villa much better value for money, overall – we were able to stay in a much nicer place for not much more per person than if we’d travelled separately.”
Want to try it? Serviced villas are a great way to take more than one generation away, or resorts that offer entertainment for both young and old. Make sure you look for somewhere with plenty of variety.

Coastline, Corsica, Mallorca and Ibiza
For all the freedom of a villa combined with the luxury of a serviced hotel, this is the perfect solution. Have a chef cook for you, book a private nanny for your stay, use the concierge service to arrange excursions, restaurant bookings and have food delivered to your villa, and expect a maid service, too. But the real bonus is a communal living area where the whole family can mingle and a private pool at every property.

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Daios Cove, Crete
Older travellers will appreciate the resort-like feel here (you needn’t leave, there’s so much to do), the smart-but-not-trendy vibe, and the infinity pool and spa. There’s a daily programme of activities for young and old, as well as a crèche, kids club, and teen club. You’ll love the private bay and white-sand beach – and the family villas with private pools are a great choice for bigger parties. or book with who often have family discounts.



Belmond La Residencia, Deia, Mallorca
The old-school glamour of this breath-taking resort will wow the grandparents as much as you – though they may be more impressed by the mature gardens and the exceptional views than the fabulous, art-filled manor house hotel and spa. Chill out in the spa, or over a yoga or tai chi session, borrow a mountain bike and head down to the beach, or put the children into the kids club, which offers art and cookery classes, while you read a book by the pool or visit the restaurant, which is the best on the island. Book with Tots Too to take advantage of their private nanny service, Nanny Too, which is available at this hotel. or



Sensatori Resort Aphrodite Hills, Cyprus
Thomson’s luxury all-inclusive resorts are expanding this year, with new hotels in Fethive, Turkey, and Cyrpus. We love the modern rooms and stylish spas, with fantastic entertainment and activities for kids, no matter what they are into. And Cyprus has kitten-soft sandy beaches that make us want to go back every year. The climate is especially good for a spring or autumn break with babies.



Emma Barnett, Tots Too:
We are seeing the return to traditional family resorts. Despite the appeal of experiential and authentic family experiences, which there is certainly demand for, we have really noticed in recent months that the traditional, full-service family destinations continue to be hot property, and if anything are soaring. Parents tell us that the peace-of-mind and ease of a family resort, like Forte Village in Sardinia or La Residencia in Majorca, make them a fail-safe bet.
At the other end of the spectrum, we’re also seeing families being prepared to travel further than ever. The Maldives, Mauritius, Antigua and Barbados are some of our biggest sellers – that’s even surprised us!

Nadine Mellor, I-Escape With Kids:
Living like a local is a growing trend – people don’t want to feel like tourists anymore, they want to be immersed in the culture and experience of their holiday. So we are seeing more families booking apartments rather than hotels and wanting lots of information about the destination, or perhaps a concierge service, to make themselves feel at home.
We’re also seeing an increase in foodie breaks, where parents want to take the kids somewhere that they can eat well when out sightseeing during lunchtimes, bring good-quality grub back to the rental property, or dine in the hotel’s restaurant in the evenings with a babysitter or baby monitor. Places like Chateau les Merles in the Perigord region of France or Masseria Prosperi in Puglia, Italy, are proving really popular.



GREECE GOES GLAM – The Peloponnese
Blessed with as much sun as LA, but a whole lot closer to home, it’s time to put Greece back on your radar.

Costa Navarino
Costa Navarino

The Peloponnese has seen a raft of chic opening in the last few years, from the ultra-exclusive design den Amanzoe (perfect for a pre-baby glam getaway) to the family-friendly, eco-luxe Costa Navarino and the established grand-dame The Poseidonion in Spetses. Add a new hotel and spa from the club group Nikki Beach in Porto Heli into the mix and it’s no wonder this is where stylish Athenians go to catch some sea breeze.

The beach club at Amanzoe


If Croatia isn’t already on your wanderlust wish-list, here’s the lowdown: pretty beach towns dot the coastline, pine-covered islands are in easy day-tripping distance; the cosmopolitan UNESCO-listed port town of Split is on your doorstep – and it’s all just two-and-a-half hours from the UK. I-Escape With Kids ( has it in their sights as a hip destination for families this year; try staying in Hvar or at the Palmizana, a cluster of villas nestled in lush botanical gardens on the Dalmation Island of Sveti Klement, just a short hop from Hvar.

Hvar island

Closer to the action, the new Radisson Blu Resort in Split overlooks the Adriatic sea and has apartment accommodation for families.

IBIZA GROWS UP (but not old)
The sun, the turquoise sea and the blissed-out summer beats… How much fun was Ibiza back in the day? But having a baby doesn’t put this Balearic bolthole out of bounds. The original Ibiza hotel, the Hacienda Na Xamena, that first opened its doors in hippie days of 1971, has been through a major revamp and reopened last summer with a luxurious spa, yacht (for jaunts out to sea), and three pools, but the boho vibe is very much alive and well. Perched on a cliff, 180 metres above the sea, and surrounded by a national park, the views are spectacular.

Hacienda Hotel

Meanwhile Thomson is opening its luxury all-inclusive Sensatori brand on the White Isle this year, with a beachfront setting in Cala Tarida on the west coast. For some thrilling sunset views, head to the rooftop bar – but what makes this work for families is the nursery for babies and free Playhouse club for children over three, there are even supervised evening sessions so that you can have a meal or, dare we say it, hit a club! Family rooms sleep five, while entertainment and a fab spa complete the very stylish package.
Could it be time to dig out your white bikini?

Sensatori Ibiza
Sensatori Ibiza



Locals have always known that this is one of Britain’s coolest cities, and now a new accolade will have visitors heading west. Crowned European Green Capital 2015, the easily walkable, or cycleable, city has an independent vibe and a thriving arts and music scene, as well as magnificent views from the Clifton suspension bridge – could this be the UK’s answer to San Francisco? Take a Banksy tour for an alternative view of the sights, and check into the new Bristol Hotel (from £99 a night,, which sits next door to the Arnolfini contemporary arts centre. Tots will love the aquarium, and the SS Great Britain on Spike Island where you’ll also find another modern art venue – the Spike Island Artspace.

The Bristol hotel has family rooms on the waterfront
The Bristol hotel has family rooms on the waterfront


With its beautiful beaches, short flight time and gorgeous climate, Portugal is a perennial favourite for families as it is also good value. But new choices are springing up beyond the traditional Algarve package holiday.
Martinhal at Sagres offers the best of barefoot beach luxury and is a villa resort with an eco spa, cool kids club (book ahead!) and a stunning beach, set in a protected natural park.


Head further north to Sintra and Cascais on the Estoril Coast as a chic, less crowded alternative that’s a short hop from Lisbon. Housed in a converted 14th-century monastery Penha Longa is an outstandingly tranquil and beautiful place to shake of the stress of modern life. Children are treated like royalty, or VIKs as the hotel calls them.

Penha Longa, a converted monastry that is now owned by Ritz Carlton
Penha Longa, a converted monastry that is now owned by Ritz Carlton

And the new Conrad Algarve at Quinto do Lago brings Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck to Portugal – but if that’s too fancy, there’s also a poolside BBQ bar. Add a great kids club, Aromatherapy Associates spa and the nearby marina with bustling boutiques (you will buy something!), and it’s a recipe for a top holiday.

Conrad Algarve
Conrad Algarve



This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Gurgle magazine.

Local is the new Black

Forget Black Friday and panic internet shopping, instead find an unusual, creative gift from an independent boutique on a traditional high street

Contrary to popular belief, some small towns and local shops are thriving and are a joy to visit – so make a weekend of your festive shopping with a stay at one of these indie towns

Frome, Somerset

This small, Somerset town is home to a creative crowd – as reflected by the incredible collection of independent shops clustered around Catherine Hill and the area known as St Catherine’s, a cobbled hill or narrow lanes and quaint small stone buildings.

Shop at: Home bodies will love Elizabeth Lee Interiors for stylish new and vintage gifts; Owl is an arty mix of soft furnishings, prints, art and ceramics; and Sister’s Guild has gorgeous homeware, toys and clothes for children. Pilgrimage sells worldly lanterns, blankets and upcycled or Fairtrade gifts with an interiors-spin. Crafty types would appreciate anything from Marmalade Yarns or Millie Moon, a haberdashery and sewing school with lovely fabric, ribbons and buttons that’s a real trove to rummage through. You’ll find beauty products, handmade soaps and candles at Herbs on the Hill; while vintage and antiques fans are well served by Donna May, The Dandy Lion and The Life of Riley.

Re-fuel at: Once you’ve made it to the top of St Catherine’s, you’ll be rewarded by Paccamama, a small café with an Italian vibe, and Crockers, a coffee house-meets-art gallery; at the bottom of the hill Garden Café combines a deli (good for foodie gifts), with a café and wine bar. The Archangel pub is a cosy place for a longer lunch.

Stay at: The Talbot Inn ( in nearby Mells is a cosy gastropub with rustic-yet-stylish rooms from £95 B&B. What’s more, they’re hosting their own Christmas market on Saturday 13 December.


Helmsley, North Yorkshire

This pretty market town in the heart of the North York Moors and a mecca for foodies and walkers alike, with an abundance of cafes and proper pubs – but the shops are a fantastic draw, too.

Shop at: Get into the country vibe at Carter’s Countrywear, which has everything from Dubarry wellies and Yorkshire tweeds to cheeky country animal cufflinks, leather hip flasks, and homeware too. Find walking and country books and gifts at Claridges. Duncombe Park shop sells pretty gardening accessories and objects alongside home gifts and jewellery.

Castle stores will cater for the knit-wit in your life with wools and needles, patterns and books; magpies will love something sparkly from Libby Butler Jeweller’s or from Nice Things and Sienna, which are both Aladdin’s caves or jewellery, candles, toys and gifts.

Gastronomes can be kept happy with a treat from Helmsley Wines, Hunters of Helmsley where more then 70% of the produce is sourced from Yorkshire, Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop (fab for stocking fillers), Auntie Anne’s Bakery – famous for its Yorkshire Curd Tart – or the town’s newest shop, Helmsley Brewing Company.

Lastly, creatives will love Look Gallery and Saltbox Gallery, which has gorgeous local prints, ceramics, jewellery and art that support’s the area’s artists.

Refuel at: Scott’s of Helmsley does really good, old-fashioned fish and chips at their stylish restaurant on Bridge Street; run by local farmers George and Ann Hawkins, The Beck Tearoom is a great place to warm up with a toasted tea cake or a steak and ale pie.

Stay at: The Black Swan hotel (doubles from £135 B&B, in the heart of the town, has its own outdoor ice rink for Christmas this year, and roaring fires inside to warm you up.


Lavenham, Suffolk

This stunning medieval village in Suffolk – all half-timbered buildings, crooked cottages and a gaggle of lanes centred around a market square – has an almost Dickensian feel about it, and is the perfect setting for a Christmas shopping trip.

Shop at: As a former wool town, it’s no surprise to discover the Wool Room, which sells knitted clothes and accessories, jewellery and vintage bags, but today you’ll find many more artists that wool merchants here. And it shows – there are a handful of great galleries selling paintings and prints, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery, that would all make unique gifts, from the Lionhouse and Wildlife galleries, to Lavenham Contemporary and Kate Denton Sculpture.

Merchants Row is a home to a collection of independent shops and studios including a gift and toyshop, specialising in Steiff bears, and a few antiques, interiors and furniture shops.

For more interior inspiration, try Flutterby’s, who upcycle and repaint furniture and home accessories, the Cuckoo Flower and Water Street Glass. Lastly the shop inside the Tourist information office stocks an array of locally crafted gifts including lovely prints by local artists and Christmassy hand-crafted cushions.

Refuel at: Combine your shopping, your hobby and your coffee at Café Knit or grab a tea at the National Trust-owned Guild Hall. For something more substantial, Lavenham has a clutch of great pubs including the newly re-opened Angel and the Greyhound, which opened last month. Ten Lavenham is a stylish restaurant and bar for evenings.

Stay at: A night at the romantic and historic Great House (doubles from £99, with its award-winning restaurant and just five boutique rooms.



West Kilbride, Ayrshire

Scotland’s only designated craft town, this handsome village on Scotland’s west coast, overlooking the Isle of Arran, is promoting artists and rural craft, with a series of open studios spread among the independent shops that line the high street.

Shop at: Once, more than half of this small town’s shops were boarded up. Now, thanks to a local creative enterprise, several shops have been converted into studios for artists and crafters, while a church has been turned into the Barony Centre, an exhibition space to showcase the regions skills and where you can try out your own at various workshops. Now every shop in West Kilbride is filled, from independent book shops, sweet shops and haberdasheries, to the arty spaces dotted around Main Street.

You’ll find contemporary silverware from award-winning Marion Kane, whose customers include Ewan McGregor, hand-dyed yarns at Old Aunt Maiden, bespoke knits from McHattie and painted glass by designer Debbie Halliday, who also works for major British brands

Pick up decorative accessories, gifts and cards from Chookiebirdie and bespoke cards and stationery from Michele Crouch of Tallulahbelle Cards. Further down Main Street, Berry Boxter has lots of homely gifts, too.

Refuel at: The Barony Bites café makes a cosy pitstop for a cake and coffee, while The Waterside, just outside of town and on the beach, is the hot destination for lunch. Nearby Braidwoods is worth a visit for a Michelin-starred supper.

Stay at: Seamill Hydro (doubles from £120 B&B, has beach views, a spa, and the restaurant is a local favourite.

xmas shops


This feature appeared in Metro newspaper on 8 December, to see the print version click here:

New Year’s where?…

Party your way in to 2015 at one of these pads, that range from palatial to pretty and grand to groovy…


The Cob, nr Bude, Devon

Family-friendly needn’t mean design deadzone, as this barn conversion by award-winning architects Feilden Fowles proves. The light-filled, vast open-plan space is perfect for entertaining as the kitchen diner and living space are comfortably entwined. And when you crash you can expect king size beds and REN toiletries for added luxury. Kids will love the bunk beds, the trampoline and the chickens to chase outside. For Christmas and New Year the house will be festively decorated and a welcome pack of essentials is provided, with everything you’ll need for a New Year’s Day fry-up.

The cosy log burner makes the living room a great place to watch the wildlife in the surrounding countryside and there are countless walks on your doorstep – including a New Year’s Day wander along the beach at Bude perhaps? Or to the Old Smithy pub in Welcombe

Sleeps nine, £1750 for four nights from 29 December,


The Tower, Selkirk, Scotland

Have the run of your own 16th-century castle surrounded by rolling hills on the Scottish Borders. This ancient tower has been brought right up to date with sumptuous modern interiors and king-size handmade Duxiana beds and ensuite bedrooms.

The great hall has a huge stone fireplace with an openfire, while there’s a further sitting room, bar and games room (complete with piano, table tennis and board games). IN the kitchen and dining room, you can grapple with the AGA, or pre-book to have a chef come and cook for you.

A stone’s throw from Bowhill House and Country Estate, there are outdoor pursuits – think horse-riding, clay pigeon shooting, trout fishing – a woodland adventure playground and walks with a tea room (or bar) at the end of them.

This being a tower, you can expect lots of spiral staircases over four floors – perhaps not one for the very young, old, or inebriated!

Sleeps 11, £5,810 for seven nights from 29 December,

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The Medieval Barn, Brecon Beacons

Just outside Hay on Wye, this gorgeous oak-beamed barn conversion blends old and new to stunning effect. The huge dining table, hewn from a single tree trunk, is an impressive place to party, while the handmade kitchen is a chef’s dream. The five, cool-country bedrooms have views that stretch across the Black Mountains and Wye Valley.

If you’re in need of a New Year’s hangover cure, head to the River Café just down the road for a lazy brunch, or even brave the Brecon Beacons National Park on foot, bicycle or horse back.

Sleeps 10, £3800 for seven days from 29 December,


Restormel Cottage, Cornwall

Sitting within the heart of the Duchy of Cornwall’s historic estate at the head of the Fowey valley, just one mile from the pretty town of Lostwithiel, this picture-perfect 400-year-old cottage surrounded by woodland walks is impeccably furnished with slate floors, period furniture, welsh woollen blankets and logs from the estate for the open fire. Board games and DVDs are supplied for rainy days, and you get access to the indoor swimming pool and other leisure facilities at Restormel Manor. There’s even complimentary fishing on the river Fowey. But then, we’d expect nothing less than the best from HRH Prince Charles.

Sleeps five, £1,300 for seven nights from 29 December,

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Montpellier Town House, Cheltenham

This regal, four-storey Regency house in the centre of Cheltenham sets a grand, over-the-top Victoriana atmosphere for a decadent New Year do. It’s quirky and eclectic inside, with glam antique and period furniture – a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth oversees the proceedings in the dining room, chesterfields abound in the drawing room, while the kitchen is state of the art and the bedrooms are nothing short of opulent.

A welcome hamper and Molton Brown toiletries come as standard and you can request a chef, a beauty therapist or have meals dropped off to make your New Year even more sublime.

An apartment around the corner is also available if you want to house another five guests.

Sleeps nine, £8940 for seven nights from 29 December,

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The Cabin at Bliss Blakeney, Norfolk

Set in two acres of unspoilt north Norfolk coastline, you can stare out to sea from this cool and quirky hideaway.

There are four bedroom suites, each with a shower room and the master bedroom has a freestanding bath, and a big living, dining, kitchen space with an open fire and sliding doors that open out onto a private garden. For the festive season it will be decked out with a tree and decorations, too.

New guests are greeted by a “brown bag” full of local artisan food to get the holiday started. Holkham Hall and estate, and its famous gastropub the Victoria Inn, are a short drive away, as are the pretty market towns of Burnham Market and Holt, which has a fishmonger and butcher – just in case you need to stock up for your NYE feast.

Sleeps eight, £3,475 for seven nights from 26 December,


The White Cabin, Winchelsea, East Sussex

This shabby-chic beach house has a laid-back Scandi feel with white-washed interiors, vintage furniture and a retro decor, especially at Christmas time when the wood-burning fire and rustic styling lends itself to mulled wine and mince pies.

The kitchen has a reclaimed wooded table that will easily seat ten and a smart Smeg oven. But you can also order meals to be dropped off (all you need to do it is heat them up), or hire a chef to cook for you.

It’s just a short stroll from the beach, down a quiet lane so you won’t have to worry about your dodgy karaoke, and the pub is a mere five minutes stagger away!

Sleeps 10, £1875 for seven days from 28 December,

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Natural Retreats, Yorkshire

These sleek, contemporary wooden-and-glass eco-lodges tucked away in the Yorkshire Dales are just five minutes from the market town of Richmond and offer the ultimate bolthole for walkers and active families, with a concierge (ideal for booking one of the many amazing gastro pubs in the area and advising on walks), private chefs, babysitters and beauty therapists on hand to meet your every need.

Sleeps six. £1307 for three nights from 29 December,

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Cotswold View Manor, Broadway, Cotswolds

Tucked away on the 400-acre Farnconbe Estate in the Vale of Evesham, this manor house comes with the facilities and service of the fabulous Dormy House Hotel, which also sits on the estate.

So you’ll get swanky rooms and service, a house manager to sort out any activities, food or cocktail requirements, full use of the award-winning Green House spa, gym and pool at Dormy House – the perfect place for a New Year’s Day detox – and a personal chef. Yes, really. Live the life of a lottery winner for one night, at least.

Sleeps 16, £10,000 for two nights (incudes chef, house manager and use of spa),

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Highbury Hill, London

Fancy living it up in an Islington townhouse? This artfully restored five-bedroom home is offered as a stylish holiday rental, with an iPhone loaded with local tips and maps and a personal welcome.
There’s a fab local deli, Da Mario, around the corner to stock up on party food, as well as the Euphorium bakery and Ottolenghi nearby. Or you might want to head out for cocktails at 69 Colebrooke Row or to a gig at Union Chapel – it’s all in walking distance. Be warned – the Emirates Stadium is also in spitting distance, which will either be a draw, or something you might want to ignore.

Sleeps 7-8, £3,090 for five nights from 29 December,

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Cornucopia, Petworth, West Sussex

Once your guests have picked their jaws up from the floor – this place is gobsmackingly extravagant and beautiful – you can play lord and lady of the manor at this magnificent country house estate, which comes with its own swimming pool and hot tub, gym, bowling alley, games room, cinema – with its own “chill-out kitchen for ice-cream and popcorn, tennis court and not forgetting the picturesque lake, complete with rowing boats.

There are seven super-king double bedrooms, all en-suite of course, a very grand sitting room and another, les grand one, plus a fabulous kitchen and dining room.

Naturally, among such splendid surroundings, it would be depressing have to lower yourself to cooking, so book the in-house chef to do it for you, or to pack a picnic for a country walk in the South Downs. It’s a stay you’ll never forget, although you may need to take out a small mortgage to afford it!

Sleeps 14, £40,000 for seven nights from 29 December,


Spas with an ahh…

This was a tough ask: could I find an angle on spas, said my ed at Metro… Of course I could. And what a fun new trend there is – spas are no longer spartan, they are not about diets or health. Our time is precious, we want to be indulged, and spas have obliged, becoming more decadent, cosseting and a retreat from the outside world.


Chilling out needn’t mean doing without. These days spas are more about indulging than abstaining – so forget the kale juice, whale music and five-day detoxing cleanse, and bring on the champagne pedi, the nightclub-esque modern Roman baths and the massage with a side portion of chocolate cake.

Mondrian London
Mondrian London

Best for urban cool

Agua Bathhouse and Spa at Mondrian, London

This freshly-squeezed new spa is housed in the first Mondrian to open outside of the US. Bold, glam, and a bit quirky, it describes itself as a spa playground and plans to be a fun and sociable space, reinventing the idea of the Roman baths – all under the design stewardship of Tom Dixon.

You don’t normally associate club music, video installations, chocolate fondue or hedonism with the spa experience. But this spa breaks the traditional rules. Expect an eclectic array of brands including Glam Glow, Billion Dollar Brows and Lola’s Apothecary, and suitably hip treatments: try the Stiletto Booster – a tension-busting foot massage and pedicure.


Best for… Boutique spa

Weavers’ House Spa, Suffolk

Opening this winter at the !5th-century boutique hotel, the Swan at Lavenham, this bijous spa will make a blissful retreat and is much more than just a treatment room tacked on to the hotel. There are six treatment rooms and two relaxation suites and well as a mani/pedi area, aromatic steam room and hot stone sauna, and an outdoor vitality pool heated to 36 degrees, year-round. Using Temple Spa products the signature Weavers’ House Hug treatment is utterly dreamy and combines a “weaving” technique deep-tissue massage, body rocking and tapping with hot stones and stretching, plus a facial and scalp massage. We defy you to feel stressed after that.


The pool at Coworth Park
The pool at Coworth Park



Best for… decadence

Coworth Park, Ascot

The Dorchester hotel’s countryside bolthole Coworth Park is a sugar lump-white Georgian manor house so glamorous that Cheryl Cole, Tome Cruise and Cameron Diaz have all decamped here.
The glass spa with its living fragrant herb roof (which are used in the treatments) is as striking from the outside as it is cosseting inside. Luscious therapies come courtesy of Aromatherapy Associates, Carol Joy of London, Kerstin Florian and the 100% organic Dr Alkaitis range and you can use the pool, gym, sun terrace and relaxation room.

The decadent in-spa eatery, the Spatisserie, doesn’t just serve blood-pressure reducing melon, chicken broth to soothe irritated airways and chilli to help reduce weight though; champagne and chocolate cake are also on the menu, making this a very indulgent place to detox… or should that be retox?


Best for… blokes

Barber & Parlour, London

An all-day hangout across three floors where you can eat, drink and socialise while being primped, primed and groomed to perfection, this hot new men’s spa and salon is sure to make waves. Get coiffed at Cheeky Hair by Josh Wood; scrub up in the cool, heritage-styled barber shop, and experience timeless, no-fuss grooming courtesy of the new Neville grooming range. Top it all off with a splurge in the men’s store, catch some flicks at the new Electric Shoreditch cinema and slurp a healthy juice from House Press. Looking good is serious business, you know.


Dormy House spa
Dormy House spa

Best for… a girlie weekend

Dormy House, Cotswolds

The Veuve Clicquot nail parlour sets the tone at this chi-chi spa that’s perfect for a girlie weekend away. Shunning the notion that spas should be all rest and no play, this uplifting spa has aromas to promote happiness, a lot of fizz, and plenty to explore. There’s a candle-lit infinity pool, and outdoor hydropool, a thermal suite with a lavender-infused sauna, a hot juniper Finnish cabin and a salt steam room. Once you’ve worked your way round all of these, and experienced a Temple Spa treatment, you can regroup with the girls in the spa’s healthy café, the Greenhouse.


Greenhouse at Dormy House
Greenhouse at Dormy House




The wild, wild West Country

To the wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset, or SoCo as I’m calling it, short for South of Cotswolds.

The green arc around Bath’s eastern side, where the West Country ends and the Wolds begin has long been neglected by travellers who zip through heading south for Devon, north to the Cotswolds, or straight through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.

But not anymore. This lush green, properly rural corner of the country has had a noticeable influx of not-so-muddy boots hot-footing it out of the city and into this bucolic, arty no-mans-land.

The tiny towns of Bruton, Frome (which boasts swanky private members club and hotel Babington House on its doorstep) and Bradford on Avon, all have a historic grandness about them, while also remaining just the right side of quaint to be thriving, interesting towns to live in and not just visit.

A wave of galleries, hotels, foodie producers, restaurants and cultural outposts have been putting this hot spot on the map.

Most recent, and notable, is contemporary art space Hauser and Wirth, on the edge of Bruton in Somerset. Drive out of the town (do stop for food, wine and a night at At The Chapel on the high street) and you’ll easily miss this farmhouse and its barns that have been converted into a world-class gallery. Outside, Subodh Gupta’s giant gleaming milking pail bucket, a Louise Bourgeois spider and the gently swaying Piet Oudolf-designed gardens (he of New York’s Highline fame) give away the fact that something altogether new is happening here.

It’s a cultural version of Daylesford in Gloucestershire, a daring and brave mix that includes an art shop, four galleries, landscaped sculpture gardens for outdoor walks; and a truly fantastic restaurant and bar – the Roth Bar and Grill. A farm shop will open in spring 2015. We turned up on a wet Saturday in November, knowing they were fully booked, with two toddlers in tow, and they still smiled cheerily and managed to find us a table. The simple, unpretentious food is a sort of Ottolenghi meets gastropub hybrid. What they do is simple but amazing (so much better than complicated and failing!). The pulled pork and coleslaw ciabatta was great; chicken with rosemary roast new potatoes kept the four-year-old very happy; and the salad of butternut squash, kale and roasted tomato with spelt and goats cheese that was meant to be the side dish, stole the show.

And the bar… if only we hadn’t driven! It’s an ‘oasis for cocktails’, with a dizzying installation built out of local reclaimed materials by Dieter Roth’s son and grandson, Björn and Odder Roth. The children loved trying to spot some of the more obscure items amongst the junk: a rolling pin, a violin, a shoe!

You can even sleep here – Durslade farmhouse, which is emblazoned with Martin Creed’s neon words “Everything is going to be alright” – can be rented by the week and sleeps 12.

Up the road in Frome, was the best little shopping street I’ve seen in a long time – St Catherine’s Hill. Packed with indy boutiques, arty spaces and a bit of new age dream catcher thrown in for good measure (well we are a stone’s throw from Stonehenge and Glastonbury after all), it’s a fantastic town to potter and purchase Christmas presents in. The Archangel makes a great pit-stop, and if you want to swoon about in luxury, nowhere (really nowhere, except perhaps Limewood) does it better than Babington House.

In Bradford on Avon, there’s a great mixture of shops, galleries and places to run about. The kids will love the country park; we played pooh sticks on the footbridge over the rive, and the wandered up to Fat Fowl – a great all-day bistro with jazz on a Sunday and an upstairs play area to occupy the kids.

Stay at Woolley Grange, just outside of Bradford, where children are the stars of the show. It feels more like a friend’s rambling house party than a hotel, with higgledy rooms that accommodate almost any arrangement of family set-up, and two restaurants so that you can go posh and grown up, or gastro and family. The pool and spa are perfect for rainy days – and everyone has kids so there are no glaring looks – while the Woolley Bears’ Den is a free (yes free!) Ofsted-registered crèche run by Joan who has been with the hotel for 20 years. My two came running out with pictures and freshly made, if delightfully wonky, jam tarts and the older one asked if she could go back again the next day. High praise indeed.

Who says a cultural break and kids can’t mix?

My secret address book