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Truffling around in Umbria

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Walking through the autumn woodland, hazy sunrays shining between the trunks, and our feet rustling through the colourful carpet of leaves, it occurs to me that this is a beautiful, meandering walk. But we’re not here to fill our lungs with the earthy smell of dewy hummus and leaf mulch and take in the gentle Umbrian scenery.

A few feet in front of us, setting the pace and leading the way is Giuliano, a truffle hunter, and his dog Leda. We’re on the hunt for the white gold that lies beneath our feet – the prized wild tartufo bianco that has a short season and can’t be farmed. Thanks to its elusive habit and the incredibly rich, umami flavour that it brings to any dish, white truffles are the most expensive food on the planet, regularly costing £2,000 per kilo.

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Suddenly the dog barks and rummages excitedly in the undergrowth; Giuliano steps in with his knife. He’s struck gold – we can smell it! The truffle is not much to look at, more like a dirty stone or a gnarled piece of pale clay – but we don’t catch sight of it for long. As quick as a flash it’s in Guiliano’s pocket. By lunchtime it will be on the menu at L’Antica Osteria in the tiny hilltop town of Montone, or for sale in the town square as part of the annual Festa del Bosco.

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The end of October marks the beginning of the white truffle season here and there are festivities to celebrate its arrival across the region. Montone’s Festa del Bosco takes place between 30 October and 2 November. Every restaurant and shop in the small pedestrian town brings out its truffles and forest foods to sell throughout the weekend.

After a slap-up lunch of tagliatelle with white truffle, venison stew with shaved truffles and a slab of steak covered in truffle, washed down with local Umbrian wine from Montefalco, we head north to Citta di Castello.

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Here, the Tartufo Bianco Festival is in full swing (31 Oct-2 Nov) and the atmosphere in the evening is more like a carnival, with dancers, street performers and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The Truffle tents greet you with their intense woody whiff, so strong that it’s almost dizzying, and at every stall you can try truffle pate, oils, truffled honey, cheese, and even buy the real thing. While you might not want to spend E500, you can pick up a small black truffle for about E10 or oils and other treats from about E5.

It’s not all truffles – new season porcini, hazelnuts, wild boar, wine and olive oil are all for sale and foodie stalls sell delicious snacks to eat now or take home for later.

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Our home for the weekend, was a lovingly restored and converted medieval farm and church, Chiesa del Carmine, nestled in a valley surrounded by olive groves, vines and its own truffle woods. The next day we sat in the autumn sun and ate al fresco, while sipping on some of the estate’s own Sangiovese. It was the perfect setting to feast on the harvest bounty from this unspoilt, authentic slice of Italy.

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Getting there

Chiesa del Carmine sleeps 14. From E4,000 a week. www.chiesadelcarmine.com
Fly to Perugia with Ryan Air from £22.99 each way. www.ryanair.com

ALISON TYLER

Go glamping this weekend

Make the most of spring’s arrival with a new season lodge, Shepherd’s hut or quirky cabin – it’s camping, but weather-proofed for fresh evenings.

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Swinton Bivouac, Yorkshire

Sitting in 20,000 acres, Swinton Bivouac is a cluster of handcrafted, gingerbread house-cute log cabins hidden on the edge of the woods, with incredible views.

Inside natural wooden floors, hand-made beds, antique rocking chairs and wood-burning stoves add to the up-cycled, eclectic vibe. As well as a small kitchenette, each shack comes with a flushing toilet and shower, and will sleep seven.

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There is a fab café, shop, and play area, and Bivouac guests can use the facilities at nearby Swinton Park – so you can combine a day walking in the dales with a massage in the spa or a posh meal.
Seven-night stays from £100 per person. 01765 535020, www.thebivouac.co.uk

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Ges the Horsebox, Surrey

Down a quiet country lane, in the middle of an idyllic woodland meadow, it’s hard to believe that Ges, a lovingly-restored and converted 1970s horse truck, is not much more than an hour’s drive from central London. Inside there’s a king-size cabin bed, a sofa bed and a bright retro interior. And if you need the bathroom, the neighbouring pony trailer, Baby Ges, houses a hot shower and compost loo. A basket and blankets are provided so that you can pack a picnic and explore the bluebell woods.

From £135 per night (sleeps four), www.canopyandstars.co.uk/ges 0117 204 7830

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The Sherwood Hideaway at Thoresby, Nottinghamshire

These rustic-chic wooden lodges, that sleep four, are hidden deep in Sherwood Forest but are contemporary and sleekly designed – from Mulberry and Designer’s Guild soft furnishings, to the state-of-the-art TV, iPod dock and wifi, to the fully-stocked kitchen, to the private hot tub. Yes, you get your own forest-view hot tub. David, the on-site concierge back at the reception lodge, can arrange bikes and advise on cycling and walking trails in the forest – which looks stunning at this time of year as the trees burst into life and bluebells abound.

From £25 per person per night. 01623 824594, www.sherwoodhideaway.com

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The Boat Shed at Ardanaiseig, Argyll

On the shores of the appropriately-named Loch Awe, the Ardanaiseig Hotel’s new Boat Shed combines contemporary architecture with splendid isolation – the glass-walled front looks on to the islands in the middle of Loch Awe and the snow-capped Ben Cruachan beyond. In spring the lake mist clears to offer truly spectacular views of the woods and mountains, reflected in the water. The one-bedroom bolthole, perched on the water’s edge is modern, romantic, and has all of the hotel’s five-star trappings on tap, too.

From £330 per night. 01866 988450, www.ardanaiseig.com

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Bluebells Nest at The Dandelion Hideaway, Leiccestershire

Nestled on the edge of the National Forest in Leicestershire, The Dandelion Hideaway has six canvas cottages dotted around the 250-acre farm and its woodland, arable and grassland. This may be “glamping” but you get all the creature comforts you could hope for, including proper beds, en-suite bathrooms with roll-top baths, a living area with a sofa, and a farmhouse kitchen complete with a dining table and a wood-burning stove.

If you want isolation then opt for Bluebells Nest, a treehouse that sits by the wood and is perfect for two. Pre-order one of Sharon’s farmhouse suppers that will be bubbling on the stove when you arrive.

Canvas cottages sleep up to six, from £700 a week, www.coolrentalguide.com.

The Shepherd’s Hut Retreat, Somerset

Circling a lake and nestled among trees turning golden brown, you’ll find four secluded, romantic shepherd’s huts, each with a private deck and fire pit. Inside, they’re surprisingly spacious, fitting in a double bed, fully-equipped kitchen and a bathroom – they even have electric heating and are insulated against spring nights.

From £90 a night (sleeps two). 07813 393164, www.theshepherdshutretreat.co.uk

Badger Gypsy Caravan, Mid Wales

What could be more nostalgic than a stay in a traditional bow-top gypsy wagon? It even comes with its own kitchen and bathroom, housed in the next-door shepherd’s hut. What’s more, it sits on a 200-acre, organic farm in the Upper Wye Valley, surrounded by walking trails, cycle routes, the river Wye and Cambrian mountains, making it the ultimate, escape-it-all, back-to-nature break.

£265 for two nights (sleeps two) – book for October and they are currently offering a 20 per cent discount. www.underthethatch.co.uk

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Lord Stones, North York Moors

Named after the Bronze-sage standing stones that top the hillside, Lord Stones is a gorgeous, glamorous campsite like no other. For starters, it sits in a stunning private country estate on the ruggedly-beautiful North York Moors. Then there’s the fact that there’s a fine-dining restaurant run by top chef Michael Chase, formerly of the Michelin-starred Star at Harome, which serves the estate’s own Belted Galloway beef on the menu, plus a lovely café and an artisan farm shop on site.

There are five, new bespoke “glamping pods”, which are stylish timber cabins that sleep four and come fully equipped with a double bed and a sofa bed, a bathroom, kitchenette and a wood-burning stove. There’s even an outdoor deck with a BBQ, lanterns and seats so that you can enjoy the best of the camping experience with the comfort of a proper night’s sleep and running water.

Glamping pods from £33.50 per person per night. 01642 778482, www.lordstones.com

 

High Cross Camping Coach, Dorset

If you can’t afford the Orient Express, try out the next best thing – this antique London Brighton & South Coast Railway carriage gleams as if it has just rolled out of the station for the first time. Climb aboard, and into another era – the rich mahogany panelling takes you back in time to the glory days of rail travel. All the original fittings remain – authentic luggage racks, rounded windows, leather straps and brasswork – although the carriage has been converted to house a fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom, while the long bench seat in the main saloon transforms into a double bed and an antique French stove keeps it cosy on chilly nights. The accompanying “living van” houses two single beds (great for kids or extra guests).

From £85 per night (sleeps four), www.canopyandstars.co.uk/campingcoach

 

Apple Tree Yurts, East Sussex

This newly-opened ash, chestnut, cotton and canvas yurt, sitting in a beautiful apple orchard, is furnished in rustic style – think soft sheepskins, a handmade double bed and wood-burner for warmth. The outside barbeque and fire pit make for a fabulous night under the stars – baked apples, anyone?

From £117.50 a night (sleeps five), www.pitchup.com

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ALISON TYLER

This article first appeared in Metro on 27 April 2015

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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.

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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…

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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.

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

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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.

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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, www.themilkhouse.co.uk

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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, www.woolleygrangehotel.co.uk

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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, www.lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk

 

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, www.askhamhall.co.uk.

 

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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, www.thewildrabbit.co.uk

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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, www.belandthedragon-churt.co.uk

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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, www.hshotels.co.uk/ockenden-manor-hotel-and-spa

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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, www.theguntonarms.co.uk

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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, www.thegrove-narberth.co.uk

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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. www.gurnardshead.co.uk

ALISON TYLER

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

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THE SMALL-INCLUSIVE
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk

 

 

TREE HOUSES
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. www.alnwickgarden.com

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. www.centerparcs.co.uk

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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. www.forestholidays.co.uk

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, www.cleveleymere.com

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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. www.bewilderwood.co.uk

 

THE MULTI-GENERATION GAME aka The 3G holiday
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. www.coastline.co.uk

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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.

www.daioscovecrete.com or book with www.sovereign.com who often have family discounts.

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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. www.belmond.com or www.totstoo.com

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NEW OPENING

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. www.thomson.co.uk

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WHAT THE EXPERTS PREDICT

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.

 

HOT DESTINATIONS

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. www.visitgreece.gr

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The beach club at Amanzoe

 

CROATIA’S DALMATION COAST
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 (www.iescape.com/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.

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Hvar island

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

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.

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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?
www.ibiza.travel

Sensatori Ibiza
Sensatori Ibiza

 

 

BRISTOL GOES GREEN
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, www.doylecollection.com/bristol), 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.
www.visitbristol.co.uk

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

 

PORTUGAL: THE ALGARVE and BEYOND
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.

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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.
www.visitportugal.com

Conrad Algarve
Conrad Algarve

 

ALISON TYLER

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

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, www.venn-farm.co.ukthe-cob-holsworthy-devon-conde-nast-traveller-2sept14-nicholas-yarsley_960x1440

 

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, www.thebigdomain.com

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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, www.sugarandloaf.com

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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, www.duchyofcornwallholidaycottages.co.uk

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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, www.stayinmontpellier.co.uk

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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, www.blissblakeney.co.uk

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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, www.kateandtoms.com

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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, www.naturalretreats.com

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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), www.thewowhousecompany.com

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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, www.onefinestay.com

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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, www.uniquehomestays.com

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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.

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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.
www.morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-london

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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.
www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk

 

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?
www.coworthpark.com

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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.
www.barberandparlour.com

 

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.
www.dormyhouse.co.uk

 

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

www.brutontown.com

www.hauserwirthsomerset.com

www.atthechapel.co.uk

www.discoverfrome.co.uk

www.stcatherines-frome.co.uk

www.bradfordonavon.co.uk 

www.fatfowl.com

www.woolleygrangehotel.co.uk