I think absolutely everyone I know is dreaming of faraway lands, sunnier climes, adventure and well, frankly anywhere and anything that is different to the lockdown norm! We’ll find out exactly what our International Travel options are for this year from the UK Government soon (on the 12th April). But even with hope and opportunities to escape these shores, for some of us, our dream destinations just seem a little too far flung and out of reach for this year still, so a staycation it is! One thing is for sure, we live in a beautiful country with plenty of options that can quench your thirst for adventure and luxury while offering you that much needed break and date in the diary to look forward to.
Here’s my pick of rail adventure, family friendly luxury hotels, foodie tours and unique self-catered houses here in the UK:
The Royal Scotsman:
Take a nostalgic journey across the Scottish Highlands and beyond on this elegant, golden age, luxury sleeper train operated by Belmond. Combine excellent food with cultural interesting tours and incredible scenery, even a pampering session in the onboard Bamford Spa, perfect for rejuvenating tired feet and legs after exploring so many picture-perfect towns and castle. There are shorter and longer journeys to embark ranging from 2 to 7 nights, from a Malt Whiskey Tour to Grand Taste of the Highlands, all journeys depart from and return to Edinburgh. There is even a Great British tour incorporating visits to Chester, Snowdonia, Oxford, Cambridge and York before returning to Edinburgh.
My favourite is the 4 night Scotland’s Classic Splendours itinerary, incorporating a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic sights with a boat trip to see a colony of wild seals, a lunchtime journey across one of the UK’s most scenic rail routes, a visit to one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, a visit to Ballindalloch Castle, clay pigeon shooting, fishing or a tour or Rothiemurchus Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and a visit to Glamis Castle, the late Queen Mother’s childhood home. Believe it or not they are just the highlights without even mentioning the incredible dining and observation car.
Family Friendly Luxury Hotels
I absolutely love a Grand Dame of a British countryside hotel, with all their hushed regal atmosphere, full of history and immaculate décor, gardens and grounds. But, do I want to take my slightly unpredictable children to them, hmm no, I would definitely be at ease at some more than others! I think some are definitely best left to the adults and older families who are less prone to hungry or tired induced tantrums when you’re least expecting it. Step forward the super family friendly luxury hotels, there are many that do it well and mean that your little ones will have a blast while you are not forgotten either. The trick for this summer and October half term is finding those with availability, while some of my favourites are Cowarth Park and Chewton Glen, I’ve selected those below because they are slightly lesser known and do have some availability over school holidays:
· Rockcliffe Hall is on the border of County Durham and North Yorkshire and quite incredibly can be reached in 2.5 hours by train from London. The hotels Mercedes will meet you at the train station and in a little under 12 minutes you will be standing in reception. There are generous dedicated children's swim times in the pool each day, and activities such as falconry, star-gazing and golf lessons can be arranged. The Mischmarch facilities within the grounds include an Alice in Wonderland themed adventure playground, interactive fountains that spring up as you run through, a nature trail complete with Wonderland sculptures and six woodland pods. Guests can book time in these free of charge. Each is enchantingly decorated and equipped with different activities to tempt different ages (from soft play to Xbox) – exactly which of these facilities will be open, and when, in this COVID world is to be confirmed at the time of enquiry. In all honesty the rooms in the New Hall are a little on the uninteresting side, but comfortable none-the less and the eagerness and friendliness of the local staff is really quite hard to beat!
· Fowey Hall is a small boutique hotel in Fowey Cornwall. A postcard-perfect sand and fudge filled town on the South Coast near to St. Austell. This hotel revolves around children, with even a complimentary sterilised milk delivery service in the morning and evening and a couple of hours every day free for children in the creche and kids clubs. They’ve thought of everything from buggies to bed guards, baby monitors and sippy cups – so you can leave it all behind and drive here with full use of your rear-view mirror. The rooms are simple and stylish, incorporating some fun with bright pops of colour in kids bunkbeds, with various different room configurations there’s the perfect option for every family. For parents there is an Elemis Spa and Hot Tub and stunning views across the Harbour to the Atlantic. The pool is definitely designed with little ones in mind, shallow and bath-tub warm and stocked with floats. The landscaped gardens are equipped with 30-metre zip wire and a Wind in the Willows themed play area while the games room has just been fitted with retro arcade games. There is a little space over October Half Term, in the summer it is already a bit of a struggle.
Gastronomic tour of the South West
Navigate between charming quintessential Relais & Chateaux Country Manors, Vineyards and Coastal Hotels for a 5-night tour. You will start in the impressive Jurassic coast at Summer Lodge, Evershot, before cruising through the rolling open country to Michelin Starred Lympstone Manor in Exmouth. After another Michelin star gastronomic stay at Gidleigh Park in Cragmore, you will finish with two nights in the rugged coastlines of Cornwall at Idle Rocks, St. Mawes. With recommended stop-offs en-route you can make the most of your journey!
The South West offers a climate milder than elsewhere, there are a host of parks, including Dartmoor and celebrated historical gardens to explore along the way. If you have more time then slow your pace down and extend to 7 or 8 nights to fully enjoy each hotel and explore more of the local area. Relais & Chateaux have a number of other routes or itineraries to follow, so if you’ve “done” the South West, why not head North, over to Ireland or around the Midlands instead.
Self-Catering Boltholes for two:
There are some dreamy romantic and quirky little gems in the UK. My thoughts on self-catering in the UK are; it has to be at least better than your own house and if not better, then totally different, incomparable and with incredible views and all the creature comforts and essentials!
· Ever dreamed of staying on your own private island? Filly Island in Cirencester is a little romantic dream which can be claimed by up to two people and two dogs. A former cart house dating back to the 1700’s this cosy self-catered Cotswold cottage has been transformed into luxury accommodation, accessed via a humpback bridge! They’ll pick you up from the local train station and give you a welcome gift of a handmade pottery dish from the Filly Island Studio. Also awaiting your arrival will be a luxury welcome hamper with local produce and a bottle of Prosecco. Mod cons include a Smart TV with Sky and Netflix, iPad, WiFi internet, and other practical items such as linen, towels, logs and kindling to get you started.
· If you feel the need for sea, then Atlanta in Freathy Cornwall has azure water and rugged coastline views aplenty! Plus, there is room for babes in arms if you have a new addition to the family. Perched up in the cliff in a forgotten part of Cornwall this 100-year-old hidden cabin features a double-ended Italian spa bath with a view, a heated outdoor shower to wash the sand from your toes after your morning beach stroll and a hot tub on the deck. Perfect for relaxing after devouring cream teas, exploring coastal paths and splashing around in the surf. Other practicalities include a Nespresso coffee machine, Nutri-bullet, two Smart TVs with Sky, Sonos multi-room sound system, iPad, WiFi internet, gas barbecue, linen and towels.