From gardening lessons to toy shop tours, the best hotels know that if the little ones are happy, we are too. Here are the most thoughtful, child-friendly UK hotels to put on your bucket (and spade) list
With more luxury hotels than ever before, the UK has become a viable choice for a holiday with children. Doing away with the stress of airports, long flights and transfers, there’s now a line-up of properties which not only tolerate youngsters, but actively welcome them with unique activities.With its reputation as one of the country’s most outstanding gastronomic hotels, you may be forgiven for thinking that Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (belmond.com) is not the best place to check into with the kids in tow. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. The beautiful country house, found in Great Milton in Oxfordshire, positively welcomes families and, to give youngsters a taste of haute cuisine, even offers them a three-course ‘gastro’ menu (think: home-made roasted tomato soup, goujons of sole with tartare sauce, plus a selection of Blanc’s favourite childhood desserts.) Children between the ages of seven and 16 can also learn more about cooking with lessons at La Petite Ecole at The Raymond Blanc Cookery School.
Le Manoir’s vast gardens, meanwhile, are also a magical attraction for tiny tots (and adults, alike), but made even more fun with the a dedicated children’s gardening course. As well as discovering about plants and vegetables and getting hands-on with planting, the wannabe Monty Dons can also go on the hunt for creepy crawlies and return home with their own gardening gloves, tools and an apron.
At another iconic country bolthole, Coworth Park in Ascot (dorchestercollection.com), children are also offered a carrot, literally, with the hotel’s focus on equine activities. The only hotel in Britain to have its own polo club, younger guests can experience ‘owning’ their own pony for the day. As well as learning how to groom and care for ‘their’ pony, they will be able to tack up and enjoy a riding lesson to suit their ability. They will also return home with a grooming kit back filled with horsey goodies and a photo of them in action.
Meanwhile, set in over 550 acres of prime Cotswolds countryside amid one of Europe’s most significant nature reserves, Lower Mill Estate (habitatescapes.com) is the perfect place to explore the great outdoors. The family-friendly holiday homes are architecturally impressive andhave ecology at the heart of their design. While parents can kick back in the award-winning spa, the bambinos can choose one of the wildlife trails on offer. The Sunset Adventure Safari, for instance, means youngsters can paddle off with a guide, on board a katakanu across the Somerford Lagoon. After stopping off and looking out for wildlife, there are toasted marshmallows to be wolfed down, before paddling back. For older children, the Into The Wild Tour, takes wannabe explorers into the woodland once night falls to discover nocturnal beasts and critters. Finally, the Miss Mouse Adventure Trail, is fun for all the family. The tour is based on a children’s book by the estate’s founder Jeremy Paxton, and families can collect a map and head out into the wild to find the hidden treasure.
With its stunning Walled Garden, complete with outdoor pool and even a beach (check out the volleyball court, oversized games and a collection of buckets and spades for sandcastle building), The Grove in Hertfordshire (thegrove.co.uk) is known for its top-end approach to family stays. Rooms, with bunk-beds, are equipped with boxes of toys, and there are cookies and milk before bedtime, adding up to give an adventure-like feel. More like a resort than a hotel, there’s a myriad of activities on offer, including the new Segway Nature Tours. Young and old can explore the 300 acres of grounds, including the ancient Heath Wood, on the two-wheeled vehicles and find out a wealth of facts with a nature expert.
In the glorious Ochil Hills, in the heart of Perthshire, is Gleneagles (gleneagles.co.uk) – a must-visit destination for families since it opened its doors in 1924. Offering an authentically Scottish experience aimed at everyone, no matter what age, it even has its own apt motto: ‘Whatever an adult can do, a child can do too’. From mountain biking to falconry, the hotel’s 850 acres is the perfect place to try out a wide range of outdoor pursuits. Among the highlights is the Gundog Training experience, where dog-lovers can learn how to command the hotel’s adorable, highly-trained Labradors. At The Ferret School, on the other hand, the over-eights can learn to handle and work with the playful creatures. Gleneagles also offers the first ever Junior Off-Road Lessons in the UK, with novice drivers learning to manoeuvre road obstacles, log piles, sleeping policemen and a water splash on the purpose built junior course.
Finally, for young urbanites, it doesn’t get any better than The Marylebone’s offering (thedoylecollection.com). The central London hub elevates children to VIP Status and even has its own Children’s Concierge service. In the guestrooms, there’s special toiletries, board games, DVDs and treats, and come bedtime, there is an in-room camping experience. The outdoors is bought inside with tepee tent beds, an indoor camping lamp, teddy bear, and a ‘midnight feast’ of cookies and a flask of warm milk. Best of all, though, the hotel can organise private family tours of Hamleys on Regent Street. Kids can go behind the scenes of the toy emporium with a personal guide, who will let them enjoy interactive activities along the way. What’s more, those that book the 10am tour, can even open the store to the public. Kids rule, ok?
*This feature is also published in the August 2018 issue of Canary Wharf Magazine