As the evenings draw in and it starts feeling autumnal, it’s time to plan a cosy weekend of log fires, board games and blustery country walks. We share our four favourite country hotels for family weekend retreats.
If you live in town, you’ll probably already have a handful of favoured country escapes. But sometimes it’s hard to imagine your free range kids banging around the inside of a glorious country house hotel without fear of retribution or a parting breakage bill that would top the average mortgage repayment.
So we let ours loose in a clutch of the coolest country house hotels in the country, and whittled down the list to four we felt entirely at ease in.
Hotel Endsleigh, Devon
The mastery of Endsleigh is the balance between offering everything young children and their parents need in equal measure, without a pinch of pretentiousness. Even the best-behaved kids (those on a promise to go to Legoland, let’s say) need to burn off steam.
So, when they’re done on the bushcraft course, canoeing on the river or tree-surfing on zip wire, they still have 100 acres of grounds to explore, a mystical river dotted with stepping-stones, parterre gardens, rose-covered pathways and a shell grotto. For you? It’s hard to feel too uptight in this bucolic setting.
Yes the house is ancient and chock-full of priceless hand painted silk paneling, but the kids will be kept busy making paper planes with the waiter while you sit with a steaming cup of tea on the terrace gazing out over the misty valley. Landscaped in the early 19th century by Humphry Repton, successor of Capability Brown, the grounds are like something out of a novel.
Explore the gardens hunting for fairies. Sip champagne in the drawing room while you play board games, and then retire to the new two bedroom family suite in the Stables.
Room 18 has a master upstairs and adult size bunk beds in the second room. The wood burning stove in the living room means you can spend a cosy evening holed up when the kids are asleep, or sink into the rolltop bath with a good book. Owner Olga Pollizzi is creating a second suite as we speak which will open in Autumn, but for now, you’d better get in quick.
Find out more and book at hotelendsleigh.com
The Pig near Bath
Now here’s a country pile that you can play house in. The 29 rooms in this beautiful West Country bolthole are pristine but mismatched in the way that only truly collected interiors are. The house sits within it’s own deer park roughly eight miles from Bath in the rolling Mendip hills.
If deerstalking and long walks are not entertainment enough for energetic kids, explore the kitchen garden, restocked by the owners’ son, Ollie. Kids can learn the names of the vegetables and plants, pick edible flowers or feed fallen apples to the Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets.
Then head into the cosy bar and grab a pack of cards or a board game from the drawer and settle into deep chairs for a pre-dinner cocktail, going easy on the rosemary roasted almonds and cashews so as not to ruin dinner.
Heaven for food-loving families, who will appreciate the painstakingly commited 25-mile menu: from rosary goat’s cheese and heirloom tomato salad with foraged nettle salsa verde, to slow-cooked crispy pig’s cheek with garden herb dressing. Bag two interconnecting rooms in the main house for space and privacy.
Find out more and book at thepighotel.com
The Gunton Arms, Norfolk
In the middle of a 1,000-acre deer park in flat and eerie North Norfolk where the twilight dawdles as the mists engulf the estate, this part gallery, part B&B, has a destination kitchen and offers a lot of bang for your buck.
The old lodge has been given a new lease on life by decorator Robert Kime and owner Ivor Braka, a well-known Chelsea art dealer. The kids will love the mounted Tarantula’s jostling for wall space with lewd Emin plates. All this set against gouache wallpaper and Persian carpets. The look is eclectic, to say the least.
The convivial bar is propped up by a mixture of weekending Chelsea types, local farmers and pink-chino-wearing local gentry, and you’ll dine with art aficionados and young families alike. The restaurant is always heaving, people come here from miles around for Chef Stuart Tattersall (ex-Mark Hix) creations from the 16th-century French open fireplace.
His steaks are sublime. And so are the rooms, which make you feel like you are staying with stylish aunts. It’s 20 minutes to the Norfolk coast, but really, you came here for the food, the views and the quirky decor. It’s a world apart.
Find out more and book at theguntonarms.co.uk
Forest Cabins at Lime Wood, Hampshire
Lime Wood has become the go-to for well-heeled Hampshire ladies lunching and spending a luscious afternoon at the Herb House spa. But if you go down to the woods on an autumnal weekend, you’ll find swanky forest cabins that are the stuff of young children’s dreams.
Heavy-set, the living space is a festival of wood on wood, with a huge chunky table and much needed kitchen. Great big bathrooms and vast beds keep it lux, while cool lodge design nods – clubby yellow chairs and woven lights – take you into the woods.
The highlight for kids will be the custom bunk beds, for you its kicking back and watching them run wild and free without fear of tutting guests or huge room service bills. Free-range with all the frills, you can head up to the main house for lunch at Hartnett & Holder or settle in the cabin with crusty artisan breads and chunky, sticky marmalade.
Borrow bikes and head into the New Forest, don wellies and traipse through the grass or ask the hotel to arrange horseriding lessons. Just don’t tell stories about bears at bedtime.
Find out more and book at limewoodhotel.co.ukLydia Gard is the editor of Mr Fox and a travel writer, contributing to Conde Nast Traveller, House & Garden and Tatler among others. She has two sons aged 3 and 6. Follow her on Instagram @mrfoxmag.