Romantic escapes for maxed-out parents
With two milestone birthdays demanding attention, Scarlett Brady took her own advice and set out to discover the poshest hotels for a grown-up break
As a couple your relationship needs nurturing, so for a special birthday or anniversary, why not splash out on an adults-only celebration? Yes really, that’s allowed. But where to escape to? Best to avoid the mistake of booking into a hotel that makes a song and dance about being baby-friendly. Well, there’s nothing worse than leaving yours behind only to start cooing at other people’s. You’ll spend the night pining, and that rather defeats the purpose of we-time with your other half.
For a luxury treat you can’t beat a country pile with a stonkingly high review score. You’ll find both at Gravetye Manor, a 17-bedroom, Grade I-listed Elizabethan mansion set on a 1,000-acre estate on the outskirts of East Grinstead in West Sussex. It’s a jaw-dropper – all weathered stone, leaded windows and twinkly lights on the outside, and dark, cosy wood panelling and toasty log fires indoors.
A tad stuffy? Not at all. The bright sparks at reception bowl over to welcome you and offer a brief tour. It’s friendly and professional, and may well be the first time in ages that anybody has treated you like a VIP. Suites are old-school luxe: grand and roomy with comfy sofas and super-sized beds – and all boast fairytale views and a fancy en suite. Downstairs, everywhere is steeped in proper history, from the intimate bar to the elegant lounges. There’s hardly a hipster in sight, but that’s not to say mod cons such as Nespressos and wi-fi aren’t provided – it’s just all done rather discreetly.
Trends may come and go, but Gravetye pooh-poohs nouveau, preferring to serve up its own blend of faultless hospitality – and it does that nowhere better than in the award-winning restaurant. Of course nobody insists on super-smart attire here, but wow, what an excuse for dressing up. And the gourmet grub is knockout worth it too – elastic waistbands at the ready. Opt for pre-dinner drinks and superchef George Blogg will whip out moreish nibbles to fire up your taste buds. But it’s once you’re seated inside his charming lair that the starry fireworks begin.
For starters, how about the Orkney scallops with miso glaze, or the Dorset crab with its sorrel tubers? All straight down the hatch. For the main feast, local venison with home-grown pumpkin and kale, and confit guinea fowl with English truffle are equally outrageous. And for pudding, the bergamot soufflé and guanaja chocolate thingy are beyond naughty but frankly, by this point, who cares? The wine meister adds to the candlelit theatre by ferrying over selections by the glass for each course. You’ll end up drinking too much but, hey, isn’t that all part of the fun?
You’ll love the gorgeous grounds (flower banks, wild meadows, meandering paths and a hidden lake). And there’s lunch or afternoon tea to contemplate too (food is on tap 10am-10pm). Gravetye is the quintessential British country house hotel – classy, foodie and deeply romantic. There’s all sorts to discover, including the Cat Walk (less sashay, more 90 minute hike). And if you’ve been smart enough to book one, a massage back at the ranch. What more could a couple of kooks want?
Hunting for luxury
The thing about making a big deal of your own birthday is that come your partner’s special day, they expect to be whisked off in similar style. So what might he fancy? ‘A bar and a bed,’ comes the reply. Well, Hambleton Hall in Rutland has those and then some. Perched on a peninsular overlooking the water, the former hunting lodge is cocooned by swanky topiary. You need do nothing but eat, drink and lounge – and from May you can do the latter by the outdoor pool.
A track laps the shore with bikes (for hire) and wellies (to borrow) and there’s a pub en route. Each of Hambleton’s 17 bedrooms is decked out with class antiques and the kind of crisp bed linen that secretly you’d like to steal. For a super special occasion (wedding, anyone?) you could go wild and bag the two-bedroom pavilion that sits in its own private garden with uninterrupted views of the spectacular lake, but that’s a no-no – who needs another reason to feel guilty about leaving the little tiger behind?
Hambleton’s Aaron Patterson is another top chef with a penchant for Michelin stars. So what might he be tempting you with come 7pm? For starters, try the tian of crab. Don’t ask, simply trust that the guy knows how to marry those snappy beachcombers with all manner of fruit.
For mains, who could resist the juicy loin of Gloucester Old Spot with crackling and sour cabbage? For a lighter, yet no less intoxicating, pudding, a sorbet of gin and tonic is a hit. Wherever you’re staying, the morning after the night before is an excellent opportunity to potter around local boutiques (you know, the delicate looking ones that you now never enter because your angel goes ballistic as soon as the door closes behind them).
On that front, the market town of Stamford is a revelation – what a charmer! No wonder everyone wants to live there. Swing by a Hambleton Bakery to stock up on beer bread and almond slices (addictive). Master baker Julian Carter not only supplies the hotel with his brilliant bakes, but the locals get to dive in too. Pity they don’t deliver. Believe me, I begged.
A celebration break really is the perfect excuse for a private love-in with your other half, and it should be on every parent’s wish list by the time their little treasures are old enough to be left with a doting nana for 24 hours. Can you imagine a dawn or, heaven forbid two, when Batman or Elsa aren’t hijacking your bed, and nobody is yelling mummy while you’re taking a shower?
Sound good? Go on, make it happen.
More romance in the UK
Be Queen Bee
As a member of Luxury Family Hotels, it’s ironic that the magnificent Thornbury Castle near Bristol doesn’t accommodate guests under ten. But for parents wanting a grown-up getaway their loss is ultimately your quiet gain. Royal ‘bedchambers’ – including a hexagonal tower suite fit for any would-be Rapunzel and her Prince Charming – are simply fabulous.
The original Pig hotel in the New Forest is due to give birth to another this summer at Combe in Devon. It will have 30 bedrooms within a 3,500-acre countryside setting and we’re promised the freshest of food – most of it is currently growing on site and there’s a promise that anything that can’t be grown there will be locally sourced. We like the sound of that.
London’s Zetter Townhouse with its urban boutique vibe is deeply romantic – thanks in part to its claret-walled cocktail lounge, serving a drinks menu as unique as each of its 24 individually designed bedrooms. There’s even a Union flag draped over a four-poster if you’re feeling patriotic.
Blown a huge hole in your savings account on super kit for your newborn? Then how about a night at a Novotel in say, Cardiff or Sheffield? Yes, really. Both have been recently refurbished and now offer spa facilities too. Come on, think about it – what could be more romantic (Ok, saucier) than a last minute city break?
If you crave the best of both worlds (that’ll be sleep and shopping), then Hartwell House near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire ticks both boxes. Not only a knock-your-socks-off place to kick back, relax and celebrate, it’s also not far from Bicester Village for a spot of light designer shopping. Stunning grounds, five-star food and a killer spa to boot.