If the quintessential Georgian market town of Alresford, in Hampshire, needs another draw – here it is.
The Lodge is a pretty little hideaway a casual stroll from the chocolate-box high street (complete with interior design shops spilling over with union linen and heavily curated antiques, of course), tucked into the corner of a beautiful family home. On a fresh spring morning, throw open the doors onto a large garden, with its own mini lake and a treehouse dangling a magical rope swing.
Inside, the lodge has recently been converted to sleep four in very stylish surroundings. Downstairs there’s a comprehensive eat-in kitchen, a lovely bathroom and a comfortable twin bedroom, ideal for kids. Upstairs the living room has gaping windows with views across the fields and countryside beyond, making the lodge feel utterly rural, even though it’s as close to the shops and cafés of the town as you would want.
It’s too tempting not to pick up the Arle Valley trail, the winding river path is idyllic. A hop on the Watercress Line steam railway will entertain kids, especially if you time it to coincide with a day out with Thomas. Then take your pick for a lazy lunch in Alresford, The Globe has gorgeous gardens backing onto Arle Lake and is the sister property to the award-winning Chesnut Horse in nearby Easton. Or stop at Caracoli (The Telegraph‘s small business of the year in 2012) for the best coffee outside London. Take a short drive to the historical City of Winchester or watch an al fresco performance at the Grange Park opera.
Forget dinner plans though. You’ll want to cater at home so that you are sipping a cool glass of local Champagne in the living room (or the terrace, if the weather permits) as a flock of swans cross the salmon skies at sunset like confetti. Then hunker down in the deep sofas with a good book or a board game and enjoy the silence and darkness – both surprising in their absoluteness.
Gorgeous spring boots from Geox
Shoe shopping with my five-year old always sends one or other of us into a rage and the February half-term excursion is no exception. Tempting though it is to file the trip under ‘au pair responsibilities’ and head off to a spa, I brave it and after an agonising hour, we stumble across Geox.
Not one, but two pairs of boots are deemed acceptable to Alice. That’s high credit.
As Alice slips her stubborn little feet into a pair of unassuming black boots, I hold my breath.
They don’t rub. They aren’t too short. Too tall. Too black. Too leather. Too boot-like. I resist the urge to run to the till – a human bowling-ball, knocking a wave of innocent customers aside in my rush to pay before she changes her mind.
I pay. We leave. Nobody cries. Thank you Geox for making beautiful, relationship-saving children’s shoes.
I love the medium of photography. I have published my travel pictures in various magazines, but it’s easy to catch a beautiful moment in a beautiful place with a great camera – that’s not an art form, it’s luck. But if I ever get the chance to commission someone to do a portrait of my boys, to capture the beauty, the wonder, the possibility that their childhood holds, I will call Swedish-born Anna Hurtig. And this is why…
What a coup. No, it’s not the deer park, spectacular though it is. Nor the glorious art collection that runs from lewd Emin plates and neon light installations to classical oils. It’s not even the Robert Kime interiors that cleverly look as though they are care worn rather than curated (they even stained the wood on door frames after painting to make it look dirty. Glad I asked, I thought it was). It’s the combination of it all.
in the corridor
The stamp rooms
The rooms are gorgeous, crammed with antique furniture and decorated with Kime’s lived-in, aristocratic old summer-house touch. The food has made this a destination for locals – those in coloured chinos as much as those in muck boots – London art collectors, and savvy families.
You’re close to Cromer (a real throwback of a seaside town, absolutely cries out for a stroll and an ice-cream, sod the rain). You’re half an hour from Blakeney where little boats bob like toys in a bathtub and kids crab in the shallows. Oh but you’re an hour from Holkham, the beach of beaches, the beach that Gwyneth Paltrow meandered across during the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love.
Flanked by dunes and pine forests, huge skies wrap across the seascape in a way hardly seen in the northern hemisphere. Summer is lovely and never too crowded but mine’s a blustery winter walk. Take a camera. Take a thermos and snacks, it’s a 20 minute walk from where you park your car to the water’s edge, longer with toddlers, longer still if they like splashing in the rivulets left behind by a high tide.
Heaven is half-term in Norfolk. The Gunton Arms, 01263 832010
Treehouse at Chewton Glen
Treehouse Hot tub
There’s no better adventure than sleeping in the great outdoors, especially with young kids. My boys love treehouses and tents with much the same passion that I have for crisp linen and a deep bath. I’m no prima donna. I love the wilderness, I’m not afraid of critters or fazed by cooking on a gas ring. Even composting loos – gopping as they are – are tolerable at, say, Camp Bestival. But I grew up in England and have the requisite memories of shivering under damp canvas in the name of ‘family time’, so forgive me but I want a compromise, and the treehouses at Chewton Glen are a win win.
Set aside any preconceptions about wooden shacks shrouded in spider’s webs, for these lofty and lavish, all-singing, all-dancing suites are so far removed from treehouses of my youth that I could cry tears of joy at check-in. From the ultra slick iPad system for ordering in-room dining hampers, to the zen-like bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling glass, no comfort is lacking and yet it does feel like an adventure.
Small is delighted by the near vertical stairs up to his loft room, they go wild hunting for The Gruffalo with their binoculars on the wraparound balcony and can only be cajoled out of the eyerie hot tub by the prospect of supper being slipped into the hatch – by squirrels.
The log burner is a bit academic since the suite is hermetically sealed and hot as a hammam, but it’s crucial to light it for atmosphere and photo opportunities while sipping hot chocolate (or in my case, a lovely Rjoca) as the rain lashes against the windows and the entire family flops across a suitably chic tweed sofa.
Full points for Mummy for being adventurous. Full points for Chewton Glen for the rest.
Miami for families? Well, yes.
If you are happy to hit the pool but not the after-party and accept that a trip to South Beach will require a suitcase of sun cream, armbands, UV vests and snacks. Don’t be concerned about fitting the Miami mould: You don’t travel light these days. You don’t do sunbathing or own a bandeau to avoid strap marks. You eat – and it’s often leftover nursery food. Mind you, you’ll be rocking acid bright running shorts to breakfast as per Miami dictate (they wear them for fashion, you wear them because you can chase the toddler and they’re high vis). You get to have oodles of splashy fun en famille instead of posing awkwardly in a Brazilian bikini. By midday the kids will make instant friends and lose the armbands and the jet lag. Then you can all enjoy the epic Florida sunset together, them sipping fruity ‘big-boy’ mocktails while you ease away the day with the first of many (well, ok, two) Floridians. An early supper at Florida Cookery is a chance to explore local flavours – Mahi Mahi and sawgrass, grouper in citrus with shaved almonds – although the service is… lets say relaxed. Yours are not the only children gearing up to a meltdown by the second course.
The new west wing apartments at James Royal Palm are an ideal base for families. Chic but comfortable. Stylish yet sensible. With a large living room, two bedrooms with separate bathrooms and crucially, blackout blinds throughout. It won’t eradicate the jet lag but hey ho. Sunrise over South Beach is a fringe benefit.