Five Star Kids Magazine Five Star Kids Magazine Subscription
  Experiences >> British country house


Where children are seen and heard – welcome to the fabulous new breed of British country house hotels.

WORDS Amy Cooper

One of the colourful little handprints on a wall of Coworth Park Kids’ Club bears the name ‘Zahara.’

“That Zahara?” I ask. A staffer nods discreetly. Brad, Angelina and their Jolie-Pitt clan were here. It’s that kind of kids’ club, and Coworth Park is that kind of hotel.

Celebrities come for the same reason as everyone else; to shed their shoes, frolic in the flowers and be absolutely off-duty, relishing the Dorchester Collection’s idyllic country estate as if it was their own. Children can tumble and rumble unimpeded on 240 glorious green acres while their parents are eased into idleness by nothing-is-too-much-trouble staff in stylish tweeds.

This is the relaxed face of British grandeur; a chilled-out opulence you might call barefoot Brideshead Revisited. It’s how hip affluent travellers roll these days, and personifies a new breed of country house hotel. With immaculate pedigrees, these great estates are so posh they can afford to be playful. The corsets are off, stuffiness is out and children – once regarded in grand English homes as a bother, best seen and not heard – are VIP guests.

Coworth Park’s elegant Georgian manor dates back to 1776, housed the Earl of Derby and miscellaneous royalty. You might spot Wills and Harry playing polo, but you might also see Cameron Diaz. In fact, she checks in just after us.

We step into a five-star fairy-tale, starting in our three-room Stanley suite with its oversized windows, lofty ceilings, fragrant bushels of wildflowers and four-poster bed framed with wrought iron tree branches. Fourteen-month Arden explores it like Alice, standing on tiptoe to reach the Book of Idle Pleasures on the freestanding bath and discovering her stack of treasures – books, toys, snacks – delivered by the Coworth Park Kids genies.

Main image: Kids will love the equestrian facilities at Coworth Park
Above: Lazing on the lawn at Chewton Glen

Outside, a rainbow carpet of wildflowers unfurls towards the rolling green horse country of Windsor Great Park, near Ascot in Berkshire. No-one can resist that magical meadow and we play incessantly among the knee-high lavender and primroses, flopping on our backs, laughing at the sky.

On the veranda Arden makes a friend, a curly-haired little fellow called Leo. His parents seem familiar and on closer inspection turn out to be Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. “It’s sooo relaxing,” says Penelope and we have a mums’ chat, that great equaliser. I can also report that despite the nanny, Penelope does wrestle her wriggling toddler into his stroller herself when we head to the kids’ club.

We’re within an hour of London, in a swathe of Home Counties green belt dotted with grand old country estates. About 25 kilometres away, another, The Grove, on 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside, traces its origins to 1583. After a history as the ancestral home of the Earls of Clarendon (and a dark spell as a British Rail management training centre in the 1980s) it’s had a triumphant rebirth as a ‘groovy grand’ luxury hotel.

Modern art and design combine with antique elegance in a witty, whimsical mix that enchants Arden. She loves peering into Volker Kuhn’s oddity-filled perspex boxes so much that I wonder if I could fashion something similar at home.

To us, The Grove’s manicured gardens are an aesthetic spectacle of plants and sculptures. To a toddler, they’re the emptied contents of a giant toy box. A metre-high pear, boxing hares and a life-sized topiary giraffe entertain Arden so thoroughly she doesn’t need Anouska’s, the resident kids’ club.

Above: It’s all in the details at The Grove

From above: Running downhill at Chewton Glen
Nothing says fun like autumn leaves at The Grove
The bridge at Chewton Glen

The Grove’s lovable eccentricities include a faux beach inside its Walled Garden, complete with buckets and spades, ice cream cart, beach huts and outdoor pool – all in typically English defiance of the weather. Alongside is the Potting Shed, where toys are scattered alongside boots and billiards. It’s like the lord of the manor’s rumpus room.

While these hotels embrace their inner child, they’re serious about adult indulgences: excellence reigns in the gourmet heaven of Coworth Park’s The Barn and Coworth Park Restaurant, and The Grove’s world championship golf course and sybaritic Sequoia Spa.

A brilliantly creative take on the new country house cool has just been installed at Chewton Glen, a 300-year-old Hampshire estate on the edge of the New Forest. This solid, traditional five-star hotel has catapulted itself into the 21st century by adding 12 eco tree houses in the woods next to the main mansion. It’s a sort of nature-meets-sci-fi-in-a-penthouse fantasy, enticing to adults and kids alike: chic, architect-created tree dwellings in the forest that inspired the English classic Children of the New Forest - with Taittinger champagne, private hot tub, gourmet Tree Service, 9,000 thread count linen and a bathroom masquerading as a top spa.

The Tree House Suites are not actually up in the branches but float on wooden stilts beside them. Each curves outward in a sexy semicircle for maximum panorama, with glass front, wraparound veranda and views from giant bed, vast bath and deep hot tub. Assets within include a meticulously equipped kitchen with complementary cake, cider and champagne, wood burning stove, and high-tech tablet ordering system catering to every need.

For such a decadent space it’s astonishingly child-safe so Arden is free to roam, clad in her very own tiny fluffy bathrobe. She loves peering into the secret hatch through which our breakfast arrives. “It’s how they serve food in prison cells,” chuckles my other half (he hasn’t been, he’s just seen movies). “Except this is the opposite.” It certainly is. The breakfast, delivered picnic-style in a big striped trunk, is a treasure box that keeps on giving, with food served in chunky glass jars, all fresh, home-made and hearty. Afterwards, Arden climbs inside the box. Imagine trying to do that with a buffet.

It’s to Chewton Glen’s credit that we tear ourselves away from the Tree House to sample fine dining Vetiver restaurant, wallow in the spa hydro-pool and play croquet on the lawn, Arden with her own miniature set. And then there’s the New Forest to explore as well as local beaches a 20-minute walk away.

At these hotels, you float through the prettiest pages of a children’s storybook with the world’s best wine list. We loved the hedonism, the chic, the innovation. But above all, we loved the memories. Nowhere lends gravitas to your family moments like a genuine British stately home. I shall proudly tell Arden that in one morning, she perfected walking in a 250-year old grand hallway and hit her first croquet ball on a lawn where royal feet have trodden. And then she held Javier Bardem’s hand. For a little lady, it doesn’t get classier than that.

Stay: Chewton Glen 
 Coworth Park
 The Grove

 :: Home  ::  Experiences  ::  Destinations  ::  Where to Stay  ::  Subscribe  ::  Holidays with Kids  ::