We tried The Retreat at Elcot Park, it’s the perfect family hideaway

Last updated 20th December 2023

The Retreat at Elcot Park offers a super-stylish, family ‘retreat’ at any time of year. But Harriet Mallinson was lucky enough to visit during the hotel’s festive season. How did she find the erstwhile home of Romantic poet Percy Shelley’s family?

The Retreat at Elcot Park grounds

The Retreat at Elcot Park

Escape to the country with ease

A relatively easy getaway from the capital, The Retreat at Elcot Park is a red brick 18th-century house hotel in Berkshire, popular with Londoners looking for a weekend escape to the countryside.

Set amidst fields away from winding country lanes, it boasts 16 acres of its own grounds where kids can roam free (hide and seek anyone?) without much worry of getting lost. And on a good day you can see right across the North Wessex Downs.

The Retreat at Elcot Park lounge

Country house aesthetics, The Retreat at Elcot Park © Tom Greenly

Relish the pretty design and family-friendly vibe

It’s Netflix Christmas movie levels of cosiness when we arrive at The Retreat at Elcot Park in early December. Carols resound, and a cheery fire crackles away under a berry and pine-encrusted mantlepiece draped with woollen stockings.

As our weekend bags slide off along with our weekday woes, we’re presented with mulled port next to a Christmas tree guarding piles of colourful presents – good luck explaining to little ones they aren’t for them!

This family-friendly hotel has nailed the eclectic country house aesthetic. Weekend papers beckon from cosy sofas; stacks of vintage books sit against intricately patterned wallpaper. There are even wooden oars pinned above lounge tables: the nearby River Kennet means plenty of design nods to angling. Tiny hot air balloon string among decorative branches, deep, velvet armchairs come dressed with trimmed cushions and prints cram the wainscoted walls.

As for fellow guests, The Retreat at Elcot Park is an obvious hit with baby-toting couples and families with young kids, although groups of friends and romantic pairs are clearly welcome too.

The Retreat at Elcot Park suite

Suites are spacious at The Retreat at Elcot Park © Tom Greenly

Kids will love their quirky bedrooms

Firstly, the names of bedrooms (English nobility and racehorses at their finest) are hilarious. There are the obvious titter-inducing titles (is it alarming I still chuckle at ‘Honeybottom’ into adulthood?) as well as some positively Dickensian monikers: ‘Nockells Horlick’ and ‘Bushby Bacon’ to name but a few.

Indeed the latter (industrialist Anthony Bushby Bacon owned the house in the early 19th century) is one of the hotel’s three signature suites and perfect for families. Mums and dads get to slumber in a four-poster super-king bed, while kids bunk up (literally) in a separate adjoining room with jolly red bunk beds.

Grown-ups might fancy the roll-top bath in the bay window, however, children will probably be more taken with the special selection of kids’ books and colouring essentials provided in all the family rooms. I even spy a traditional wooden dollhouse.

What’s more, every child at the hotel is presented with their very own stuffed lion to take away. You might want to see how many you can spot during your stay. Lions are a constant motif throughout The Retreat, from stone statues at the entrance to charming bathroom door hooks.

I’m told – after getting slightly confused over the Lions/Lionesses labelling of the bathrooms and briefly wondering whether the English women’s football team had taken up residency – that the lion theme is down to hotelier Hector Ross – co-founder of British hospitality brand, Signet Collection, under the umbrella of which the hotel resides). His son loved lions, apparently.


Kids can kip in bunk beds in the family suites © Tom Greenly

Food is tasty and doesn’t need to cost the earth

The average length of stay at The Retreat at Elcot Park is two nights, which is perfect for sampling both its restaurants: 1772 Brasserie which serves classic British fare and pan Asian joint Yu.

We eat (and drink) very well at the former – the steak is excellent as is the chocolate tart – while kids have the option of picking from the ‘Cubs Menu’ (£14 for two courses, £18 for three) which offers both healthy options and staples (plus games!). Time your trip right, though and you won’t have to pay for little ones at all – they eat for free on Sundays and during half term.

If you get peckish between meals you have full raiding rights on the pantries – no matter which room you’re in. They’re all fully stocked with soft drinks, crisps, popcorn, sweets and fruit. Interestingly the apple bowl stays full, while cookies never hang around long.

Suite guests also benefit from a complimentary tipple of Kings Ginger liquor in their room. In our defence, they never specified how many tipples were allowed.


Afternoon Tea treats © Tom Greenly

Come in summer for ample al fresco family fun

Although you’ll find games in the lounge for families, as well as the option to stride out on local strolls – ask about the 5k and 10k guided walks at reception – you might find yourself slightly at a loss for entertainment here in the winter months. However, during summer The Retreat at Elcot Park really comes into its own if you’ve got youngsters in tow.

The outdoor pool has children’s hours in the morning and evening (complete with inflatables). Games like giant Jenga, Connect 4 and croquet are laid out on the lawn. You can also play tennis and boules, and the hotel has plans for a padel court in the pipeline. Of course, nursing a chilled G&T and pretending you’re landed gentry while spectating, is also a possibility.

Family events are held monthly: in October there’s pumpkin carving in the courtyard; festive arts and crafts in December; seasonal scavenger hunts, and a Santa visits on Christmas Day with a sack full of prezzies. So do check ahead when you book!


The outdoor pool in summer © Tom Greenly

Forgot your walking boots? No problem!

For us one of the cutest things about the hotel was the Welly Wall. Set against one side of the courtyard, this super handy addition brims with wellies of all sizes, perfect for anyone looking to get out into the countryside and splash with abandon in absolutely Every. Single. Puddle. Best of all, the wellies are actually comfortable so no need to panic if you’ve forgotten thick socks.

As for the onsite spa, guests are only permitted access from 2pm on check-in day (which starts at 4pm) and for a mere hour after check-out (at 11am). We learn this the hard way (when no one informs us of the hours on arrival and we very nearly don’t make it at all). Don’t make the same mistake.

Finally, The Retreat at Elcot Park is also dog-friendly – but only two pooches per bedroom and there’s a £30 per night charge per dog. And if there’s a little bag hanging on your bedroom door upon arrival don’t assume it’s decorative. Look inside to see if there are biscuits!


How to plan a family holiday

How to get there

London Paddington to Newbury by train, from 40 minutes

Newbury Station to The Retreat at Elcot Park, from 16 minutes

Where to stay

The Retreat at Elcot Park, Family Rooms (2 adults, 2 children) from £270 per night

Book The Retreat at Elcot Park

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