Dorset is probably the most accessible part of the West Country – there’s just a two hour drive to reach this countryside of thatch-dominated villages that poke out from an idyllic landscape of green, rolling hills and flower-flecked meadows.
The coast is also an epic sweep of prehistoric cliffs that look down onto beaches of golden sand and sea-smoothed pebbles (as anyone who’s been watching the recent ITV drama Broadchurch, which is filmed around West Bay just outside Bridport, can attest).
And then there’s the cool factor. Dorset nowadays is a seriously chic destination in which heads can be rested in boutique hotels and appetites satiated in some of the southwest’s finest restaurants.
Getting there is half the fun. There are few experiences more pleasurable than to drive through Dorset in late spring and early summer with the window down, listening to crickets chirrup in the fields and birds sing in the hedgerows.
Where to eat
All will love the relaxed, child-friendly atmosphere at The Hive Beach Café in Burton Bradstock, where fresh fish and seafood is served up in ramshackle surroundings just yards from the sea.
And, for adults, there are the pubs. Check out the ancient Square & Compass at Worth Matravers where chickens roam freely through the gardens and drinks are served through a tiny hatch, or The Greyhound in Sydling St Nicholas, one of the area’s finest food stops.
Former coaching inn, The Bull Hotel, which sits on the main street in Bridport, is the perfect blend of Georgian finery and contemporary design. Wallpapers are of the bold-statement print variety, and fabrics and contemporary furnishings are more colourful than sets in a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama. The communal areas are cool and comfortable. Stay in a family room; from £170 per night, B&B.
The Knoll House is great for families with its large pirate-themed playground, tennis courts, pitch and putt and an outdoor level-deck swimming pool. There is also sailing, wind-surfing, sea-fishing and diving available. Prices start at £135 per night, per adult.
Also take a look at Heathfield Lodge on cottages4you where prices range from £175 to £319 for two nights. Heathfield Lodge sleeps two and is located on the edge of the New Forest, with wonderful views over field and woodland from the verandah. It’s great for wildlife lovers and a short drive away brings you to various beaches and places for boating.
If you’re looking for a more rustic adventure, stay in the Meadowview campsite in Horton in Wimborne. Each airstream has been restored with colourful furnishings such as polka dot table cloths and fairy lights. A week’s stay in Dee Dee (sleeps 4) costs £660 in high season. A week’s stay in a larger airstream (sleeps 5) costs £690 in high season.
Children, naturally, will love the county’s wide-open spaces and pockets of woodland. But it’s the beaches that are the real draw for young travellers. The fossil-strewn shores of the Jurassic coast, and the golden sands at Weymouth – home to all the donkeys, Punch and Judy shows, candyfloss, and buckets and spades your children could ever want from an authentic seaside experience – are must-visits.
How to get there: If you’re driving from London, you’ll come off of the M25 heading south onto the M3, which merges into the M2. Then you can follow signs to the area of Dorset you’re visiting.
Travel time: The drive from London takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.