On a recent three night break we wanted to escape the city and do it without the faff of flying so we could include our 4th child Beano the Maltese terrier. Happily we discovered that within 2 hours of our North London home lies a little slice of heaven - a place where the grown ups relax, the kids run free and even the family dog can join in the fun.
The Ickworth is a beautiful place - grand yet cosy, palatial yet relaxed and as part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, definitely does what it says on the tin.
I longed for luxury: huge comfy beds, the fuss of facials, massages and the sort of food and drink that'd ensure I'd leave with my skinny jeans slightly more snug than when I arrived. I also wanted the kids to have a brilliant time – a pool, playgrounds, bike riding and outdoor stuff. We got all this and more at The Ickworth.
There are lovely little touches here. There's a real lack of the usual form filling that accompanies an activity-packed trip – no reserving bikes, no pound coins for the pool lockers, no signing to hire a DVD, it's all just there to use when you fancy, which makes you feel like you're staying at a friend's house. Admittedly a loaded friend's house, because Ickworth is a stunning building set in 1800 acres of glorious national trust land with a connected art gallery.
The area is vast and there to be explored. Choose between a bike ride, a stroll through the beautiful woods, an amble past the manicured lawns or a romp around the adventure playground.
The kids have lots to keep them entertained. Let's be honest here, as parents we're desperate to keep our offspring from staring slack-jawed at screens, so any distraction is welcome.
The swimming pool is a decent size in a lovely warm, sunny room (again there's just stuff there to use – balls, floats, even goggles) so we spent a good chunk of time there. The shower wasn't great (but they know this and apparently it's being done up soon), meaning much to the kids delight we headed back to our room across the gravelly car park still in our towelling robes. Rumours that I flashed my bare bottom at my son are completely true.
There is a gorgeous walled play garden with a trampoline, Wendy houses and swings, meaning the smaller ones can play in there while you sip a chilled Rosé on the lawns nearby safe in the knowledge they can't wander. From tennis to badminton, basketball and croquet there's loads of stuff to demonstrate your sporting prowess to your awestruck/embarrassed children and to rewind in the evening the cinema room shows a family movie.
Food at The Ickworth is varied. Breakfast gets busy but it's served in such a gorgeous sunny conservatory room that it's quite nice to sit and relax whilst waiting for your eggs.
The restaurants are really informal so if junior has volume issues with his animated chat there's no disgruntled glances from maitrê de or other diners and happily the kids menu manages to offer more than the usual teatime trio of goujon/penne/sausage.
Price: Rooms from £349 for a two-night stay, to include breakfast and a two-course dinner each evening; children stay free in parents’ room and children’s meals will be charged as taken.
Find out more: luxuryfamilyhotels.co.uk
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Photos of the hotel:Luxury Family Hotels