Holidays have changed a little in the three years since I became a mum.
Last year, I posted about Peyrecaty, the brilliant toddler-friendly place we stayed in France.
But for many families, a holiday abroad means self-catering and therefore no end to the washing, cooking and tidying of the usual daily rigmarole.
Leeds-based solicitor Kathryn Wright, 36, thought this too and dreamt up Luxury & Little Ones out of pure frustration.
Think Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel-lovers, who have now got kids.
Mum to Madeleine, 4 and Charlotte, 2, Kathryn says: “Since having two children, looking for places to go on holiday, or booking a hotel room suddenly became even more difficult.
“The light bulb moment was last February. I was looking for somewhere for us all to go for a week or long weekend. At the time I had a very active 3 year old and a, gingerly toddling 1 year old who was (and still is!) into everything. I wanted to find somewhere which would be a break for my husband Chris and I, but equally as fun for the kids.
“We always aim to put the girls to bed at 7pm – holiday or not (by 7pm we are all exhausted!). I didn’t want a self-catering cottage, I really wanted to stay in a hotel and be pampered a little.
“I wanted to find somewhere where we could enjoy being with the kids during the day and there would be plenty of activities on site or nearby for us all to do, but equally somewhere lovely enough (and sleeping arrangements imaginative enough) that Chris and I would not have to lie in the dark, in silence, from 7pm onwards so as to not disturb the kids.
“I wanted to have a room with a balcony or terrace so we could share a bottle of wine whilst the girls snored close by, or a suite with a separate sleeping area for the girls so we could sit and watch the TV or a DVD or even order room service and it feel like a date night. I spent hours, days, nay weeks (!) on Google. It got so bad my OH would say to me, “Are you still looking for somewhere to go? I’d give it up as a lost cause.”
“I am afraid my stubbornness would not allow me to do that. I kept looking. There are plenty of good websites out there that do a very good job for their chosen target market but I felt there was a gap in the market for a website featuring luxury accommodation that readily provided in depth information on services and facilities for the whole family.
“I wanted a website that listed, edited and reviewed luxury hotels which welcomed children as equal guests and all the services and facilities they could provide.
“I have nothing against self-catering, don’t get me wrong, and there are a number of good sites which do concentrate on child friendly self-catering properties. We, in fact, may start to add some self-catering properties to the site (there are some amazing luxury glamping sites which I have my eye on – watch this space) but sometimes you need a hotel.
“Self-catering can be very practical with children but it can also be the same old thing as at home – in different surroundings. You still have to cook, clean, make your bed… sometimes you just need some pampering. I think even more so when you have kids.
“In my hours of research I found some amazing places. Do you know The Goring has an Easter bunny and Easter egg hunt in their garden at Easter time? They give a passport to all children visiting the hotel and the kids can make cookies with the chef or mocktails with the barman. Chewton Glen has treehouse suites where you can actually sleep in a treehouse, they have a treehouse in the garden to play in and mini me bathrobes for the little ones. Polurrian Bay Hotel has a complimentary crèche for 4 month olds upwards and their own cinema which shows family friendly movies daily.
“Initially I started my search in the UK as we were only looking for a short break but as I started adding hotels to my favourites, a few overseas hotels started creeping in. The longer I looked, the more I thought it can’t just be me who wants this kind of information. Why are these hotels not all on one site, in an easy to search format, with search categories specifically for all of the requirements families need? I pondered it for a while, I badgered my husband with my light-bulb moment idea and I decided I had to give it a go or I would regret it.”
OUR MOST ENJOYABLE TRIP: Our most enjoyable trip was our recent stay at hotels in London. We went for October half term to London on the train which was great with the kids. It was such an adventure for them and a really easy way to travel. We stayed at the Goring, The Ritz and the Four Seasons Park Lane all in one week and had the most amazing time. We fed the ducks in the park with the poshest bread ever, kindly given to us by the concierge at the Goring (who have the perfect sleeping arrangement for a summer break, by the way, interconnecting rooms with a huge terrace), we kicked leaves in Hyde Park and the kids put on their own show in the band stand.
We had a family Afternoon Tea at the Ritz and were genuinely spoilt by the amazing service in this iconic hotel. We had the most relaxing breakfast ever at the Four Seasons Park Lane and the staff made such a fuss of the kids. The hotel makes welcome amenities for little ones and they made ours the most amazing chocolate creation. We visited Hamleys, rode in a Rolls Royce and just generally enjoyed spending time together.
People don’t often contemplate city breaks with children but we really had a wonderful time. The children loved looking up at Buckingham Palace (Madeleine claims to have seen the Queen waving at her – you never know the flag was flying!), watching the big red buses, running around the Royal Parks, and the general noise and hullabaloo of a busy city.
PARENTS SHOULDN’T BE AFRAID OF COMPLETELY RETHINKING HOLIDAY REQUIREMENTS AFTER HAVING KIDS: I am sure there are parents who don’t agree with me – and there are people I know who haven’t had kids yet, who still do the whole adventure travel and who say having children won’t stop them travelling. But until you have children and experience the reality of the way they turn your lives completely upside down and inside out, I don’t think you will know.
It isn’t that you can’t do what you did before but it is that you have to do it in a different way. Everything takes so much longer. Even getting the two girls out of the house with shoes and coats on can be a task in itself. Never mind getting them packed, and on a plane, train or in the car with all their paraphernalia. You need to reassess what you want to achieve, where you want to visit, plan ahead, be organised and research carefully where you are going. No unplanned surprises needed.
The other thing is to be realistic. Just because you might be going to a luxury hotel abroad with a pool and beach, things still need to be geared around the kids. The days of lounging on a sun lounger all day are long gone. That said, I think if you choose the right place with the right services and facilities, which fit with your family’s requirements, it is going to be a mix of fun with some pampering and you will have cherished family memories for a lifetime.
MY CHECK-LIST FOR MEETING THE L&LO REQUIREMENTS: The hotel has to offer something over and above the ordinary for kids, that’s the starting point but it isn’t a checklist or tick box exercise. All of the hotels in the portfolio are so different. The website isn’t about hotels which have children’s clubs, although lots of the hotels on the site do, it is about finding hotels where you can go as a family and all be spoilt.
Some of the hotels have crèches, some have trampolines and playgrounds. The website also has a chalet with a soft play area and we have some eco-friendly hotels which have activities that encourage children to get involved in the preserving the environment and nature. Some of our hotels are truly opulent and you might not think of them as somewhere you can take children; we were a bit worried about taking ours to the Ritz. Before actually staying in hotels like the Ritz, you would think that was an adult only domain. Granted I wouldn’t let the children run through the lobby at the Ritz but all of the Ritz hotel staff, from the bell boys (when we stepped through the revolving doors) to the lady who helped us get the girls ready for bed when she came to do turn down in the evening, were amazing. The girls even played the Ritz piano during Afternoon Tea.
On the other hand, if the girls ran through the lobby at Woolley Grange or the Ickworth hotel I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid. Each hotel we have chosen is special for different reasons but all will make you and your little ones feel that little bit special when you walk through the door.
If anyone reading this has some suggestions for other search criteria on the website please let me know. I did start this thinking there must be other parents out there that want this kind of information, so if there is something you want that isn’t there, please get in touch.
LUXURY ISN’T IN EVERYONE’S BUDGET, SO WE DO HAVE OTHER SUGGESTIONS: Soar Mill Cove is fabulous. I am definitely planning to go there for a week sometime between May and October when hopefully the weather will be a bit warmer. They have, amongst other room options, a two or three bedroom Sea View Suite (which can be interconnected to make a five bedroomed suite if you are going as a multi-generational group or large family!). The suites are on a self-catering basis and have their own kitchen, but you can order dinner to be put in the oven for when you get back from a day on the beach if you want, or BBQ on your own BBQ on the patio area. There is even an outdoor hot tub which has the most spectacular view. The hotel also has family rooms and interconnecting rooms, a new spa and swimming pool. Kids’ activities are put on over holiday periods and five minutes’ walk down a coastal path there is the most beautiful, picture postcard cove you have ever seen. My two girls had a blast on the beach in the cove even in cold November. The hotel has buckets and spades, crabbing nets, surf boards all to borrow. It is just a really lovely, friendly, family beach holiday property run by a lovely family who are very used to having children to stay.
Another suggestion is Hell Bay Hotel, which had just joined our collection, in the Isles of Scilly who have an amazing, flights inclusive, family package which is also more budget friendly.
MORE GREAT SUGGESTIONS FOR UK & INTERNATIONAL HOTELS: For a holiday in the UK, Fowey Hall in Cornwall is great as it has an Ofsted-registered crèche; so you can have some ‘me’ or ‘couple’ time, but they also offer loads of space where the children can expend all of their energy running around and playing. The hotel also organise activities for the kids like biscuit making, football or painting so there is usually something which will appeal.
If you fancy a real treat on the way back from Cornwall then Bovey Castle in Devon is beautiful – again loads to do with the kids and during the holidays they too organise activities. They even have a lego room service for the kids!
If you want to go abroad with a busy toddler I would say the Abama Golf & Spa Resort, Martinhal or one of the Sani Resort hotels would be perfect as the flight times are not too long, four hours, two and a half hours or just over three hours respectively. All are pretty special. The Abama doesn’t have a kids’ club you could use as this starts from four years old but they have a whole host of baby and toddler supplies so you wouldn’t have to pack it all and they have loads of activities. This is a really popular hotel with families.
Sani Resort is made up of four hotels, there is a crèche at an additional charge which you could use, and they have a complimentary Babewatch beach service where a nanny on the beach will watch your children for you for half an hour if you fancy a swim. There are also beach and pool toys provided and they have an amazing half board dine around programme which is really good value.
The Martinhal has loads of different room options to choose from, a playground, has a crèche (at an extra charge), shop on site, and all the baby paraphernalia for you to use too.
For something a little bit more cultural, I would recommend Mazaghan Beach Resort in Morocco or Borgo Egnazia in Puglia, Italy. The latter is, by the way, the luxury resort where Justin Timberlake married Jessica Biel last year.
THREE WORDS THAT SUMMARISE A FAMILY HOLIDAY TO YOU?: Precious, magical, memorable.