Need a break from the capital? Escape is nearer than you think… Explore Bodian Castle, hit the surf in Broadstairs or take tea by the Thames in Henley. We've planned 12 trips to make it easy for you to escape London for the day - all within 30, 60 or 90 minutes (ish) of a central London rail station
Built in 1872, Nutfield Priory Hotel is a gothic mansion turned ‘wow’ boutique hotel with picturesque views across the Surrey countryside. The hotel’s spa, though, is a modern building on the grounds, where the hospitable staff tempt you with a menu of ESPA treatments ranging from ultra-calming aromatherapy full-body massages (£75) to quick mini facials (£35). Cosy rather than chic, it’s the perfect antidote to London’s uptight, minimalist spa culture: the type of place you can loll around in your dressing gown without worrying about how big it makes your bum look. As well as a busy pool and gym, there’s your standard sauna and steam rooms and a lethal relaxation area so calming I snoozed (and, apparently, snored) the whole way home.
Nutfield Priory Hotel & Spa, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 4EL (01737 824 434, www.handpicked.co.uk).
Hemel Hempstead: real-snow skiing in 26 minutes
26mins Euston-Hemel Hempstead.
It’s a long wait till winter brings the opportunity to slope off to the Alps. In the meantime, you can avoid the capital’s summer stickiness at chilly oasis The Snow Centre, just a husky’s lurch north of town in Hemel Hempstead. Here you can slice through actual snow (manufactured overnight by pressurising cold air inside the building) on its 160m-long slope. Boarders and skiers can enrol in a wide range of sessions, but private instruction with one of the centre’s veteran coaches is particularly helpful for nervous snow bunnies. And at least there’s no danger that you’ll career off the edge of a mountain! What’s more, gear is available to rent on-site, so you can enjoy a spot of après at the centre’s café without having to stumble back to Euston head over ski boot.
The Snow Centre, St Albans Hill, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, HP3 9NH (0845 258 9000, www.thesnowcentre.co.uk).
Hatfield House: Tudor and Stuart heritage in 21 minutes
21mins King’s Cross-Hatfield (Herts).
Quicker than your daily commute, a train ride from King’s Cross will bring you to the gates of Hatfield Park, the 1,000-acre setting for this grand Jacobean house, built in 1611 by the Earl of Salisbury. Swap traffic fumes for the perfumes of the scented garden, trade the tube for horse-and-carriage rides and spend the day wandering the ornate halls and opulent galleries. Be sure, too, to check out the Tudor Banqueting Hall, sadly all that’s left of Hatfield Palace, childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I. Then take a stroll through the park to the very spot where the young Elizabeth learned she was to be Queen. More accessible and less rammed than a traipse round Hampton Court – and every bit as regal.
Hatfield House, Hatfield, Herts, AL9 5NQ (01707 287010, www.hatfield-house.co.uk).
Egham to Runnymede: hiking and history in 37 minutes
Head out on a Surrey saunter from Egham to Runnymede and, along with assorted memorials, you’ll find a surprisingly varied landscape. From Egham Station, turn right into Station Road, and right again at Church Road, forking left towards the A308. Once you pass the first set of lodges – designed by Lutyens – take any of the right-hand turns to the river. Follow the meanders of the Thames west until you get to the teashop and art gallery on the A308. Have a brew. From here, head diagonally across flowery meadows to see the monument to the Magna Carta marking the site where King John sealed the charter in 1215. Then head clockwise in a 2.5-mile loop taking in the monolithic JFK memorial and, on Cooper’s Hill above, the moving monument to the fliers killed in World War II, the Air Forces Memorial (the hill also offers awesome views of Heathrow Airport). Take a picnic and make a day of it.