The British family holiday still revolves around the theme park and the wind-blasted beach. But
Peter Watts finds refuge in a country manor made for grown-ups as well as little ’uns.
Holidaying with children isn’t easy. You have to strike a delicate balance between your need for rest and recreation and their need for constant, energy-sapping entertainment in a place where the usual toys and books aren’t close at hand. Last summer we took our daughter Leila (now two-and-a-half) to a converted barn in Suffolk with another couple and their two children. We had a lovely time, but came back more exhausted than when we went away.
‘When do holidays with kids stop being so tiring?’ I asked my mum afterwards.
‘When your kids stop going on holiday with you,’ was her reply.
Luxurious and family friendly
But there is a middle ground, if you are prepared to pay for it. Moonfleet Manor, overlooking Chesil Beach in Dorset, is one of von Essen’s five ‘luxury family hotels’, which promise to provide country house-hotel charms with ‘family facilities’ tucked in discreetly alongside.
Determinedly placed at the upper end of the market, Moonfleet’s restaurant has a two-rosette AA rating but with a special children’s room for high tea featuring tiny tables and fresh food. There’s a spa offering facials and massage, but also a crèche with two full-time members of staff. There are tennis courts, along with an indoor play area the size of a football pitch crammed with toys, games and a bar for grown-ups. The beautiful grounds are equipped with sun loungers, but also a trampoline, swing, climbing frame and sandpit. Finally, the indoor swimming pool has three areas – one for babies, one for younger children and one for ‘proper’ swimmers. And a sauna.
It is, all told, a staggering range of facilities that makes the usually tricky task of keeping the kiddies happy very easy indeed. And if you do run out of inspiration or just want a rest, you can take the kids to the crèche, where professional carers keep them occupied with storytelling or badge-making while you go for a massage or simply flop in one of the saggy sofas for a quick breather (there’s a feeling that all this is created for the sort of parents who have full-time nannies so don’t actually know how to keep their own children occupied, but why complain when we all reap the benefits).
Best of all is the babysitting service – at £7.50 an hour (you are advised book a week before you arrive) – which means you can skedaddle to the restaurant with a clear mind. Throw it all together, and you’ll be rested and well-fed while still having spent plenty of time with the children.
Things to do
There’s lots to do in the surrounding area as well. Chesil Beach, all 18 miles of it, is the longest shingle beach in the world, ending in the island town of Portland, where there’s a lighthouse and some great fish-and-chips restaurants. Three animal sanctuaries are a short drive away – Abbotsbury Swannery, Monkey World in Wareham and Sea Life Aquarium in Weymouth – while the cliffs are dotted with coves and are collectively known as the Jurassic Coast because of the amount of fossils to be found by diligent dino-hunters of all ages. And if you haven’t come by car, you can simply stroll in beautiful countryside from Moonfleet to the nearest pub, the Elm Tree Inn, a couple of miles away in the village of Langton Herring.
Where to eat
The Elm Tree Inn Moonfleet Manor’s own restaurant is superb, focusing on fish and offering daily specials to make sure things stay interesting for repeat diners. If you want a change of scenery, take the short hike across fields and up hills to this cute pub. Much used by ramblers – it’s the only pub within a five-mile radius – the kitchen serves quality classics, with fish, pies and roasts dominating a locally sourced menu. It’s characterful – naval secrets were once sold to the Russians here by two workers from a nearby Navy base – the beer is decent, and there’s a pleasant garden if the weather holds.
Moonfleet Manor This rambling, rebuilt manor house boasts extraordinary views over Fleet lagoon and Chesil Beach. There are 36 rooms, from standard doubles (not big enough for families) to vast two-floor suites located in a nearby coach house. Rates can include bed, breakfast and dinner at the attached restaurant (but not wine). Two lounges and a garden terrace supplement the relaxed stately vibe.
Fleet, nr Weymouth, Dorset, DT3 4ED (01305 786 948/www.moonfleetmanorhotel.co.uk). B&B doubles from £160; deluxe double, for two adults and twokids, from £210.
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