So, I’ve planned a mini-break. A little tour of the best that Hampshire has to offer. As you will know, I’ve always been an avid traveller and whenever possible, a luxury one at that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for simplicity too but my standards are very high ( especially when it comes to cleanliness I’m a self diagnosed, borderline OCD sufferer!). I find, that in order to narrow your chances of disappointment, opt for the most luxurious option. That said, I’ve stayed in South America in fabulous, out-if-this-world, spotless lodges with no heating or electricity and have complained numerous times in the world’s top hotels, where everything has fallen below par when compared to the price you pay. A little about Hampshire; well, it houses the New Forest for one; wild ponies and wonderful open expanse and its the largest county is South East England. It plays host to award-winning country parks, quaint villages. Four Seasons is close to Stonehenge, and Legoland, Birdworld, Winchester Cathedral and beautiful coastline and beaches. This is a trip of two halves and will be posted as such, with another to follow this post soon. We are starting just 40 minutes outside London in Dogmersfield. ‘Where?’ I hear you ask. Well it’s basically the Four Seasons Hampshire. I say that because this wonderful piece of the world, all 300 acres of it forms part of its estate. Lakes, canals, cows, chickens, horses and stables, falconry,flora and fauna. You name it, it’s here. I’ve been a fan of the Four Seasons since I can remember. But for the sake of this review lets focus on two memorable trips that span the life of my family. Our first foray as a couple into Four Seasons world was in Bali. A truly grown-up choice. A quick stop at the Penninsula in Hong Kong and we were there – honeymoon paradise! I don’t remember all that much apart from the private plunge pool and the wonderful Balinese villa (it was over 12 years ago!) but suffice it to say that we are still together 13 years later and we still favour Four Seasons over many other luxury offerings out there. You can always count on a them hitting the mark even for the truly difficult to please. It is with that in mind that we find ourselves motoring up the driveway with our 19 month old little boy in our classic Aston Martin ( my husband’s other baby) on a cloudless, almost balmy, June afternoon. We are here because I have heard so many positive things about this place. To be honest, in my former life sans enfant, I would have steered towards ’boutique’ or’ luxury b&b’ in the UK. Our offering of larger properties can be a bit of a disappointment from my experience – too much margin for error. . We do small and beautiful much better outside of the Capital. However, needs change and whereas before a cosy room with an open log fire might have been heaven, a comfy cot with a baby bathrobe floats my boat! How life changes. Four Seasons Hampshire, as I had heard, is the g0-to for discerning parents – another slightly off-putting feature for the footloose and fancy free. Or is it? This is where the hotel comes into its own. We pull up in front of an imposing, lovingly restored, Georgian manor, set up on the hill looking out on to a vast expanse of countryside – the estate. From the minute we arrived I felt at ease with a little of the English aristocrat thrown in for good measure! Greeted by Oliver, the hotel’s sociable and very loveable chocolate-brown labrador you are taken one step further and truly feel at home. Any airs and graces can be left back in London. Here, there is nothing to do but relax and enjoy. They offer a form of luxury that is effortless, relaxed and easy-going. From the valet parking to the bags being whisked off to our suite without me even noticing. The building, imposing from the outside but like a luxurious country house on the inside. One where you aren’t afraid to touch anything but more inclined just to potter and enjoy. It’s a rare balance to strike. Most large properties lose any sense of character but not here, they have mastered the art . Your wish is their command, the feel is home from home or an intimate hotel where you still have space to roam. I haven’t yet mentioned anything child-related despite the main draw of this hotel for us being how child-friendly Four Seasons Hampshire is. With a superb kids club, two large but aesthetically pleasing, wooden climbing frames; one for older and one for younger kids and every facility you could need to make bringing even an infant who doesn’t sleep through the night a joy! We settled into our suite, cot in sitting room and pre-filled with Hampshire bear, baby slippers and baby dressing gown. A brilliant addition and always welcome but rarely provided was a changing mat and basket filled with a selection of nappies in each size, a pack of baby wipes and baby toiletries – the bubble bath smells divine – mandarin. In the luxuriously large marble bathroom along with the grown-up’s walk- in shower, deep bath and a welcome surprise for the little one in the form of some new toys to occupy him for a while was a nappy bin. Genius! Well, okay, not genius but actually, when stacking up against the competition, then pretty damn close! It doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure out how helpful it is for parents with children of nappy-wearing age. You are grateful for any help and likely to have forgotten or left something you need at home. Plus it’s a bulky business, so if you can take fewer nappies or one less pack of wipes, then all the more room for the selfish things that you used to fill the suitcase with pre-baby! No doubt from the get go that you are in one of the country’s top hotels as the service, attention to detail and anticipation of guests needs is second to none (lunchbox packed with apples and carrots ready with the concierge to take with us on our bike ride to the stables to feed the horses without us even to needing to ask). The offering for babies through to toddlers, children and teens is honed to perfection with three separate menus for the three age groups below eight years old, each catering specifically for nutritional and feeding needs of each age bracket and staff welcoming and at ease with the little ones. Great lengths are taken to keep the atmosphere calm but still grown-up and not once did I feel that I was an adult in a kid’s fun park despite every facility being available. The food also deserves a mention. We are both big foodies so I was certainly looking for something over and above a £25 club sandwich and luckily, we got it. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet, emphasis on quality, with two types of bacon, fresh fruits, freshly made yogurt with muesli and compotes, cheeses, meats, smoked salmon, baked goods,eggs, cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, just everything you could want if you are a breakfast glutton! Of course, anything else that your heart desired was just an order away. Yummy pancakes, fluffy omelettes and when Alexander would eat no more it was all packed away for us to take with for later (a godsend for fussy eaters). Breakfast is my meal and we spent a good hour and half each morning enjoying the spread whilst Hannah, our wonderful waitress entertained Alexander, even taking him on a tour of the kitchen. Dinner was just as good. We tried the Taste of Hampshire tasting menu one night. It’s lovely to see such a dedication to the use of local produce, especially when there is so much available. My hat off to the chef Pannier and his team for managing to lift the offering, whether it be in the main restaurant, the more relaxed Bistro or the bar (we sat outside enjoying the sunset for one dinner) to a level that isn’t often seen or even expected from a big five-star hotel. So often the food is just good, not outstanding. Here, it stands alone, in its own right. We kept things close to nature this stay although there is a fabulously equipped kids club – Kids For All Seasons- open weekends and holidays. We were blessed with clear blue skies so the estate was ours for the exploration. We fed the chickens and looked at eggs with the chef , we cycled to the cows, to the lake and Alexander ran through the fields of thigh-high grass and flowers to the duck pond for a photocall! For the adults every country pursuit is there on your doorstep. You need never leave. From shooting to fishing to horse riding to tennis or a trip on the hotel’s own barge . If that’s not enough then croquet, cycling, walking, swimming or in the outstanding Spa with vitality pool and of course gym. So, we didn’t leave…..until the time came when we had to check-out, get back into our car, drive down the sweeping driveway and back onto the road to reality.
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Here I am. Back in London. Sitting on my bed. Grey outside. Very, very cold. Unseasonably cold. You know when you look forward to your holiday and when you are there you never think it’s going to end and you take it for granted? Well, I do. So well. You spend ages looking forward to it and it’s over. We so nearly stayed another three nighst. We were so tempted. You really need two weeks to properly enjoy Mauritius. To get into the swing of things and to relax. We split our holiday into two parts and the second was ‘beach, beach, beach’! Soft, white sand beach as far as the eye could see, fringed with palm trees to shield you from that wonderful thing called the sun that we don’t see very often here! And then, a turquoise sea; the picture postcard image, it truly was. Continue Reading
Two weeks in paradise is officially over. I’m writing this post in two parts because I want to tell you all about an amazing family-friendly destination and the two brilliant places that we stayed. We went to Mauritius for the first time. We are a very well-travelled couple, having taken advantage of the City money and needing the escape from stress there are few exotic places that I’ve wanted to visit that I haven’t been to already but amazingly, Mauritius always seemed to get overlooked in favour of the Maldives (quieter, but for de-stressing) or Thailand (colour and culture, smiles and sun). I love long haul. I love the exotic, the excitement of new and different cultures, the sense,s the smells. We have been adventurous in our time too but admittedly, in relative luxury (Bolivia and Peru come to mind). Continue Reading
This one is pretty new to me I have to admit. A UK beach holiday, that is. Well, it’s new for my current lifetime, however in my previous life as a carefree toddler and child, somewhere very close by did feature significantly in my life. What am I talking about, you ask? I’m talking about Dorset and more precisely, Sandbanks, near Poole and Bournemouth. According to Wikipedia; ‘ the 4th highest property value in the world’ is this small peninsula crossing the mouth of Poole Harbour. Also know as Britain’s ‘Palm Beach’ apparently! I didn’t see enough to feel qualified to truly comment on our overnight stay but I can say that I saw some stunning properties on the drive down to the hotel which sits in pride of place directly on the blue flag beach on its one side and a gorgeous view out to the natural bay of Poole Harbour on the other (hence rooms are either sea view or harbour view-neither too shabby!).
I mentioned earlier that Dorset played a large part in my childhood and that’s because my grandparents used to own a beautiful penthouse flat in Bournemouth, choc full of antiques and more importantly collapsible sun loungers which doubled as tents on their balcony. We spent many, many joyous days in the sunshine on that balcony or walking on the beach, playing crazy golf or on the pier with our Zaida (grandpa). You see, Bournemouth and it’s surrounds enjoys a very pleasant micro-climate with less rain and more sunshine than elsewhere so if you want to take your kids to the beach in the UK there is no better option.
I digress. I need to explain that my best friend has three children and has been raving about the Sandbanks Hotel to me for ages. In the past I tended to ignore her in favour of Ibiza, or the Maldives or Thailand or the French Riviera but last week whilst we were in the throes of a boiling summer week with temperatures spilling over the 30 degree mark we agreed to drive down from London (2 hours in no traffic but pick your time carefully!) with our 8 month old and spent a night there. This place is apparently the place to go with kids. Their kids club – The Funsters – is unrivalled and believe me, from seeing my best friend’s 3 kids being entertained from dawn ’til dusk I can see why. In fact, their kids club is one of the biggest draws for visitors to the hotel. That said, the room was comfortable, clean (my biggest bugbear) and modern with all the mod cons one would expect from a good four star hotel. Many, as ours did, have balconies with stunning views of beach and seaside that most forget exists in this country!
The hotel also has a lovely outdoor terrace with restaurant, bar and chillout area where people generally lounge all day, snacking, sipping Pimms and relaxing in between the beach or the sea. Along with sun loungers and off to the side, a children’s pirate ship themed playground ( that’s not forgetting that there is also an indoor pool to keep them occupied if the beach or the on site watersports academy weren’t enough!). For the adults there is also a steam room, gym and beauty rooms with access to the spa as well at the nearby Haven Hotel.
The Sandbanks caters amazingly well to people with young families and staff to guest ratio seemed very high. They are part of a group of four hotels in close proximity; FJB Hotels, so they also have a dine around option which is handy if you fancy getting out and about to explore. The food is plentiful and again with many options for the youngsters. So, all in all, I would say give it a go. But, be careful, if you are taking young children with you, you may be obliged to return over and over again!
We are off to Paris. Heading to the City of Love. Luckily missing Valentine’s Day by a few days and unluckily but hopefully not too relevantly, catching the end of half-term.
I haven’t been to Paris for such a long time. I used to love it there. My brother lived there on Rue de L’Universite in the 7th. I spent a lot of time there in between university in Tours and over the course of my work at Societe Generale; jetting out once a month or so to see clients and go to nice restaurants. I remember when Hotel Costes first opened, drinking in the bar there, having lunch at the brand new Cafe Marly and the wonderful club sandwiches at the Ritz Hotel, lunch on Sunday at Chez Marianne in the Marais, when the Marais wasn’t half as trendy as it is now! It wasn’t a bad experience of Paris at all. It was a privileged one. So what would be more appropriate than to return after more than 10 years to visit yet another family member living there (my first cousin) and with a new family member myself, in style.
Being an ‘older’ mummy (39 but look 30- sorry- it’s the genes and the fact that I’m 5 feet nothing!) myself and Mr Pregnantcitygirl have had the time and the money to lead the high life! First class travel – on the A380 no less – I’m a bit of a plane buff-, trips to the best resorts in the Maldives and many impromptu holidays during two recent gardening leave stints, whether it be returning from one holiday only to book to leave again the next day or island hopping in the Caribbean. We have been very lucky. Travel is a passion of mine so it must only follow that we return to the City of Love with our new love- baby Alexander.
We are testing out Paris in Luxury with a twist; a 3 month old. It’s his first trip abroad. He’s had two out of the three five in one inoculations (sounds like a pet, doesn’t he!) we have his first passport so we are ready to go. Well…… I say we are ready but are we prepared?
Most new parents probably take their first trips in the car. It’s much easier to kitchen-sink it that way. Before becoming a parent it was easy, now there is so much to consider. Which pram? The carrycot or the seat attachment (both!!!) , how many nappies? How many baby grows? (All of them). Where will he sleep? – In the cot provided by the hotel (he’s never slept in a cot before, just in his co-sleeping cot, hence we have to take the carrycot to the pram). It’s a minefield. A road (or rail in our case), never travelled before. Do we take a carseat? (No, the hotel is transferring us from and back to the Gare du Nord so I’ll leave that to them). These are just some of the things I have thought of let alone the ones that I haven’t. Luckily, we are going to be well looked after and I expect will want for nothing. We are staying at Le Bristol Hotel. Chosen over the Ritz or the George V ( Four Seasons). I believe that it’s the best hotel in Paris. If you believe Tripadvisor (I use it with caution and always cross-reference) it has glowing reviews almost every time whereas the George V doesn’t have such a flawless review history. I am very picky. A difficult customer. I expect to get what I pay for. So many people settle for less. Why pay for something and be content not to receive it in it’s entirety? Hotels and restaurants are notorious for falling short as it’s very difficult to meet or beat expectations at the top.
Hotel Le Bristol, is as French as it gets. Traditional and uber-luxurious. Amongst its numerous awards it’s the first French hotel to be granted the prestigious ‘Palace Hotel’ classification and is part of the Oetker Collection which also includes the famous Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Situated on the Rue du Faubourg St Honore between the Champs Élysées and the Place de la Concorde in the prestigious 8th surrounded by all the designer boutiques (unfortunately my budget won’t be stretching that far) and within easy reach of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay- yes we will be taking baby Alexander for his first hit of art culture!
So, we chose Eurostar. A bit of a no brainer really. It’s so much easier. The new terminal at St Pancras is ten minutes from our front door and likewise at the other end the Gare du Nord is fifteen minutes from our hotel rather than a possible two hour taxi ride from Charles De Gaulle – believe me, with traffic it can be a nightmare. I remember the timed before Eurostar. The other consideration is the baggage; on Eurostar we are fine, on a plane we would have probably had to buy an extra seat for the amount our excess luggage would have cost us. It’s much easier just to wheel a pram on and off a train. The journey is much faster and for the environmentalists, ( it’s Alexander’s world now!) much greener. There are also loads of options with Eurostar. They offer more than just train tickets as well. With Eurostar Plus (Culture, Gourmet or Shopping) you just show your ticket at certain museums, restaurants and shops to get discounts; some up to 50%. I like a discount!
Meanwhile we are traveling Standard Premier class. Extra space, a ‘light meal’ and overall more comfort. I think, if the budget stretches it is worth it with a baby. It’s hard enough with a baby as it is!
I’m pleased that we chose Eurostar. Check-in took minutes, even with a pram and two huge suitcases and we were comfortably ensconced in a booth of four seats around a table with the two opposite us happily housing the carry-cot soon after. A light breakfast, some free magazines ( French Grazia and Vogue) and all went swimmingly well. One thing I didn’t think about was the pressure for Alexanders’ ears but I fed him whilst we were under the sea which took the pressure off and he was fine. Easy so far!
Well this is part two really because unfortunately I am back on planet earth and home in London. The conclusion is that our first trip abroad with baby Alexander was a huge success and a very easy experience.
The Hotel Bristol, one of Paris’ most historic hotels, was fabulous right from the word go.We chose it due to its genuine child friendly offering. They have a children’s program where each child receives a customized welcome pack; in-room toys, snacks, slippers a robe and even childrens toiletries ( I can’t wait to go back with a toddler!) They even organise treasure hunts and go as far as to offer a children’s area in the stunning three storey spa where the little ones can be entertained whilst their parents indulge in a little ‘me’ time. The hotel also offers special meals for kids so that they too can enjoy their own culinary treats – next time Alexander! Continue Reading
Indulging a passion for perfection. Researching and reviewing luxury, family lifestyle. Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.