A spa break? With a baby? Given my eight-month-old gives me a daily face massage (poking me in the eye whilst feeding) and we do water relaxation daily (evening bath) and relaxing music plays on a loop in our home (aka The Cot Mobile), you're probably wondering why we decided to drive the hour-and-a-bit journey from north London to the Four Seasons' country retreat-style hotel in Hampshire this weekend.
Yeah, right. However much people moan about holidays with babies 'never being the same', they're still amazing. No lie-in, maybe, but new places to explore, a crisp white bed, no clearing-up. Frankly I'd travel about 12 hours just for an amazing hotel breakfast.
And very soon after pulling up outside the restored Georgian manor that is the Four Seasons Hampshire, it quickly became clear that this is one of the best hotels in Britain for anyone travelling a baby. A pair of hands magically appear when you're juggling a wriggler and trying to get him a snack. On top of the usual cot in the bedroom (with cute 'baby is sleeping' door-hanger), and steriliser and bottle-warmer too - there's also a toy to pick out of a chest at check-in; jars of home-made gourmet purees (yellow courgette, mango and tangerine, anyone? I was practically tucking in myself) in the room, a basket of nappies and organic Childs Farm toiletries; tiny man's name laid out in toys in the bath, a baby towel and bib with his name stitched on it..
Unlike the many hotels which restrict children and babies' time in the swimming pool to one hour a day, the Four Seasons Hampshire has one hour during the daytime when under 12s can't go for a dip.. In its huge, beautiful, 30 degree-warm infinity pool housed in a glasshouse, with an outdoor vitality pool with relaxing hydrotherapy jets accessible from the indoor pool. The latter is adults-only, but we soon worked out a favour-system of one of us playing with tiny man in the pool (inflatables and rubber ducks provided), the other relaxing (there are also steam rooms and saunas, and 'relaxation rooms' with nuts, fruit, tea and magazines. mmmm) then switching.
The hotel was full of three-generation families: grandparents babysitting whilst parents indulged in a massage/game of tennis/snooze - there's also a free, supervised kids' club on weekends and school holidays for older children. But we enjoyed a weekend as a trio, starting with a four-mile looping walk through verdant fields, then along the Basingstoke Canal. Before we set off, the hotel's tweed-wearing smiley staff handed over Hunter wellies, water and a map. And when we returned, buggy thickly caked in mud, they simply smiled and helped us to clean it, whilst tiny man patted the hotel's Lord of the Manor: patient black Labrador Oliver.
The buggy was promptly cleaner than its newborn days, and fit once more to glide through the hotel's glassy, candle and white-rose scented corridors (it's a big, low-lying hotel with long corridors that are easy to navigate with a buggy).
Tiny man slept in his buggy next to us during dinner; kids aren't allowed in the posh Seasons restaurant after 8pm, but the eager-to-please waiters at the Bistro grill let you order off either eatery's menu. There were babes-in-arms aplenty, but the atmosphere was calm, not Center Parks. After cocktails and G&Ts in the bar, we gorged on creamy chestnut mushroom soup, tasty steaks, and apple crumble and chocolate soufflé for dessert. I'm hungry again just writing about it.
Later that evening, catastrophe stuck. We realised Sophie La Giraffe, the chewable toy who has been tethered to his buggy since birth, was MIA. Calling reception, then put through to security, I was slightly embarrassed to be making a 10pm phone call to report a lost 15cm-high toy giraffe, but to the man on the other end of the line this was a Serious Issue: ten minutes later, a soft knock on the door saw Sophie handed over. She was tight-lipped about her adventure but ready for another day of being chewed - before tiny man knew she was missing.
Throughout the hotel the staff want to help: in the spa changing rooms, an attendant swooped to offer her arms to hold tired tiny man as I tried to change; in the toilets near the restaurant, there are full changing areas with nappies, wipes etc in the men's and women's loos. Little things that make holidays more relaxing.
Breakfast too saw smiles from everyone - guests and staff alike. This is not a hotel that makes parents feel bad for daring to bring a baby into a public space. I fed tiny man first-thing, then we took turns in the spa before returning for our breakfast. As I stuffed my face with croissants, ricotta and honeycomb crepe and fresh juice, the waitress bought a child's bowl filled with fresh berries for high-chair nibbling. Older kids milled around the children's buffet table - pancakes and porridge aplenty. Later that morning, my passing comment that we hadn't had the best night as tiny man hadn't slept well triggered a hunt for a different cot, in case that would help.
Back in our spacious bedroom, tiny man crawled around (the only - literal - sore point being a big chest of drawers which he loved and we had to watch, hawk-like) and we curled up with the weekend papers during nap time. Our last day was spent wandering the hotel's acres of grounds - there are bulls, cows, horses and ponies, so a day out to a 'zoo' for tiny man.
My husband's eyes nearly popped out when he saw the teen games' room - pool, football, table tennis and air hockey tables, plus big screens with consoles - and sling-wearing meant we managed a few games. There are two adventure playgrounds, a ziplining course, tennis courts, a gym, horse-riding and canal trips too... We couldn't do it all but had a ball doing what we could. Now I've just got to gently let an eight-month-old know that, since we're back at home, breakfast is just plain porridge and our daily walk won't encompass any horses...
* Double rooms at the Four Seasons Hampshire start at £225, including full use of spa facilities and breakfast. Run Out of Womb was invited to review the hotel, but rest assured we only rave about places we love.