run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Baby friendly-travel review: Stoke Park

Parental questions-to-which-the-answer-is-always-'no', number one: "Do you want a wake-up call?" at a hotel check-in desk.

My stock response: 'No, thanks, I bought a pretty loud one with me."

Said alarm clock was wrapped around me like a koala bear this weekend when we checked in to Stoke Park hotel and country club

Hotel getaways might be different with a baby in tow - this particular alarm clock went off at 5am both mornings - but they're still amazing. 

Especially when 'morning' means an eight-course fresh berry and croissant-stuffed breakfast, followed by a walk around verdant grounds; when, at lunch, someone else has whipped up a healthy baby meal for you, and then clears up the highchair's splattered surroundings afterwards. 

Then there's the pool dips, and the spa visits; the happiness as we watched tiny man exploring and 'quacking' at a family of ducks, and then the foodie fun as he slept in his buggy whilst we enjoyed an outstanding amuse bouche-packed dinner. 

Stoke Park is a family-friendly hotel, but packed with luxury touches and so spacious that you're never over-run by other people's kids. It's swish but not stuffy; you're in an amazing mansion but it kinda feels like your home for the weekend.
It's also only a 40-minute drive from NW London, and down the road from Heathrow. Still, the long driveway winds around the hotel's acres of Teletubby-green golf course and Capability Brown-designed formal gardens, so you feel like you're in distant, beautiful countryside. 

There are two buildings: the mansion - which took three decades to build when the Penn family, of Pennsylvania fame, did so in 1790 - and the modern Pop Art-filled Pavilion site, which houses the spa, a humungous gym with all the (free) spinning and hot yoga classes that a yummier mummy than I could want, a casual Italian restaurant and sleek rooms. 

Our spacious bedroom was packed with New York-style design features that luckily amazed its one-year-old occupant: a mirrored chest of drawers, a wicker basket - he happily explored for hours. We were celebrating my birthday, and Stoke Park had left an amazing box of cupcakes, macarons, jams and more in the room, which was a lovely touch. The bathroom housed a tiny man-sized towel, rubber ducks and bath toys ready and waiting for play, plus organic Creatures toiletries that smelt lush.

Strolling after breakfast
Brand-new playground
Family outing in the grounds
We were lucky with sunny weather, and Stoke Park has a lot of places to laze and explore: shady loungers, outdoor sofas, a brand-new wooden playground, a heritage walk (including the elegy-famous country churchyard that inspired Thomas Gray) and crunchy gravel paths. 

For older kids, and parents, there are top-notch hard- and grass tennis courts, plus bikes to borrow; for those wanting time-out, there's also a creche where you can drop off 0-eight year-olds for £8.25/hour, and a games room with cuddly toys, consoles, TVs, a pool table and air hockey.
But our favourite places were the grounds and the spa. Although kids can't swim all day, every day, there are generous splash times (around 9.30 til 11 and 3pm til 5.30pm). I enjoyed a dreamy two hours in the spa, including a Thalgo mini facial and massage (£90 for 55 minutes) that was so relaxing I now dream of it whenever I'm trying to go back to sleep after a night feed. 

The spa has pots of Eastern teas and fruits and very happy fish swimming around a huge aquarium, whilst the "deep relaxation room" - dark, warm, velvetty, there are duvets and mags and pillows - was so cosy I didn't want to leave. 

Oh - and the food. Some country clubs rely on their facilities - like the 27-hole golf course and fantastic tennis courts here - and let food take second place. But the Humphrey's fine dining menu was seriously memorable. Kids aren't allowed in this restaurant for dinner (although there are two others on-site to choose from), but we were served up the verbose Humphrey's menu in the equally elegant Orangery restaurant next door. 

Tiny man dozed next to us in his buggy (the thoughtful waiters even whispered our order to make sure he stayed snoozing), whilst we relaxed with martinis and falling-off-the-bone beef, light chicken consomm√©, tiny croque monsieurs, tuna carpaccio, then the most amazing chocolate box for dessert. 

It's such a treat to be able to enjoy a special dinner without shelling out £100s for a babysitter - and that's just one nice part about a weekend getaway. After dinner, we pushed the gently-snoring buggy along to bed, requesting late check-out en-route as Sunday had come round too soon and we didn't want to leave, yet. We made the most of our extra time with another swim, more food, and a stroll through the area's heritage walk through gorgeous gardens and via the churchyard made famous by Thomas Grey's Elegy. Lots to see, lots of ways to relax - Stoke Park is a perfect baby-friendly break.

* Run Out of Womb stayed at Stoke Park for two nights, one of which was a complimentary review stay. Rest assured, we're seriously gobby and only rave when something's worthy.

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