run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Sunday 10 September 2017

Review: family-friendly luxury at Coworth Park

There's a knock at the door and opening it reveals a suited man. Balanced in his palms, like a sacred offering, is, he announces somberly, "your room request." Then he hands the item - a plastic green potty - over.

It's typical of Coworth Park, the Dorchester-owned country house hotel where service is everything, and every need catered for, whether that's a 3am demand for a helicopter, an eighteen-course picnic or, as in our less-romantic case, the rather urgent requirement of a potty after tiny man's announcement of an imminent arrival..

In the growing collection of uber-luxe English hotels where kids aren't just allowed, but welcomed with outstretched (potty-filled) arms, Ascot's Cowarth is seriously good. The experience starts at check-in, where tiny man (aged two) and his tiniest brother (three months) are proffered wrapped perfectly-pitched presents (Paw Patrol car and Fisher Price shape-sorter). Then our room was stocked not just with two cots, a changing mat, and kids' toiletries, but also Coworth teddy bears sporting towelling robes, matching ones plus slippers for tots, and even gingerbread men waiting to be gobbled...

We spent two nights at the hotel; which is only a 45-minutes drive from London, has an amazing spa, incredible grounds and tasty food - but obviously it charges top buck too, so was it worth it?

The location

Is under an hour's drive from London, but you feel like you're in the deepest countryside as soon as you arrive - it's opposite Windsor Great Park, has a 240 acre (and very Insta-friendly..) wildflower meadow, ponds, ducks, fish and formal gardens too, plus horses and stables. It's near to Legoland, and Thorpe Park, but frankly you won't want to waste a hotel this lush on a trip involving an all-day-out amusement park.
The food

There are three main restaurants, the very formal, tasting menu-serving eponymous eaterie Restaurant Coworth Park; a healthy spa spot, and the Barn. We stayed Sunday-Tuesday, spanning the two nights of the week when the main restaurant wasn't open - but frankly, if you're after family dining, you'll probably be happier at the less formal Barn brasserie. We ate three spot-on courses - burrata salad, celeriac soup, burger, steak, strawberry frangipan tart and chocolate hazelnut ice cream sandwich, plus tiny man lapped up the kids' menu - with proper food like salmon with courgette spaghetti, chicken breast with mashed potato, and fruit sticks and yogurt for dessert.

Top marks, too, to the waiter who spotted tiny man about to enter tantrum mode because I wouldn't let him taste my mojito.. and whisked over a fizzy water / fresh fruit lookalike cocktail in a welly boot-shaped glass before the tears started rolling.
Breakfast - the highlight of any hotel experience for me - was stellar: a basket of croissants and muffins, then a large choice of cooked and cold options. Our favourites were the bircher muesli and bubble and squeak, avo on sourdough with poached eggs, and fluffy blueberry pancakes for tiny man that were inhaled a lot quicker than the usual Weetabix at home.. There's no buffet, so you don't end up totally-stuffed as with many hotel breakfasts, but maybe that's a good thing... The service was great: tiny man's warm milk was met with white stuff at the perfect temperature, a croissant arrived to keep tiny man going whilst we ordered, and there were plentiful juices and smoothies, plus special little silver cutlery and horse-decorated kids' crockery for the smalls.

The kids' stuff

The main attraction for parents is Coworth's detatched four-bedroom, toy-filled house where tots from the age of two can be looked after by staff (£15 per morning/afternoon). One doorman joked that sometimes he has to remind parents that their kids are there.. We didn't get to experience the kids' club because, visiting outside of school holidays, it was shut during the week (which was awkward as I'd told tiny man we were going to find a 'house of fun', but we knocked on the door to no avail.)

Still, if you visit when it's open (check the timetable here) the house has a whopping seven different rooms, including a large toy kitchen and shop, a library quiet room, a “messy” room for baking and arts and craft, and a teen den upstairs with films and computer games, plus a schedule of outdoor activities for all, like treasure hunts.

We did, though, love using the hotel's general facilities as a family - tiny man loved his first bike experience on the family-friendly Babboe bike which we cycled around the grounds, and there were lots of other bikes of all sizes plus stabilisers. We fed carrots and apples to the horses, (there's a polo field and club to watch on match days too - Princes William and Harry have won matches here), did a lot of pottering around the grounds, and swam in the big indoor pool, complete with underwater soundtrack. Children's swimming hours are 9 – 11am and 4 – 5.30pm every day, and they're quite strict about enforcement.

The spa

... is worth a favour-swap with your partner (or a kids' club session) to secure a bit of adult time in. There aren't a huge number of rooms / pools etc, but it's set in a beautiful sun spot, an undulating timber building in the side of a hill, with long light-filled corridors and a thyme and lavender living roof that you can gaze at after a treatment in the relaxation room. As well as that warm, long pool with underwater music, there's a steam room, experience shower and a gym. There are gingery, lemony flapjacks that I'm still craving a week later, and I had a sleep-inducing rose Aromatherapy Associates facial, which left my skin smooth and head zombie-like; therapist Angelique's voice was so calming it still pops into my head when I can't sleep.

The decor

Rooms in the main 2010-opened mansion house are spacious and modern-luxe: the bathroom's huge copper tub which happily accommodated our whole family was a highlight, with copies of Tom Hodgkinson’s The Book of Idle Pleasures placed on a bath rests; the bird-in-tree-designed four poster bed was another. Our junior suite had a separate corridor area which was perfect as we wheeled the cot into there for night-time and it was totally dark. Elsewhere, there are 'stable' rooms dotted around the property that are smaller but equally well-designed. The tech in all there too: free wi-fi and a flat-screen Bang + Olufsen TV that twisted to face our four-poster or the lounge area.

The public spaces are beige, gold and wooden but not boring - there's a huge metal tree sculpture in the lobby, a copper ring of acorns and oak tree leaves circling the ceiling of the dining room, chic horse pictures, sculptured and designs throughout, including gold hooves embroidered into the bed linen - whilst the manicured grounds are scattered with sculptures of people diving, lying and gazing, which tiny man loved to find and hide behind.

* Coworth Park, Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7S has doubles from £392. We were offered one night's complimentary stay and paid for a second; but rest assured ROOW is seriously gobby and only raves about places we really love.

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