Soar Mill Cove Hotel, near Salcombe, Devon
That this hotel features a chocolate fountain every Sunday teatime in school holidays conveys just how much they’re switched on to kids. Its restaurant welcomes children with their own menus or smaller portions of adult options, and there’s a playroom, a playground outside, storybooks, lots of games and toys about, and baby-changing. If you’re staying over, ask about the owner’s shellhunts on the hotel’s own beach, the sandcastle competition and the birdwatching tours.
Knoll House Hotel, Studland Bay, Dorset
The holiday hotel of choice Enid Blyton, this place has an adorable lingering essence of 1950s jolliness. Under-8s are required to eat in the CDR (children’s dining room!), staffed by lovely aproned ladies who might very well tell you to pull your socks up – but in a nice way – if you don’t eat up your home-made fish pie and fresh fruit dessert. Kids 8 and up eat with Mum and Dad in the main dining room, full to bursting with multi-generational families drawn year after year by the excellent service (which includes staff sitting outside the room of your sleeping child, reading by torchlight, so you can have time to yourselves in the restaurant and bar!).
The Elms, Abberley, Worcester
Part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, The Elms has two resident cats, Tickle and George, who greet kids on arrival. The latter can then proceed directly to the toybox under the stairs, while you order your first G&T and install yourself in the gorgeous grounds with their views over Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, and Powys. The Brooke Restaurant has a great attitude towards tiny diners but we loved the Pear Terrace Brasserie because we could eat in the sunny Pear Garden at our own pace while the kids, having long since wolfed their sausages, played on the lawns.
Kesgrave Hall, Ipswich, Suffolk
On the Sunday my tribe stayed here, families appeared in droves as a sunny lunchtime approached and lingered much of the afternoon, chatting with friends while their offspring chased around the manicured grounds. The hotel’s ‘gastro bar’ sounds a bit intimidating but is in fact utterly relaxed, with very good food (much of it locally sourced) and seriously stylish décor. The open kitchen makes for some lively chef-watching, too.
Fritton House, Fritton Country Park, Norfolk
On an unusually warm summer’s evening, I sat at the back of Fritton House Hotel scoffing roasted tomato, tom yum and honey soup and chatting with my 5-year-old as she munched on olive focaccia. Why couldn’t we, she said, just live at the hotel, in our attic room, and make full use of the enormous play-castle, slides and jumping pillows, and take pony-rides and boat-trips daily. I found it hard to think of an argument why not – save, of course, the cost…
Titchwell Manor, near Brancaster, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
Crisp cotton tablecloths, locally sourced, wonderfully prepared food (especially fresh fish and shellfish) and discreet staff who appear only when you need them – Titchwell Manor’s impeccable restaurant doesn’t sound like an ideal spot for dining with kids. But in fact it goes out of its way to accommodate little ‘uns, as does the hotel in general, which provides baby monitors in rooms as standard) Spend a summer’s evening in the conservatory sampling from the excellent wine list as the kids potter around the neighbouring herb garden.
The Olive Branch and Beech House, Clipsham, Rutland
Voted Michelin Pub of the Year in 2008 and occupying three old farm labourers’ cottages, The Olive Branch offers a mix of brilliant pub classics and fancier dishes served in a distinctly casual, villagey atmosphere where kids feel right at home. Across the road, Beech House includes the Chocolate Suite for families, with two bedrooms and a wet room.
Outside Inn, Blackpool, Lancashire
The industrial-estate location will have you thinking ‘Are you sure? But you won’t regret this – and it’s totally in keeping with the Blackpool setting. Part of the Blackpool East Premier Inn, (with family rooms), Outside Inn has had a £3m refit that will elicit gasp from your kids – think indoor trees twinkling with lanterns, castle remains, waterfalls and Tudor-style houses creating an olde English village setting. We visited on Pirate Night, when buccaneers serve good-value food (£10 for two – not to be sniffed in the current climate) and make you laugh into the bargain. There’s an under-5s wacky warehouse in the next room with a netted ball-pit (and a bar opposite for parents), plus a help-yourself treasure chest of sweets.
Hadrian’s Brasserie, The Balmoral, Edinburgh
Combine a Michelin-starred executive chef and genuinely child-friendly staff and you’ve got a hotel restaurant that’s tough to beat. While adults get stuck into some superb traditional Scottish cuisine with a cheeky contemporary twist (was haggis ever this good?), kids were kept entertained by chatty waiters, packs of crayons, colouring pages and encouraging talk of large ice-creams to come. The setting is swanky but with none of the accompanying sense of foreboding that chocolatey hands will ruin the look.
The Brasserie, Crieff Hydro, Perthshire
Kids get their own three-course menu in this restaurant that pays more than lip service to the idea of keeping kids happy – as be fits the family-friendly resort of which it is part, staff seem to know instinctively what to do, whether it’s dealing with spilt drinks, served food speedily to a baying toddler, amusing kids when Mum and Dad are trying to eat, or diverting them when they try to run off… No wonder this place is always packed with happy families!
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