Multi-award winning Chewton Glen. Inset: Stephen Pollard with toddler, Sophie, relaxing after a swim
Think of Chewton Glen and you think of quiet, serenity and, perhaps, middle age. An easy two hour drive from London, the reputation of the New Milton hotel as one of the best in the country – it has more awards than the average JC reader has matzah balls on a Friday night – is based on many years as the perfect calming getaway from it all.
So when Mrs P and I booked for a long weekend with our then eighteen month old daughter, I was nervous that we would spend most of our time dodging angry stares from other guests who had come specifically to escape the noise of children.
But things have changed. These days a child is almost de rigeur. Indeed, if you try to book for a stay at half term and you aren't bringing a child, you'll be warned what to expect.
It's a shrewd move. The family break market is one of the most lucrative in the leisure industry and truth be told there aren't that many places that are genuinely luxurious.
The rooms are individually designed and even the cheapest – hardly the right word for a £299 room – is opulent. They all have fluffy towels, expensive toiletries, sunken baths and such like.
We were lucky enough to have a suite, which was perfect with a cot. Our daughter Sophie could sleep in a separate part of the room from us, so even after she'd gone down at 7, we didn't have to creep around.
There's so much to do that, whatever age your child, there's no danger of them getting bored. Whether it's the swimming pool, the par 3 golf course, archery, tennis, pony trekking or kite flying (all with instructors) they'll be fully occupied. And for adults there's a spa which Tatler describes as one of the best in the world.
The newly opened restaurant has moved away from the old, formal, traditional heavy three course formula and is now an upmarket brasserie, where you can have pretty much whatever type of meal you'd like, whether it's a quick plate of pasta or a serious piece of steak.
The Chewton Glen mantra is service, and rightly so. When you're paying these kind of prices – the cheapest suite is more than £500 a night, and you can easily rack up another few hundred pounds a day in food, let alone drink and the spa - you expect things to work like clockwork.
I have to say that we found room for improvement. Sensibly, there's a buffet for children from 5.30pm in a separate room. On our first day it was plentiful and delicious. I'd happily have eaten the shepherd's pie for my dinner. But on our second day the food didn't arrive until nearly six o'clock and the staff seemed unbothered. But when you have a toddler to feed, a half hour wait for food can be a nightmare.
When the food came, there were three options – each of which contained pig. Given that the owners of the hotel are Jewish and, I was told, so are an increasing number of clients, this seemed pretty stupid.
At breakfast having sat us down, it was more than twenty minutes before the menus arrived. And when we were finally handed our hot food, nearly forty minutes had passed. By then, we'd already gone to the buffet to feed Sophie – she couldn't be expected to wait forty minutes to eat – which meant that she was long since ready to leave the table. Which, to avoid melt down, we had to do.
Chewton Glen is beautiful, luxurious and I'm sure 99 times out of 100 flawless. But we were that one in a hundred.
Rates: £299 per room per night; Tel: 00 800 2000 00 02