Top break with toys, tinies and teddies
Almost exactly a year ago, my husband and I announced the birth of our darling first-born daughter in the JC. I'm therefore delighted to use the same paper to announce our latest arrival. But this time we're adopting - and it's a bear called Huggie.
Huggie was just the first of many delightful surprises that awaited us on a family weekend break at The Elms, in Abberley, Worcestershire. Part of Von Essen's "family set", The Elms offers luxurious breaks for parents and kids of all ages. The newest addition to the luxury hotel stable (which includes Cliveden and Sharrow Bay), it underwent a full refurbishment in 2006. A new spa opened in May.
An imposing Queen Anne Mansion set in beautiful gardens and 10 acres of parkland in the heart of rural Worcestershire, it has stunning views over the Teme Valley. It has just 23 rooms, and feels more like a grand old house than a hotel with a simple reception desk virtually hidden among overstuffed sofas and baskets of toys.
Most of the rooms are in the main house, and all - named after local apple varieties - are individually designed, not only for aesthetic purposes, but to suit different families (and budgets), from smaller rooms with cots for those with small babies, to vast and interconnecting rooms, for families with older kids and more of them. All have huge bathrooms, fully stocked with goodies for parents and children.
When we arrived at our room, in the adjoining coachhouse, it had been prepared specifically for us. As well as the aforementioned Huggie - with whom our daughter immediately fell in love and refused to part - the room was equipped with a cot, changing mat, nappy pail, a hooded "cuddle towel" and even some bath toys (though, in our only quibble, these might have been a bit cleaner). The adults aren't forgotten either - a set of paperbacks in the en-suite made for great bathtime reading, and the jar of homemade cookies were very welcome.
The hotel is crammed full of goodies for little ones - from books and toys to bikes and scooters, plus a family-friendly pool, and even a house dog and cat, Tickle and George. Staff and other guests seem completely relaxed about seeing children constantly running around and the kids all seem to be having a brilliant time in an environment tailored to them.
If you want a break from the kids, the hotel has an Ofsted-registered crèche, where you can leave little ones for up to two hours. Suitable for children of all ages - it includes a separate baby area - it has a full programme of events, and even a vast flat-screen TV and playstation for older children. There's also a bike store, and a big outdoor play area, with swings and slides. During the summer, the hotel is visited weekly by the "Animal Man", who introduces the children to a variety of exotic (and safe) animals.
And while they are having fun in the crèche, there's plenty for grown-ups to do. A long list of delicious treatments in the recently opened Aquae Sulis Spa includes moisture-boosting facials, and full body massage, as well as a range of treatments for men. There is even a joint treatment - Rasul therapy mud treatment. After a lot of deliberation, I plumped for a Sensorial Cocoon facial - so good, I went back the next day for another. The spa also caters for pregnant women, with a wide range of appropriate therapies, using Mama Mio products.
Lots of thought has gone into mealtimes: high tea is served from 5 till 7pm, with healthy food (locally sourced and homemade), all served in baby-friendly surroundings with colourful high chairs and child-friendly plates and cutlery. I was very proud that our daughter didn't give a second glance to the chicken nuggets and chips, eating up her poached salmon, cauliflower cheese and peas.
And once the children are safely tucked up in bed, you can use the hotel's state-of-the-art baby listening service and relax in the award winning restaurant. The menu features locally sourced ingredients, cooked with vegetables and herbs grown in the hotel's own garden - no problem finding vegetarian or permitted fish dishes. Coffee and petit fours are served in the lounge, where you can relax on one of the squashy sofas, with homemade chocolates, a glass of wine and a game of Scrabble.
This is a holiday for those who've outgrown Centre Parcs and who want a little more in the way of indulgence. It's about quality time together, with wholesome food and contented children - and, best of all, you don't have to pack all that baby paraphernalia.
The Elms, Stockton Road, Abberley, Worcestershire, WR6 6AT (01299 896666; www.luxuryfamilyhotels.co.uk; firstname.lastname@example.org) offers double rooms from £215 per room, including breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is complimentary for babies under a year, then from £3.50. Milk and baby food are complimentary. Two-course children's lunch and high tea from £7.95.