Muddy stays: The Elms hotel, Worcester
I used to go on sooooo many short UK breaks when I lived in London – like most city-dwellers I was desperate to escape the smoke and see some sheep. But somehow with kids and school and, er, lack of funds, it’s much more of an occasional treat these days. I took the kids and my mum off to The Elms hotel in Abberley, near Worcester a few weeks back, one of the small group of Luxury Family Hotels that are frankly a godsend to anyone with children under the age of 12.
Regular readers will know that I’m an old hand at these holidays, having stayed at the Polurrian Hotel in Cornwall, The Ickworth in Suffolk and Woolley Grange in Bradford-upon-Avon. It’s a brilliant formula – take one stunning historic building, add a spa, pool, creche, and child-friendly facilities (kids cinema, wellie boots for use by the back door, acres of land for them to explore), keep it relaxed in the house with loads of slouchy sofas, friendly staff, waiter service for G&Ts and two dining options – one for adults only, one for families – and you have a totally restorative weekend staring straight at you.
The Elms is one of the most ‘local’ Luxury Family Hotels to Bucks/Oxon – for me, in on the mid border of the two counties, it took about 1 hour 20 to get there. When you’re heading up on a Friday after school, that kind of proximity is a major plus. And when you arrive, oh hello, is that a Queen Anne building I see before me?
I’m a total history and architecture nut so I get a particular thrill when I stay somewhere like this, but I can’t really imagine anyone who wouldn’t be a little bit smug at this kind of view.
The family room was really a suite, with three bedrooms – a bunk room for the kids, a lovely south-facing double for my mum and another double, with additional lounge area for me (Mr Muddy was on rugby duty with the oldest Mudlet, hence the no show). This is my room on the night we arrived, hence the atmospheric lighting…
And in the morning…
I’d say this hotel has less quirkiness than some of the Lux Fam hotels that I’ve stayed in (The Polurrian and the Ickworth in particular had fantastic, slightly out there art) but The Elms has its own charms, playing to its natural architectural and period strengths, with its gorgeous Mary Poppins banisters and wood-panelled rooms.
Particular pluses for The Elms are its restaurants. A gorgeous room in which to eat, and the food was excellent, and my mum so loved her risotto on the first night that she ordered the same thing again the following evening. The kids had the usual child-friendly options and we just stuffed ourselves really.
The kids delighted in attacking the buffet breakfast – a kind of automony to gorge on cereals I usually deny them at home – and I think my daughter entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the most pieces of white toast and nutella consumed in a 15 minute period (frankly, we’ll take any achievement we can get in the Muddy household).
Also worth particular flag-waving are the pool and spa facilities here. You’d pay good money to join a club like this, and in fact they do offer individual membership if you’re local enough to use it which says something for the quality offering.
The pool is fantastic, small enough for kids to feel safe, but large enough to swim a decent length, with floats, armbands and kickboards provided. There are also indoor and outdoor jacussis, a stylish cafe on site, and treatment rooms upstairs.
I booked the kids into the creche for 2 hours on the Saturday morning (FREE!) whilst I had a neck, head and back massage, and it was magic. Particularly wowsa was the relaxation room upstairs. I usually feel a bit restless when told to relax, but I actually fell asleep in this one. Loved the lights!
I turned up at the creche afterwards to take the kids to the pool to find my daughter happily brushing a rabbit on her knees and refusing to leave until her allotted creche time was up. No need to ask twice, I was back out of the door in record time for a sneaky coffee and peruse of the mags.
So far, so brilliant. The only spanner in the works was the weather. It was utterly tanking it down the whole time we were there, so a brief venture around the grounds quickly gave way to drinkies and Scrabble in the lounge.
I also missed out on seeing Worcester itself (supposed to be gorgeous) and Witley Court’s exquisite gardens, lakes and fountains, only two miles away. I was a bit gutted about that, but hey, a British torrent in freezing February is not to be trifled with.
The sweet spot for this hotel is for parents of kids from 3 months to 10 years (though I’ve taken my 13 year old to several and he enjoyed them too). There’s an understanding that parents want to give their kids a great experience but also need to recharge their own batteries, so there’s a babysitting and baby listening service, a Sunday morning lie in (kids can whisk the kids off to Breakfast Club), two hours free creche every day, swimming classes for kids on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, interconnecting doors for family rooms if the kids are old enough to want autonomy…. I could go on but I think you’re probably getting the picture!
Obviously school holidays get booked up quickly but it’s worth putting in a call to see if there’s any availability last minute this weekend, or maybe bear it in mind for a weekend away (or if your kids are young enough, a midweek escape). It’s a whole family pleaser, and there aren’t many hotels that can truly deliver over three generations so stylishly.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone with kids under 12, wanting some R&R without feeling horrifically guilty. Those who like grand surroundings but unpretentious service. Those who fancy a getaway without a slog to the south coast.
Not for: Couples without children might want to give it a wide berth – though there are adult areas (not in a pervy sense) , there is the unmistakable vibe of young children pervading the public spaces – Jenga on the floor of the lounge, that kind of thing. Anyone a bit disorganised might be miffed that all the treatment appointments have been taken – you need to book creche time, treatments and dinners with good advance notice.
£££: There’s a two night weekend break that starts from £350 and includes breakfast on both mornings and a three course a la carte dinner on the Saturday evening, plus the free Breakfast Club (8am – 9.30am) for children aged 3 years+. It doesn’t run in kids holidays, but that sounds like money very well spent to me.
The Elms Hotel, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT. Tel: 01299 896666. theelmshotel.co.uk