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THE WOBURN HOTEL

This refurbed hotel in the middle of the pretty Georgian town of Woburn offers fine dining and a family-friendly vibe to keep you happy after you've had your fill the Safari Park.

You probably know Woburn, above, because of its Safari Park – beloved of children, and feared by their parents who worry that monkeys are going to pull off their windscreen wipers or relieve themselves on the bonnet.

I took the kids to the Safari Park a few years ago and drove there and back in the day (it’s about an hour from me) but this time round we decided to make more of an event of the trip, and stayed at The Woburn Hotel for the night. Here’s what to expect if you’re thinking of doing the same.

THE LOWDOWN/

The Woburn Hotel stands prominently in this genteel Bedfordshire town, just 5 miles from Milton Keynes, sitting in red brick splendour on the high street.

The cottages, for 2-4 people.

It’s a large hotel for a village, with 55 rooms, including 7 cottages, several suites and its own 2AA Rosette restaurant Olivier’s that used to be very starchy but has now loosened its stays a bit to become more of a relaxing dining experience.

THE VIBE/

This isn’t a flash, superdesigny hotel – it feels very provincial in some ways with its neat furnishings and eager local staff – but I liked it, particularly with my family in tow, because it felt very friendly and relaxed. It’s not where you’d come for a romantic night away, it feels more practical than that (no chandeliers provided to swing from for starters), but a large family gathering would work well here.

PILLOW TALK/

What is it with kids and interconnecting rooms – they love them don’t they! Our family room was ideal for our purposes (namely zzzs) – two bedrooms and two bathrooms for our family of five. The furnishings in these rooms won’t give sleepless nights to Anoushka Hempel – the most characterful element was probably the tartan cushions, though full marks for The White Company bathroom condiments and cuddly toys for the kids. Apologies for my children who, against strict orders, snuck out with pockets stuffed with conditioner and shower caps. The cottages, which hold up to 4, have more character – the Bloomsbury is all whitewashed beams and a roll top baths.

SCOFF & QUAFF/

Olivier’s restaurant is a big pull locally, and it’s no wonder – it’s a fine dining experience in the most  ‘Georgian’ of the public rooms with its high ceiling and large windows. We ate with some panache – gravadlax with warm potato pancake, lemon, dill oil and red pepper coulis for me (£8.95) below,

followed by grilled halibut with crab beurre blanc, pea purée, roasted cherry tomatoes and gnocchi (£17.95)…

… and topped off with the obligatory cheeseboard for two, because we are pigs.

The children were well catered for – no snobby refusal to put something in front of them that they could actually eat – fish goujons did the trick. It was a great experience as a family to eat here actually because it was a friendly introduction to formal dining. If the children stood up occasionally to wander around the table (turns out you can’t tie an 8 year old to a table until 9.30pm – who knew?), no worries.

The following morning the buffet was a massive hit too, with the buffet arranged in the stunning red room (above) which can be hired out for private dining – I’d definitely do that if I lived closer, it’s the most striking room in the hotel. Beautiful, isn’t it?

KID-FRIENDLY?/

Definitely. The staff were all lovely, chatty, helpful and though there’s nothing set up specifically for children at the hotel, there is a a certain 3000 acre safari park 5 minutes down the road that should keep them busy. The village itself also has a 22m outdoor lido and a children’s playground, plus a local Heritage Museum that was definitely a cut above the usual musty local history centres. Staying in the hotel gives you reduced cost entry to both the Safari Park and to Woburn Abbey, and there are also breaks that include entry to Bletchley Park – all great for kids. 

OUT AND ABOUT/

The Abbey Gardens

You’ll probably spend an hour meandering around Woburn – there’s the quirky and cute Minchin & May gift shop, a large interiors emporium called Zoohause that’s worth a look, Souster & Hicks if you want to pretend you can afford a bespoke suit, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and even Rascals Dog Groomers if your pooch needs a last minute mani/pedi. We decided not to go to the Safari Park this time around and headed instead to the Abbey & Gardens – a good choice on a boiling hot day. The Gardens are beautiful and the kids were just as happy bombing around the grounds and spotting deer in the long grass. The Sculpture Gallery (part of the gardens) was closed on the day we visited, but that’s definitely worthy of your attention too.

THE MUDDY VERDICT/

Good for: Family stopovers, large group stays (including worky ones – they hold conferences there), and definitely with that red room I’d flag up The Woburn Hotel for private dining.

Not for: If cool design flourishes are high on your agenda I’d steer clear of the bedrooms and bag yourself a cottage. Romantics might want to look elsewhere to get them in the mood for luurve.

The damage: Family rooms (interconnecting) from £250, Cottage Suite from £280 (inclusive of breakfast).

1 George St, Woburn, Milton Keynes MK17 9PX / 01525 290441. thewoburnhotel.co.uk

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