Family hotel heaven: The Ickworth, Suffolk
There’s not much downtime on Muddy – I know *sob*, pass the Kleenex – as blogging it pretty much a take-over-life activity. January is the only month where I really take breath, attempt to rein in my horrific wine drinking and pretend I’m going to be in control of my year.
By the time I’m into March, the bumper Easter guide is looming its enormous fluffy head (panic not, it’s coming out this Thursday!), and planning is underway for the Muddy Stilettos Awards. It’s the time I most need a break and least feel I can take one, and only something special will lure me away from my computer.
Which is where we say hello to The Ickworth Hotel in Suffolk, one of the fleet of Luxury Family Hotels I ran for my comp last month, and one of the most gloriously situated in the former squandered ancestral home of the Hervey family, now owned by the National Trust.
Like the Polurrian Bay Hotel where I stayed over the Christmas holidays, it has the perfect formula for knackered parents with youngish children who hanker after some luxury and comfort amidst the child-led madness.
So there’s a spa (a very good one too – the pool is fantastic), an excellent creche (below),
baby-sitting so you can enjoy adults-only dinners if you think you can make it through without killing each other, plus everything to make life easy like free wellie boots in all sizes for the kids, and some rather natty Dubarry wellies for you too (no kidding – look!).
There’s a little film room, old kids games room, and then about, oooh, 1800 acres of gorgeous grounds to tromp around. There’s also the Rotunda to visit, home to the Hervey collection of fine art (the likes of Velazquez, Titian, Kauffman, Reynolds, and Gainsborough) but unfortunately when I visited it was shut for refurbishment with plans to reopen in the next month or so.
The hotel itself is unmistakably grand, all the high ceilings and aristocratic touches you’d expect of an 18th century ancestral home.
… along with the home comforts and striking, modern artwork that I’m fast realising is the trademark of Luxury Family Hotels. While nothing can really beat the Polurrian Bay Hotel’s open plan lounge area overlooking the sea, the Ickworth had two separate lounge areas, both with log fires, massive art works and – crucial to a successful Muddy break – full and prolonged access to G&T service.
The bedrooms are fab at this hotel – grand and comfy with massive bathrooms. We had an interconnecting room and I’ve never seen my children so excited to stay anywhere, it must have felt like a palace to them.
We arrived fairly late on a Friday night and bowled straight into dinner. Again, like the Polurrian, the food was good (think decent gastropub) without bashing you on the head with its brilliance – perfect for our needs.
The next morning the potential for pigging out at breakfast in the light, elegant orangerie was huge with full English, cereal, fruits and pastries on offer (yes *sigh* we went Full English – because it’s rude not to!)
Then it was off for a long walk around the Capability Brown-designed grounds…
… followed by a swim where I spent half an hour trying to cajole my youngest child into putting his head in the water before losing my cool and any chance of getting him to move on from his doggy paddle.
We decided to have a change of scene for the afternoon and had thoughts of going to Aldburgh before realising that we’d cocked up timings – it was an hour and a half away. So we went rather reluctantly to check out Bury St Edmunds a few miles away and well well well, that was a surprise – a gorgeous little town with an array of lovely Georgian buildings and squares, a decent high street, and a phenomenal church.
There are also the stunning ruins of a Benedictine monastery within The Abbey Fields that kids play in and around – it’s really interactive, kids can clamber on the stones, it was a lot of fun.
On the final morning I had a sneaky facial in the spa, while Mr Muddy took the kids bike riding (yup, as you’d expect there’s a massive shed of bikes and helmets too)
and then we went off to Cambridge for the day – about 40 minutes away.
I haven’t been to Cambridge since I clambered onto a statue of a horse in one of the college quads as a drunk undergraduate and got chased around the cloisters by a very cross college porter, so it was quite an experience to see it sober. It has a quieter, more elegant and sedate atmosphere than its bigger, brasher cousin Oxford – kind of personal preference whether you find that a plus or not.
We paid our money to to see King’s College Chapel (£8 each for adults, the kids went free) which was worth every penny.
… then wandered down the Backs, and popped out back into the centre of town where Jamie’s Italian, Byron Burger, Wildwood and other family-friendly chains proliferate. We ended up a couple of roads away from the high st at a sweet restaurant called Ben’s (below) that tasted a lot more impressive than it looked from the outside.
Then it was time to head back home, get back to reality, and open the computer again. And pity my poor Muddy bottom, I’ve been sitting here ever since!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Parents with young children who are desperate for a break. Think Powder Byrne does English heritage! Spa, pool, bikes, dinner and entertainment is at your fingertips. The kids are in heaven and you get a recharge. Those who appreciate history and architecture – all the Luxury Family Hotels are in stunning buildings and locations.
Not for: couples. Though there’s an adults only dinner, families are the backbone of this hotel so you won’t venture far without a toddler around the corner. The coast is a fair drive away so if you’re thinking Suffolk seaside, it may not be for you.
£££: The Ickworth Weekend includes two breakfasts (Sat and Sun) and dinner on Saturday night, plus a family room (sleeps 4) for £399, which I think is good value when you consider all you get (including free entry into the National Trust Rotunda). You can also rent out the 3 bedroom lodge (sleeps 8) for £462 per night.
The Ickworth, Horringer, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 5QE, Tel 01284 735350. theickworthhotel.co.uk