There aren’t many prettier towns than Marlow, right next to the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. We spent a sunny morning wandering the shops (Sweaty Betty, Fat Face, a massive Jigsaw, Whistles, Mint Velvet, and loads of stylish independent boutiques and shops) down to the river, and then – all set to walk along the river’s edge for a while – the sky suddenly got really dark and fat blobs of rain started splashing on us. Ah well, instead we headed to West Street, to try the bottomless brunch at The Botanist, a pretty, quirky bar and restaurant on West Street. The front window completely rolls back, so when the sun finally came out again, it was a lovely spot to sit, sip a cocktail and watch the world go by while waiting for our table.
When you’re on a family holiday, dining out can be a bit of a flash point. Firstly, it’s going to account for a large part of your budget (especially if, like me, your children eat like rabid wolves), and secondly, everyone has different ideas about what they want – whereas you might want to sit and sip a cocktail while pondering the delicious items on the menu, your teenagers might well want to grab a burger and go. We always try to do a wide selection of dining when we’re away that suits everyone, mixing fast food with some more upmarket dining, and we always seek out anything quirky or unusual. We found some incredible places to eat during our trip to Amelia Island and thought we’d share the best of the best with you:
I’ll be honest, I’m already a bit obsessed with kate spade new york. There’s a huge John Lewis just by Mr E’s work and one of the first sections when you walk in is the stationery. I adore stationery anyway – I have more notebooks then I can ever possibly fill up – but oh, just look at the kate spade new york ones:
So as you’ll see from part one of my cruise diary from my trip aboard the NCL Breakaway, we were mightily impressed with all the facilities on board. A big part of ‘cruising like a Norwegian’ is the amount of flexibility in the choices you have: gone are ‘formal nights’ and, indeed, formal dressing for most of the restaurants, and instead you’ll find informal dining at a time that suits you. That’s not to say you can’t push the boat out, dress up and have a proper evening out, oh no – they even have a name for it: Norwegian’s Night Out is your chance to get dolled up in your favourite outfit and have some fun, but if you want to wander to the buffet in your shorts, that’s fine too. Read more
I live relatively near to The Grove and have often wondered what it’s like when I pass it on the way to do a spot of shopping at The Harlequin shopping centre. I hear about it quite regularly as it’s often in the news when the latest celeb stays, or the England team pop in to train there. I’ve always thought of it more as a ‘posh’ getaway – somewhere to escape for a romantic weekend, rather than take the kids, but their latest packages includes tickets to the nearby Warner Bros Studio Tour, and I was delighted to be invited to try it out WITH the teenagers. Gulp.
The journey was rather fraught as Sam had been on a field trip to Wales and dropped his phone into a rockpool so wasn’t able to text us his return time. I’d arranged a tour of the gardens with Head Gardener David Roberts and as it got later and later I got more and more worried.
Still, we finally got there well after our arranged time to find lovely David still waiting for me. After checking in and once again giving the boys the ‘representing me, not getting into mischief, noise/mobiles/sodding around blah blah’ lecture, they headed off to check out the pool while I wandered the beautiful grounds with David.
The original part of the house dates from the 18th century and, most famously, was owned by the 5th Earl of Clarendon who often entertained Queen Victoria (The Times apparently coined the term ‘Weekend Break’ to describe her visits there). We were very generously given deluxe rooms in the ‘new’ part of the building, added about 10 years ago (and very nice they were too – you can see my Instagram video of my room here). David and his team of 12 keep the gardens immaculate. There are often weddings and other functions so there’s never any ‘down’ time. Everything has to look perfect. But, as David pointed out, the gardens are there to be enjoyed, and there are plenty of fun, quirky features that will delight you (and certainly your kids) as you walk round.
The walled garden was my favourite part, and not just because of the massive topiary giraffe that peeks over the fence at you. The walls are lined with roses and fruit trees and there’s a beautiful outdoor pool (heated) with a beach area complete with volleyball court, as well as a lovely glass building called modestly ‘the potting shed’ with all sorts of fun things to do – little areas for reading, a table tennis table and snooker. David also encourages visitors to wander around the wonderful vegetable garden where fresh produce is grown for the restaurant kitchens:
You can also borrow bikes to whizz around the 300 acres, and David and his team are happy to show you around (David is a mine of information about the history of the grounds and gardens – I won’t spoil it all but there’s WW2 action and secret tunnels too!). Plus of course there’s the tiny matter of one of the world’s finest championship golf courses…
The Sequoia Spa is absolutely beautiful. Sadly we were a bit pushed for time as we were off to the Warner Bros Studio Tour on the Sunday morning, but I’d absolutely come back and try some of their fabulous sounding treatments. The boys ADORED the pool (which is dark blue and a work of art in itself) and again the staff were all lovely and not at all bossy or stern with them (always a good sign, I think).
We ate in The Glasshouse restaurant (after panicking about what to wear, it was actually a very casual affair – for a special occasion there is Colette’s, The Grove’s fine dining restaurant). The food is served ‘buffet style’ but the term doesn’t really do justice to the huge amount of choice, including tapas, charcuterie, a seafood bar, a carvery section with all sorts of roasted meat, a ‘live wok station’ with a chef who makes whatever stir-fry you like to order (here’s a video of my own personal stir-fry being created), a selection of curries, every dessert you could possibly think of, AMAZING cheeses (I might have had seconds… okay, thirds) plus… wait for it… a white chocolate fountain complete with fruit and home-made marshmallows ready for dunking!
The staff are wonderful. In fact, they are just one reason why The Grove is really special. At breakfast, I watched a young mum carrying a baby looking a bit lost at all the different buffet sections. She was approached by a friendly chef who asked what her baby normally eats for breakfast. When she explained (porridge with whole milk), he asked exactly how she liked it and rushed off to make it. Nothing is too much trouble. The Glasshouse costs £49 per person, with children aged 3-12 charged 50% and children 2 and under dining free.
After dinner we headed to the lovely cosy lounge areas where there are loads of different rooms and cosy places to sit and sip a drink.
Like the gardens, the corridors, rooms and public areas are filled with amazing, quirky art (look for the naughty gardener in the lounge areas and the tennis playing bunnies) – perspex tables filled with feathers, tiny plastic men fishing on the walls…
Our verdict? Of course, The Grove is a luxury hotel, so it IS posh, but it’s not intimidating, sniffy posh, it’s friendly, luxury, ‘WOW, I deserve this treat’ posh. I’ll definitely come back and spend longer here again. Plus, I should imagine it’s a stunning place to visit at Christmas.
Massive thanks to David, Rod and everyone at The Grove for inviting us and making our stay so special.
Luxury summer breaks at The Grove with Warner Bros. Studio Tour start from £350 per night inc VAT, including: accommodation in a superior room, Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter tickets for two adults and breakfast in The Glasshouse.
or from £498 per night inc VAT, for a deluxe family room accommodating two adults and two children under 12 years, Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter tickets for two adults and two children under 16 and breakfast in The Glasshouse for two adults and two children.
(Please make your reservation at least 7 days in advance to ensure Warner Bros. Studio tour tickets are available.)
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