Monday, August 1, 2011

The Perfect Holiday Hotel

There’s nothing quite like an English country holiday, especially if, like us, you’re staying in a luxury establishment. The scent of the roses outside, crisp linen on firm, comfy beds, superb cooking, with vegetables plucked fresh from the chef’s garden: that’s my idea of a good time. An informal, relaxed home-from-home.

I’m writing from one of the most beautiful tourist areas in the UK. Although it’s well past 11am, Jo is deciding whether or not to order breakfast. There are beaches and hills close by, acres of wild heathland within strolling distance, the food is wonderful, there’s a playground for Izzy: in short, we’re having a ball.

We only made the decision last Friday to take a week off. Jo said that July was so gloomy, we should have a proper break, just the three of us. Somewhere remote, without internet or mobile phones, but fairly near the sea, with nice country air. And no more than a three-hour drive from home: Izzy and long car journeys don’t go together.

Jo first suggested a B&B. In America they’re like boutique hotels, with four-poster beds, luxury furnishings and bedlinen, and free wine and cheese at 5pm. Then I reminded her of our experience on Arran. The sheets were pink polyester, the tiny pine wardrobes could hardly contain our belongings, the bed was soft as a sponge and the landlady tut-tutted loudly outside our door if we were a minute late for breakfast. Porridge is punctual, she said. Never again.

Besides, we wanted to bring the dogs, so we opted for self-catering. Although we only needed one bedroom and a cot, as we were booking with just a day’s notice, we didn’t expect to be spoilt for choice. It says something about the recession that there were several options, mostly tiny converted farm cottages, or wooden chalets with balconies.

I used to own a holiday let. The furniture was 20 years old – when we bought a new sofa we’d send the old one to the rental property. The beds were solid and cheap, the linens, towels and saucepans a job lot from a discount store. According to the agent, it was top notch, well above the norm, clean as a whistle, and so it was booked almost every week of the year. The clients seemed perfectly happy with these facilities: they weren’t to know that the entire place was filled with rejects.

Jo and I reckoned we could put up with a pine kitchen and lino flooring, tiny shower room, saggy bed and threadbare sofas with throw-covers, because we were on holiday. After all, you only sleep, eat and play Scrabble in the place. Who cares about comfort? We’d enjoy the scenery and the seaside, Izzy would love it and all we had to do was try to keep the dogs from bringing sand onto the carpets. And it was only £700 for a whole week in a Scottish bothy with a sea view (from the attic window) and gas central heating (meter controlled).

Then we looked at the weather forecast: torrential rain on the West Coast. And we looked at our nice comfy house, and said, “Let’s pretend”.

That’s why, yesterday morning, Jo woke to a perfect cappuccino from room service. The chef prepared poached eggs and smoked salmon and then we headed off to an almost deserted, sun-drenched beach near a pub with the best fish-and-chips we’ve ever had. We met the nicest people on our trip, and have a different excursion planned for every day this week. In our exclusive hotel, the internet is switched off, and the restaurant offers a vast menu featuring only home-grown produce. The furnishings seem to mirror our own taste precisely, and, as we’re the only guests, the service is immaculate. Best of all, it’s entirely free.

Thank you, Northumberland: we’re having a great holiday at home.

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