Now that I have two small children under two, my decision-making process for what makes a great hotel include: somewhere family friendly (e.g. somewhere we won’t get dirty looks for daring to have children in public), ideally an on-site restaurant (to avoid having to search for a nearby restaurant) and preferably a pool to splash about it in and a spa or gym where I can have a bit of ‘me time’ (even if it’s five minutes). Quite pleasingly, the Aztec Hotel and Spa in Bristol ticks all of these boxes and then some.
While it’s not situated in the most idyllic location (it’s just off the motorway), what it lacks in first impressions (the outside of the hotel lacks ‘wow factor’), it makes up for with a wealth of great facilities all at your fingertips.
This 4-star hotel has a contemporary look / feel with comfort at the heart of the décor. The bar area has several seating areas that are perfect for hunkering down with a pint and the restaurant with it’s soaring beamed ceiling and artistic murals featuring seaside scenes, provide a nice nod to the local area.
The stylish and modern room options include: Signature Rooms, Signature Family Rooms (what we stayed in), Family Suites and Junior Suites.
Our room with its jazzy geometric print wallpaper in my favourite colour combo of mustard, grey and white, had a double bed, a small sofa (with a pull-out single sofa bed), a big screen TV, which was great for watching movies at night (and cartoons during the day for the kids), two large cupboards (fab for keeping your luggage out of sight) a small kitchen area with a fridge and tea/coffee making facilities, a small table with two chic mustard yellow velvet armchairs, and two large circular mirrors with sleek backlighting to add a bit of sophistication. The only thing we felt was missing from the room was a microwave, which is especially handy for families with small children, but we managed without.
Just a couple of ridiculously cute baby boys enjoying the comfy beds...
The modern décor continued in the bathroom, which had a vibrant geometric patterned backsplash in the shower, adding a pop of colour against the muted white and grey tiles and fixtures.
Little touches such as fresh milk (which you could serve yourself from a machine down the hall - a big hit with our milk-guzzling toddler) and freshly baked cookies upon arrival, were well received.
After a speedy check in, we donned our swimwear and headed to the pool, located inside the on-site spa. Refreshingly, there are designated pool usage times for both children and adults, which means everyone can enjoy the facilities without stress. For smaller children, there is a tiny dedicated splash pool (about six inches deep), which is great for babies and toddlers who want to join in the fun but aren’t confident enough to go for a dip in the main swimming pool. Both of our children love the water and had a whale of a time kicking and splashing to their heart’s content. For those who would prefer to kick back and unwind, allowing the heat to ease their cares away, there is a hot tub and sauna.
During my visit, I booked an express facial treatment (30 minutes long for those who don’t have time for a longer treatment) using products by renowned French skincare brand Caudalie, which left me feeling relaxed and revitalised. Other treatment options include manicures / pedicures, massages, wraps, scrubs and tanning. Each hotel room also comes with complimentary Caudalie toiletries, which we loved.
For those who like to work up a sweat when on holiday, they also have a fitness centre with proper Technogym equipment on site, which looked pretty impressive.
For dinner, the menu boasts a wealth of classic English dishes or guests can choose the Chef’s Table option, which features a selection of fish, shellfish and cold salads (available either as a starter or a main). We were seated at the top level of the restaurant next to the oversized natural stone fireplace, which was crackling away and casting a lovely warmth, encouraging us to settle in for the evening. Throughout the restaurant, there are lots of large, leather banquettes, which create plenty of seating for people to gather round, while encouraging conversation (and quite possibly wine) to flow
The atmosphere is very relaxed; children are more than welcome to dine here and the wait staff are laidback, even when dealing with two clearly frazzled parents (why we didn’t opt for room service is beyond me). We also liked the fun quote on the wall next to the chef’s table that said, ‘ages and glasses of wine should never be counted,” – my kind of people as I couldn’t agree more! During our meal we enjoyed a couple of glasses of Killerman’s Run by Kilikanoon, a gorgeous, and very drinkable Australian wine (number 128 on their wine list).
Starters included the roasted beetroot and mascarpone with celeriac salad, which was beautifully presented with gorgeous bright colours that popped on the plate, and a selection of items from the chef’s table, including prawns, a Scotch egg, salami, sundried tomatoes and a kale salad, to name a few. For mains, I opted for the risotto and my husband had a steak with fries, which was OK, but not a patch on the other dishes.
The Aztec Hotel and Spa is a great place for families visiting Bristol to reconnect and unwind. Thanks to the on-site spa and restaurant, those who don’t wish to leave the hotel can hole up and enjoy a bit of downtime.
Anyone that knows me knows I’m not a camper. The idea of going without a proper shower or a flushing toilet for days on end is my idea of hell. But glamping, on the other hand, is an entirely different proposition I can definitely get on board with. I recently discovered Glampingly, a travel booking website dedicated to this very pursuit, which features a wide range of unique glamping properties in the UK and Europe, from canvas yurts to bell tents to vintage Airstream trailers to cute cottages and quirky tree houses.
In my quest for glamping bliss, I initially had my heart set on a treehouse but with our 1-year-old baby in tow, I decided that something based firmly on the ground was probably a safer option!
After perusing a wealth of properties, we selected Wingbury Farm based on its close proximity to London (1.5 hrs by car), its gorgeous rural location and the fact it had a relaxing wood-fired hot tub. Located just outside the small Buckinghamshire village of Wingrave (just north of the Chiltern Hills), it's ideally situated for those wanting to get away from it all.
Wingbury Farm consists of three self-contained glamping pods all set within spectacular English countryside in all its splendour, delivering city dwellers a chance to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city in exchange for a slice of countryside bliss.
Immediately in front of the pods, sheep graze happily in the fields, making guests feel at one with nature. And indeed, you are; during our weekend visit we saw partridges and geese and were informed by our host, owner Will Henderson, that a badger also roams the grounds, however, he didn’t grace us with a visit!
The pods are akin to being in a country-chic wood cabin; the curved natural wood panelled ceiling makes the pod feel more spacious and is pleasantly cocooning, while whitewashed tongue-in-groove panelling creates a homely atmosphere.
Small but well designed, the pods manage to pack in a lot, including a fully equipped bathroom with an electric power shower, a sink and a toilet - no outdoor long drops in the middle of the night here - a full kitchen with a sink, fridge/freezer, a 2- ring stove with oven, a flat screen tv, a dining table which transforms into a double bed and two seating areas, which can convert into small single beds, although we reckon it’s best suited for those with small children as it would be a bit cramped otherwise.
To ensure guests have everything they need to be self-sufficient during their stay, pots and pans, dishes and cutlery and all linens and towels are provided.
Our stay at Willow Pod
After a warm welcome from owner Will, we were shown our pod and all the fab little touches they provide such as freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, massive marshmallows for roasting, and all the essentials you need to start your morning right including 1-day-old farm fresh eggs, milk, orange juice and tea, coffee and sugar.
We quickly settled into our pod for the evening and were surprised by how incredibly cosy it was. Thanks to terrible circulation, I’m always cold, so I brought along extra blankets to ensure I’d be warm, but I needn’t have bothered as we were plenty toasty without as we watched tv while tucked snugly in bed.
We loved how in true camping style, the dining table converted into a double bed by using the seat cushions as a mattress, and we found it a real novelty to hide our bed away each morning to set the table for breakfast but I imagine one might tire of this delight after a few nights’ stay!
Ready for bed. Ready for breakfast!
While we adored the inside of the pod, the outside is where it really comes into its own. Each pod has a large deck with glass side panels affording uninterrupted views of the countryside and a picnic table where guess can enjoy an alfresco meal during the warmer months. As you can see, the view is still just as gorgeous in the cold autumn months, even with the early morning frost on the panels!
In addition to the deck, each pod has a unique Scandinavian wood-fired hot tub (complete with a backdrop of sparkling coloured fairy lights), to add a bit of magic as you soak away the stresses and strains of your day while you gaze at the endless fields without a care in the world. There aren’t any bubbles, though, so don’t waste your time looking for the bubble button like we did!
The hot tub by day ...
And by night...
Of course, no camping trip is complete without a fire and after a lovely dip in the hot tub, we enjoyed ending each evening sitting round the campfire, chatting in the dark of the night, while watching the stars twinkle as we roasted our marshmallows to perfection.
Rustic fireside benches
For those who like to BBQ, each pod also has its own BBQ grill complete with cracking countryside views to while away the time while you wait for your burgers to cook.
To ensure that everyone gets a good night’s sleep during their stay, there’s a no noise policy after 10:30, however, given how family friendly the property is, it seems highly unlikely that it would ever get too rowdy - apart from perhaps the odd over-excited child who's thrilled to be given the opportunity to run amok in the great outdoors. Ever the opportunist, Evan was desperate to go exploring and made it as far as the deck before I caught him sneaking out of the pod! Cheeky boy.
Exploring further afield
There is an abundance of things to see and do in the local area, so you won’t be bored, so long as you have a car to get around. Or you can just stay put and look at the views.
The views are gorgeous all day long from sunset to sunrise
Over the course of the weekend, we visited the stunning Waddeson Manor (which features in Downton Abbey and The Crown), the Natural History Museum at Tring (which has a wide assortment of unique animals forever preserved in all their glory thanks to the joys of taxidermy) and luxury shopping oasis Bicester Village. The renowned Whipsnade Zoo ZSL, which boasts an incredible array of animals, is also a short jaunt away.
After a two-day stay, as we drove along the motorway to return to London with a tinge of sadness at having to leave our little ‘home away from home,’ we found ourselves dreaming about what life would be like if we lived in the countryside fulltime – proving that sometimes a short break is more than enough to escape the doldrums of everyday life.
The Willow Pod at Wingbury Farm Glamping in Buckinghamshire is available from £150 per night, based on up to four sharing on a self-catering basis. There is a two-night minimum stay. To book, visit https://glampingly.co.uk
Upper Wingbury Farm
A summary of our stay at Wingbury Farm, Buckinghamshire
A gorgeous new hotel in the heart of the action
Now I’ll be honest, I don’t typically like chain hotels as I feel they’re seriously lacking in charm or character. But there are chains and then there are exceptional hotel groups and the NH Collection is most definitely the latter. Part of the NH Collection hotel group, the NH Collection Madrid Gran Via is a stylish new four-star hotel located on the buzzing Gran Via, Madrid’s busiest shopping avenue.
The seriously cool decor in the lower lobby and the reception lounge. See if you can spot which one is my husband...
There is a decidedly cool vibe that runs throughout the hotel from the funky art prints featuring animals donning stylish clothes to the graffiti style paint in the lobby lounge to the ultra-chic rooftop patio with its understated elegance, which combined create a fabulous ambiance.
There are 93 rooms in the hotel, including Superior, Junior and Premium Suite options. We stayed in Room 606, which although petite, was a sexy little number with an understated colour palette consisting of ash-coloured wood panelling and flooring, a chic midnight blue sofa, a sage green rug and crisp white bedding. The room is equipped with black-out blinds and a sliding door partition, which separates the bedroom from the living area, so you’re ensured a peaceful night’s sleep – something we’ve been seriously lacking the past 11 months!
The world's comfiest bed in sleek and sexy room 606
The real draw of the room is its expansive wrap-around private balcony, which afforded us with incredible views of Madrid’s main street, the Gran Via. If we hadn’t had mini Miln in tow, we most definitely would have enjoyed a glass of vino on the balcony, watching the action unfold below.
Starting our day right with a tasty breakfast
Picalagartos, the onsite restaurant located on the 7th floor, is lovely and has both indoor and outdoor seating options.
The menu devised by chef Javier Muñoz-Calero pays homage to Spanish cuisine and seasonal produce and features traditional Spanish tapas dishes (ham croquettes, sausages, salted meats, etc.) as well as a selection of mains. We devoured the succulent sirloin in mixed herbs, which was perfectly seasoned with a chimichurri style sauce. Paired with thick-cut homemade fries and fried jalapeños, it was divine. The baked hake with a delicate saffron sauce was light, flaky and equally delicious.
The Picalagartos Madrid Sky Bar
The heart of the hotel is the Picalagartos Sky Bar, the rooftop patio bar where trendy locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy cocktails and unparalleled views of the city. Lush greenery cascades over one section of the patio, making for gorgeous ‘Instagramable’ shots and low sofas and tables scattered throughout provide the perfect place to relax as you gaze at the city below. One of our friends who is a local informed us there isn’t a better view to be had, so we’ll take her word for it!
Venturing further afield
Madrid is easy to explore, whether you’re on foot or by hop-on, hop-off tour bus and there is a wealth of things to see and do – even if you have limited time in the city. Must-see highlights include Retiro Park (one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever laid eyes on), San Miguel Market (an upscale foodie market that welcomes more than 10 million visitors per year) and the world-famous Prado Museum, which is only a 15-minute walk from the hotel. The popular shopping street Calle Fuencarral and the Chueca and Malasaña neighbourhoods renowned for their bars, are all within easy reach.
If you’re looking for a cool hotel with seriously friendly staff located smack in the middle of Madrid, it can’t be beat.
Prices during the month of October start from €230 in a double room without breakfast.
NH Collection Madrid Gran Via
Gran Vía 21
A summary of our stay at NH Collection Madrid Gran Via
Our journey to Tudor Farmhouse began with an adventure as we scanned the ominous snow flurries, wondering whether the three-hour car journey would be safe enough to make with our precious cargo - our five-month-old baby, Evan, in tow. After reading various road reports and loading our car with a last-minute winter survival kit (a throwback to my days as a Minnesota native), we were confident that we were prepared for all eventualities and were on our merry way.
Tudor Farmhouse is located in the charming village of Clearwell (population 350), which is home to Clearwell Castle, a Gothic castle built in 1728, and Clearwell Caves, a natural cave system which has been extensively mined for iron ore and now operates primarily as a mining museum.
Pull on your wellies and enjoy the great outdoors
Surrounded by 14 acres of grasslands and 27,000 acres of forest, Tudor Farmhouse is ideally positioned for those who love country walks. With distances ranging from a gentle one-hour stroll to more challenging walks of up to three hours, including stops at Slade Brook, Newland Castle, Millennium Green, Mortuary Chapel and Lovers Leap, there is the perfect walk for everyone to enjoy. Don’t fret if you’ve forgotten your wellies at home, as the hotel has a selection of wellies you can borrow during your stay.
The property is also home to a chicken run, an orchard and a kitchen garden, which provides fresh produce for the restaurant.
Guests can choose from 20 country-chic bedrooms, which feature the perfect combination of traditional features such as exposed stone walls and beamed ceilings, and modern amenities including roll-top baths, monsoon showers and the all-important Nespresso coffee machine to make your own cup of caffeinated joy - a morning necessity in my opinion.
A bathroom designed with relaxation in mind...
In keeping with the farm theme, room options on offer include suites, Cockerel rooms, Hen Rooms and Hatchling rooms. We stayed in Room 19, one of the five stylish Cockerel rooms. Located on the first floor, this mini suite had a comfy double bed and a separate lounge area, where the staff had kindly set up a travel cot for the baby. He obviously enjoyed having his own room as he’s never slept so soundly!
We loved that the suite had two televisions – perfect for couples who don’t agree on what to watch (as if that would ever happen) and the roll-top bath and rain shower with complimentary Bramley bathroom products were a real indulgence after a long journey. We also loved the gorgeous waffle bathrobes they provided - the comfiest robes we’ve ever used, which were perfect for lounging in as we read the morning paper.
Dining options at Tudor Farmhouse
The 2AA Rosette restaurant is headed up by Rob Cox (who recently won the prestigious South West Chef of the Year award) and is committed to using quality and locally-produced ingredients, most sourced from within a 20-mile radius of the hotel.
Breakfast is served from 8:30 each morning in the dining room or if you’re feeling too tired to venture to the dining room (or if you’d rather eat your breakfast in your jammies), you can arrange for room service.
In the dining room guests can help themselves to fresh fruit salad and croissants and can choose from breakfast classics such as oak-smoked salmon, poached eggs, grilled brace kipper or a classic full English.
Available daily between 12:00-14:00, guests can choose from two or three courses, or opt for the new six-course tasting menu (with accompanying flight of wines). This includes a beetroot and blackberry salad, white onion soup with duck egg, slow roasted Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with smoked apple puree, pan fried cod with hazelnut and truffle pesto, spiced rice pudding with dark chocolate and star anise ganache and coffee with homemade petits fours.
During our stay, my husband and I organised a babysitter so we could enjoy a much-needed romantic evening meal. We started with Gin Fizz cocktails in the cosy lounge with its wood-burning stove, the perfect respite from the -1C weather outside. We later moved into the intimate dining room with its sexy low lighting and quirky beamed ceilings.
Guests can choose from either a 3-course meal or a six-course tasting menu, which looked divine. Given we were on a limited timescale, we opted for the former. The lamb ravioli with wild garlic, morels and coco beans starter was as beautiful as it was tasty and the pan-fried cod with hazelnut and truffle pesto, Jerusalem artichoke and a chicken jus, was light and comforting. We loved that each dish featured a unique twist by pairing items you wouldn’t think to pair together but they worked remarkably well, such as the white onion soup with duck egg, oats and smoked prunes. Although I had earmarked the lemon parfait with rhubarb sorbet for dessert, alas it wasn’t meant to be as the restaurant manager informed us that we’d need to retire to our room for the evening as the baby had decided that he was missing our company! We weren’t too disappointed though, as it meant more time burrowing under the feather down duvet, where we dozed with ease thanks to the marvellously comfortable bed.
Exploring further afield
Guests can explore the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley area with local forager Raoul Van Den Broucke, who provides the hotel with local produce collected from the region. Raoul who stars in The Wild Gourmet TV programme is an expert in the local flora, mushrooms, herbs and fruits.
If foraging isn’t your thing, other interesting sights to see include the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail and Puzzlewood ancient woodland, which featured in the Lord of the Rings films.
Tudor Farmhouse is a little gem of a boutique hotel in the heart of the countryside that’s ideal for those seeking a chilled-out stay.
Prices available from £130 per room per night based on two sharing a Hatchling Double Room on a B&B basis. Children under six stay free.
A summary of our stay at Tudor Farmhouse Hotel
The Miln Report - Luxury Family Travel
Having kids in tow during your travels doesn't mean you have to scrimp on style.