A family-friendly country house hotel

John Stepek enjoyed a period of countryside respite at Bowood Hotel and Spa in Wiltshire.


One of the biggest draws of staying in a country house hotel is the sense that you're enjoying a period of respite from the real' world. The nice thing about Bowood Hotel and Spa, in Wiltshire, is that this feeling begins the minute you turn off the road.

The hotel is tucked away in the vast grounds of Bowood House. This stately pile, which is still home to the descendants of the 1st Earl of Shelburne and the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, is surrounded by 2,000 acres of Grade I-listed parkland, mapped out in the 18th century by garden designer Capability Brown.

Entering through a stone archway, you drive up a long, quiet private road surrounded by woodland and rhododendron bushes, until you arrive at the hotel itself. You can almost feel yourself starting to unwind even before you've left the car.

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Inside the hotel, the rooms are tastefully decorated in earthy tones without being bland. More importantly, they're extremely comfortable. The bathroom comes with the usual power shower and array of upmarket toiletries you'd expect. Nice touches include freshly-made biscuits on arrival and goody bags in the children's rooms. Another option, if you're looking for somewhere special to host a group of friends or family for a get-together, is the recently-opened Queenwood Lodge, a four-bedroom Georgian lodge, which sleeps up to eight.

There's plenty to do indeed, there's no need to venture outside the grounds for the duration of your stay. There's an 18-hole golf course, while the spa houses an indoor swimming pool with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the grounds. If you're very lucky, you may catch sight of a deer while you're putting in the laps.

Hotel guests can also take a stroll or a short golf buggy ride if you don't feel energetic over to Bowood House to explore the impressive art collection and surrounding lake and gardens.

For dining, there's the brasserie, which serves generous portions of gastropub-type dishes, or the more formal Shelburne Restaurant, whose chef employs ingredients from Bowood's gardens and other locally-sourced produce.

Where Bowood really scores over other hotels of its type is in its family-friendliness. While dining arrangements and access to the spa are cleverly timed so that couples won't find their romantic retreats interrupted by other people's children, nor is there the sense that children are tolerated rather than welcomed.

The adventure playground in particular is spectacular. I felt a pang of envy as my daughters clambered over the life-size, wooden pirate ship, before progressing to the terrifying death slide' a modern version of a Victorian design, incorporating a 19-foot vertical drop. Better yet, it tired them out enough so that later they would sit still and watch a film in the playroom while the adults enjoyed a sunset drink at the bar.

Double rooms at Bowood Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort start from £150 B&B. Call 01249-822228 (email: hotelreception@bowood.org; www.bowood-hotel.co.uk).

What the travel writers are saying


More and more historic buildings from castles and stately homes, to abbeys and follies now offer tourists the option of spending the night. Sissinghurst Castle, near Cranbrook in Kent, the former home of novelist Vita Sackville-West, is "the go-to' place for inspiration" for garden enthusiasts the world over, writes Tovah Martin in The Daily Telegraph.

"One visit to this National Trust paradise is all it takes to set the dreamscape rolling." Visitors can stay in the grounds in the old Priest's House. The cottage sleeps six and starts from £852 for a week (www.nationaltrust.org.uk).

The Tower of Hallbar, in Scotland's Clyde Valley (pictured), was built to repel English raiders. Now, with an overhaul from preservation organisation Vivat Trust, the four-storey 16th-century building doubles as a family getaway. Original features include "a dovecote, two gargoyles and an oriel window", says The Guardian. The property, which sleeps seven, costs £1,035 for six nights (www.vivat-trust.org).

Astley Castle in Warwickshire was home to many English queens (including Lady Jane Grey), but in 1978 was gutted by fire. The Landmark Trust has part-restored the castle, creating "a generously proportioned two-floored apartment within the ruin", writes Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph.

But outside the "high, wide windows", the rural landscape is intact: "the moat is stagnant and lushly weedy, Tudor arches and roofless medieval walls remain in their serene melancholy". Prices start from £1,252 for three nights, sleeping eight people (www.landmarktrust.org.uk).

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.