Top 10, Travel

Top 10 Luxury Country Escapes in the UK

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A friend recently asked me for advice on where to go for a romantic, country weekend away with her husband (after multiple children, a house move and a job change, she really needed a break). So, I decided to pick top 10 luxury country escapes in the UK, including some that are child-friendly.

  1. Cliveden House: Bought by a property billionaire whose wife wrote the book ‘Mistresses of Cliveden,’ it is a historical stalwart in the country UK hotels. https://www.clivedenhouse.co.uk
  2. Limewood: One of the best luxury country hotels there is, it is often fully booked months in advance. http://www.limewoodhotel.co.uk
  3. Soho Farmhouse: As fabulous as it is fake, Soho Farmhouse attracts London media types who pretend to be in the country, wearing their Barbour jackets and Gucci wellies. https://www.sohofarmhouse.com
  4. Gleneagles: Recently bought and renovated by the hoteliers behind the hip Hoxton hotels, it is becoming hip and trendy among the London set. https://www.gleneagles.com
  5. Chewton Glen Tree houses: The tree houses are worth going for on their own. It is a beautiful country hotel equally pleasing for children and adults. https://www.chewtonglen.com
  6. Coworth Park: Part of the Dorchester collection, it is a Grande-Dame type of hotel, luxurious and with impeccable service, you can’t fault it. https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/ascot/coworth-park/
  7. Manoir aux Quatres Saisons: For foodies, this one checks all the boxes: two star Michelin restaurant, luxury hotel and beautiful grounds. Perfect for a special occasion. https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/uk/oxfordshire/belmond-le-manoir-aux-quat-saisons/
  8. The Pig: Little sisters to Limewood, these are boutique hotels with a lesser price tag than Limewood. The Pig on the Beach and the Pig at Combe, both look charming and cosy. https://www.thepighotel.com
  9. Four Seasons Hampshire: Firstly, be forewarned. This is NOT a hotel for singles or romantics, it is best suited for families and young children, who can be found running around at all times. But for practicality, ease and reliability, the Four Seasons will deliver and staff will go out of their way to look after your kids. https://www.fourseasons.com/hampshire/
  10. Lakes By Yoo: A slightly more modern approach to country living, you can rent these beautifully designed houses right on a lake. Worth a look. http://www.thelakesbyyoo.com

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Reviews, Social Commentary, Travel, Uncategorized

Review: Soho Farmhouse

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Courtyard at Soho Farmhouse. NHYM 2017. 

‘Celebrity rural retreat Soho Farmhouse is unrealistic, silly, utterly  contrived – and absolutely fabulous.’ – The Mirror 

It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to check out Soho Farmhouse – I’d heard how uh-mazing it was about a million times – but a few things had been in the way of me and the milk float that takes you around to rural bliss. But this past half-term, the perfect opportunity came up for me to check into one of their ab-fab cabins and I took the chance before I could say, ‘Old-Nick-Jones-Had-a-Farm’.

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Cabins on the river. NHYM 2017.

As soon as you arrive to Soho Farmhouse, you are whisked off in a 1950s milk float to the cabins, which are interspersed along a ‘river’ (stream) that intersects the main grounds.

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Our cabin No.1 had a great, central location. The standalone cottage is seen behind. NHYM. 

But let’s get one thing straight. This is not ‘real’ country. This is for city folk pretending to be country folk. Just like me. Each cabin is equipped with bicycles which are the official mode of transport around the grounds. But if that’s not your thing, don’t worry, BMWs are available to pick you and drop you off at your leisure, so you never feel completely out of your comfort zone.

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Inside the cabins. NHYM 2017.

The cabins were my favourite part of the whole Farmhouse ‘experience.’ As someone wrote, it’s less ‘Little House on The Prairie’ and more ‘Little House on La Prairie.’ They are cosy, comfortable and warm and you could really just spend your whole weekend watching movies, taking baths and playing old records without ever having to leave. (There was an old record player that our ‘Farmhand’ didn’t know how to use, his excuse: ‘this was before my time’. I had to laugh)

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Kitchen in the Cabin. NHYM 2017. 

There is a kitchen for those who want to pretend they want to cook, but really, the restaurants will very happily fill you up without having to raise your little finger. The facilities at Farmhouse are great too, including the indoor-outdoor swimming pool that must be amazing in the summer, the Asian restaurant next to it and the heaven-on-earth-for-a-4-year-old kid’s club, which unfortunately is only for members. There are chickens, pony rides and zip lines that would put any 4 year old in hysterics. There is even a horse-and-carriage that will take you around the grounds, crazy golf and pigs rolling around in the mud.

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Outdoor tents. NHYM 2017. 

There are also new tents that have been erected for those who want more of a ‘be-at-one-with-nature’ experience but people we ran into who spent the night there came out freezing and in their bathrobes: there are no toilets or bathrooms in the outback. Which leads me to the fact that within 24 hours we ran into 5 people we knew: work people, school people, neighbours and even distant relatives! This is not where you go to have a quiet, relaxing weekend. This is where Central London convenes and puts on a Barbour jacket and Gucci wellies instead of owning a country pile to inhale the fresh air.

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Inside the tents. NHYM 2017. 

It’s so popular with Londoners that David Beckham is building a farm literally next to Farmhouse, that’s how much he loves it, but doesn’t want to slum it in one of the cabins.

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Inside the Barn. Courtesy of the Internet. 2017.

Soho Farmhouse is a Disneyland for adults, a Butlins for Toffs, a Center Parcs on luxury steroids. It is equally fabulous as it is fake, but it is a whole lot of fun. It is ‘the’ place to throw a birthday party, and it is a dream place for kids too – my daughter cried when we had to leave…

But, one of the main downsides is that non-members are no longer allowed to stay at the weekends, and there is a slight ‘members’ vs ‘non-members’ taste that irritated me when they told me the kids couldn’t go to the kids club. Very smugly irritating. Especially when Ron Burkle, a complete suit, owns pretty much 60% of it…. So despite how wonderful it is, I probably won’t be staying again any time soon – but I’ll just have to find someone to throw a fab fortieth to get into that milk float again.

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

 

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Photos, Reviews, Travel

Florence…With Kids!

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Florence view from Villa San Michele. All photos NHYM 2017

As we all know, traveling with kids is just not the same as travelling without kids. I laugh at my friends with young babies who tell me ‘But, holidays are just not holidays with kids!’ And then the children grow up a bit and you can leave them in the Kids’ Club and have a few hours of peace on the beach with a book and cocktail in hand. I am now at the age where my children are – just about – ready for cultural holidays.

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So this summer, we decided to take the plunge and take a ‘plane-car-boat-train-road-trip’ from Florence to France. Florence, I thought, would be a great place to start exposing them to sight-seeing and cultural holidays. It’s rich in culture, art, architecture and history, while being quite manageable in size. Oh and it has some great hotels and great food.

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The one thing about getting older – and I am – is that it’s the time to fulfil your dreams. As children and as we grow up, we create our dreams in our minds, but as an adult, you get to make those dreams – hopefully – happen (or so I tell myself so I don’t get too depressed about getting older). Villa San Michele is one of those places I had read about twenty years ago and always wanted to go. It is an old monastery with a facade by Michaelangelo, which was converted into a luxury hotel. It is one of these places where you feel like you are absorbing history just by staying there. Some people may find it too old/cold, not-as-great as-it-once-was, but I loved it and was very happily not disappointed. It has the most wonderful views of Florence and is up in the hills where it is cooler than the valley where Florence resides.

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We loved our room, a Garden Suite, which we got as an upgrade and it was huge and perfect for a family of four. Not sure how or why we got such a great upgrade, but it ended up being the most value-for-money hotel we stayed in for the entire trip.

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The trick I realised with cultural holidays, is that you should spend 3 – 4 hours sightseeing with the children, and then make sure there is a pool at the hotel where they can spend the rest of the day. It was the perfect balance for them and for us.

ChiesaItaly

Top 5 Activities To Do With Kids in Florence: 

  1. Ride a Tuk Tuk or any other kind of fun transportation through Florence to see the main landmark places such as the Piazzale Michaelangelo, the Duomo, and the Ponte Vecchio so you don’t have to hear ‘I don’t want to walk anymore!’ http://www.tuktukflorence.net/tuk-tours
  2. Do a treasure hunt through the museums and palaces like the Palazzo Vecchio with a tour guide looking for flowers, turtles and mystical creatures. (Dr. Alessandra Bernabei is great – although on the expensive side +393398517317)PizzaMakingFlorenceNHYM
  3. Learn how to make your own pizza and gelato. And then eat them for dinner. https://www.florencetown.com/161-pizza-gelato-cooking-class.html
  4. Take a trip to surrounding areas such as Chianti, Forte Dei Marmi or Cinque Terre. http://www.marklimotours.com – Mark speaks perfect English and will take you anywhere you want.
  5. This one’s not really for the kids but has to be done. Leave the kids in front of a DVD and have a romantic dinner at La Loggia restaurant in Villa San Michele. Utterly beautiful views and sunset to try to get a little romance back. SunsetVillaSanMicheleNHYMThe children learned about the history of the Romans, the Medicis, about architecture and religion, about pizza and gelato making and about Michaelangelo and the Renaissance. It was a really culturally enriching trip and fun for the whole family. For anyone thinking about going to Florence, I highly recommend it!

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

@NHyummymummy

Recommended hotels:

Villa San Michele

https://www.belmond.com/villa-san-michele-florence/

Four Seasons Florence

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Social Commentary, Travel

Welcome Back! And falling in Love with London again…

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Portovenere, Italy. All Photos Courtesy of NHYM. 2017.

I just wanted to write a quick note to say Hello and Welcome Back! I took the summer off from writing and promoting my book, The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land. Frankly, it was quite wonderful forgetting about book sales and anything related – although I did manage a radio interview with Irish Radio RTE sitting by the pool, and did manage to appear in The Sun! No, not as a Page Three girl but still.

This summer, I took the last few weeks of August and travelled around Italy and France with trains/planes/boats/automobiles and even Tuk Tuks, for our first cultural family holiday starting in Florence and ending in France. It was the Dolce Vita with history, art, cooking and geography lessons as well as showing my children how others live in small Italian towns.

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Vernazza, Italy. NHYM 2017.

Coming back to London the Sunday before school started was a big shocker. People ask how my kids are adapting to being back-to-school (they love it), but really they should be asking me how it feels to be back-to-reality. Yes, I know you shouldn’t feel sorry for me, most people have been working all summer, but I am having ‘re-entry-into-London-adjustment-issues.’ Friends of ours have left London to live in Spain/France/the countryside/Switzerland and sometimes when I return to the frantic-ness of school gates/school-uniforms/tutors/tests and stress, I always wonder whether this is what I want.

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Italy. Eco Del Mare. NHYM 2017

But then, I go about trying to fall in love with London, and it isn’t so hard after all. There is something special about London (when it doesn’t rain). We are in a vibrant, cultural, dynamic hub of Europe and as I receive invitations to great events, I am reminded that this is where things happen. The Frieze is coming up so soon, reminding me that London is an art centre of the world, as well as a talk from the CEO of Sotheby’s I am hoping to attend. I am in talks with a charity, which would hopefully involve me in something greater than myself or my ‘bubble.’  Finally, London is where I wrote and published my first book, which has overall been such a great creative experience. I have my own upcoming events, which are quite exciting. Next week, I am having an event with Anya Hindmarch on Tuesday, and in a few weeks time, I have an event with 3HouseClub in St. John’s Wood for NW8mums. Only in London would I get these great collaboration opportunities.

Isabella DavidsonAnyaHindmarch

How great is this e-vite? I absolutely love it so had to share it. (Please contact me on nottinghillyummymummy@hotmail.com if you are interested in coming to any of my events) I also have a potentially exciting project in the pipeline – which may or may not come to fruition, but even just having these discussions is creatively wonderful.

And of course, I am reminded every day how great it is to be in such an international, tolerant, open-minded, educated city when I look around the restaurants, the school gates, and even while walking down the street, and I know this is where I am meant to be right now.

So here’s to being Back-to-School, Back-to-Reality, and Back-to-London. I hope you have had a wonderful start to your – school – year!

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

@NHyummymummt

 

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Reviews, Top 10, Travel

Glamping at New Barn Farm

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Glamping Canvas Frills Tent. NHYM 2017. All photos courtesy of NHYM

When I told my friends I was going ‘glamping’ they looked at me suspiciously: ‘You? Glamping? Really?’ It is true that glamping is not on the top of my travel bucket list (uhm, Bhutan, Buenos Aires and Burma are currently my frontrunners) but it was something I was prepared to do ‘for the children.’

Lately, all of my friends have been going glamping. Apparently it is ‘the’ thing to do if you are middle/upper middle class in England. (And Soho Farmhouse does NOT count). So, when two friends asked if I wanted to go glamping, I was curious enough to give it a try (I’ll try anything once). They booked the New Barn Farm in Bedfordshire which is a running farm with a camp site on it and is part of Feather Down, a collection of glamping holidays.

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Inside Canvas Frills Tent. NHYM 2017.

For those who do not know what ‘glamping’ is, it is ‘glamourous camping,’ which means you actually have a bed. How hard could it be? Well, it all started before we left and I was given a list of what to bring: blankets, milk, water, food, tea, coffee, fruit, matches, hot water bottles and the list goes on – you pretty much have to pack your whole house for one weekend. And then I forgot socks.

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The Bathroom. NHYM 2017.

The good news is that our Canvas Frills Tent had a bathroom – some of the tents didn’t have bathrooms. You actually had to go to an outhouse. Now that was one step too far for me. Apparently the farmer told my friends that I looked very ‘nervous’ when I arrived and he kept asking if I was OK every time he saw me. Ha.

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Chicken coop. NHYM 2017

Before you arrive, you can ‘reserve’ some chickens next to your tent and guinea pigs, which of course the girls were thrilled with.

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Eggs from the chicken coop. NHYM 2017. 

We were able to collect eggs from the chicken coop which was rather satisfying – cooking my freshly collected eggs made me feel very ‘one with nature.’ (Well actually, my friend cooked them).

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Rabbits petting farm. NHYM 2017. 

This is a working farm with lambs, pigs, swans, goats, roosters, horses, bunnies and guinea pigs, so for animal loving children, this is heaven. (You should try pig feeding, it’s quite an experience). There is a small petting farm that children can go in and pet the bunnies and guinea pigs to their heart’s delight.

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Baby Guinea Pig. NHYM 2017.

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Rooster New Barn Farm. NHYM 2017. 

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One of the pet Guinea Pigs. Which we lost. NHYM 2017

One of the great past-times at New Barn Farm is guinea-pig-chasing….Basically, you can ‘rent’ a guinea pig for the weekend who stays in a cage outside your tent, but when you take them out for a pet and you don’t hold them tight enough, they are prone to run away. Our group lost two guinea pigs in two days and had to go chasing guinea pigs in bushes and under our tent. Not a good record.

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Fire and boiling water. NHYM 2017. 

The other great past time whilst glamping is building fires. I had been forewarned that it can get very cold at night (we were there early May) and there is no heat in the tent apart from the fire, so be prepared (or rather husbands and dads be prepared) to keep a continuous fire going. You will need to buy 1) wood 2) coal 3) kindling 4) matches and bring a man with big biceps to keep the fire going all night long…. It was freezing in the night, despite multiple blankets, so I barely slept  (and neither did my youngest who told me she was dreaming of tropical beaches).

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Cupboard bed. NHYM 2017

The cupboard bed was a fun novelty for my eldest and was the warmest part of the tent at night – protected and closest to the fire.

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Breakfast NHYM 2017.

One of the highlights was having our meals together in one of our friend’s tent: 3 families, 6 children and 6 adults all cozying up in one tent. You can pre-order your meals which will be waiting for you at the farm ‘shop,’ including breakfast and BBQ essentials. Although it isn’t quite room service, it is a lot of fun. Saturday night is pizza night, where the hosts will make pizza in their outdoor pizza oven for you, which is great fun.

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Feeding baby lambs. NHYM 2017. 

The other big highlight for our children was feeding baby orphan lambs with milk bottles. We went there specifically in Spring for this, and although it was cold, the girls loved it.

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The New Barn Farm. NHYM 2017. 

For a true farm experience for the children, New Barn Farm was great. Despite the freezing cold, the kids really enjoyed it and if it had been warm it would have been perfect. As long as you bring a few hot water bottles (or a man with biceps to keep the fire going) and go with some friends who will host you in their tent so you don’t have to do the cleaning up, you will survive. Like I did.

New Barn Farm: 

http://www.featherdown.co.uk/location/new-barn-

Other glamping options:

http://www.featherdown.co.uk

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

@NHyummymummy

FarmerTruckNHYM

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Photos, Reviews, Travel

Hotel Review: Carlisle Bay, Antigua

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View from the water. NHYM 2017. All photos courtesy of NHYM. 

Overall: 4.2 stars

Hotel: 4.3 stars

Beach and location: 4.5 stars

Rooms: 4.4 stars

Food: 4.4 stars

Service: 3.5 stars

Value for money: 3.8 stars

As you – my readers – all know, I have a slight obsession with the Maldives (it is after all, my ‘happy place’). But this year, we decided that we needed to try something different. So, after discussions with many friends, it was decided that Carlisle Bay in Antigua would be our next destination.

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View from the beach Carlisle Bay. NHYM 2017. 

One friend said that ‘it is as close as what you get in the Maldives’ : a luxury, family friendly hotel with beach front villas, a great Kids Club, and clear, shallow waters for the kids. (But I was also told to manage my expectations, because it still isn’t quite the Maldives).

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The Beach, Carlisle Bay. NHYM 2017. 

THE HOTEL

As soon as I arrived, I realised why my friends had sent me here: beautiful hotel grounds, a restaurant right on the beach, and the incredibly beautiful and idyllic beach and bay, Carlisle Bay. The beach was one of my favourite parts of the hotel, you couldn’t fault it.

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Hotel Grounds. NHYM 2017.

Antigua is only 8 hours from London, which already gets points for being one of the closest tropical island destinations (Maldives: 10/11 hours, Mauritius 11/12 hours, Asia/Thailand 13+hours). And, you can fly there on British Airways on points.

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The Room. NHYM 2017.

It is an all-suite hotel, and we were given a family suite which was the perfect set up for a family: a large main bedroom with living area and a second bedroom with 2 twin beds for the children. This set up, I have to say, was perfect. The room was bright, clean, and crisp. It provides what you ask for. (The only thing I would comment on is that the common stairs were not cleaned regularly which is something they could work on).

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The pool Carlisle Bay. NHYM 2017. 

The pool is nice enough, but nothing spectacular. It is also set back so there is no view of the sea from the pool, something I do really love and find in most hotels in the Maldives. The other disappointment was the service around the pool was quite slow at times: ie. we ordered our children’s dinner at 5pm and it arrived at 6pm and as you can imagine, hungry children make for very irritable parents (Free children’s dinners from 5-6pm).

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View from our room. NHYM 2017.

Another annoying thing was that there was a Mercedes conference/convention while we were there, and we had to change rooms because of the noise they made one night. I would definitely check with the hotel to make sure there isn’t a conference when you are staying there, as it does change the vibe of the hotel.

ACTIVITIES

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View from Shirley Heights. NHYM 2017. 

There are plenty of activities to choose from, from visiting Shirley Heights (above), to going to Stingray cities to pet stingrays (the kids loved it), to going snorkeling on a reef nearby (complimentary). We were spoilt for choice and the hotel does a good job encouraging these activities. We missed out on sunrise yoga on the pier and a hike through the jungle. Another time.

There are also a lot of cool beach restaurants like Catherine’s Cafe and Jacqui O’s that are great fun both for parents and children.

KIDS CLUB 

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Kids Club NHYM 2017. 

Oh Kids Clubs. They can make-or-break a family holiday. But luckily for us, my children LOVE Kids Clubs. I have trained them since the age of 11 months old to love Kids Clubs. So off they went happily every morning, even though there weren’t many children because of the Mercedes convention. As my husband says, we got free babysitting by a bunch of adults.

One of the highlights was on our last night (after the Mercedes gang had left), when they organised a Pyjama Party from 6:30-9pm with music, cupcakes and games. As you can imagine, all the parents dropped off their kids and went for romantic dinners. Everyone was happy: happy kids, and happy parents. There were also great activities for older children: kayaking, going to stingray city, to water parks, tubing etc…

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Sunset while my kids were at the Kids Club Pyjama Party. NHYM 2017. 

FOOD

The food was in general very good. We have had mediocre food in the Maldives and in the Caribbean, so we were very pleased with the quality. The only slight comment was that the breakfast buffet didn’t have that much choice relative to hotels in Asia and in the Maldives, but the a la carte menu was very adequate. What was great was that the kids would be happily playing in the sand on the beach while we slowly enjoyed our cappuccino. Bliss.

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Sunrise from our room. NHYM 2017.

SERVICE

There were a lot of good things about the hotel as I mentioned above, but the service was one thing that was really hit-or-miss. We had some excellent waitresses like Georgie, who was so nice to the kids and great waiters at dinner time, but we were also faced with some waitresses that looked like I was asking them a HUGE favour to order breakfast, as if they really couldn’t be bothered. For the price we pay (it isn’t a cheap hotel), the service should be 100% top notch, but sadly it failed on a number of occasions, ie. The coconut incident: I ordered a coconut at 10:30am and was told it would take a while: it arrived at 4:30pm!!!

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OVERALL

We did have a lovely time at Carlisle Bay and the kids loved it, but we were slightly disappointed in the service, given the standard of the hotel. The beach days and activities were great, the Kids Club kept my kids happy, and the breakfast was really good (my favourite meal of the day). There are a lot of repeat guests because it is an easy hotel: easy to get to, easy to get on the beach, easy to leave your kids in the Kids Club. So as long as you don’t go when there is a Mercedes conference and you don’t order a coconut, you should have a great time.

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

@NHyummymummy

 

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Top 10, Travel

The Ocean House, Antigua

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The Ocean House sunset. This photo is courtesy of the owner but all other photos courtesy of NHYM. Copyright 2017.

During our last two days in Antigua, we were invited to stay at The Ocean House, a new 4-bedroom villa situated on the water’s edge at the Northwest side of the island, near St. John’s, the capital.

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It was built and designed by a London luxury real estate developer who had a vision of an infinity pool falling directly into the water. This vision eventually became a reality last year, and this beautiful villa is now available for holiday rentals.

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The entrance. NHYM 2017. 

As you approach the villa by car, you could mistake it for a modest, bungalow on the side of a road, but as soon as you enter the house, you realise that it is so much more. Firstly, there is that view. A 180 degree, panoramic view where the infinity pool drops into the water, and blends into the sky, which you could stare at for days on end.

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Infinity pool. NHYM 2017.

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Living Room. NHYM 2017.

But it isn’t just the view that makes you fall in love with this house: all the small, carefully chosen details show that this was a labour of love. And it is so much bigger than it appears both on photographs or from the outside.

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Living room details. NHYM 2017.

I love all the beautiful details, the blue corals, the beach rules and the various books littered around the living room, and the white, blue and grey colour scheme which fits in with its name, The Ocean House. It is a light, spacious and airy house, which makes you feel immediately at home.

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The Dining Room. NHYM 2017.

The sea view is visible from the kitchen/dining room, the living room and the master bedroom, which all lead to the terrace and to the focal point of the house – the infinity pool.

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Outdoor deck. NHYM 2017. 

Outside, there is access to a pier, where you can be picked up by boat and taken around Antigua for the day. It was one of our favourite days in Antigua – stopping for lunch at Green Island, a deserted island where your little ones can paddle in crystal clear waters with no one but a few sailboats in sight.

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Steps down to the water. NHYM 2017. 

Down by the pier, there is paddle boarding and swimming for those looking to exercise, otherwise lazing by the pool is just as tempting.

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Guest room. NHYM 2017. 

To me, hotels exude a sort of transiency, knowing that eventually I will say goodbye. But with a house, an attachment is formed, which makes me dream of it days after leaving. So, weeks on, I am still dreaming of the Ocean House, its view, and its spectacular sunsets.

Until next time….

 

Thank you The Ocean House for hosting us!! It was absolutely fabulous! xx

 The Ocean House is available to rent through its website: http://theoceanhouse.co.uk or on https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p4237756

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

@NHyummymummy

TheOceanHouseBougainvilleaNHYM

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