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Tried and tested: Family-friendly hotels

Our team of writers and their families review the best places to check in, and chill out

Tried and tested: Family-friendly hotels
Vecchio Frantoio

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Vecchio Frantoio, Chianti, Italy

Knockout views are as plentiful as pasta in Tuscany but the rolling rural panorama around Casanuova di Ama is the stuff of Renaissance paintings. Vineyards undulate endlessly from this tiny hilltop hamlet to a distant horizon, perfectly framed in this stone-built villa’s elegantly shuttered bedroom windows; a scene fit for hanging in the Uffizi (Florence’s gargantuan art gallery is just over an hour’s drive away). And from the myriad patios of the tiered gardens, different vistas of woodlands, vines and olive groves; all of which rake down the hillside to a pool with more uninterrupted valley views. Not usually moved to remark on such things, our daugher Ella (12), dashed wordlessly around on arrival, from patios to pool, terraces to hot tub, finally breathing: “Wow. Best. House. Ever.”

Built up from the ruins of an olive press, two-storey Vecchio Frantoio (and its little annex cottage) really is superlative. From its four-poster beds to the beautifully tiled, smartly appointed en suite bathrooms, this is perfect Tuscan country-house rustic chic. With suntrap patios, loungers and reclining chairs at every turn, plus that pool, it’s made for summer, but our autumn stay was golden: from the fiery foliage lighting up surrounding hills to the harvest bounty at local restaurants.

Half-an-hour’s drive from Sienna, an hour-or-so from Pisa and Florence, it’s well located for city sightseeing and airport access, but we didn’t stray far. Just 15 minutes’ glorious country drive in any direction: a choice of postcard-perfect hilltop towns, each with medieval churches, excellent gelato, and affordable restaurants where families aren’t just welcomed but utterly fussed over. Local dishes such as pappardelle or pici (thick spaghetti) with ragu, cheese-filled tortelli and pizza a-plenty are a guaranteed hit with young diners, while excellent Chianti is almost on tap for adults.

Of the numerous walks from the villa, our favourite was to neighbouring Castello di Ama, the prestigious winemaker whose estate is embellished with incredible works of art. Wine tastings and a superb Tuscan lunch in the manor house were just as much fun and family-friendly.

Why: For a classic Chianti countryside retreat, close enough to tourist towns, but without any of the crowds.
Suits: Good for families with children of all ages (ours are 9 and 12), although tots might struggle with the steep, stepped garden.
Did it work: Yes, without exageration, it couldn’t have been better, although some might miss a proper oven (the kitchen has a mini oven, microwave, plus a bbq outside).
The details: To Tuscany offers a week’s self-catering at Vecchio Frantoio, near Gaiole in Chianti, from £2,176 to £3,562 per week. The three-bedroom villas have a private pool and sleep six.
Wine tastings and tours at Castello di Ama cost from €50 (£45) per person.
rhinocarhire.com offers a week’s rental from Pisa and Florence airports from £49.
Sarah Barrell

Hermitage Hotel & Resort

Hermitage Hotel & Resort

Hermitage Hotel & Resort, Forte dei Marmi, Tuscany

“This is bonkers” is what I thought as we were rolling up to the hotel; there are well-groomed pine-shaded streets, well-groomed people, well-groomed restaurants, actually pretty much well-groomed everything, it appears. Forte dei Marmi is famed for its somewhat over-the-top appeal, with designer stores and boutiques sitting alongside smart restaurants.

We were staying at the newly renovated Hermitage Hotel & Resort, situated a 10-minute walk from the centre of the stylish resort on the Tuscan coast. Owned and run by the Maschietto family, this 57-room hotel is the sister property to the fancier Augustus Hotel Resort, both benefitting from the mountain backdrop of the Apuan Alps.

The hotels also share access to the excellent beach club where you can book a ‘tent’ or ‘beach hut’ featuring two sun loungers, two seats, a table, poolside service, and access to the exquisite beachside Bambaissa restaurant serving some of the best sashimi and grilled octopus we’ve ever had.

For younger guests, the Hermitage features a new kids’ programme launched in 2018 for ages three to 10 years to learn all about international manners focusing on different cultures and traditions. Other morning activities for the kids include gardening, cooking, arts, music and theatre, but it’s the hotel’s newly renovated pool equipped with a swimming lane, children’s area and Jacuzzi that really captured our childrens’ attention.

The kid’s club grounds are extensive enough to house a play area and volley ball net, meaning the first day we struggled to persuade the kids to go down to the beach.

Out and about: our favourite restaurant was the very reasonably priced Ristorante Pizzeria al Bocconcino, right in the centre of Forte dei Marmi’s buzzing square — cheap and cheerful with pizza from €6-8 (£7).
Why: It’s a pristine, manicured upmarket resort with a friendly welcome that very much includes children.
Suits: Families looking for a beach stay with some fine dining experiences and high-end shopping.
Did it work: Yes. The pool was a hit, as was the adult gym. The beachside tent was excellent, too.
The details: A basic double room is from €198 (£175) for one night on a B&B basis.
Maria Pieri

Gladwins Farm

Gladwins Farm

Gladwins Farm, Suffolk, UK

Just over the border from Essex, looking out over the undulating countryside of the Stour Valley, Suffolk’s Gladwins Farm offers 10 cottages in a relaxing, 22-acre rural setting.

There’s a swimming pool, steam room and spa as well as kids’ playground, playroom and a wealth of animals to feed — pigs, goats, sheep, chickens — making it a great place for families. And with a number of local woodland walks, you can even bring the dog.

Our four-bedroom cottage was spacious enough for two families and well equipped for everything you need with all rooms en suite, modern decor and a hot tub and barbecue on the terrace overlooking farmland.

The 24/7 ‘honesty shop’ is a clever idea, with homemade frozen meals, croissants and ice creams as well as essentials (bread, milk, tea, coffee) and produce from local suppliers. And with a DVD library, information centre and free wi-fi, everything has been taken care of to ensure a comfortable, easy break.

Colchester and Ipswich are within easy reach but the stunning coasts of both Essex and Suffolk are the main attraction. We spent a day exploring Mersea Island but whether you drive 20 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes, there’s almost too much to see and do. We stayed for three nights but could easily have stayed for two weeks and still not seen enough.

Why: For countryside and coastal walks.
Suits: Families with kids of all ages.
Did it work: Without a doubt.
The details: A week’s stay in Chelsworth Cottage for eight starts from £1,235 and a three-night weekend from £925.
Pat Riddell

Hyatt Regency Birmingham

Hyatt Regency Birmingham

Hyatt Regency, Birmingham, UK

When you find yourself wishing you’d booked a longer stay, you know the hotel is doing something right. The 319-room Hyatt Regency Birmingham offers a city-centre stay with all the mod-cons and direct access to both the National Exhibition Centre and Star City. It’s also currently in the shadow of a huge railway building explosion, but that seems to have had no impact on the noise levels in the hotel. In fact, the most noise came from the partying guests who rolled in later then us early-to-bed-family folk. We had two adjoining rooms that worked well, with muted greys and brown decor, pristine white sheets, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an excellent bath/shower.

Breakfast is a buffet or a la carte affair with good gluten-free offerings, while for lunch or dinner you can head to the in-house Aria Restaurant, or Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill, situated within a five-minute walk of the venue. Off-site, we loved the French-styled Bistrot Pierre, for steak, macaroni cheese and mussels.

Why: For a city centre stay with all the amenities: a gym, fitness centre, 50ft pool and great spa.
Suits: Business travellers (there is a big business centre), but it works well for families or groups of friends, too.
Did it work: When you wish you could stay longer, it works.
The details: From £99 standard rate on king-size room; 50% family discount on interconnecting rooms, subject to availability.
Maria Pieri

The Chester Grosvenor

The Chester Grosvenor

The Chester Grosvenor, Chester, UK

The country’s best-preserved example of a walled Roman town, Chester is a gem of a city break that’s somewhat hidden in the shadow of neighbouring Manchester and Liverpool. A compact destination, easy on little legs: start with a stroll back in time along the ancient Roman-medieval walls that form a near-complete city circuit.

Chester Grosvenor Hotel, set in a grand Tudor Revival building right next to the walls, is the place to stay, with 80 plush bedrooms and suites, an afternoon tea lounge, and newly added Champagne bar. The Michelin-starred Simon Radley is on site but families should head under the black-and-white timbered Rows (Chester’s two-tiered, medieval shopping galleries) to find Porta for exemplary, affordable Spanish tapas in a cosy cave-like space right next to the city walls. The shiny new Storyhouse library, theatre and cinema is a brilliant place for Mediterranean food, and a cosy cafe setting in which to read, catch a movie or show. On the outskirts of town, don’t miss Chester Zoo, which features in BBC One’s Our Zoo.

Why: For atmospheric, walled-city break.
Suits: Families with tots to tweens.
Did it work: Yes, for such a small city there’s tons to see.
The details: The Chester Grosvenor has doubles from £165 per night, B&B.
visitcheshire.com
Sarah Barrell

The Principal Blythswood Square Hotel

The Principal Blythswood Square Hotel

Glasgow’s only five-star hotel is surprisingly family-friendly. Overlooking a private garden square, the hotel’s Georgian townhouses were originally home to wealthy merchants and later turned into the headquarters for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club. A warm welcome soon makes us feel at home and our daughter is utterly won over when we get to our junior suite and discover a tepee set up for her to play in, complete with cuddly fox. She even gets a miniature ‘Little VIP’ soft robe and her own set of Elemis toiletries. The suite, one of 114 rooms in the hotel, is appealingly decked out in tweed and marble. With high ceilings and big sash windows overlooking the square, it feels very large and airy.

We were made to feel extremely welcome in the elegant restaurant, too, where there’s a very good children’s menu, and a grown-up menu that made us very happy. Caraway loaf with goats’ butter was followed by scallops, roasted brill and a delicious Kintyre smoked cheddar macaroni with lobster. The excellent breakfast was also taken in the restaurant: the porridge with whisky is a truly Scottish way to start the morning for the adults.

There’s also a wonderful spa, which is for over 16s only.

Why: For a taste of Scotland’s buzzing biggest city, this centrally located hotel is luxurious but child-friendly.
Suits: Those looking for a high-end stay even with their little ones.
Did it work: Absolutely — Glasgow’s big-hitting sights are all nearby, and it’s a lovely place to retreat to.
The details: A deluxe double room is £309 bed and breakfast.
Jo Fletcher-Cross

Published in the Family 2019 issue, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)