What is it? The Ickworth Hotel and Apartments, one of the Luxury Family Hotels Group and the east wing of the stunning National Trust Ickworth Estate, home to the Hervey family for over 200 years.

Where? Near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk

Description: [Florence_and_Cecily_relaxing _inside.jpg] Faith Dunne combined family fun with pampering for a weekend at one of the latest concepts in family hotels. The Ickworth Hotel and Apartments is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, and after a few days relaxing with husband Dom while the children took advantage of all the facilities, she now knows why.

This is a hotel with a difference. Children go free (apart from meals) and sleep on z-beds in your room, while mummies and daddies are treated to a luxury break of fine-dining, pampering and childcare.

Surrounded by 1,800 glorious acres of National Trust parkland and gardens, complete with woodland, deer park, canal and lake, there really is no need to leave. Pick up a map marked with walks of varying lengths, or help yourself to bikes. There is also a large wooden adventure playground; an outdoor trampoline and football nets; indoor hockey and table tennis; swimming pool and horse-riding. Finally, the hotel offers what it calls “Mule” rides – open 4×4 rides round the estate spotting deer and other wildlife – L85 for a family of up to five!

The Ickworth prides itself on flexibility. Choose from the so-called “fine dining” restaurant, Fredericks, which serves three courses for L37.50 per person, or the Cafe Inferno in the cellars where drinks and food are served till 9pm. You can either eat here as a family or feed the children, put them to bed and enjoy the world of civilised adult dining at Frederick’s while your slumbering (or DVD-watching!) cherubs are monitored through the baby-listening system. Alternatively, the hotel creche will provide a high tea for infants at around 5pm.

The Four Bears Den provides Offsted-regulated childcare for 0 to 7-year-olds from 10am to 4.45pm and is included in the price. Children can be left for up to two hours at a time and you may leave your mobile phone number – and the premises. For over -7s there’s the unsupervised “playden”, Club Blu, complete with table football, table tennis, playstation 2, TV and DVDs galore – teen heaven.

Aquae Sulis is where you head once you’ve dropped the teenies at the Four Bears Den. Just across the corridor, the health spa is a haven of tranquillity where you can have your troubles and stress scrubbed, polished and massaged away – at a price, of course.

Local activities: If you can bear to leave the estate, head for the pretty market town of Bury St Edmunds, just three miles away. Aldeburgh on the coast is about an hour’s drive or the dramatic castles of Framlingham and Orford are great for kids.

Wish we had known: How to come up with an idea like this! A brilliant concept for hard-working, high-earning parents in need of some peace. Boy, are they raking it in!

Our top tip: If you’re staying for more than two nights, book an apartment in the Dower House. You’ll have to pay for babysitting (L7 per hour) if you dine at the hotel, but with a small fridge, microwave and dishwasher you can do some catering yourselves to ease the cost. If your kids love cycling, be on the safe side and take your own bikes.

Kids say: Florence, 5, says: ‘Wow, I’ve got a TV… and a kitchen… and everything in my bedroom. Can we live here?’

Getting There: Check out www.luxuryfamilyhotels.com or call The Ickworth on 01284 735350. Rates start at L180 for one night’s dinner, bed and breakfast in low season for a standard double room which will probably fit one child’s bed or cot. Two interconnecting rooms will cost you upward of L400 for one night. Prices for Dower House apartments are given on enquiry.

About our stay: “Don’t jump on the furniture. Don’t scream and shout. And on no account yell ‘Poo poo, wee wee’ at the tops of your voices.” Indifferent to my warnings, Florence, 5, Cecily, 3, and Noah, 2, gazed up at the towering neo-classical pillars of The Ickworth’s imposing entrance. “Is this the ‘show ‘n’ tell’? asked Cecily. That’s hotel, darling. I needn’t have worried. The children were impeccably behaved. But even if they hadn’t been, The Ickworth is so relaxed no-one would have raised an eyebrow. Kids – their likes, dislikes and various delightful habits are welcomed and catered for here.[VIEW_OF_THE_MAIN_HOTEL.JPG] No need to worry if tiny shoes end up on sofas, or if Junior spins around – as Noah did – on the leather chairs. All decor, though cutting edge in design (my husband Dom noted the Charles Eames’ Saarinen tulip chairs), is cleverly chosen in the disguise-all-manner-of-spills muted colours of brown and bottle green. Another great thing about this place is you don’t feel you’re in a hotel, but more like you’re visiting friends – that is, if you have any filthy rich friends with a title. Children are free to roam while rows of wellies on the doorstep, cupboards stuffed with DVDs and games and linen closets and laundry rooms are all free to use. But while you might not directly pay for these freedoms, they are all, along with the childcare, taken into account in the room rates – which range from pricey to, by our standards, frankly decadent. But as Dom says, if you’re a City banker, who cares? Within 20 minutes of arriving, we’d had a tour and were mounting bikes and taking off round the estate. Bikes of varying sizes equipped with child seats and trailers are free. We were lucky, it was so bitterly cold that hardly anyone else was mad enough to cycle, so we had our pick of the bunch. Most of the adult bikes are the old-fashioned “sit-up-and-beg” style, which I love. “You look like Mary Poppins, Mummy,” Florence laughed, which fortuitously led to a singalong of Disney showtunes and distracted the children from the cold.[CYCLING_WITH_DOWER_IN_THE_BACKGROUND.JPG] First stop, the adventure playground. Cunning Cecily took shelter in the log teepees while Mummy and Noah played “injuns” outside. But before too long, the girls were imploring us to drop them off in the hotel creche. Though somewhat upset by their keenness to get rid of us, we didn’t put up a fight. Soon all three of them were ensconced in chocolate crispy cake-making in the primary-coloured Four Bears Den, while we sloped off to unpack and have a blissful cup of tea followed by a secret daytime pleasure: afternoon telly. Next was swimming, and it was only 4pm. Like the hotel, it’s a mix of contemporary and traditional. Dom admired the concrete loungers while I was strangely comforted by the stacks of white towels. Meanwhile, crates filled with every swimming aid you can think of kept the children happy. Starving after all our exertion, we headed to the cafe which we’d booked for supper – a sort of no-fuss, diner affair with bare tables. It wasn’t especially atmospheric and quite pricey (L10.50 for a pizza and L5 for a child’s main course). On reflection, we concluded that most couples must dine later in the restaurant. But after a half-bottle of very fine Rioja, Dom and I were struggling to stay awake. As we were staying in an apartment in the Dower House, we had the luxury of a sitting room, in which the children slept in two z-beds and a cot, and a separate bedroom for us. So after lights out, we snuggled up in bed to watch a DVD. We spared a thought for those couples glamming up for a romantic dinner for two, but were glad we’d opted for the pizza as, quite frankly, we didn’t have the energy! (Faith Dunne, 35 (aaargh), lives in Norfolk with her husband, Dominic and their three children, Florence, 5, Cecily, 3 and Noah, 2. The former Deputy Editor of Mother and Baby, she is now a part-time freelance journalist who writes for a variety of publications)

Created: 2006-03-14 15:58:30.480

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