What is it? Most of our time was spent exploring the local area. Back at the hotel we used the indoor pool every day, and the kids had great fun on the outdoor climbing frame and racing around the hotel grounds, which stretch over 50 acres (incorporating a golf course). For older kids, there’s table-tennis, snooker and two tennis courts.
Where? Some entertainment is provided with the hotel’s special packages – at Easter and Christmas for example, and race-day packages which coincide with meetings at nearby Folkestone race track. Check details before booking. The restaurant opens from 7pm until 10pm, and the less formal bistro is open all day until 10pm.
Description: It’s a family-friendly hotel, built in 1880, with good facilities for kids and adults, offering a great base from which to explore the Kent coast and historic Canterbury.
During school holidays, the hotel organises sporting and creative activities for kids aged six to 12. Babysitting is available through an outside agency (48 hours’ notice needed).
The spa offers a wide choice of treatments but is very popular, so you’ll need to book well in advance (I failed on this front!). There’s also an 18-metre heated pool, steam room, sauna, gym and nine-hole golf course.
We took a ride on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway, explored Dover Castle and its secret wartime tunnels in the white cliffs, and visited South Foreland lighthouse and Canterbury Cathedral. Also nearby are Port Lympne and Howletts wild animal parks, Woodchurch Rare Breeds Farm and the Battle of Britain Museum near Folkestone.
Just how busy the spa can get. In fairness, we were warned to book before arrival but with young kids it’s difficult to know your movements until you actually get there and can suss things out. I figured I was flexible enough to get a slot because I was happy to be squeezed in at any time on the Friday or Saturday – wrong! When I tried to book on Thursday afternoon both days were fully booked.
Eat at the Bistro, not the restaurant, if you’ve got young kids. Although you’ll be accommodated, you’ll feel more relaxed in the bistro where it’s much less formal.
Local activities: The bunk bed and TV in the kids’ bedroom caused the biggest excitement. “Can we stay here all day?” six-year-old Savannah wanted to know. Swimming was a huge hit, as was looking out of the window at the sea, racing the lift down to the bottom floor and dipping strawberries into melted chocolate.
Wish we had known: The Hythe Imperial is owned by Marston Hotels, a privately owned hotel group with 12 hotels throughout England. Visit their website www.marstonhotels.com or call 01303 267441. The Imperial has five family rooms (two of which are executive) and interconnecting rooms for larger families. Children under 17 sharing two parents’ accommodation are free. Those sharing with one adult or in separate rooms are charged at 50% adult rate. The cost of a double room including B&B (Fri-Sun) is L142 per person per night. Special packages are also available. Contact the hotel for details.
Our top tip: ‘Bunk beds – wow! Our own TV – fantastic! And they’ve even got one of these things… and it actually works!’ Yep, our daughter Savannah’s first impressions of her room at the Imperial were pretty favourable. In case you’re wondering, the ‘thing’ which ‘actually works’ turned out to be a doorstop. The one by our front door at home has been broken for years, so a fully functional one is obviously the height of luxury to an over-excited six-year-old. I guess it means you can fling the door open with gay abandon – an opportunity not to be missed for Savannah and her three-year-old sister, Imogen. We checked into our executive family room at the Hythe Imperial mid afternoon one Thursday, having spent the morning riding the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway – a mini steam railway which runs for 13.5 miles from the centre of Hythe (minutes from the hotel) to Dungeness lighthouse, via Dymchurch and New Romney. Both girls loved it. [LOOKING_OUT_THE_WINDOW.JPG]The room at the Imperial was very spacious and comfortable. It had a sea view, which gave the girls more to watch than the TV, and meant that each morning we awoke to a chorus from seagulls and the pigeons which roosted outside the girls’ bedroom window. When it came to entertaining the girls at the hotel, the pool won hands down. We took a family dip on that first afternoon and both mornings before breakfast. A huge advantage is the fact that there are no restrictions on when the kids can swim. And with the pool opening every day from 6.30am to 10pm, it’s always an option. It was a no-frills pool – rectangular, almost all one depth, which neither of the girls could reach the bottom of. But there were a variety of floats and armbands available which kept them amused for an hour at a time. There was also a playpen for babies. In the summer, the beach – just a walk across the road – is doubtlessly the main family attraction. We had fun skimming stones, strolling along and eating ice creams, but it was too cold when we visited in spring to really go for it. One of the hotel’s greatest assets was the food. The kids’ menu was extensive and their food freshly prepared – featuring everything from pasta and pizza to stir-fry chicken and cottage pie. There are two places to eat: the restaurant, open from 7pm until 10pm, and the less-formal bistro, which is open throughout the day. We checked out both – and gave both four stars! The hotel makes a perfect base for a traditional English seaside break. And when you’ve had your fill of sea and sand, there are plenty of day trips to take – excursions which will give older kids a real-life history lesson. Savannah was particularly fascinated by the bloodthirsty tales she learnt at Dover Castle and Canterbury Cathedral – Henry VIII beheading his wives, Thomas Beckett being slain and the air raids of World War II. [AT_THE_STEAM_RAILWAY.JPG] I was feeling particularly satisfied at the educational slant to our trip as we sat in the café at Dover Castle. ‘So, what have you learnt today?’ I asked my oldest daughter. ‘That Pringles come in mini packs,’ she said, her eyes wide with wonder and focused on the lunchbox in front of her. ‘Isn’t that fantastic!’ (Tanya Spriggs is a journalist who has worked extensively for parenting magazines and the parenting sections of daily newspapers. She lives in Kelvedon, Essex, with her husband, Alan, and two children.)