What is it? A glorious five-star country house hotel, restaurant and spa, voted by Harpers & Queen as one of the ‘100 Best Places in the World’ to stay and one of the ‘Top Ten in the UK’ in 2006. The restaurant is shortlisted as one of the best out of town options in the UK and for fussy junior diners “with a little notice, the chef is prepared to dishes for the difficult to please palate …”

Where? Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Evershot, Dorset.

Description: [Jerome_playing_chess.jpg]Visiting Summer Lodge is like visiting your grandmother – should she be a Countess, that is, and equipped with a stately pile and swarms of devoted retainers, ready to rustle up boiled eggs and soldiers or replenish the strawberry bowl at the snap of an imperious six-year-old’s fingers.

The food and wine list is brilliant, the rooms sumptuous and – unusually for such accommodation – kids are made genuinely welcome.

Walking off the results of breakfast, building an appetite for morning tea over a game of croquet, taking a bike ride round the lanes before lunch and spending the afternoon musing about dinner. There’s also an indoor pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, tennis and fully equipped gym should you have overdone it on the fang. Kids can roam the four acres of gardens, play on the swings or the child-size outdoor chess set, or further humiliate their parents at a range of board games. It’s the kind of place you go to spend time with your kids, not simply dump them in a kids’ club.

Evening entertainment focuses around having an aperitif or two in the cosy bar or formal lounge, followed by some serious dining and wining, then snuggling down in front of an open fire with a good book or selection of games. You can also borrow a huge range of DVDs from reception – perfect for keeping kids entertained under the watchful eye of your babysitter while you escape to indulge.

Babysitting can be booked in advance at the hotel reception.

Ooh yes. There is a lovely indoor pool, but parents will need to swim with small children as there is no specific kiddie area. Adults can also take advantage of treatments, ranging from hot cocoa foaming wraps to stone therapy. Booking is recommended, particularly for any of the half or full-day packages (L80-165).

Local activities: Lots to do and see within twenty miles, including Longleat and Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Parks, Sealife Centre in Weymouth, the Dinosaur and Teddy museums in Dorchester, Monkey World in Wareham, the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton and the Bovington Tank Museum. Frankly though, we were more than happy just to relax in the garden and watch Jerome frolicking.

Wish we had known: How seriously good the food and wine was going to be. We would have definitely booked a babysitter, as at six Jerome was too young to join us in the main dining room. (Kids need to be seven or older, and presumably capable of behaving themselves. Like adults, dress for kids is smart casual).

Our top tip: Make sure you have plenty of room on your credit card, because the wine list is amazing, thanks to cellar master Eric Zweibel, who just happens to be UK Sommelier of the Year. (Sadly we didn’t get around to trying the Dom Perignon 1966 “Oenotheque” Brut at L750).

Kids say: “Why don’t we live in a house like this? Why can’t we have servants at home?” says Jerome, who in the space of a mere 24 hours managed to develop far too many ideas about how life should be.

Getting There: Summer Lodge is about 2 1 hours from London (M3 to Junction 8, wend your way to Yeovil, take the A37 for Dorchester and follow the signs for Evershot. Fast rail services from London to Dorchester (South) or Yeovil Junction take about 2 hours; then it’s 20 minutes by cab or Summer Lodge chauffeur. B&B from L92.50-255.00 per person sharing per night; children’s cot L15 extra (www.summerlodgehotel.com, Tel: 01935 48 2040).

About our stay: Okay, taking a battle-mad boy to The Imperial War Museum the day before driving down to Summer Lodge was possibly not a great idea. Unleashed upon the unsuspecting staff at the luxury hotel, Jerome spent most of his time “going over the top” of the beautifully manicured lawns and popping out from behind trees to dispatch gardeners with a gun-shaped stick. But not an eyebrow was raised at his antics, and for a mother more used to wheedling him away from the TV, it was a joy to see him romping around in a very Just William kind of way. So while some may not appreciate Summer Lodge’s lack of brightly coloured plastic tat and hidey-hi kid clubs, Jerome found plenty to amuse himself, including whipping both his aunt and I at both croquet and outdoor chess. The sumptuous spreads at morning and afternoon teatimes were a particular highlight for the hungry young soldier-to-be.[In_the_lavish_hotel_suite.jpg] Most accommodation at Summer Lodge is in the main house, once home to the Earls of Ilchester (and enlarged by local author and architect Thomas Hardy). However, we stayed in the quaintly thatched Summer Lane Cottage, separate from the main house and with views over the surrounding countryside. With its two bedrooms, smallish living space and huge bathroom, it was perfect for a family group. Jerome was particularly taken with the thoughtfully supplied teddy on his bed and the way the staff reappeared fifteen minutes after showing us our room to replenish the bowl of strawberries (every six year old’s dream). One slight quibble was our cottage’s proximity to the road and the lack of a childproof gate, but Ivy Cottage behind led out into its own little courtyard which would be far safer. [Vic_and_Jerome_on_the_rocks.jpg] Not having arranged babysitting and despite a gourmet room service menu, we choose to eat dinner together at Acorn Inn in the village (also owned by Summer Lodge). The food was excellent, but the highlight for Jerome was the appearance of the Summer Lodge porter who’d let Jerome career around with him on the luggage cart earlier. Although off-duty, the porter was utterly unfazed by Jerome’s leechlike adoration, leaving Steph and I to finish our meals in peace. Now that’s what I call service. [Victoria Heywood is an Australian author and mother of Jerome, aged 6. She was travelling with her sister-in-law, Stephanie]

Created: 2006-09-06 17:43:19.640

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