Spring will be here shortly, and after a quiet January it's time to start planning some mini breaks to give us something to look forward to as the weather improves and the bank holidays start appearing on the calendars. If you live and work in London, a break in the country is an appealing option, and Kent is a great location for those keen to get some fresh country air without travelling too far afield.
Tunbridge Wells, just over an hour's drive from London, is a beautiful spot. My visit to the town was during a particluarly warm bank holiday weekend last year, and the Hotel du Vin was the destination selected as a base for a weekend spent enjoying some outdoorsy adventures with my youngest son.
Enjoying some treetop adventures in Bedgebury Forest
In fact the adventures began before even checking in to the hotel. Our journey took us via the nearby Bedgebury Forest and we stopped off to try our hands at the treetop challenge at Go Ape. It was a lot of fun! After a thorough tutorial from our instructor Ben, we hooked on our carabiners and clambered up to some very high platforms - within minutes we were traversing rope swings and zip wiring through the trees. The zip wires are long - it was only the shrieks of joy as my son disappeared into the foliage that reassured me that he was probably still attached! And his beaming face at the end of our adventure declared this a very successful start to our weekend of father-son bonding (and yes, I'll admit, I enjoyed the adrenaline boost too!)
With bits of twigs and bark still in our hair we headed to the hotel where we gratefully eyed our sumptuous beds in our large, beautifully furnished room in the former Georgian mansion. The Grade-II-listed building is the perfect base for a weekend of active pursuits. The roll-top baths and overhead showers are great for freshening up after an adventure in the trees or a dash through the forest, and the fluffy towels and gowns are so comfy it can feel difficult to leave the hotel at all. But as relaxed as we felt that first afternoon and evening as we enjoyed the hotel's grounds and the stunning views over Calverley Park, our intention for the next day was to challenge ourselves again - this time with a visit to Bewl Water, to circumnavigate the reservoir on our bikes. Just 20 minutes drive from the hotel, the reservoir is a beautiful focal point for a day of cycling, jogging, walking or water sports - and a great antidote to busy London city life.
The Hotel du Vin is a Grade II listed building
We set off early, and after 23 kilometers of cycling (and a mere 3.5 hours later!), we flopped off our bikes and piled back into the car, very glad we'd gone all out at breakfast at the Hotel du Vin's Bistro as we certainly had needed the fuel. My son had devoured the Severn & Wye smoked salmon, while I'd stuck with the traditional full English breakfast - both were delicious and the perfect primer for a hard day in the saddle.
We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon to rejuvenate with a soak in our luxurious free standing bath and then wandered down to Calverley Grounds where we discovered not only some stunning landscaped gardens, but also a fun adventure playground, located just behind the hotel.
There are plenty of restaurants in close walking distance - the first night we grabbed a trusty Wagamamas. But for our final night we dined in the gardens of the Hotel's Bistro. The food was delicious - they say it has a French influence with a British flair - and it's the perfect combination of hearty food options with the Hotel du Vin's appropriately sophisticated wine pairings. We ended our meal with a chocolate truffle dessert even tomorrow's breakfast choice would have a hard time beating!
Trains travel to and from London Charing Cross a few times every hour on the weekend, taking around an hour - so it's a very easy journey. In the car it takes about an hour and a half, depending where you are starting from in London. Rooms at the Hotel du Vin start at £99.
Great family-friendly things to do nearby: Bedgebury Forest: Go Ape, Waymarked Cycle Routes. Bewl Water: Fishing, Walking, Bike Hire, Laser Challenge, Boat Hire, Aqua Park. Calverley Grounds: Adventure Playground, Tennis.