United Kingdom: Babies reign supreme

By Sheriden Rhode

With the UK in the grip of royal baby fever, there’s never been a better time for families, or expectant parents, to visit Britain, writes Sheriden Rhodes

Bodysgallen Hall and Spa Hotel, North Wales.
Bodysgallen Hall and Spa Hotel, North Wales.

Britain is throwing out the welcome mat for families and parents to be. In the capital and beyond to England's countryside and Wales, luxury hotels and country retreats offer pampering babymoon experiences and wonderful family holidays. In London you can shop for chic maternity wear, beautiful children's homewares or for the ultimate 'push present'. You can even visit Kensington Palace where a nursery fit for a royal baby awaits Kate and William's first child.

Right royal babymoons

Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire

Over the years Luton Hoo has counted many heads of state and members of royalty among its visitors, including the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh who spent part of their honeymoon in one of the mansion's vast state bedrooms, and returned to celebrate future wedding anniversaries. This magnificent 18th-century, grade 1 listed mansion, with it imposing facade, was built in 1767 by prominent architect Robert Adam for the 3rd Earl of Bute. Later, a mansard roof was added by Mewes and Davis, architects of the Ritz Hotel, and the interior redesigned in a lavish Edwardian 'Belle Epoque' style complete with a magnificent collection of jewellery, paintings, porcelain, and objets d'art.

Luton Hoo played an important role in wartime operations, and afterwards Sir Winston Churchill addressed 110,000 in the grounds of the estate to thank them for their support.

In more recent times, the hotel has been used for films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enigma, Eyes Wide Shut, Inspector Morse, Nicholas Nickleby, Vanity Fair and Bleak House.

For a truly royal experience make sure to book a room or suite in the Mansion House, once only the realm of aristocrats, royalty and the super wealthy. The Parkland Wing, which offers rooms in the former stables, is lovely, too, but nothing beats sweeping down the magnificent circular marble staircase for breakfast in the morning in the gilt-edged dining room with original chandeliers and marble inlays that, when installed, cost more than the house. Children welcome. lutonhoo.co.uk

Bodysgallen Hall and Spa, North Wales

As we cross the UK border into Wales, we stop for lunch at the fabulous Hawarden Estate Farm Shop and learn how close our path crossed with royalty. Pippa Middleton, Kate's younger sister, recently lunched here with a group of friends, choosing from the same seasonal menu featuring local ingredients.

From there it's a beautiful drive through the Wales countryside to Bodysgallen Hall and Spa, in more than 80ha of glorious parkland to the south of Llandudno, with views of snow-capped Snowdonia and the fascinating Conway Castle. From the top of the oldest part of the house, a five-storey tower dating from the late 13th-century and possibly built as a watch tower, you can see the Welsh isle of Anglesey where the Duke and Duchess of York have lived in a large but remote farmhouse since William was stationed there as a search and rescue helicopter pilot.

Bodysgallen Hall provides the best in country hospitality, plus an award-winning spa offering a pampering menu including gorgeous treats for mothers to be, making this a great choice for a babymoon.

My favourite experience was taking a walk along a country lane to the obelisk on a hill behind the hotel. As it was raining, I sheltered behind the obelisk with some highland sheep, waiting for the downpour to pass. When the rain had passed, the sheep and I were rewarded with a double rainbow. As I returned to the hotel, my cheeks flushed from the walk in the chilly autumn air, a pot of hot tea had thoughtfully been left in my room. bodysgallen.com

London

Kensington Palace

Although it's not possible to visit the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's private apartments at Kensington Palace, there's plenty more for adults and children to see.

Visitors will learn about Victoria's first day as Queen at Kensington Palace, the romance of her early relationship with Prince Albert and their family life. The Kensington Palace exhibition is in the rooms where Victoria lived as a child and here you'll find fun dress-up clothes and interactive displays for young visitors. Diana, Princess of Wales, lived in the apartments in the northwest part of the palace, and visitors can see a tribute to the "people's princess".

Afterwards take a stroll to the Italian Garden, a 150-year-old ornamental water garden on the north side of Kensington Gardens, or head to the Diana Memorial Playground, where a huge wooden pirate ship is the amazing centrepiece. hrp.org.uk.

A spot of shopping

While most mums will not receive anywhere near as grand a 'push present' as the one Prince William is rumoured to have planned for Kate (a home in Scotland), exquisite gifts and maternity wear abound at London's high-end boutiques and department stores.

Once a private road used only by royalty seeking access to Hampton Court, Kings Rd is synonymous with fashion, and famous figures such as Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood. Highlights around Sloane Square include boutique department store Peter Jones (rumoured to be stocking the uber expensive Jeep pram), Igloo, which features a children's mini emporium for kids 0-5 and divine homewares, or shop for beautiful (and relatively affordable) push presents from Kiki Mcdonough who provides the Duchess of Cambridge with semi-precious gem jewellery. Kiki was also a favourite with Princess Di.

For stylish maternity fashion, channel Catherine's impeccable style, at Pretty Pregnant (Kings Rd and across London). Blossom Mother and Child has a fabulous range of designer clothing for fashion-conscious mums-to-be, including the maternity range of British label Issa which the Duchess famously wore in her engagement photos with Prince William.

Kings Rd is also where you'll also find Cath Kidston, LK Bennett (one of the Duchess of Cambridge's favourite shoe shops) and Penhaligons for classic British scents. streetsensation.co.uk

Memory lane

Along with the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, the Victoria and Albert Children's Museum is another treasure of London's East End. Take a nostalgic journey though one of the world's best collections of kids' toys, dolls' houses, games and costumes, spanning centuries from the 1600s to today. There are activity rooms (including a dress-up box, play dough and sandpit), interactive exhibits, Meccano, Lego, lead soldiers, rocking horses, clockwork train sets, puppets and a decent cafe to boot. museumofchildhood.org.uk

A pot of Willy Wonka or chocolate tea?

A hedonistic experience for families is Camellia's Tea House, tucked away on the third floor of Kingly Court in trendy Carnaby St. Here you can try chocolate tea - a blend of Chinese and Ceylon black tea blended with dried cocoa and chocolate chips resulting in a traditional black tea flavour with a hint of chocolate.

Sip on this surprisingly refreshing brew with a selection of delicate sandwiches, cakes and other artisan bites served on a three-tiered stand in the charming teahouse surrounds. camelliasteahouse.com

The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel has launched an afternoon tea inspired by Roald Dahl's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and to coincide with the new stage musical in London's West End. Already famous as one of London's best afternoon tea spots, the new experience includes a welcoming shot of 'Fizzy Lifting' drink, the choice of 18 loose teas (including a special Willy Wonka tea), 'Oompa Loompa' cupcakes, Wonka bars and more.
Guests are sent on their way with an everlasting gobstopper, candy cane and lollipop, plus a 'Chesterfield Mayfair Golden Ticket' (just like the one Charlie found). Every ticket is guaranteed to win a treat. Priced at £32.50 a person plus service charge, this afternoon tea is available daily at the hotel's Butlers Restaurant. chesterfieldmayfair.com

Stays fit for royalty

The Langham, fresh from an extensive restoration which has recaptured its grand past and quintessential English feel, is a fabulous base for families in the capital. Regarded as Europe's first Grand Hotel, this historic property offers one of London's best afternoon teas at the elegant Roux at The Landau restaurant.

Family packages offer the option of shopping at Hamleys toy store, or a day out at the fascinating London Zoo in Regent's Park. Kids are spoiled with mini slippers and bathrobes, a dedicated children's menu and a wonderful pool to swim in. London's West End, where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the musical is showing, is nearby. london.langhamhotels.co.uk

The five-star Athenaeum is opposite Green Park near Buckingham Palace, just down the road from national museums and galleries, and close to world renowned shops and theatres. Families are well catered for with a dedicated Kids' Concierge, a team of fabulous nannies and a 'Sharky & George' member of staff who will create a bespoke, fun-filled itinerary especially for children to enjoy during their stay in the capital. athenaeumhotel.com

Accor's first upscale Pullman hotel in the UK, just three minutes walk from the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras and with the British Library as its neighbour, is also looking sharp following a major renovation. The contemporary 312-room hotel pays homage to Pullman's rich history in luxury train travel, with the in-house restaurant named the Golden Arrow, after one of the UK's most famous Pullman trains.

Quirky features include a fun bowler hat art installation in the connectivity lounge and a glass lift. pullmanhotels.com.


Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Visit Britain. See visitbritain.com

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