A long, long time ago we had one baby and my dream was to go to a luxury family hotel and have some rest. It didn't quite work out the way I had hoped - but that was her fault, not the hotels! Luckily, she is now 11 and far easier to travel with...
"It was almost 8pm - time for dinner - but our daughter, Jessica, was not yet asleep. There was nothing for it, but to creep, slowly out of the room. So my husband and I got down on our hands and knees, crawled past Jessica's cot and safely out through the door.
We stood, waiting for a scream or indignant complaint, but none was forthcoming. Instead we quietly tiptoed down the corridor and to the restaurant.
There's something strange about holidaying with a small child. Hotels which previously sounded fantastic are suddenly less appealing.
It may be because they don't have any facilities for your child, because children aren't welcomed in their restaurants, or simply because they don't offer baby listening in the evenings.
Without a simple intercom, eating in the downstairs restaurant becomes impossible.
The child-friendly facilities were the main reason I was so keen to visit The Ickworth Hotel. As the latest addition to the upmarket and fast-growing Luxury Hotels group, it promises that odd sounding combination - luxury and a warm welcome for your children.
If you have a baby, for example, your room is automatically equipped with travel cot, nappy bucket and changing mat. Steam sterilisers and bottle warmers are also on offer, as is that priceless delight - baby listening.
The rooms are also very quiet. Despite being next door to two toddlers, we didn't hear a peep from them all night long.
Ickworth House was created by the Earl Bishop of Bristol in the late 18th Century, and was home to the Hervey family for over 200 years.
In Suffolk, a few miles from Bury St Edmunds, the hotel is in a wing of the old house, while the rotunda is still open to tourists.
As we drove up to the hotel we were immediately impressed. It is certainly a beautiful place, with extensive, gorgeous grounds.
Visiting in the winter obviously meant we could not make the most of the outdoors, but we did manage a couple of brisk walks and a visit to the adventure playground and even introduced Jessica to some horses and deer.
The staff at The Ickworth were polite and friendly. The hotel was, as expected, luxurious and upmarket, and its facilities were very impressive - but sadly not cheap.
Jessica was immediately entranced by the Four Bears Den, a nursery, run by qualified staff, where she could paint, draw, play and read books. It was heaven for our nearly two-year-old, and the staff were delightful. She even ate her supper there, surrounded by other small children.
Right opposite the Den was Club/Blu. This is an unsupervised play area for older children - complete with Sony Playstations, table football, and a table tennis table, and was always busy.
Older children could easily be left here while their parents went off for a swim, a walk, a relaxing facial or massage (there is an in-house beauty centre) or even a sleep.
There is little danger of children ever getting bored at the Ickworth. Also on offer are swimming and tennis coaching, riding, quad biking and even a personal Ickworth wildlife tour (an optional extra at £85 per person).
The hotel also boasts two restaurants, the classy Fredericks, and the Italian Cafe Inferno for bistro food - located in the original kitchens.
During our stay, the Cafe Inferno seemed very quiet in the evenings, but it was heaving for Sunday lunch and our failure to make an advance booking consigned us to The Conservatory. There the ambience was quite delightful, but the prices harder to swallow - £8.50 for a jacket potato, £6.50 for a cheese sandwich.
The Ickworth offers a range of rooms. Our standard double, towards the lower end of the range, boasted the most fabulous bathroom, a TV with DVD player and a lovely view of the grounds. It also had a light with a dimmer - vital if you're holidaying with children.
However, a creaky door foiled attempts to silently escape from the room and we really could have done with some kind of alcove for the cot. Our daughter is usually a very well-behaved sleeper, but when she saw that we were all in the same room, she stood up and screamed.
The next day we put her in the bathroom to sleep. That meant we couldn't use the lovely, spacious bath, but at least we all had a good sleep!
Overall we had a lovely weekend, but Jessica enjoyed it the most. We loved the fact that she was happy, and very much enjoyed eating in a "posh" restaurant serving delicious food. If we hadn't been on a dinner, bed and breakfast tariff, the splendid food in Fredericks would have set us back £37.50 a head.
While you might quibble about the cost of The Ickworth, you can't argue with the setting or the facilities. There are also lots of nice touches. Pairs of wellington boots stand by the door for anyone to use, bicycles (with child seats) are available as well and restaurants never run out of highchairs.
Meanwhile, breakfast - served in the conservatory - was fantastic on both days. Waffles and maple syrup are the perfect start to set you up to make the most of the day.
Sarah Ebner stayed in a standard double room at The Ickworth in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk where one night's B&B for two in a standard double room starts from £150 per night (back in 2004: please check up to date prices for 2013).
Children sleep free when sharing parents' room.
(this article was originally syndicated by the Press Association).
Labels: luxury family hotels; ickworth; holidaying with a baby