The best, big British boltholes for entertaining a group of family and friends in complete luxury
Planning a family get-together, a special party or a blow-the-budget birthday weekend away with friends? You’ll need space, and plenty of it. We’ve cherry-picked the best options for group and celebration stays, from dreamy cottages to stately mansions for a weekend to remember.
Ever dreamt of being lord or lady of your own Georgian pile? There’s no better place to live out the fantasy than The Oaks, a handsome Grade II-listed mansion near Faversham in Kent. The six ample, light-filled bedrooms are awash with period features, from original shutters to marble fireplaces; the vast master bedroom on the top floor has a claw-foot tub and views of the leafy garden. It’s a house made for entertaining – and celebrating – with a vast dining room off the country-style kitchen, a grand sitting room with a log fire and your choice of comfy sofas and armchairs, and even a kids’ playroom for the younger members of the party. Perhaps the house’s finest feature, though, is its garden: a handsome walled affair with beds of roses, mature trees and plenty of shady nooks in which to park your sun lounger. If you can bear to tear yourself away, the cathedral city of Canterbury is just 11 miles away, while Whitstable, 10 miles away, has plenty of salty charm, with its oyster stalls and busy harbour lined with fishing boats.
Anyone who’s ever been to the Lake District could be forgiven for wanting to move there permanently, such is the spell it casts. Tranquil Windermere is one of the Lake District’s loveliest corners, and the perfect place for a group get-together, whether or not you plan to pack your walking boots. Our pick of the places to stay is Winterfell, a magical, ivy-clad hunting lodge nestled in forested hills and set in six acres of private grounds on the lake’s southern shore. Entering the house is like stepping into a Narnia-like landscape, where snowy white, warm grey and bare wood combine with an abundance of texture in throws, rugs and cushions to create a beautifully cosy and romantic interior. The six double bedrooms boast ornate fireplaces and rococo beds. While away hours in the library, cook up a feast in the cosy kitchen or wander the grounds: a walled garden leads to four acres of meadows where nothing will disturb you but birdsong.
If you’re looking to escape to the southeast coast, plump for Deal, Kent’s prettiest seaside town. Its narrow streets brim with nautical heritage, it has two castles to explore (Deal and nearby Walmer), and it boasts an array of characterful restaurants and independent boutiques too. Tucked away on a side street just a minute’s walk from Deal’s shingly shoreline is The Lady Hamilton, a stunning Georgian townhouse that’s full of period features. Wood panelling and floorboards give it plenty of creaky charm, but it’s far from stuck in the past: colourful accents and bright art give it a warm, home-from-home feel. Set over three floors (it sleeps 8), the house is anchored by its winding staircase, taking you from the ground floor to the pièce de résistance– a gorgeous wood-panelled sitting room, with squishy sofas, a snug wood-burner and sash windows overlooking the rooftops. Books and board games are provided for relaxing evenings. On sunny days, the walled patio garden is a little haven – an ideal place to gather for drinks after a day on the beach.
Cornwall is always a safe bet for a crowd-pleasing holiday: with its enchanting coastline and unspoilt villages, it has all the ingredients for a memorable stay. Large rental houses can be thin on the ground so we were pleased to discover The Fish Store, which sleeps up to ten guests. Set in Mousehole, one of Cornwall’s loveliest villages on Cornwall’s south coast, it was a pilchard factory in a former life – hence the roomy interiors. Everything’s on a giant scale here: the lofty beamed ceilings, the vast windows – and the views of the ocean beyond. It’s a house ideal for all ages, with a cinema room where you can gather for a family film, a table tennis table that the kids will love, and a steam room where you can unwind after a day’s exploring. The delights of the Cornish coast are all within easy reach, from swimming in Mousehole’s sheltered bay and wandering its winding streets to exploring nearby St Michael’s Mount.
Loch Lomond: even the name is enough to inspire romance. This historic manor house with its five fairytale turrets is just the ticket. Recognised as a National Monuments of Scotland house, it is ideal for history and architecture buffs, being situated just 500 metres from the famous Hill House, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Facing the Clyde Estuary, the house is also ideally located for strolls along the banks of Loch Lomond, a round of golf on one of the famous courses nearby, or day-trips into the Highlands (it’s at the start of the highland train line, putting Oban and Fort William within easy reach). Inside, all is on a grand scale, from the sofas to the bathtubs, and there are plenty of spaces for a large party to gather – the light-filled drawing room, with its tapestries and Edwardian fireplace, is hard to beat. Sleeping up to 10, Loch Lomond Manor makes a stylish stay in this beguiling part of Scotland.
If you have a big party to accommodate, consider Shalfleet Manor in the Isle of Wight, which sleeps 16-22 guests and is a stunner to boot. A wisteria-covered stone manor set in mature gardens, it is a dreamy place to spend a few days. Inside, a grand hallway, wood beams and a panelled living room with a 17th-century fireplace set the tone. It’s just one of many corners to snuggle up with a book or catch up over drinks – the airy conservatory and sun-trap terrace are tempting too. It’s a house made for lounging, but make time too for some outdoor pursuits: tennis on the all-weather court or a few laps of the heated pool, encircled by mature shrubs. Further afield is Newtown Creek, a sleepy spot where you can moor your own little boat, plus the wider delights of the Isle of Wight, from Queen Victoria’s Osborne House to sandy beaches galore.
Norfolk is strong on otherworldly landscapes, and the unique Bear’s Cottage offers a rare chance to truly get away from it all in fairytale surroundings. It’s set in 200 acres of private woodland, planted in the 1850s and crisscrossed with private trails for exploring. The cottage, which sleeps 8, has a warm and cosy feel, and has been thoughtfully restored to open out its spaces. Its open-plan kitchen, dining and living area allows the designated chef to cook up a storm without missing out on the action, while the large south-facing terrace is the perfect spot for alfresco lunches. Days can be spent exploring the rural village of Wood Norton and the renowned beaches of North Norfolk – some of England’s loveliest.