For time-poor, city-dwelling families, weekend escapes to the countryside are as joyful as they are pressured to get right for all the family’s needs. Finding the ‘hidden gem’ hotels and pairing them with fun, age-appropriate activities within easy reach, can take days of online research – time that I just don’t have. So when I was introduced to the Epicurean Club, a new membership-based service that arranges bespoke countryside mini-breaks, I jumped at the opportunity to try it out.
For just one precious night away from London, and with two young children (aged four and two) in tow, we didn’t want to have to travel too far so opted for the New Forest. The Epicurean Club responded with an itinerary for our ‘Fun-filled family experience’. My shoulders dropped – the organising was completely taken care of – they had even included packing tips for the predicted wet weather conditions. We were to check-in at The Mayflower in Lymington, Hampshire by mid-afternoon on Saturday and dinner was arranged for us there at 6.30pm.
The Mayflower is a coastal gastro pub close to Lymington marina
The Mayflower proved to be the perfect coastal gastro pub, situated a stone’s throw from Lymington marina – and ideal for the children with a garden complete with play area and within easy walking distance to Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve which provided an idyllic place for a late afternoon stroll. There’s a garden bar open in summer months at The Mayflower and it’s situated so close to the harbour that it’s easy to while away an afternoon here, relaxing to the soundtrack of sailboats bobbing in the breeze.
It's easy to while away an afternoon relaxing by the marina
The bedrooms all have a subtle nautical theme and the Victorian roll-top bath in our en suite made my eyes light up. I was glad we had chosen Mother’s Day weekend for this break, so no-one was going to deny me the chance to use it!
The Victorian roll-top bath was a highlight in the room
Dinner was superb – fish and chips for the children and a gourmet meal for us, it was hearty and delicious. The warm chocolate brownie dessert was enough to guarantee a return visit.
The gastro pub serves gourmet food
In the morning, after a full English breakfast at The Mayflower, my eldest son and I were booked-in for a horse-riding lesson at Burley Villa School of Riding eight miles away in New Milton. "The roads can be notoriously slow on weekends, so it’s important to leave plenty of time," our itinerary warned. "There’s a hut available to serve complimentary tea and coffee at the riding school, if you so wish." This was like travelling with our own personal butler.
After a cautious trot around the indoor arena on my pony, Puzzle, and some time spent meeting the other horses in the stables – which was great fun for all the family – we were ready for our posh picnic lunch, which had been provided in a traditional wicker basket by The Mayflower.
Visitors can go horse-riding at the nearby Burley Villa School of Riding
It was then time for our cycling activity in Brokenhurst, which unfortunately we decided against completing because of the rainy weather, however, Cyclexperience would have been the perfect way to burn off the generous quantities of homemade sandwiches, crisps and cakes in our picnic.
Instead we drove back to London with full bellies, happy hearts and a resolve to return to explore more of the New Forest this summer, having snatched some precious family time in the most stress-free way. If you become a fully paid up Epicurean Club member you’re entitled to many perks including members' rates on rooms and members' rates on wine and champagne – you can even take your dog along for free and claim a complimentary G&T upon arrival. What is not to love about that?
A picnic lunch was provided by The Mayflower
Epicurean Club membership is £9.99 per month (or a single payment of £99 per year). Epicurean experiences start at £195 and include a one-night stay with dinner and breakfast for two, with the experience included in the price. Members save 10% of an all experiences (020 8161 0100; epicurean.club)