Since the first few weeks of Gastrobaby’s life, Gastrodad and I had been buoying ourselves with the thought of a night away sans child. A relaxed afternoon in a spa, dinner with no baby monitor to hand, lying in beyond 7am and a leisurely breakfast which doesn’t end with toast scattered across the floor. Gastrobaby however, had other plans and cunningly refused to ever accept a bottle, screaming should a teat so much as enter his line of vision, thereby ensuring that he need never leave mummy’s side for more a few hours. And thus we found ourselves searching for a baby friendly weekend break, rather than the oasis of tranquility we had envisaged all those months ago.
Calcot Manor in the Cotswolds came highly recommended by a friend, and so we booked the Sunday Spa break, which includes a £40 per person allowance for dinner, overnight accomodation in the best available room, breakfast, and £90 spa vouchers per room. The overall cost was £375 per room, and what really sold it to us was the Playzone, an Ofsted registered creche. For older children there is the Mez, ‘an Aladdin’s cave of entertainment, with PlayStations, Wii consoles, Xbox 360s, computers and even a 12-seater cinema’.
We arrived Sunday afternoon and were shown to a beautifully light and airy room with an adjoining children’s room. Fantastic, we wouldn’t have to shuffle around in the dark post-7pm for fear of waking our little companion.Each family room is equipped with steriliser, bottle warmer and changing mat, and a travel cot can be requested.
Determined to have some time off, we had prebooked spa treatments and time in the Playzone for Gastrobaby. The creche was clean, boasted an enviable toy collection, and there were sufficient staff to allow some one-on-one attention. The first afternoon past with no mishaps, and we collected a relatively chirpy baby after our treatments. Chancing it, we booked him in for the following morning, the outdoor hot spa pool beckoning. This was clearly one step too far though, as I looked up from my final lap of the indoor pool to see a member of staff approaching. After a very hasty shower, I retrieved a rather frantic little chap from the arms of a despairing carer, vainly attempting to calm him down with books and toys. Well, 20 minutes is better than nothing.
Returning to the previous evening, which saw us heading out to dinner having switched on the babylistening service in the room. We were free to choose between dinner in the more formal Conservatory restaurant or the Gumstool Inn. The Gumstool Inn was not quite the cosy country pub with a roaring log fire that we had hoped for and was in fact a little scruffy, so we opted for The Conservatory, a smart if not overly characterful restaurant. This was classic spa hotel decor, somewhat staid and soulless.
The wine list offered some good quality wines, though there wasn’t a wide range in the lower price bracket. A glance at the menu confirmed that the food would match the decor; there would be no surprises or ingenuity, just safe classics such as goats cheese tart, melon and san daniele ham, and other crowdpleasers.
A starter of beef shin with tagliatelle was meltingly tender, rich and tasty. The charcuterie plate offered a small selection of cold meats and failed to elicit great praise from Gastrodad, who thought it was ‘ok’.
The beef shin from my starter had a second outing in Gastrodad’s main of beef fillet and shin. The fillet arrived cooked as requested and accompanied by crunchy vegetables. My free range Madgetts duck glazed with honey and sesame was swimming in sauce which overpowered a nice piece of meat. The pumpkin puree with pumpkin seeds was tasty but also drowned in the sauce. I struggled to make my way through what was essentially duck in a lot of gravy.
For pudding we shared the plum and almond clafoutis which fell into the all to common trap of too much stodge and not enough fruit. Another dish which almost defeated us.
A spa break with kids is only ever going to be a compromise, and Calcot makes that compromise as painless as possible. Kids are well catered for and rooms and facilities are just luxurious enough to feel special, but not so special as to leave you mortified when your child regurgitates milk onto the spotless carpet. For the spa and kids facilities, Calcot is spot on, but if food is high up on your agenda, leave the children with the grandparents and find a restaurant in the surrounding area.
Calcot Manor, Near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, GL8 8YJ
Food : 5/10
Spa and facilities: 9\10
Child friendly score: 9/10
Gastrodad score: 8/10
Many thanks to The Willow Foundation, who organised and payed for our stay at Calcot Manor. The Willow Foundation is a charity that provides emotional support for seriously ill 16-40 year olds through the provision of special days.