Traveling to London with a side of Downton Abbey ZING… Disclosure: Amy Tara Koch while on assignment for HAVE FAMILY, WILL TRAVEL a Four Seasons blog was partially comped for visit to the UK.
In my 20s, I spent a glorious post-graduate year in London, England. Despite my student budget, I managed to become a standout culture vulture: Sophisticated afternoon teas. Aristo-flecked art openings. Pub crawls. And free concertos at landmark churches. It was easy to fall in love with the grunge and glam of this illustrious city. “I’ll be back!” I breezily promised friends. Then, life took over. I blinked and 20 years had evaporated since I trekked up to my 5th floor walk up in Regent’s Park
Now, with the post Olympics afterglow and newly radiant royals, I felt London giving me the come hither. Free of the sad, student financial straits, I wanted to revisit the city and test drive the rural pursuits featured in Downton Abbey. With my family in tow. Happily, my travel plans were easily realized with the Four Seasons’ UK new TOWN & COUNTRY program which seamlessly marries the best of London with the iconic Hampshire countryside. Tucked away in Mayfair, the Park Lane property oozes glamour from every refurbished nook and cranny. It’s no secret that many posh hotels exude frostiness, especially when small children appear. Not here. The hotel goes to great lengths designing amenities and itineraries to please the pint sized. Our room-a two bedroom suite with sitting room-was unbelievably spacious.
Even better, it was equipped with a WII console to entertain kids and supply precious downtime to parents. Instead of the standard coloring book as welcome amenity, room service wheeled in a sugar spun Harry Potter hologram upon a metallic tray that had my daughters’ names emblazoned in chocolate. Our days were jam packed: the hop on, hop off bus tour, Natural History Museum, street performers in Covent Garden, British Museum and a visit to Hamleys, the oldest toy store in the world. Evenings were filled with dinners out (the just opened Balthazar is great fun with children) and theater.
Of course, no visit to London is complete without a traditional scone and finger sandwich infused afternoon tea. Best bets? Claridge’s, The Ritz, The Wosely, Fortum & Mason Jubilee Tea Room. On day three, we were transferred 50 minutes away to the storied meadows of Dogmersfield Park. The Four Seasons Hampshire –a heritage listed estate with countless royal affiliations-sits on 500 lush acres speckled with grazing cattle, cantering horses and fowl filled lakes. In fact, this land was the actual site where Henry VIII first met Catherine of Aragon. Here, it’s all about highbrow rural pursuits: horses, falconry, narrowboating, fly fishing, croquet and a walk through the “nature rambles.”
Our first day,the kids took part in the marvelous “Own a Pony” program. At the Equestrian Center, They groomed, tacked and brushed the ponies before (participants are outfitted for hats and riding boots) taking a guided “hack” around the estate. As soon as we discovered that the hotel offered a falconry experience, we signed on. To Americans-especially city dwellers-the idea of engaging with birds of prey is absolutely surreal. After a brief getting- to- know -you period (which gave me a firsthand understanding of expression “watching you like a hawk”) we were given thick, to-the-elbow gloves. Then, action! A hunk of raw chicken was placed on my glove and the falcon swooped in, landed on my arm and gobbled up his treat. We formed a circle and the bird majestically flew from the arm of one family member to the next. Hands down, this adventure was the highlight of the trip for my animal loving daughters. Meandering about the property is an activity in and of itself. Guests are invited to take the house Labrador -Oliver Beckington – for a walk. Happily, the hotel supplies Wellies (and a Barbour Coat if it is chilly) so one does not muddy their “smart” shoes. Another standout activity? Kids are invited to accompany chef to the hotel chicken coop to select eggs for breakfast.
From Harrods food halls to falconry, it was a fabulous week. However, to me, the chart topping experience (besides loading up on beauty products at Boots) was expanding my children’s horizons and fueling their sense of adventure. WE are definitely not waiting twenty years to return.