A family and dog friendly luxury hotel

Rolling up the gravel drive to the Ickworth Hotel on Friday evening, hot from our school and work weeks, we breathe out the city, inhale warm country air, and instantly relax. It’s that kind of place. Stunning Ickworth house, a 750 year old stately home now owned by the National Trust, is set in vast park and woodland, with beautifully manicured gardens, children’s play areas, and acres of glorious walking opportunities – heaven for our 5 month old puppy, who is on his first long car trip away from home.

We immediately take advantage of the gardens to give our very excited puppy a run, then head upstairs to our interconnecting rooms. The Ickworth Hotel is a part of the main house, separated by a long gallery, where the general public can take afternoon tea overlooking the gorgeous Italianate garden.

The hotel has every bit as much charm as the house itself, with a series of corridors, giant bedrooms, and servants quarters transformed into a spa. You can well imagine how it must have been as the home of the Earl of Bristol, and my daughter and I fancied ourselves as part of a real life Downton Abbey scene! It was no surprise to find a wedding in full swing in the small function room either – it’s just that kind of place.

Although you’d stay at the Ickworth Hotel for the luxury of great food, beautiful grounds, and the spa, your main consideration when visiting as a family is going to be how comfortable you’ll feel there with young children. And the answer is – very! As well as interconnecting rooms, each with its own bathroom and television, there are lots of facilities to entertain, and look after your kids. In fact, the basement of the hotel is a children’s playground, with a crèche, games room, cinema screen, and even a separate dining dining room, just for little people.

Food at the Ickworth Hotel

We saw quite a few couples during our stay having a quiet meal together while their children were cared for by the friendly staff, but equally, lots of families chose to dine together in the bright and airy conservatory, where babies and toddlers are not only welcomed, but completely catered for with a lovely children’s menu, and the bright plastic tableware we all know and love from parenting younger children.

Having older children, who love good food, we chose to eat from the main menus, but if they’d had smaller appetites, they would happily have tucked into mozzarella sticks, sliced steak and chips, or macaroni cheese. The chef will even purée baby food on request, and high chairs were readily available to younger families. As it was, we ate beautifully presented plates of rabbit ravioli, chargrilled courgette and walnut salad, and calves liver and pork, washed down with a lovely Malbec. The kids were in their element with mocktails, and a strawberry parfait made them very happy to complete their meals.

The conservatory was also where we chose to eat breakfast, choosing from a good range of continental options, and a small, but tempting a la carte breakfast menu. The cooked breakfast was perfection, but having seen our daughter’s fluffy waffles with berries on the first morning, none of us could resist ordering it after our second night!

What we particularly loved about the conservatory was the garden terrace, which allowed us to bring the puppy down to sit with us at breakfast rather than leaving him in our room. The rooms were big enough that we were able to set up his usual crate, so he did settle after a while, but it was nice not to have to leave him. He simply hung out under our feet with a hopeful look, ready to snaffle any scraps of bacon that might escape our plates!

Dogs are not just tolerated at Ickworth, they’re positively encouraged! I had a lovely email exchange with the lady who arranged our stay; she told me everyone loved puppies at the hotel, and they couldn’t wait to meet him. The hotel offers a range of Lily’s dog food and treats, there was a water bowl and dog cushion in our room, and I even found a dog hanging out with staff in reception while his owners went for a smart dinner in Frederick’s, the adult’s only fine dining restaurant.

We didn’t try Frederick’s, but it looked very smart, and would have been a perfect escape if we’d had younger children and wanted a couple of hours to ourselves. We wondered what we would have done with our dog on a wet weekend, but that was covered too. Food is also served in the lounge, where dogs are welcome, and it would have been a perfect place for a cosy afternoon tea after a long Autumn walk – we spotted water bowls and beds there too! We took our afternoon tea on the lawn terrace outside the conservatory, and it was an absolute feast! Top tip: skip lunch and book tea at 2pm – you’ll never manage dinner otherwise!

Ickworth’s beautiful gardens

Talking of walks, I don’t think there could have been a better place to stay with a dog fond of a run! The structured gardens were absolutely beautiful, with country flowers to attract wildlife, rose gardens to dwell in, and a large open space for family games and fun, complete with trampoline and tennis courts.

But it was heading out with our pup on our first morning that we discovered quite how much space there is to explore at Ickworth. We wandered through woodland for a good hour (much longer than our tiny dog can usually manage!), and still didn’t cover all of the paths. There are over 1800 acres of National Trust park land to explore, and if we hadn’t had a small furry nose to think about we’d definitely have taken out some of the hotel’s bikes for a ride along the pathways. As it was, the weekend we were there Ickworth was hosting a family festival, so the kids had the added excitement of small funfair rides, and even got to cuddle a rescued baby hedgehog! Have a look at the National Trust’s Ickworth events page to find out what’s on during your visit.

For me, a stay in a luxury hotel isn’t complete without a visit to the spa, so once he’d run off some steam, we left the puppy to nap in our room while we all headed out to the indoor pool. Ickworth supply robes, slippers and towels for the pool, so we didn’t have to think about packing our own – they even have tiny children’s sizes, which I remember my kids found so cute when they were little. The pool was lovely, and we made full use of the balls and floats, even striking up a game with another family who were there at the same time.

I then snuck off on my own for a heavenly massage in the basement spa treatment rooms – I think I’m right in saying these used to be the kitchens of the old house, so they’re full of character. Ask for Bethany if you’re booking a massage – mine was wonderful! The perfect end to a relaxing stay where there’s something for every member of the family – including the dog!

Disclosure: Helen and her family stayed free of charge for the purposes of reviewing the hotel and services. All opinion and imagery is Helen’s own. Visit the Ickworth Hotel website for more information on the hotel, and to book your own stay.