Why I Love a Staycation (and Some Favourite Self-Catering Gems)

After a rather lengthy foray into Disney parks and Florida road trips, we’re back on home turf for a bit of “UK staycation*” action. I’ve been meaning to share these little self-catering gems with you for a while: my favourite finds, the houses and cottages and cabins that have been a cut above the rest. That have had that holiday rental je ne sais quoi that’s so difficult to define but that might combine, for example, good location with a dash of interiors flair. Or blends perfect solitude with well-thought-out details, like an outdoor bathtub or a cosy reading nook.

(*I know I’m using the word staycation in its incorrect sense and that it’s supposed to refer to a “holiday spent in your own home” and not “a holiday spent in your own country”… but really. How is a “holiday spent in your own home” actually a holiday? We all know that’s an absurd concept. You can’t enjoy a vacation in your own home when you’re surrounded by all of the things that silently act as your stress triggers. The growing patch of damp near the back door, the neighbour’s annoying drum practice, the Evri driver throwing someone else’s parcel over your fence thus weighing you down with the moral question of whether you should now go and deliver the parcel to the correct address… How can you possibly take a holiday at home?)

I bloody love booking a staycation. I can think of few things I’d rather do, when it comes to frittering away my downtime. I’d probably cancel a social event to stay in and scour the internet for a “remote dog-friendly cottage with sea view” if it wasn’t going to eventually ruin every single one of my friendships. The excitement of deciding on an area to visit, the frisson of entering your dates into the search form – holding your breath as the results begin to load…

Not a lot of things rival that feeling of optimism and opportunity, when the world is still your proverbial oyster and you haven’t yet discovered that one of your shortlisted holiday cottages has a front door that opens straight onto a dual carriageway and the other is next to a quad biking centre. You just can’t beat it.

Why do I especially love a staycation? Well. Just off the top of my head: no travel plans to negotiate, because the whole journey can (usually) be done by car, no painful packing deliberations because you can just shove absolutely everything you think might be necessary into the aforementioned vehicle; no hugely high expectations, because you can assume the weather will mostly be “unexpected” or “strangely unseasonal” and then there’s the food you know your kids will eat, low risk of digestive upsets and the fact that there’s always a Mountain Warehouse within a three mile radius. The UK staycation is just casual and easy. Low effort.

And I could write a whole new post about why we tend to self-cater as a family rather than do hotels. I touched on it briefly in my Florida post, but it’s generally down to having more space in a holiday let, and a sense of freedom, and the fact that you can usually rent an incredibly lovely holiday home for the same price as a hotel room with twin beds. I say this as a true hotel enthusiast, by the way. I love a good hotel. I just think that they’re mostly wasted on young kids – save them for your decadent adults-only jaunt, if you can ever swing one.

(I jest. We all know that checking into a hotel that charges £5.85 for a morning glass of orange juice that nobody will want to drink when it arrives because “it has bits in it” is marvellous for giving you a relaxed start to your holiday. Bonus marks for having no kids’ food options, just an eight course tasting menu with matching wine flight and take a drink if the pool has restricted hours for under twelves. All completely understandable, by the way and exactly why I’d want to go without my kids!)

So, here are a few of the self-catering places that have surprised and delighted me over the past couple of years. I’m currently in the process of booking my own summer staycation en famille and am sorely tempted to go back to Yorkshire just to stay in the farmhouse we found last year; everything about it was just top notch…

Ad info: no paid or sponsored content. The Dorset Nook is my own business and I my stay at Skylark Treehouses was a review stay for KIP Hideaways, though I stayed on an extra night and paid full price because I loved it so much! 

Skylark Treehouses, Gloucestershire

Remote romance for two, or single solitude for – er – one, the Skylark Treehouses near Gloucester are incredible. I went last summer and reviewed them here but, in short, they were so much more than I expected them to be. Each treehouse is entirely set apart from the next, you’d hardly know anyone else was within shouting distance and the houses have been perfectly set up for outside living. You cook outdoors (albeit undercover and with a fully-equipped, amazingly stylish kitchen) and you bathe outdoors (in an incredible freestanding tub) and you relax outdoors next to your firepit and then, when you’ve finished with all that outdoors stuff you go into your fully-contained and lockable bedroom pod (which also has a shower room) so that you won’t get freaked out by the silence and the perfectly pitch-black night sky.

These treehouses are not the cheapest way to self cater for two but by God are they unforgettable. It’s Swiss Family Robinson meets swanky eco-hotel and with guaranteed peace and quiet. You can peruse and book Skylark at KIP Hideaways here – prices from £250 per night. I particularly loved the fact that you could order homecooked meals to be waiting in the fridge on your arrival – the fish pie I had was excellent.

Incidentally, my first ports of call when I’m searching for my self-catering holidays are KIP (my own little holiday cottage is listed with them, they’re my favourite staycation site to browse), Unique Homestays and then Perfect Stays if it’s a holiday in the south west. They’re all quite niche websites specialising in very stylish, luxurious or quirky places to stay and I love that they have very exacting standards and a discerning eye for detail. It’s not as though I want gold-plated taps or cutting edge coffee machines – I don’t give a hoot about hot tubs or Sonos sound systems – I just want somewhere that’s had thought and care put into it. Good beds. Nice linens. Little finishing touches that make me smile.

Caldbergh House, Yorkshire Dales

Talking of good beds, nice linen and little finishing touches that make me smile: this is the house in Yorkshire I was talking about. It really did surprise and delight – it far surpassed anything we expected from the photos and website description. We went as a slightly extended family of six but it would have slept eight very comfortably. The farmhouse had a large kitchen, fully-enclosed (beautiful, walled) garden and two cosy living rooms and everything looked as though it had been styled for a magazine interiors shoot. You could tell that no expense had been spared – gorgeous curtains, amazing upholstery fabrics, antique furniture – and this made it feel like a very special place to be.

There were walks right from the front door and the hamlet of Caldbergh was very quiet and uneventful (apart from some shoot days where the vehicles accessed the dales through the gate next to the house, but it was barely noticeable) and it was just a real treat to be in such a handsome old house that had been so sensitively renovated.

Prices start at £240 a night – you can book Caldbergh House here. I think we paid around £1800 for a week, with a small charge for the dog. Yorkshire Escapes (here) have loads of beautiful properties to rent, if you’re heading up that way. They were also a delight to deal with, just so friendly.

Middlelands House, Pembrokeshire

When I booked Middlelands House in Pembrokeshire (here) it was around £350 per night, which seemed very good value considering we piled three different families into it. It looks as though the rates have gone up a little since then, but still: this was a rare Airbnb find. A property that ended up (again) being loads better than the description. We drove down a long driveway cut through the fields to find a spacious country home with airy bedrooms and great views across open countryside. There wasn’t anything to do within walking distance but drives to the coast were relatively short and manageable and we all just loved the house as our “base camp” for its welcoming atmosphere. The huge fire in the living room and the big kitchen that could accommodate loads of adults, all preparing completely different meals. (Don’t ask.)

The decoration and furnishings were tasteful but simple and there was just a lovely feel to the place – comfortable and slightly quirky, like we’d all gone to stay with some long-lost uncle who liked to collect old books. (We’ve never had any moneyed long-lost relatives in our family, alas, but that was that sort of nostalgic, slightly magical vibe. The feeling that you might find an old board game in the attic that, if played during a thunderstorm, would almost definitely transport you to another world.)

We had a few hot days (it was May) where the bees were buzzing lazily and the kids just rolled about on the grass and the adults all had a glass or two of wine sitting under the arches at the back of the house, which made us all feel as though we’d gone to Italy and not to Wales, and it was superb.

It doesn’t actually look as though Middlelands House is on Airbnb anymore, but I’ve found it on Great Welsh Escapes here.

Tregoose, Cornwall

I stayed at this house to review it when it had just been renovated and have had it earmarked for a return visit ever since. It’s a brilliant, hugely spacious house that’s perfect for a few families to nest down into for a week by the beach. We particularly liked that the bedrooms were on the ground floor and that the first floor had the amazing views of the sea and that the whole place was light-filled and airy and just a short (steep!) walk down to Polzeath and the beach.

The sleeping arrangements were quite flexible, with some of the rooms suitable for two adults and a child, or three children. Or three adults. And then an extra bedroom in a snug, if needed, and a bedroom that was set away from the rest on its own little corner with its own bathroom. Very versatile, brilliant for big family gatherings with a huge entertaining space.

Read my review of Tregoose here (wow, have just seen this photo and am aghast at how quickly time flies!)

Perfect Stays have lots of large holiday houses (this one sleeps 8-12) and I’ve actually stayed in a few of them. Unless I’ve just been extraordinarily lucky, the standard is universally brilliant. They’ve all felt just so….professional. High-tech. Beautifully maintained. Absolutely check them out if you’re planning a family-friendly get-together, you can find their website here.

The Dorset Nook, Dorset Coast

I’d be crazy to write a post about UK self-catering gems and not mention my own little hideaway, The Dorset Nook. I try not to harp on about it too much, but it really is the most beautiful coastal escape. It’s hidden away down a tiny footpath and is so relaxing and quiet – the perfect romantic bolthole for two, but equally lovely if you’re on your own.

My favourite thing about the Nook (apart from the cosy living room with its woodburner, the nest-like bedroom with its crisp linens and the bright, warm sunroom surrounded by the little cottage garden) is that it’s away from any roads and has the most incredible walks straight from the front gate.

When I go to visit myself I unpack my car and then don’t get back in it again for the duration of my stay, unless I want to pop to Lyme Regis for a mooch around or peruse the antique shops in Bridport. I love walking (especially a very steep, very challenging hill!) and so if I want a bite for lunch then I walk over the cliffs for half an hour and hike down into West Bay, or if I’m feeling spritely I head the other way to Seatown, where there’s an incredible pub.

You can take a look at availability for The Dorset Nook here, if you’re after a restorative break – it’s minutes from Eype beach, which is totally unspoilt and has breathtaking cliff walks. Prices start at £120 per night with no extra charges and there are short stays and longer holidays to choose from.

(It doesn’t currently allow dogs or kids and it’s not set up for babies, but babes-in-arms are welcome if you are happy to bring your own travel cot and so on and you’re happy to negotiate the footpath!)

So, there are a few self-catering gems. I have booked more staycations than I care to remember and can tell you that not all have been so successful! Why is it such a game of roulette? I think that’s why I always start by going to the more niche travel websites like KIP (they’ve recently made basic membership free, which is amazing news); I like that somebody is keeping an eye on standards and making sure that every place that comes up when you’re searching is extra-special.

Any recommendations to add to this little list? Fire away in the comments, please. You’ll be doing us all a grand service.

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