This is a collaborative post with Buyagift.
One of the joys of living a frugal life is that sometimes you can use those savings to splash out on special occasions, like Valentine’s Day.
Now you don’t have to spend a fortune on Valentine’s Day.
Usually we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries at home. In the past, I’ve baked biscuits for Valentine’s Day, cooked steak in creamy mustard sauce for Fathers’ Day, and recreated our wedding meal for our 10th wedding anniversary. (Hmm. Spotting a bit of a food theme…)
But this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate an early Valentine’s Day in style. (And with dinner, obvs). We’d rather spend money on time together, instead of buying yet more stuff. Buyagift, which provides experience days, offered us the chance to go for an overnight break with dinner for two* at The Ickworth Hotel, in exchange for this review.
Staying at The Ickworth Hotel
The Ickworth Hotel is part of an actual all-singing, all-dancing stately home. If you love traditional architecture, or are glued to period drama, now’s your chance to live out any dreams of Downtown Abbey or Brideshead Revisited.
The hotel is in the east wing of Ickworth, the National Trust property nearby in Suffolk. It’s a fabulous Georgian building, set in a whopping 1,800 acres of grounds. We’ve visited Ickworth before, for an Easter egg hunt, and to go snowdrop spotting and den building, but we never dreamt of staying there!
When your budget is normally more Premier Inn than Paris Ritz, sweeping up the long drive to The Ickworth Hotel is one of those ‘pinch me, is this real?‘ moments.
We chose to stay on a Friday night, when our children could go for a sleepover at their grandparents. All the standard double rooms covered by our Buyagift voucher were already booked. But with babysitting lined up, we were happy to pay £30 to upgrade to a slightly bigger ‘small family double’.
The building may be awe-inspiring, but the hotel owners, Luxury Family Hotels, have gone all out to create a relaxed atmosphere inside. Couples, families, children, dogs – they’re all welcome.
The Ickworth Hotel for families
When The Ickworth hotel says it welcomes families, it really means it, from the hampers of games to borrow, extra toys and books in the corridors and library, different meal times and menus, and childcare on offer.
We were really looking forward to a child-free meal out and night away.
However, even if you take the kids, the hotel offers a baby listening service, so you can slip downstairs for a candlelit dinner for two.
You can also take advantage of two hours free childcare each day at the Ofsted registered creche, if you need a break or fancy one of the spa treatments. Plus – get this – you can book places at a Sunday Breakfast Club, where they’ll collect your kids and entertain them while you have a lie in. For older kids, there’s Club Blu, with table tennis and table football, plus Wii, X-Box and Play Station consoles to book out from reception.
See that room top left, in the picture at the top of this post? That’s where we stayed! Entertainingly, it was called Herbert. The rooms are all named after people connected with Ickworth.
There was a lift from the ground floor, but after taking our suitcase up, we preferred exploring the corridors and staircases. (Note the staircases plural. This would be a fabulous place for hide and seek).
Our room had a mix of furniture, from the huge Tudorbethan carved headboard to frilly eighteenth century side tables and a Victoria book case. I rather liked the grey sofa, but sadly it didn’t fit in my suitcase to come home 🙂
Don’t worry, there were still mod cons like a telly, a kettle and charger plug that fitted USB leads. The windows looked out far across the parkland and we could see the glowing blue building with the swimming pool just off to the right.
I still couldn’t resist my frugal tendencies. We took along our own bottle of Prosecco and a couple of glasses for a quick drink before dinner.
The bathroom was a bit of a wow moment. It was so big it had double doors. Reckon the bathroom alone was bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in!
The bedroom may have been furnished with period pieces, but the bathroom was sleek and modern, no dripping taps or green stained bath here.
Instead the bath was huge and fast filling, with taps in the middle and a big showerhead above. There was a sash window for natural light, rather than the fluroscent tubes and harsh extractor fans in some hotels. I liked the little touches like Orla Keily mugs and the big bottles of Elemis toiletries – complete with polite notice pointing out if you took them, you’d be charged.
When we headed downstairs for dinner, we had a choice of sinking into comfy sofas in the library or drawing room while we looked at the menu. You can order cocktails if you fancy it.
Just like our room, the whole hotel is an eclectic mix of furniture. The orginal contents were flogged off by John Jermyn, seventh Marquess of Bristol, at an auction back in 1996. Nowadays, the furniture is a mix of antiques from all ages right through to 1950s chairs, while the pictures are agressively modern.
We booked to eat at the adults-only Frederick’s restaurant. But if you’re staying as a family, you can also eat in the conservatory, have room service, or opt for the children’s high tea from 5pm to 6pm in the cinema room downstairs, followed by a family friendly film. The films when we were staying were Robinson Crusoe and Paddington 2.
Dinner at The Ickworth Hotel
The menu in Frederick’s is definitely more formal than the mac and cheese/burgers aplenty options available on the children’s menu.
I like to try food in restaurants that I would never cook myself, so I went for the charred mackerel, beetroot and sorrel, followed by pheasant, pearl barley and celeriac (delicious) and black forest pavlova (a triumph of pudding construction).
The starter was beautifully presented, but unexpectedly raw. When I queried this with the waitress, she explained the ‘charred’ mackerel was actually cured, rather than cooked, before being wafted over a flame. She instantly offered to replace it with an alternative, so I went for duck rillettes with rye toast.
The Ickworth Hotel certainly delivered on the promise of a romantic dinner, all dim lighting and tables for two. My husband and I really enjoyed the chance to get away for an evening, and talk about – shock horror – all kinds of things utterly unrelated to the kids.
Service was relaxed and friendly, as the waiters and waitresses moved between the two dining rooms. So relaxed that after sitting down at 7.30pm, we only left three courses later at 9.45pm. Think they know that everyone will just fall upstairs into bed, rather than rushing off for last trains.
Breakfast at The Ickworth Hotel
Next morning, we rocked up for breakfast in the Conservatory, a lovely setting with soaring glass roof, views out over the gardens and greenery along two walls.
As before, they really catered to children: loads of high chairs and lots of plastic crockery and cutlery available. I don’t know if the absence of white linen tablecloths is deliberate, but any parent with a baby would be immensely relieved by the wipe-clean surfaces and lack of material to grab.
There was a full-on breakfast buffet with more pastries, toast, yogurt, fruit, cereal and so on than you could shake a stick at, plus full english options set out under silver domes just outside in the corridor. You could also order a few specials – kippers, eggs benedict with smoked salmon or ham or waffles with syrup and berries.
Almost everything was self-service, but our drinks and my husband’s waffle came super quickly. Again, this would be great if you were eating with small children.
Activities at The Ickworth Hotel
After breakfast, we went out for a bracing walk to explore some of the huge parkland, got photo bombed by a squirrel and spotted some brave joggers and dog walkers. There’s a little map with routes for different walks up to 7 miles long, all without leaving the Ickworth grounds. I’d brought my walking boots but there was no need, as you can borrow fancy welly boots from the entrance hall.
Don’t fancy a long walk? You can also borrow bikes, bike seats and helmets from the big selection in the stables. There’s also (deep breath) a tennis court with rackets to borrow, trampoline, garden games and football goals. When Ickworth itself is open, you can explore the house, tea shop and gift shop.
So plenty to exhaust the kids but you could also just have a long lie in and a large breakfast, then sleep it off by the well-heated pool or in the spa.
If you want to explore further afield, Ickworth is really close to Bury St Edmunds, and not far from Cambridge and Newmarket.
Staying away for Valentine’s Day
We had an amazing stay at The Ickworth Hotel, a rare child-free night away far removed from our normal life. It was a lovely place to celebrate Valentine’s Day, whether as a couple or a family.
This wasn’t a frugal stay. We topped up our voucher with £30 for the room upgrade and £47 for wine and extra food, but we ended up with a weekend to remember.
Only problem is that now our kids have seen the pics of the pool, kids club and bikes, they’re clamouring for us all to go back!
Booking with Buyagift
If you do want to push the boat out for Valentine’s Day, Buyagift has loads of ideas*. Right now Buyagift is also running an up to 50% off sale*, including short breaks with up to £140 off. You can get more break for less money with offers including two nights for the price of one for £99* rather than £199.98; an overnight getaway with dinner for two for £99 not £149 and other offers including fizz, afternoon tea and spa treatments.
My top tips:
- Check locations. The general breaks, like overnight getaways, are valid at places up and down the country, but it’s worth checking if there’s somewhere you fancy. Search by postcode, or click on the ‘locations to choose from’ box under ‘buy now’.
- Check the small print. For example, some bargain offers might not be available on Friday and Saturday nights, or might charge a supplement. When checking out a location, click on ‘important information’ to see.
- Check availability. You can’t see availability on the Buyagift website, but if you are looking for a particular date, try the visiting the hotel’s own website, to check whether it’s rammed or might have space.
- Book your dinner. If you have a voucher that includes a meal, call the hotel after booking your room to reserve a specific time to eat.
- Allow for extras. Even if your deal includes dinner for two, this may work out as a food allowance per person. Our deal included £35 a head towards food, so we needed to budget for any drinks on top, then either choose courses carefully or splash extra cash.
- Take a copy of your voucher. When we came to check out, our initial bill didn’t have the voucher cost taken off, even though I’d given the voucher code when booking the room. Not a great moment to discover my phone battery had given up the ghost! Luckily the receptionist had a spare charger, so I was able to track down the details. Turned out the code had been written down with two numbers the wrong way round, which was easily fixed – but do take a print out of your voucher in case of any query.
Now over to you. Would you like to get away for Valentine’s Day? Or do you prefer a lower key celebration? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear!
Disclaimer: We were given an overnight break with dinner for two by Buyagift in exchange for this review, but paid for the room upgrade and extra food and drink costs ourselves. All views are my own.
*indicates an affiliate link, so anything you buy through it will help support the blog, as I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Many thanks!