The Stour and Dedham Valleys in Essex-Suffolk border country are where you’ll find the landscapes immortalised by John Constable. Inspect scenes little changed since they were first canvassed, including Flatford Mill and the parish church at Dedham. Our choice of hotel is the stylish but informal family-run Maison Talbooth.
What do you want from your city break? A shopping spree? The chance to see world-class art? Or maybe nothing more than long, lazy lunches in pavement cafes watching the world go by. The great thing about Madrid is that you can do them all, and whatever your budget there’s a hotel to suit – whether boutique chic or five-star luxury.
Take the slow route through some of Europe’s prettiest regions on two wheels for a truly relaxing break. These four-night cycling breaks are all geared to be enjoyed at your own pace, each day finished off in style with a well-earned dinner in a characterful small hotel. Guilt-free indulgence!
With a vibe that sits comfortably between a gastro-pub with rooms and a country town hotel, The Castle at Bishop’s Castle is the perfect bolthole, not least for real ale enthusiasts and dog owners. Explore the pretty town or yomp through the glorious surrounding countryside that straddles South Shropshire’s English and Welsh borders.
Spa holidays – wouldn’t it be good if they were a bit more, well, indulgent? Give your treatments and therapies a delicious Tuscan twist, staying in a gorgeous, five-star hotel that offers a state-of-the-art spa alongside traditional Italian hospitality plus a Gordon Ramsey restaurant. Who says you can’t have your wrap and eat it?
A short-break across the Atlantic doesn’t have to mean New York – Montréal is closer, oozes style and combines the atmosphere of a chic French city with the traditional laid-back Canadian feel. Pair serious shopping with outdoor activities; try white-water rafting or jet boating and reward yourself with fabulous French food and lazy afternoons enjoying the cafe culture.
Time, space, peace. If you’re craving one – or all of these – (and frankly who isn’t) then sneak a look at the clutch of gorgeous Scottish cottages offered by the Little Domain. Choose from a seaside billet or an urban apartment in the heart of Edinburgh; a range of perfect spaces for two, all with a delicious feeling of escape.
Head for the golden beaches of northern France where Pierre & Vacances has a selection of holiday villages in Normandy, Picardy and Brittany. They offer comfortable self-catering accommodation in villas, cottages and apartments, while the on-site restaurant, shop and swimming pools make life easy for everyone.
Reykjavik is a youthful, compact, friendly city set in dramatic countryside and less than three hours’ flying time from the UK. Wander around art galleries and museums, linger in stylish restaurants and cosy coffee bars then take a healing dip in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon. If you have the energy, party the night away at the city’s legendary bars.
Drama, beauty and nature on a frankly gobsmacking scale; a trip across Norway delivers all three, along with picturesque villages, easy to navigate cities and some of the best seafood in the world. A highlight – literally – is a trip on the Bergensbanen railway, which climbs 4,000 feet to the Hardangervidda plateau – the highest train route in Europe.
Looking for something more meaningful from your next break? The National Trust runs hundreds of working holidays where you can chip in with tasks such as herding goats and repairing drystone walls. Starting at just £60, these breaks allow you to meet like-minded people while helping to conserve the countryside.
If there’s a city to beat Prague for romance, even in winter, I’ve yet to find it. Cobbled streets lined with medieval mansions converted into firelit cafes and restaurants, soaring churches that host concerts and recitals and gorgeous hotels such as The Augustine, a 13th century monastery, or the luxy Four Seasons, right on the river. Pray for snow, take your woollies and prepare to be loved-up.
Jersey was once known for cream teas and coach tours. Now a new generation of visitors is discovering its wild unspoilt beaches which are ideal for thrilling activities such as blokarting and sea kayaking. The island also offers excellent seafront hotels and fine dining – not least the stylish Atlantic, with Michelin-starred cuisine, swimming pools and golf.
On the Suffolk Heritage Coast, Aldeburgh is one of Britain’s prettiest seaside towns. The Wentworth Hotel gazes across the shingle beach with an air of solid reassurance. Brightly furnished with antiques, log fires and Russell Flint prints, special touches include binoculars in its sea-facing rooms and a bar menu that occasionally lapses into Swahili.
A city break with kids? If it sounds like a recipe for a high-stress weekend, try Family Twist, which aims to make cities such as Paris as accessible and enjoyable for families as loved-up couples. Every aspect, from child-friendly accommodation to activities such as treasure trails and cookery classes, can be pre-organised, helping to create a family jaunt to remember.
Remember when flying was fun? Before the days of long queues, endless checks and airports that are more like shopping malls? Book with Flybe and it’s a whole different experience; they fly from small, regional airports that connect to dozens of European destinations, ideal for a stress-free start to your citybreak or week in the sun.
It may be just a hop across the Channel but in pockets of the Pas de Calais you’ll feel as immersed in the “real” France as if you’d driven half way across the country. Authentic, simple and great value, auberges such as de l’Abbeye and Auberge d’Inxent tick every box, not least for their excellent cooking and low-key charm.
Barcelona might just be the perfect city break – fabulous shopping, tapas bars on every corner, Antoni Gaudi’s unique architecture and a buzzy beachfront for sunny days. Travel with Kirker and their Concierge Service can organise everything from tables at the city’s hippest restaurants, to a private guide who will introduce you to some of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Great news from kids’ adventure specialist PGL – their short-breaks mean kids can have a taster couple of days without having to commit to a whole week away. PGL centres offer the chance to try everything from circus skills to dragon-boat racing, all with the glorious freedom of being entirely independent of boring old Mum and Dad.
If New York is the Big Apple, Washington DC is the Big Cheese; a city that oozes power. Dotted with uber-luxurious hotels that welcome the world’s great and good, Washington mixes world-class museums and galleries with a hip drinking scene and restaurants to rival NYC. Easy to explore on foot, it’s a presidentially-perfect city break.
You don’t have to be a military history buff to be interested in visiting historic battlefield sites. Over 100 years since the start of the First World War, you can join a small-group tour of memorials and cemeteries, as well as battle sites, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. It’s a truly moving experience for all ages.
Planning a family break to a theme park, but feel Disney’s been done and Florida’s too far? The good news is that there is another option; Efteling in Holland. The third largest park in Europe, it’s also accessible, affordable and pleasingly quirky – from talking trees to white-knuckle rollercoasters and gentler rides for young ones.
The ideal way to get to know the richly diverse landscapes of Europe and the UK is on two feet. Travelling from the mountains to the sea, you’ll pass through medieval hill towns, vineyards, forests and fishing villages. Each evening your luggage will be waiting at your hotel, so you can unwind over a delicious meal featuring regional food and wine.
A cottage in Cornwall, what could be more relaxing? Until you have to shop and cook, or find a good place for dinner. Book a luxury bolthole with Boutique Retreats and they do the hard work, from booking restaurants to arranging a private chef or deliveries of local Cornish produce. All of which leaves little to do but put your feet up and enjoy the peace. Perfect.