It’s not often that parents get a proper night off and when that rare occasion arrives, you want to make the most of it. For an indulgent weekend, look no further than this country estate near the market town of Masham, at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Swinton Park was once in the running for a Royal residence (Queen Victoria eventually plumped for Sandringham as the shooting was said to be less challenging) and, as you'd imagine, it has the “wow” factor. Pulling into the driveway in the Skoda Yeti we test drove from York (verdict: comfortable, spacious and perfect for tricky country roads), it's fair to say both our jaws dropped.
Dating from the 1600s, but with much of its features extensively remodelled in the Georgian and Victorian periods, Swinton Park is owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family. The communal areas are grand yet welcoming, with family portraits and freshly cut flowers, so it feels lived in rather than an artifact preserved for paying guests. Relaxing with a newspaper in the ditting room or library feels just that, rather than formal. Staff are extremely knowledgeable about the place, proudly telling you about the history of various wings and paintings. You get the impression that everyone who works at Swinton feels party of the family.
The accommodation is equally impressive – our luxurious York suite was as big as the average London flat, with an enormous canopy bed and antique dressing table. A nice touch was the complimentary decanters of spirits instead of a pricey minibar. We couldn't help but indulge while we watched the estate deer grazing beside the lake from our window. It’s old-fashioned, but in the best possible way. The manager Tom told us that guests often return, with some setting themselves a challenge to stay in all 31 rooms, as each one is unique. The Turret Suite is a particular novelty, set over three floors.
Whisky drunk, my husband headed off to explore the 200 acres of parkland surrounding the hotel while I had a full body massage in the hotel's spa, which boasts a range of treatments and extremely lovely staff. Expectant mother need not miss out as there is a pregnancy treatment bed available. This being an old building, the facilities are set in a number of small rooms in one wing, but Tom tells us that work is underway to renovate an outbuilding into much more extensive and modern spa.
A meal at Samuel’s restaurant is romance itself – a candlelit room with gold leaf ceiling, delicious food that looked exquisite, and superb service. I felt like the lady of the manor as we looked out over Home Lake, sipping wine. Many of the ingredients, from mushrooms to venison, are sourced from the hotel's four acre Walled Garden itself (the largest hotel kitchen garden in the UK) and it shows, with seasonality at the heart of chef Simon Crannage's ever changing menu. He also uses game and fish from the 20,000 acres of estate of which Swinton sits within.
We opted for the classic menu (a garden produce vegetarian menu and seven course tasting menu are also on offer). My melt-in-the-mouth halibut was a high point, followed by a deconstructed peach melba, while my husband couldn’t resist a flight of port with his delicious Yorkshire cheese board. Afterwards, we happily retired to the converted chapel which now acts as the hotel bar, a hugely atmospheric location for a nightcap. Or if the weather is fine, head out onto the terrace and simply enjoy the peace and quiet.
We couldn’t wait to go back down for breakfast, which was equally lavish and the same silver service. Just be aware that Samuel's has a smart dress code. Afternoon tea, light lunches and various themed and gourmet events are also on offer.
There’s everything from a cookery school to fly fishing, a Victorian games room with full size snooker table to a gym. The staff will even pack a picnic and drive you to spend a few hours in a bothy hut on the deserted moors, should your heart desire. We loved the daily “Meet the birds of prey” session where we got to hold Swinton Park’s resident eagle owl, Ellie. She's one of a number of beautiful birds who live in a converted orangery next to the hotel and a whole host of falconry experiences are available to guests and non-guests.
A stroll in the magical Walled Garden, lovingly restored by renowned garden Susan Cunliffe-Lister (who is also responsible for the hotel's fragrant flower displays), is highly recommended. The majority is used to grow 60 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, but an acre has been put out to flower and is an oasis of calm and colour.
I never wanted to leave Swinton Park but should you fancy it, Wensleydale is a short drive away while Masham has two breweries to tour, a golf course and craft shops galore.
Or better still, book a return trip with the children in tow. Swinton Park prides itself on being family friendly, with children’s cookery courses (£50 for a half day), a playroom complete with dressing up box and cinema, nature trails, bike hire and pony rides, not to mention the wonderful wildlife, from ducks to rabbits. Look out for regular seasonal events such as an Easter Egg Trail, too. Don't worry if the weather is gloomy - there is a kit room complete with wellington boots, plus kites to fly and bikes to ride.
Many of the suites easily convert for families (our York Suite had a large sofa bed in the lounge area) and baby kit from cots to highchairs can be provided. If this feels a little formal for your brood but you'd still like to enjoy the estate's grounds, take a look at glamping site The Bivouac at Druid’s Temple, a short drive away.
Swinton Park, rooms from £195 per night inc breakfast (£265 with dinner), 01765 680900, swintonpark.com.
Skoda Yeti Elegance Greenline II, £20,665. Find out more at skoda.co.uk/yeti
Read more weekend escape reviews...