Trying to plan a family gathering is not easy at the best of times but imagine the pressure of finding somewhere to introduce your families for the first time, coupled with the fact that none of your homes are big enough to cater for the occasion – and then there’s choosing which house will host the “invasion”.
Well one solution that worked perfectly for us was hiring out a cottage in the country. We stayed at Avocet, a large cottage which is part of the award-winning self-catering Cranmer Country Cottages close to the Norfolk Coast.
Our three-bedroom luxury carbon neutral cottage, which opened in August 2009, is part of a small complex of converted Victorian barns.
It sleeps six, so there was ample space and choice for sleeping arrangements.
As hosts for the weekend, my boyfriend and I took charge of the cooking and hospitality, and on our arrival we were given a warm welcome by the owner Lynne Johnson.
In our cottage there was a starter pack containing freshly cooked bread, biscuits, cheese, jam, butter and chutney sourced locally, and we had plenty of room in the large fridge/freezer to store our shopping.
The restored barn had kept its original features, and the luxury furnishings complemented it.
The underfloor heating, powered by renewable energy – solar, ground source heat and wind – makes it a gold award member of the Green Tourism Business Scheme. It kept the cottage at a consistent temperature throughout our stay – even when cooking, we never felt too hot nor too cold while we let the parents sit down, put their feet up and admire the magnificent views over Home Farm’s 175 acres of arable farmland.
Preparing dinner was a piece of cake thanks to the fully equipped kitchen facilities – even down to the little essentials of foil and cling film, the cottage had everything you could need. What was most pleasing was the high spec of the kitchen utensils – this makes such a difference when cooking and having nice homeware made the whole experience one we could take a greater pride in. It also meant that we could cook from scratch as there were plenty of mixing bowls and scales.
As hosts for the weekend, it was nice to be able to show off the property, as if it was our own, while also experiencing the holiday feeling ourselves. Having wi-fi on hand was also a good back up in case we needed to refer back to any recipes.
And one of the advantages to the cottage was having the space to entertain, without feeling crowded or in each other’s way – even a surprise visit from extra guests did not put us in a spin, for there were plenty of pots and seating to make them feel at home.
And when the ice was broken between parents, we all took a plunge in the spectacular indoor heated swimming pool which, as being a former thrashing barn, has stunning views of the open countryside. It had everything you could need, from lockers and changing rooms, to hair dryers and spectator seats. Plus at just a short walk from our cottage, it was an extremely convenient facility. And because it uses salt instead of chlorine, you didn’t have that public swimming pool feel.
Had our break been longer, we would have made more use of the two all-weather tennis courts, games room with darts and pool table, plus a large enclosed play area with adventure playground.
Nevertheless, the whole weekend felt like we owned our countryside retreat and it had everything to enable us to enjoy quality family time without having to be dashing here, there and everywhere.
If you do have chance to visit one local attraction, make it Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens which is just down the road from the cottages, towards Fakenham. Perfect for families with younger children, the visitor centre has everything from wildlife walks and discovery tours to stunning gardens and a spectacular shop and cafe.
Alternatively there are glorious sandy beaches, the pinewoods of Holkham and Wells and the fashionable village of Burnham Market, all within easy reach – that’s if you want to venture from your cosy cottage that is.
To book Avocet or view prices visit holiday cottage compare or call 0845 163 8815. Avocet can be booked for seven nights over New Year for £1,584 from Friday, December 27.