Review: To the Manor Born

Moonfleet Manor

Review: To the Manor Born

Words by Katie Hutley

Moonfleet Manor in Dorset delivers the holy grail for families, offering a true haven for every generation

Some things are such good ideas that, once you realise they exist, you can think of no earthly explanation as to why everyone isn’t doing it; so it’s a big hat tip from me to the geniuses at Luxury Family Hotels, the group behind Moonfleet Manor, near Weymouth. They have completely cornered the market in beautiful hotels that genuinely tick the boxes of adults and kids alike – free kids club sessions, playgrounds and bowling alleys, and a cinema showing kidfriendly films, but also a spa, incredible food, a seriously impressive wine and cocktail list and even baby monitors so that you can dine downstairs while your cherubs are asleep upstairs. Center Parcs this ain’t.

Located just behind the famous Chesil Beach, the hotel takes its name from the book Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner, a classic children’s adventure tale of smugglers, storms and great derring-do that was set in (what was then) Fleet House and the surrounding area. And whilst smuggling is now quite out of the question (the three-mile tunnel to the beach, accessed from the cellar, was filled in years ago, much to our dismay), adventure and fun are still very much the order of the day. Indeed, on arrival we are whisked on a private tour of the ‘behind the scenes’ parts of the hotel that takes in said cellar (it was a nightclub from the 40s until the 70s – oh to have been a fly on the wall!) and leads us to the resident palaeontologist’s – yes, you read that right – workshop, where we’re invited to look at prehistoric finds found on the nearby beaches of the Jurassic coast. Holding these pieces of history, the kids are agog – and we haven’t even checked in yet.

Moonfleet Manor Aerial view Moonfleet Manor’s location on the stunning Jurassic Coast

The rooms are all named after characters in Moonfleet, and our twobedroom suite is the perfect size and layout for a family of four. Two separate bedrooms are joined by a small entrance area, offering the ideal blend of connectedness and separation for both us and them. Thoughtful little touches, like the correct child-sized robes and slippers laid out in their room, and the TV with Netflix already installed, had our two thrilled at how grown-up they felt as they watched a movie in bed – which of course meant a more relaxing time for the two travel-frazzled parents next door…

After a stormy arrival, the next day dawned bright and clear, and with a dinosaur-obsessed three-year-old in tow, there was only one option on the table – FOSSIL HUNTING! We’d been advised to try nearby Ringstead Bay, for being not too busy and with good access – vital, we were told, as you wouldn’t want to lug your impressive haul a couple of miles back to the car. We needn’t have worried. Perhaps it was the attention span of the younger members of our party, who were quickly more interested in throwing stones in the water (him) and playing chicken run with the waves (her), but we came away empty-handed. Still, this is an incredibly beautiful stretch of coastline, and all that fresh sea air meant we’d worked up a healthy appetite for lunch back at the hotel.

Moonfleet Manor interiors From it’s beautiful rooms to its family friendly restaurant, there is much to appeal to all ages here

We ate three meals a day in the in-house restaurant for the duration of our stay, and not only was the food of a truly excellent standard, it was completely game-changing in terms of the overall experience of dining with children; luxury it may be, but family is the key point of difference, and children’s ‘adorable’ quirks and habits (banging tables with forks, spilling/dropping basically everything, refusing to eat pasta with “green bits” on it) are not only tolerated but… well, I won’t say ‘welcomed’, exactly, but the staff were absolute experts at alleviating that pressure that every parent knows only too well, of not being ‘that family’. And besides, when every table is occupied by ‘that family’, who’s going to judge?

We adults used our daily 90-minute kids club sessions wisely – taking turns in the bath with a glass of wine – and on Saturday evening, took advantage of the baby monitor service to take dinner à deux. Looking round the (now more or less child-free) place was a study in the nature of modern parenting; overstimulated, overtired parents nervously checking monitors for sounds of stirring children, being ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED to enjoy this brief glimpse of freedom. The aforementioned cocktails helped enormously on that front in our case, and the food was exquisite – there was a special starter on the menu during our stay that was essentially a roasted onion lavished with Marmite butter, and what alchemy was used to create the resulting flavour sensation I can’t begin to imagine.

Slightly plumper, a lot more relaxed, and with our lungs full of fresh air, we were reluctant departees the next day – so much so that we stayed for yet another lunch at the restaurant, and yet another session in the games room (a misnomer; it was the size of a football pitch, and our kids were in absolute heaven). LFH have five hotels around the country which we can’t wait to try, and for this family at least, the expectations of short family breaks have been completely revolutionised from this point on. Center Where?