Travel: A festive family getaway in delightful Devon
A group getaway can ease the pressure of family rifts during the festive period. Fiona Webster scopes out the perfect multi-generational retreat in Devon.
AS WE lounge in our heated indoor pool, sipping cocktails and speculating about what our chef might be cooking for dinner, we realise we have found the formula for the perfect holiday.
We love going away, but hate the fuss and formality of hotels. Villas are fine – but one person often ends up doing all the work, buying food, booking restaurants and organising the fun. Usually me.
A new service aims to solve that, by doing the donkey work for you: Oliver's Travels offers stays in beautiful homes, plus an optional concierge service where they see to your every need, from organising taxis and shopping to activities and chefs who come and cook for you.
We decided to try it out with a short break in Dartmoor. The luxury home we chose from the 1,400 the company offers worldwide, did not disappoint.
Puggiestone House is a natural charmer. This beautiful seven-bedroom country manor near Chagford has a heated indoor pool and sauna, and is surrounded by gardens and its own wood leading down to a river.
It is within the Dartmoor National Park, deep in the Devon countryside, but Exeter, with its range of shops, restaurants and galleries, is just a 30 minute drive away.
Our bedroom features a walk-in wardrobe the size of our bedroom at home, a bathroom with a television perched on the wall and a sitting room with a sofa and swivel armchairs, so you can admire the views from every window.
There is a well-stocked library, sun room and even a tree house bolthole you can retreat to and read a book, or just enjoy the view.
There are many walks from the house and half a mile up the road is the exclusive Gidleigh Park hotel, run by well-known hotelier Paul Shanahan.
No one wants to cook, so a company called Dine Indulge provide a chef who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants. After a long walk and a swim on the first day, we come down to beautifully laid table, wine chilling and a menu that includes steamed fillet of fresh sea bass, and pistachio and rose water marshmallow.
Everything is taken care of, from the wine to the washing up.
Beyond the property, there's plenty to explore. The next morning, we decide to try a taste of Dartmoor life, so Oliver's Travels arrange a trip to Parke, a National Trust estate near Bovey Tracey.
It offers 250 acres of woodland and wildlife for walkers, English apple orchards, working apple presses and fields of Dartmoor ponies who help bring the apples from the orchards.
The award-winning Home Farm Cafe in Parke's grounds serves Ashburton lamb, Dartmoor pork and Devon duck, with many ingredients sourced from cafe owner Nick Smith's nearby farm. Great a value at £12 a dish.
My husband, Carson, wants to try foraging, so Oliver's Travels find us an expert forager who takes us hiking across Dartmoor, where we learn about natural remedy plants, wild herbs and how to make delicious sloe brandy.
During our trek, the rain sets in and we discover the moors can be tough terrain. If you try it, take waterproof jackets, trousers and hats.
We are relieved to get back to the comfort and luxury of our villa, cast off our soggy clothes and dive into our warm pool.
Our final night's feast is as good as our first, with the same cheerful chef offering five courses, ranging from succulent slow roasted local lamb to chocolate mousse with strawberries.
The weekend goes fast and we leave relaxed and rested. It feels like having your own country home, with staff on hand if needed.
Oliver's Travels offer everything from apartments and city pads to villas and chateaux. Some customers prefer to do their own organising, but the company's concierge service certainly suited us – my first holiday where I never had to pick up a tea towel!
A week at Puggiestone House, which sleeps 14, starts at £4,293. For more information on the destination, go to Visitdevon.co.uk
:: Three more properties to try
Best for – atmosphere
Built 200 years ago, the Landscove Barns complex in Devon sleeps 12-20 in six bedrooms. A three-night stay costs £3,500 between December 29 and January 5.
Best for – budget
Set on a clifftop with direct access to the beach, Meadow Manor in Norfolk sleeps 14 in seven bedrooms and costs £2,812 for three nights between December 31 and January 2.
Best for – a blow-out
If you're prepared to really splash out, Braehead Estate in Ayrshire, Scotland has 18 bedrooms and just as many bathrooms, all set within 250 acres of private land.
The cost? Three nights (for up to 24 guests) for a mere £25,200 over the festive and New Year period.
Oliver's Travels (oliverstravels.com; 020 3637 0999) offers apartments and villas across Europe and the Caribbean.