1 September 2007 by Amy Sohanpaul
The rooms at Ickworth House have reverberated with some rollicking times over the last few centuries. The neoclassical country house topped with a rotunda, spreads its wings in a glorious park laid out by Capability Brown, and was once the home of the Hervey family. In those days, hedonism and a certain amount of debauchery were the norm – one legendary party lasted for 30 hours and 1,000 bottles of champagne.
Now the rooms in the East Wing ring with the sound of children running about and the hedonism stretches as far as parents enjoying a drink in the knowledge that little people can be seen and heard. When they can’t be seen it generally means they’re having a high old time in the well-appointed (with qualified nannies and plenty of toys) playroom, a few doors away from a spa providing slightly more sophisticated
fun for parents. Relaxation, rather than rock and roll, is what life at Ickworth is all about, now that the house is part of Von Essen’s portfolio of luxury family hotels. It’s hard for families not to relax, or rather, for parents not to relax. For children there’s too much fun to be had and too many activities to leave time for afternoon naps. Tumbling about on the giant trampoline, or darting about from one toy to the next in the enclosed garden, while grown-ups unfurl newspapers and enjoy chilled glasses of wine or meals in the open air. Or lengthy sessions in a superb swimming pool set in the former walled garden, or tennis or riding lessons, or wildlife walks. And there’s always the chance for long and complex games with all the other visiting toddlers making it up as they go along. While all this generates a real sense of wellbeing in parents, it probably wouldn’t
be quite so appealing for couples hoping for a quiet break without the excited sounds of children having a good time. Having said that, there are plenty of escapes and delights available for all grown-ups, with or without children. Funky lounges, full of unexpectedly contemporary furniture, which somehow works well with the elegant lines of the rooms provide respite, as do comfortable, chic or shabby-chic, eclectic bedrooms. (Or spacious apartments in the nearby Dower House). There are long hacks to be had from the original stables to explore the beautiful 1,800 acre National Trust Estate, with its woodland, vineyard, Georgian summerhouse, lake and church. There’s the chance to take a look at the collection gathered by the 4th Earl of Bristol, who created the house (paintings by Titian, Gainsborough and Velaquez and a magnificent Georgian silver collection are on display). And then, after bedtime for tiny tots, fine, formal dining in Fredericks, the main restaurant, while the baby listening service or qualified babysitters ensure peace of mind for parents.
The staff – from front of house to the nannies in the cre`che – are wonderful with children. And on the whole, the service was fabulous for parents too, except, once or twice, at mealtimes. Breakfast is buffet-style, so the hot options tended towards dryness, and the tables towards messiness, unless seated early. Casual meals can be taken in the Conservatory, or in the garden. If you’re sitting outside, it can take a while to find someone to ask for a drink or meal, which isn’t too terrible when the sun is shining. But to have the manager on duty in the Conservatory look pointedly at his watch when we asked for the menu ten minutes before they stopped serving lunch – and then sigh, frown and suggest we had a sandwich instead was surprising in a hotel of this standard. Without that incident, Ickworth would have scored a shiny gold star – my three year- old, who had a fabulous stay from start to finish, would probably have given it five. And she has outrageously high standards for someone who has only been talking for a couple of years.