Going abroad vs staying at home: a review

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With current choice of a beach holiday abroad extremely limited this year, it’s no surprise that in Britain, long weekends and short stays in scenic spots are popular once more. Holiday cottages are booming, with Norfolk, Cornwall and many coastal areas already booked up.

And while low-cost airlines are doing their best to entice customers with price drops and free cancellation, after a year without travel holidaymakers are shopping around for that extra bit of luxury.

According to Forest Holidays, which recently launched a new site of 66 cabins in Delamere forest, Cheshire, and have 11 sites across the UK, searches for ‘forest weekend breaks’ have seen a 425 per cent increase. This is alongside inquiries for ‘luxury’ experiences such as a ready stocked kitchen, upgraded facilities and spa access.

Launching its new luxury White Willow tier with ten new cabins at Delamere in April, Forest Holidays aim to be the perfect local alternative to an overseas vacation this year. But can they compare? FEMAIL reporter Gina Clarke finds out.

At almost £1500 for a weekend break with the family, Delamere’s White Willow accommodation might seem pricey. 

After all, you can spend half as much on a European city break and could even enjoy some decent summer sun for the same price. 

As a keen traveller, who was dearly missing walking down the aisle (of the airplane that is), I was keen to see just what was included in this new, luxury tier.

Getting there

With a 2pm check-in time for the White Willow cabin, there was no early morning flight required. Forest Holidays offer a variety of packages but their most popular are the 3-night weekend stays covering Friday-Monday. This means that as soon as you arrive you can start relaxing as there’s no airport delays to recover from.

One great thing about holidaying in Britain is that even when your sat nav gets lost, you can easily ask for help. Not needed on this occasion though, the sat nav took us to right outside the gate and just 10 minutes later we were checked in at the main reception – The Forest Retreat.

No sitting on a bus with air conditioning waiting to get dropped off, instead, we had parking right outside our cabin door. Great when you’re unloading those wet weather bags of clothes for ‘just in case’.

Rating: 4/5

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The accommodation

Leafy Cheshire offers a perfect place to unwind, with 66 cabins situated on the edge of Delamere forest each with its own deck and hot tub – a haven for both walkers and cyclists after an active day out, but not the best idea for large groups and hen/stag parties.

With an emphasis on staying quiet after 10pm (noise really does travel quickly in the forest), there’s no loud hotel guests coming home to wake you up, or traffic outside. 

Instead, open the bi-fold doors in the White Willow to really hear the bird song, count how many squirrels you can see, or say hello to the wildlife (you might find anything from the white-faced darter dragonfly to Munjac deer outside depending on location).

Rating: 5/5

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The food

No dodgy tummies here from buffet food. The cabins are self-catering and come with a modest kitchen and fridge, what’s more – most offer major supermarket deliveries so you’re not tied to food from the Retreat, the onsite shop and café, and White Willow cabins come with an outside fridge to accompany both a BBQ and pizza oven.

Unlike travel abroad, there isn’t the option to follow your nose and stumble across a lovely bodega, but there are alternative options, such as guides for eating outside the site – although these are mainly focused on dog-friendly pub lunches. 

If you’re looking for meal-time inspiration, Booths grocers have launched a range of cook-along meal kits available to book in advance or through the Retreat.

Luckily when our try at pizza making went wrong, the Retreat offers a door-to-door service, from an extra pint of milk to a full meal, including alcohol and if you’re in a White Willow cabin your cupboards are already stocked with local treats before you arrive. Handy!

Rating: 4/5

The spa

One of the big draws to a luxury holiday is the ability to use the spa, whether that’s a swim in a morning or a massage after a stroll round the Old Town. Every cabin at Forest Holidays comes with its own private hot tub and deck, but if you need more than that you have the option to book your own private masseuse, thanks to an arrangement with Glo Pamper.

You can choose the time and relax in your own Cabin – from a full body massage to a facial. What’s more, there’s a Mum-to-be and kid’s menu too so no-one needs to feel left out.

One thing I loved is that privacy is not to be underrated, there’s no massage on the beach in front of a crowd or hearing the noises of other guests. In colder times, I could imagine lighting the log burner and letting the fire warm me up – but three towels and the underfloor heating also did the trick.

Rating: 4/5

Kids club

If you’re looking for the opportunity to drop your kids while you go off an explore then you will be a tad disappointed. However, while there aren’t any childcare facilities at Forest Holidays there are plenty of options to entertain them. 

From natural play parks to an activity with the Forest Rangers who can teach youngsters not just about bushcraft and outdoor survival skills, but also how to build a campfire (roasting marshmallows included!)

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For budding adventurers, the Retreat stocks a variety of tools and activities from The Den Kit Company, where your explorer can build their own poncho to hide in and watch the wildlife or grab a telescope to examine that gloriously clear night sky.

With the forest set up for cycling and walking trails, kids can experience a real sense of freedom – and you can watch them with a glass of wine from your cabin or the deck of the Retreat

Rating: 4/5

Luxury experiences

Hotel rooms can often be daunting, from en-suite to executive suite, it’s often hard to understand what you’re booking.

Forest Holidays already provides a tier system of cabins with Golden Oak’s benefiting from fluffy robes and an indoor log burner, but the White Willow options go one further.

From additional kitchen equipment such as a Nutribullet 1200 and a Nespresso Vertuo, two sets of fluffy robes per person (an indoor and an outdoor, naturally) a food hamper and chilled prosecco on arrival, there’s also the above-mentioned outdoor kitchen to really ensure that you can dine in style.

Need more? You can book your own chef to cook (and clean up for you!) while you take a dip in the hot tub or relax with a massage. 

Rating: 5/5

Exploring the local area

Nothing cements the foreign holiday experience more than getting lost after a ‘turn right, turn left’ direction from the front desk. The good news is that mobile phone signal is still pretty good in Delamere forest so if you get lost feel free to turn on the GPS or follow one of the maps available from the Retreat.

There’s also a chance to experience local food with Welcome gifts exclusive to the White Willow cabin. The chocolate oat biscuits were absolutely delicious!

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For small ones with little legs, there’s a gentle Peter Rabbit trail for the kids around the site or you can follow the trail into the heart of Delamere forest.

Rating: 4/5

Getting active

Foreign holidays might offer experiences such as Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) or sailing, but these are also on offer as third-party experiences that Forest Holidays can book for you.

And as with all sites, there’s a cycle hut where you can borrow bikes and get local advice.

Plus, within Delamere Forest itself there’s Go Ape, who offer Treetop adventures for mini-Tarzans (1m+ in height) and adventurous adults alike, alongside Segway rides and other adventures. What’s more, Forest Holidays guests can enjoy a discount when booking.

Rating: 5/5

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After an action-packed weekend away it might be time to book another holiday in the forest, you won’t have got an hour down the road before you’re missing the call of the hot tub and that squirrel who came to say hello each morning.

The British weather also plays its part, and while wet weather might be par for the course – the shelter of the forest can still make a rainy day enjoyable.

Still, if you’re looking for a sunny beach then that’s something a little harder to find but fun, activity, quality family time and little touches of luxury are certainly available when booking a forest holiday. 

Pricing example: A White Willow Premium cabin at Delamere forest (2 bed) sleeping 4 people for 3 nights (Friday – Monday) on 6th May 2022 is £1470.

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