Adults might relish the grandeur of English country-house hotels, but for kids, it's no fun having to keep your hands to yourself and your voice down. Luckily for families, some stately mansions are reinventing themselves as child-friendly without sacrificing any of their original opulence. Here are three standouts that encourage kids to be both seen and heard.
The Georgian architecture and gardens designed by Capability Brown take your breath away, but there's nothing precious about this 27-room hotel. "We encourage walking around in bare feet here," says general manager Peter Lord.
The estate was owned by the aristocratic Hervey family for 600 years until the National Trust took it over. Those looking for pristine antiques will be disappointed these days the décor leans toward sofas that tolerate small feet and rounded tables that won't crack heads. The hotel runs a bright, friendly crèche, and there's a large enclosed garden with a trampoline and toys. Families can borrow bicycles to tour the 1,800 acres (728 ha) of rolling parkland. "I liked the beautiful view," says Georgina, my 6-year-old, "and the sheeps and the lambs." www.ickworthhotel.co.uk
THE GROVE, HERTFORDSHIRE
Forty minutes from central London, this 18th century pile was the former seat of the earls of Clarendon. It's been greatly expanded and now houses 227 bedrooms decorated in a blend of modern and antique. To keep all those guests entertained, the Grove offers a wide array of activities, such as the excellent kids' club that features nature walks and arts and crafts. If the adventure playground and two family pools (the outdoor one is heated) aren't enough to occupy the little ones, they can also take golf and tennis lessons.
The Glasshouse, one of three restaurants, puts on an extensive buffet, encouraging children to try new foods. "I liked the sushi," says Georgina. "There were loads of exciting things to do. I got to go to a kids' club where I made a beaded necklace. My room was big and there were toys to play with." www.thegrove.co.uk
LUCKNAM PARK, WILTSHIRE
The 41-bedroom Palladian mansion near Bath, erected by a merchant in 1720, has a setting that rivals Scarlett O'Hara's Tara, and inside it is sumptuously furnished with Georgian and Victorian antiques. The best way to take in the park's 500 acres (200 ha) is by horse, so the equestrian center offers cross-country riding and lessons for children and adults. Michelin-starred chef Hywel Jones' superb Park Restaurant welcomes children over the age of 5; toddlers can get room service or eat in the spa. Kids can splash around in the spa's pool, and there's a playroom with toys and video games in case it rains because this is England, after all. www.lucknampark.co.uk