how UK holiday properties went under the spell

Sitting in her vacation home, Zoe Fletcher stretched out on the sofa, waiting for her friends to arrive. Every year, the 48-year-old from Nottinghamshire books a weekend away for herself and seven friends. Having ‘reached the age where we all like our bedrooms’, she found the Water Mill, a Grade II listed property in Derbyshire’s Peak District. When each of her friends walked through the door, wheeled suitcase in hand, there was only an exclamation on their lips: “Wow.”

Stopping outside, they probably would have timed the old wooden water wheel, the babbling brook, and the outdoor hot tub. Inside, they might have noticed the flaky decor, all the 16th-century oak beams and stonework. But the piece-of-resistance it is undoubtedly the leather-seated champagne bar at the Water Mill, something friends have been relishing all weekend.

The Water Mill is just one of over 24,000 properties offered by, one of the UK’s leading providers of luxury holiday cottages and holiday homes. Whisper it, but might be a misnomer. True, the name conjures up images of the kind of cozy thatched-roof dwellings romanticized in Cameron Diaz’s film The Holiday. But browse the website and it is possible to find idiosyncratic retreats such as a Norfolk lighthouse, a Wiltshire shepherd’s hut (with electric underfloor heating), a restored railway carriage in the Suffolk countryside or any number of luxury accommodation in the style of Grand Designs, many featuring pools, home cinemas, saunas, and karaoke machines. Holidaymakers can even stay at their 14th-century turreted castle: the baronial Knock Old Castle in Ayrshire (from £369pp* for seven nights; sleeps eight).

The Water Mill was the third retreat Fletcher has stayed at in 2022, after starting with an Easter break at Tinners Way, a seaside dacha in Cornwall. The multi-generational getaway (Fletcher was accompanied by her husband, two children, both in-laws, plus the cocker spaniel of the brood) proved to be a success: the bungalow was perfect for older relatives with accessibility issues, while for family members more accustomed to a fortnight in the Mediterranean, “it was a real adventure because they had never gone away like this before”.

Win a stay at Mulino ad Acqua for you and up to 15 friends and relatives

The Water Mill is a Grade II listed house in Ashbourne, Derbyshire on the edge of the majestic Peak District and close to Bakewell (home of the tart of the same name). With seven bedrooms, luxury finishes, restored 16th-century furnishings and, of course, that champagne bar, Guardian readers can now win a chance to stay at the five-star property for three nights, inviting up to 15 family members and friends . For your chance to win and for terms and conditions, go to

As with Fletcher’s family, many first-timers are surprised at the luxuries on offer. On that maiden voyage, Fletcher took his slow cooker and blender all the way to Cornwall, only to find these appliances already there in a fully equipped kitchen. Many properties also have lavish welcome packs – in Cornwall, Fletcher’s family received a basket filled with local bread, cheeses, beers and even treats for the dog.

Being pet-friendly is an increasingly important selling point for many holiday homes; properties are home to more than 163,000 of our four-legged companions each year (owners of limbless house pythons may need to ask first, though). There are plenty of child-friendly vacation homes too: has a collection dedicated to babies and toddlers, where parents can look for homes with amenities like cribs, high chairs, stair climbers, as well as stroller-friendly walks and play centers nearby. vicinity.

It was his teenage son’s Harry Potter fixation that led Fletcher to the family’s second stay at, a mid-term autumn break at Middle Cottage, a stone’s throw (philosopher’s) from Alnwick Castle (AKA Hogwarts in the early two films) in Northumberland. During their week-long vacation, the Fletchers, just like many other guests, embraced the joys of slow travel, immersing themselves in the local community for a longer, more meaningful and environmentally friendly stay. Middle Cottage was opposite a deli and local pub. “She was so friendly, it felt like the wind carried us in there,” says Fletcher. “By the end of our stay, the villagers greeted us as if we were familiar faces.”

Staycations have soared during the pandemic, a trend which has continued into 2022 with many Britons opting for domestic holidays over the travel chaos experienced at many UK airports (staycationers are also increasingly citing climate anxiety as a reason to avoid overseas holidays). Another pandemic trend – the rise of home working – is producing a new breed of guests: professionals who swap vacant room offices for digital nomadism in Dorset, Denbighshire or Dumbarton.

Of course, the cost-of-living crisis is another reason many choose to holiday at home, with the self-catering aspect of cottage stays allowing families to save money by eating out. whether it’s a converted barn in Suffolk, the Old Stables (from £173pp for seven nights; sleeps four), Wadadli Lodge in Devon with its large private swimming pool (from £157.50pp for seven nights; sleeps six) or the spacious ‘celebration house’ Pipistrelle Barn in Norfolk (from £175.50 per person for seven nights; sleeps 10). To make things even more convenient, is offering up to 20%* off select vacation rentals for stays in 2023, when you book by January 31st.

Fletcher is a satisfied customer who has just booked another stay for February in Yorkshire. “My three cottage stays during 2022 have been stress-free and created so many special memories, plus who can say they’ve had their own personal champagne bar,” she says. “It’s the kind of thing you don’t get when you stay in hotels, and if you do, you should be paying big money for it.”

To find your perfect getaway, head to and discover the perfect place to stay in 2023

*All prices correct at the time of writing

**For terms and conditions, see: Booking conditions –

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