Travel Notebook

The Perks of a Self-Catering Holiday

I know when my family gets together, we want to focus on each other – what we’ve all been up to, where we’ve been, how grown the kids are and so forth. For several years now, we have worked into our vacation rotation a self-catering cottage or private residence as a change of pace from our usual hotel or resort getaways. We have privacy, flexibility to come and go as we please, and, if staying in a residence affiliated with a hotel property, access to its full amenities and dining opportunities. If we want breakfast served up and ready to go, we can step out to the hotel’s dining room; otherwise, there’s no timetable and we can laze away the morning in our PJs, chatting over endless cups of coffee and pancakes straight from our kitchen’s griddle.

Self-catering holidays are a lovely complement to, or alternative, to a traditional hotel stay. Our family tends to either alternate between the two, or to combine both in one trip – a private house stay first, then a chance to be totally spoilt in a five-star hotel near the end of our vacation.

This choice is already popular among families with varying aged children – it’s easier to put the wee ones to bed early, let the tweens stay up and watch a movie and join the adults in the living room for a chat over a bottle of wine. Imagine, too, the possibilities for groups of friends getting away together, for wedding parties, anniversary celebrations, family reunions, the list is endless. For freedom, more space, generous communal gathering spaces, large dining areas and tables, authentic of-the-region architecture and the chance to explore hidden gems in the area when you venture out – a self-catering residence is popular for good reason. What’s more, you often have access to pleasing little extras – hot tubs, saunas, outdoor fireplaces, children’s play areas, a private pool.

Here’s a peek at some self-catering options Rebecca Recommends has had the pleasure of learning about in the past few years. Drop me a line for an introduction to any of these and ideas for others.

The Old Rectory at Hartwell House Hotel & Spa

The Old Rectory at Hartwell House

Offering all the benefits of the exclusive Hartwell House Hotel & Spa, the estate’s Old Rectory is perfectly suited to a private stay for up to seven people. This elegant Georgian home would be ideal for a family celebration, a bridal party or perhaps a smaller business retreat. As with Hartwell House, The Old Rectory is furnished to the highest standards, exuding a traditional style, while outside, the home is surrounded by two acres of immaculately tended private garden. Guests may spread out in a spacious Drawing Room, a large and fully equipped kitchen, a dining room that seats 10, an outdoor swimming pool and four bedrooms, including a master suite with a four-poster bed, en-suite bathroom and separate sitting room. All the amenities of Hartwell House and its full-service spa are available to guests of The Old Rectory. In addition to

The Apartments at Oddfellows in Chester

Inside the apartments at Oddfellows Chester

Bright, eclectic and abundantly charming, the apartments maintained by Oddfellows in Chester are a fantastically good value for those who crave privacy and flexibility during their stay. The apartments are fully serviced and offer all the fun of Oddfellows, yet with a homey feel, a popular choice for family vacations and group getaways. (They’re just a couple minutes’ walk from Oddfellows proper.) Spread out in two beautifully appointed bedrooms, with en-suite bathrooms and king-size beds (easily turned into twins), breakfast in your PJs in the open-plan living and dining area and then step out for sightseeing on the quiet cobbled street overlooking the river (guests are even afforded a parking space at their doorstep).

The Boathouse at The Torridon

Inside The Boathouse at The Torridon

I’ll admit, the allure of The Torridon’s daily-changing menus at the 1887 Restaurant and their very own whisky at the award-winning Whisky & Gin Bar would be enough to pull me from the privacy of the self-catering Boat House … and yet I’d be so looking forward to returning to the loch-side home’s comfort and quiet, set close to the water’s edge with uninterrupted views through a huge panoramic window in the lounge. From here, guests can linger for hours watching the eagles, pine martens, otters and seabirds that cavort in front of the Boat House. What a dream the interiors are, with solid maple floors reclaimed from the resort’s old buttery and a comfortable, yet contemporary style. The converted boat shed has actually been a family home in the past and today offers luxurious self-catering accommodation to those seeking a refreshing outdoor escape, yet with all the trappings of a luxury resort. Visit and chat in the sitting area, with its cozy wood-burning stove and entertainment system. Cook up a storm in the modern kitchen, then linger over a convivial meal at the large oak table. Can’t find that one utensil your favorite recipe calls for? Just ring the resort and they’ll have it delivered straight away. Comfy beds, with feather-soft duvets and soft cotton sheets lull you to sleep – there’s even a hot water bottle to warm your toes on chillier evenings. Daytime brings adventures galore with The Torridon Resort’s expert staff, who can guide you to the region’s best fishing, hiking, sea kayaking, clay pigeon shooting and much more.  

Castle for a Day (or a Month)

The turrets and towers of Aldourie Castle Estate 

What could be more royally indulgent than hiring out the entirety of a castle in the countryside of Scotland for a private house party? There’s the opportunity to take over Aldourie Castle as one’s own home, enjoying exclusive use of its rooms, facilities and outdoor pursuits for a week or even a month. The castle carries with it a sense of storybook romanticism, inviting guests to explore its turrets and towers, nooks and crannies. Fifteen bedrooms, ranging from the coziest single rooms to grand four-posters adorned in sumptuous fabrics, provide room for everyone – and everyone’s individual personality. As majestic outside as it is inside, Aldourie is a fairytale come to life.

The estate also offers a collection of self-catering, family-friendly holiday cottages, just a short walk from Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands – perfect for those who are planning a cycling or walking holiday on the loch.

(For more self-catering options throughout the UK and Ireland, let us put you in touch with the expert team at Original Travel UK.)

Loving the Yucatan from Hacienda Tamchen

The tranquil private pools and lotus ponds at Hacienda Tamchen

Moving on to another area of the world … I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with Catherwood Travel and experience the Private Haciendas collection firsthand. Among my favorites: Hacienda Tamchen, one of the Yucatan’s most lovingly restored private homes and open to rental for four- or seven-night stays. Tamchen is all about water – a translucent blue pool, with its ever-changing, almost Zen-like ambience, invites guests to totally unwind, while several of the bedrooms feature their own water features, whether a lily pond, Jacuzzi or plunge pool. One spacious suite, plus three independent villas, living and dining rooms, a breakfast nook, a meditation area and a massage room combine for ample quarters for a group of guests – both room to get away for quiet moments and room to gather over meals or cocktails. As with all of the Private Haciendas collection, Hacienda Tamchen is a beautiful example of original architecture and traditions complemented by modern-day comforts.

My journey to the Yucatan last year included Izamal, the famous Yellow City with which I was immediately smitten. This is authentic Mexico, not at all touristy, and nearly all of the buildings here are painted the most mesmerizing shade of egg-yolk yellow. Izamel is known for its hills, which are actually the remains of Mesoamerican temple pyramids, and it continues to be an important ceremonial center and pilgrimage destination. We had the chance to visit Casa de Madera, an eclectically decorated townhouse in the center of town, and Casa de los Artistas, just one block from the cathedral (don’t be fooled by the modest entrance; the colonial architecture and uniquely designed rooms are splendid).