I drove through sleet and rain, roaring traffic and endless dark roads to make it to the Swan Hotel one weekend with two tween girls in tow. “That’s a long way,” London friends said when I told them about this weekend trip, and it was a good amount of driving.
I would make out like I’m some kind of martyr (I can be like that), but oh what a payoff!
Gorgeous Lake District vistas, a superbly crisp day on the shores and on the water at Lake Windermere, and a snug stylish stay at a hotel that’s lively as well as relaxing.
The Swan Hotel
If this gorgeous family-friendly 17th century inn seems thoroughly updated, that’s probably because it is, at least on the ground floor. This hotel, right on the River Leven, was devastated by the 2015 flood. It’s been refurbished, full of bright colours, textiles in bold patterns, bespoke fabrics… It’s fresh, fun and somehow strikes a note that is both family-friendly and whimsically grown-up. There were loads of families in the pool, in the lounges, at dinner, but likewise couples gently macerating in the steam room and hot tub (over 16s only), sipping Champagne in the grown-up lounge and having romantic dinners.
The lovely lobby/lounge has a large fireplace and plenty of seating, the perfect place to sit down for a chat, a drink and a read of the paper.
The self-catering Nests
We stayed in one of the Nests. How do I describe these? There are 4 lovely townhouses, plus a couple’s only Love Nest (awww) that make you want to sell wherever you leave and move in permanently. Ours had a full kitchen, proper dining area, sitting room with lounge-about sofas and wood-burning stove, 4 bedrooms that ranged from double bedrooms with ensuite bath or shower room (2), a kids room with bunk beds and a top-floor double affording privacy. There’s a washer/dryer and deck with outdoor fireplace, even what we call in America a “half-bath” (aka loo with sink) on the ground floor off the main hallway. We arrived to a welcome basket of bread, butter, milk, eggs and some Swan biscuits that didn’t last 10 minutes.
The verdict from my 12-year-old daughter: “It was really modern and the Nests were perfect as you could stay in the accommodation rather than having to go to the main hotel to relax and eat.”
We explored every room, every floor, then settled in before heading down to the main hotel building with our swimming costumes to check out the pool. You access the pool via a café just off the main reception lounge using your access card, grabbing a towel along the way to the changing rooms.
The pool & pool table
The girls loved splashing about here and looked longingly at the hot tub, steam room and sauna, which are reserved for grown-ups (I tried them all – and felt like a well-cooked noodle afterward). There were plenty of families splashing about, yet it didn’t feel overly crowded.
We played pool in the Library area, a kind of family lounge just off the lobby with its slightly smaller-sized pool table covered in pink baize, deep well-worn Chesterfields, board games and a TV set to Sky Sports and the important match of the day during our visit – something the dad in our family would enjoy while relaxing in the afternoon.
The hotel has 51 rooms, including 6 family suites. The latest news is the exciting loft suites: Double rooms with sitting areas, very luxurious and inviting. There’s a Cosy Loft, a Fabulous Loft and a Lovely Loft for couples with a full-blown sitting room and a romantic side-by-side shower. All have footed tubs in the bedrooms.
There are beautiful function rooms for wedding or events (above the River Room restaurant is The Barn, where guests have breakfast and where a group was having a celebratory dinner for a 70th birthday during our stay). A small in-house spa provides treatments and nail services in the mezzanine above the lobby.
In front of the hotel, café tables & chairs provide a picturesque view of the bridge and the water. Got a boat and fancy tying up? They have moorings as well.
Eating at the Swan Hotel
You can choose your atmosphere when dining at the Swan. There’s proper restaurant dining in the River Room, with tables, banquettes and a fireplace. The pub that’s part of the hotel, called the Swan Inn, escapes that tragic circumstance of feeling like a money-making add-on and instead is the kind of place you’d like to come, hotel guest or no. They serve the full restaurant menu here too.
And of course if you’re staying in a Nest, you can make your own meal in the sleek and well-kitted-out kitchen before sitting down at the dining table.
We ate dinner in the River Room, next to another roaring fire. Families and couples filled the tables around us, giving the room a happy buzz. (It’s interesting how a room so awash in bright pink can still completely comfortably host the most manly of men, some obviously romancing their comely dining companions.)
After debating the herb-crusted salmon and the Cumbrian rib eye, I settled on the chicken kiev, served with mash and broccoli – delicious. And the reports from the younger diners was equally enthusiastic.
“They have good-sized children’s portions,” my daughter said. Instead of a bijou thimble of pasta or a small pile of fries, the dishes for my daughter (tomato penne with garlic dough balls) and her friend (cheeseburger) from the children’s menu were large enough and “grown-up” enough to satisfy 12-year-olds – a nice touch for parents with older children.
Design from top to bottom …for parents and kids
The hotel has been owned by the same family for 30 years and it has that quirky personal feel. You’re not staying someplace that’s been market researched to death. It’s been created with enthusiasm and care.
“Everything fits together,” the girls noticed, with admiration. “The way it looks, what the staff wear.” The uniform for the women is simple yet chic denim shirt dresses with stripey ribbon ties at the waist. The design is a riot of colours, both bright and muted in a rainbow of hues — it works somehow.
The importance of good design to children
Too often when we think of family-friendly hotels we only think of amenities or services – what’s on the children’s menu and do they have activities to keep younger minds occupied? But what I’m learning from my daughter and stepson is that family-friendly also pertains to design – the kind that excites and interests under-18s as well as their parents.
My children are becoming connoisseurs in the best sense of good, thoughtful design at the places we stay. They notice the patterns of the wallpaper and furnishings. They enjoy the feel of a lobby with flow and a restaurant that provides cosy seating and beautiful views from well-placed windows. They’ll walk through touching things and taking pictures on their phones. They love it.
When we remember this and help kids appreciate good design we support the hotels, resorts, restaurants and inns that take the time to create inspiring spaces. We also help create a generation of aesthetes – something that helps make our world better overall.
The Jenography wrap-up
Great family-friendly bits:
- The entire hotel is family friendly and the staff couldn’t be more welcoming and just the right combination of efficient and casual. That’s always step 1 to being family-friendly – talking to the children, putting us at ease, and always being ready with a smile.
- There’s a playground on a large site behind the hotel, include a small-statue picnic table (cute!) and plenty of room to burn off energy
- A Nature Trail makes the most of the beautiful setting plus there are local walks if you fancy going further afield
- The kids’ menu, as I mentioned before, got top marks, with hot and cold options, well-prepared standards, and portions suitable up to the tween ages
What we loved:
- The pure style of the hotel
- The bustling Swan Inn pub, open to all with no need for reservations. Having a pub like this as part of the hotel makes you feel like less of a visitor, more of a newly minted local.
- The varied menus. When we sat down to eat we were giving several different options: the all-day menu, the “posh nosh” menu, the kids’ menu plus specials. Something for all visitors and appetite levels
- The location & nearby activities. The village of Newby Bridge is near a whole slew of interesting things to do.We combined our visit with a cruise on Lake Windermere, an hour spent at TreeTopNets at Brockhole and lunch in Bowness after our lake cruise along with window shopping. Other things include:
- the home of Beatrix Potter and the official World of Beatrix Potter Attraction
- the National Trust Fell Foot Park
- walking and trekking
- trout fishing
- walks without stiles – Don’t let a buggy keep you from a good walk. Choose from this list of walks without stiles to explore with little-legged humans or buggies
What we didn’t love:
There was little that didn’t appeal here, but we did have 2 minor suggestions….
- There’s a window from the main lounge that looks over the pool. Very picturesque but it can make it seem that swimmers are on display. My girls noticed it and said they would have preferred frosted glass, so they didn’t feel that newly checked-in guests could peer in.
- On the walkway from the main hotel to the Nest accommodation there were wooden posts lining gravel path that seemed to have lights on them, but they weren’t on the evening we made our way back after dark. It was that pitch black you get in the country – we ended up using my iPhone torch to light our way up the steps to the accommodation. While I forgot to mention to the staff on our visit, it would be nice to see the pathway lit the next time we visit.
What to pack:
- Definitely take your wellies, your walking boots, a hat (for rain and otherwise) so grey weather doesn’t deter you from the great outdoors
- A camera. A smartphone is great but with views like this you’ll want your proper DSLR if you have one
- Waterproofs, especially if you want to do TreeTop Nets or Go App in Brockhole. Fun but wet!
- Cashmere socks and comfy pyjamas. Stay in one of the Nests and you’ll want to end the day by lighting the wood-burning stove and settling down to a good book, some music or a family movie.
Jenography was a guest of the hotel and the restaurant. All opinions are my own.
The Swan Hotel