Last Friday, Justin Bieber and I set off for twenty four childfree hours at the stunning Carden Park hotel nestled in the midst of the Cheshire countryside. The sky may not have been blue and the sun may not have been shining but with 'What do you mean?' on repeat and my handbag containing lipstick and Porter magazine as opposed to Toy Story figures and a Thomas the Tank Engine book, it was one of the most pleasant drives I've experienced in a long time. No answering random questions about how old you have to be to swim with crocodiles (wouldn't that be a wonderful new 'show' at Chester Zoo), no trying to mediate heated discussions about who's the biggest silly-head, and no cajoling a Houdini-like three year old to stay in his car seat. Bliss. It was bliss. Me, Justin's dulcet tones on the CD player and a lazy drive through the Welsh countryside and across the border to Cheshire's finest country estate. It's a journey I wouldn't mind doing more often.
I've stayed at Carden Park a few times. I've had dinner there with Paul, lunch there with my mother, friends have had their weddings there, and another will get married there later this year. It's a hotel I know well. But I will never, ever tire of the mile long, sweeping driveway and the first glimpse of the hotel as it appears from behind the trees. It really is a sight to behold. Set in 1000 acres of beautiful countryside, your shoulders start to relax as you meander through the Nicklaus golf course and by the time you park your car and reach the flower-filled reception, your thoughts have already turned from the daily grind to the staggering selection of gins available in Morgan's bar (or is that just me?).
I was there to spend some time with Karen, Jess and Sarah ... to discuss all things blogging-related (and then some) face to face rather than through tweets, Facebook messages, and comments on Instagram photographs. Just a few miles from Chester, it was a little closer for Karen and I to get to living in North Wales and the Wirral but still easily accessible for Sarah and Jess coming from near Burnley and Worcester.
Carden Park has the great advantage of being perfectly placed in the North West for a relaxing, countryside getaway but also a short hop from Chester and within an hour's drive of Liverpool and Manchester, if you fancy a bit more hustle, bustle, shops and restaurants. Or, if you have children, The Ice Cream Farm is a mere five miles away and it is heaven on earth for little ones and those with a sweet tooth. My boys love it there and I can wholly recommend the honeycomb flavour ... I may have sampled it several times.
We spent Friday morning scaring ourselves silly on the 4x4 off-roading course and then the afternoon having our nerves soothed in the spa. Quite the contrast but both equally as enjoyable. Okay, so maybe the facial was slightly more appreciated than sliding down muddy banks, I'm not going to lie. Dinner in The Vines restaurant was an absolute treat. It has an informal but lovely feel to it and you should definitely sample a glass of Carden Old Gold sparkling wine if you decide to dine there. The vineyard at Carden Park is Cheshire's largest commercial vineyard and produces around 6,000 bottles per year. Scarily, the vineyard is located just below one of the off-roading courses. It just goes to show how much trust the hotel places in its driving instructors.
However, and this might make me seem like a rather unsociable loner, one of my favourite moments over the course of our stay was sneaking out just after sunrise to have a quiet walk around the grounds and take some photographs. I was originally planning to race the sun (remember this post?) but the beds at Carden Park proved to be way too comfortable to say goodbye to before 7am. I still managed to head out before anyone else and snap a few shots with that loving golden glow peeking through the clouds and lighting up the gardens and golf course, though.
After an informal breakfast of tea, toast, and more gossip in the hotel's more formal restaurant, Redmond's, it was time to repack my overnight bag and head home ... to wave goodbye to the girls and face a day without spa treatments or glasses of sparkling wine with lunch (how quickly I'd become accustomed to those!) ... but a day of hugs and kisses with my cherubs, instead. However, it won't belong before I return to Carden Park as as I've booked to do the Easter Trail with Paul and the little dudes (no Justin Bieber, this time) in a couple of weeks. It will be so nice to run round the grounds with them in search of clues, and maybe even an easter egg or two.
If you'd like to read a little bit more about our wonderful stay at Carden Park, head over to Extraordinary Chaos to find out more about the food and drink on offer at the hotel, Mini Travellers to hear more about our spa experience and the other events you can take part in during your stay, and Mummy of Boy Girl Twins for a little tour around the inside of the hotel.
We were invited to stay as guests of Carden Park but all accounts are our honest opinions.