SLEEP under the stars without compromising on a good night’s sleep with these outdoor wonders.
Fabulous magazine tour sites in Kent, Sussex and Hertfordshire.
Glamping in Elmley
A unique corner of Kent charms writer Emma Ledger with nature in abundance.
BUFFER Even if you’ve decided camping isn’t for you, don’t rule out a bell tent.
Big enough to roam around in, Elmley’s canvas structures sleep up to four people and feature carpeted floors, a huge comfy bed, plush sofa and some even have that all-important electric.
It’s the only nature reserve in the UK where you can sleep, and each tent has outdoor furniture to soak up the wildlife.
There’s a fire pit for roasting marshmallows, and the outdoor communal kitchen is fully stocked with hot drinks, homemade pickles, and anything else you might need to cook dinner.
Yes, you have to leave your tent to get water or to pee or shower, but that’s part of the fun (we promise!). Dogs are not allowed, but expect chickens to peck around your tent.
EXPLORE It’s the epitome of off the beaten track and it takes 15 minutes to drive slowly from the entrance to Elmley to your parking space.
A vast array of birds, cows and sheep roam 3,300 acres of stunning wilderness.
Hire binoculars for £5 a day for a closer look at one of Elmley’s hides.
Here with children? Abbie Burrows, naturalist guide, organizes excellent free activities for children.
If the sun is shining, drive 20 minutes to secluded Shellness Beach in Leysdown, teeming with seashells for toddlers to marvel at.
Half an hour in the other direction is the pretty town of Faversham, home to Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame.
Book a beer tasting tour for £20 (shepherdneame.co.uk/brewery).
SUPPLY At Kingshill Barn, Elmley’s wonderful, local, seasonal restaurant might as well be enshrined in law.
We loved the delicious dried trout with beetroot, £8.50, followed by the equally delicious minute steak with chimichurri sauce, £19.
Children can feast on three courses for just £8, including ice cream for the pudding.
Phone in the morning to have breakfast delivered straight to your tent the next day – the bacon sarnie at the door, £6, is perfection.
In the nearby hamlet of Harty, don’t miss the Ferry House Inn, which serves delicacies such as Kent rump of lamb and fried partridge in beautiful surroundings. Two lessons cost £35 (Theferryhouse.co.uk).
RESERVE Bell tents cost from £125 a night. There are also hotel rooms, shepherd’s huts and a farm available on the reserve (Elmleynaturereserve.co.uk).
Cottage in Sedlescombe
Digital detox in secluded log cabins in the Sussex countryside, says fashion director Tracey Lea Sayer.
BUFFER This family project was a labor of love for owners Steve and Ruth, who built everything from scratch using recycled materials.
Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the cabins are nestled in the woods and can accommodate up to four people.
We stayed at the Rabbit Warren which has a kitchen, a jewel shower room, comfortable beds and a reading area.
Dogs are welcome on a leash and can be let loose in the woods for a two hour walk around the reservoir.
The forest games designed by Harrison, the couple’s 12-year-old son, make it possible to make the most of the great outdoors.
As night falls, make a campfire in the old washing machine drum outside your hut to warm the hulls.
EXPLORE Battle Abbey, built on the site of the Battle of Hastings, has atmospheric ruins and beautiful gardens, plus a free walking tour where you can see exactly where King Harold fell to death in 1066.
Family tickets cost £42.90 for two adults and up to three children (English-heritage.org.uk).
At the coastal gem of Hastings, a 20-minute drive away, you can rummage around at your leisure in vintage and bric-a-brac shops before heading to the seafront for unbeatable ice cream from Di Pola’s, from €1 £.50 (Facebook.com/dipolas).
Nearby Bewl Water has a reservoir for an open water swim, £12pp, plus an adventure play area, soft play, water park course of inflatables and water sports including lessons stand up paddle, £30 for 90 minutes (Bewlwater.com).
SUPPLY Locally sourced breakfast baskets can be delivered to your door – choose between continental, £22, or English, £25. Find great pub grub at The Great House in Hawkhurst, a 20-minute drive away.
We loved the chilli and cilantro calamari, £7.95, and the pizza topped with nduja, chicken, roquito peppers and mozzarella, £14 (Elitepubs.com).
If you fancy a night out, let your hosts know 24 hours in advance and they’ll provide you with a supper of chilli, curry or pie. It costs £25, feeds a family of four and comes with crusty bread.
RESERVE A two-night stay in a log cabin that sleeps four costs from £280 (Sevenacrewoods.co.uk).
Glam Podding in Hertford
Manage an idyllic farm that will delight young and old, says writer Sofia Zagzoule.
BUFFER Choose from two glamping pods or a safari tent with roll-top bath at Foxholes Farm in Hertfordshire.
Each has a private outdoor hot tub with panoramic countryside views.
The Chicken Coop, where we stayed, sleeps four, has a brilliantly equipped kitchen, beds so comfortable they’re hard to leave, and a barbecue on a veranda overlooking a lake.
As glampers we had access to the farm after hours to treat the animals with generous bags of animal food.
Along with the ever-greedy goats, there are alpacas, pigs, cows, lambs, donkeys, ducks, chickens, and a newly arrived horse named Annie.
EXPLORE Foxholes Farm also has a huge covered sandpit, playground, toy tractors and trucks and a lovely cafe.
Fancy a long walk? Nearby Hertford Heath runs free guided walks and workshops on its 28 acres (Hertswildlifetrust.org.uk).
The grounds of Hertford Castle are freely open to the public and are ideal for a picnic along the River Lea (Hertfordcastle.co.uk).
Plus, there are walking trails to enjoy, like the Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail.
White lions, tigers and snow leopards live at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne where you can feed the penguins and also see meerkats, wolves, monkeys, lemurs and in summer swim in the Paradise Lagoon. Adult tickets cost from £24, children are £22 and children under two are free (Pwpark.com).
SUPPLY Boxes of locally sourced food from the on-site farm shop can be delivered directly to the fridge in your pod (Foxholesfarm.com/shop).
The tin of barbecue meat for four, £30, was so generous we had heaps of leftovers. Or order a farmer’s stew or local artisan cheese platter, £20 each.
A beautiful garden and spacious pub are a 20-minute walk from the College Arms. Enjoy fried southern king prawns, £9.50, crispy gnocchi, £5.50, or a delicious Sunday roast, from £15.50. The children’s menu is full of favorites such as fish and chips with pea mash, from £7 (Collegearms.co.uk).
RESERVE Overnight stays in a pod cost from £250 (Cabanestoile.fr).