“ Address: Luccombe Road / Shanklin / Isle of Wight / PO37 6RL / United Kingdom / Tel: 01983 869000 „
THE RIGHT OF WIGHT
We were keen to take a three day break before I started my new job, but with my littlest still lacking a passport, we had to focus our attention on domestic destinations. Given that some unpronounceable Icelandic volcano has brought European travel to a standstill, I have never been so grateful to the Passport Service for dragging its feet. After settling on the Isle of Wight (IOW) because of its wide range of attractions for both kids and adults, we set about searching for a place that would provide us with a decent balance between quality and value for money.
We were planning to go, on short notice, at the tail end of the second week of half-term, so we were sure we would be disappointed with our first choices for accommodation, but, surprisingly, we found a large number of hotels that could accommodate us. Based on location, price and facilities, we plumped for Luccombe Hall, which is on the outskirts of picturesque Shanklin Old Village on the West side of the island.
After being frustrated with trying to book our room through their clunky online system, we opted to call them instead (and were very glad we did). The helpful receptionist took our reservation, a small deposit for our stay, answered all of our questions courteously and professionally and even booked our return ferry crossing from Southampton.
The e-mail confirmation came through almost immediately, providing us with an e-ticket for the ferry, as well as SatNav post codes for the ferry ports on both sides of the Solent and Luccombe Hall itself. Suffice it to say, our first experience of dealing with Luccombe staff left us with the impression that we had chosen wisely.
A BIT ABOUT SHANKLIN & THE HOTEL
The area of Luccombe is just to the south of Shanklin and a very short walk to Shanklin Chine and the chocolate box charm of the Old Village. Everything on the IOW seems pretty close together, so we were not all that fussed about where to base ourselves, but even so, Shanklin proved to be an excellent choice. There are several good places to eat, quaint curiosity shops, the esplanade on the beach, cliff walks and the aforementioned Chine.
The Luccombe Hall Hotel itself was built in 1870 as a summer home for Bishop of Portsmouth, and converted into a hotel in the 1950s. Apparently, it features the first outdoor pool ever installed on the IOW, which was dug by hand in early 1960s. the indoor leisure facilities were added in 1984 and, to be frank, are showing their age. The Hotel has been run by the Wells family since 2002 and is rated a three (3) star property with both Visit Britain and the AA.
ARRIVAL & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The provided SatNav postcode proved top be spot on, effortlessly guiding us in from East Cowes after a thirty minute drive. On arrival, we turned into a small, tight-looking car park with one way in and precious little room to maneouver. It wasn't until later that we realised there is overflow parking a little further up the hill, but no matter - we found space and started emptying the boot.
Anyone who has travelled with kids will know that the amount of gear and luggage required is inversely proportional to the size of the child. Your boot needs either TARDIS technology or you need to have a superior sense of special awareness and a fondness for jigsaw puzzles. As such, I very much appreciated the offer of help from a staff member who just happened to wander into the car park, and between us we eventually managed to maneouver our kids and belongings into hotel.
The unassuming entrance leads into a very small reception area built into the porch. You could easily walk straight past it, as its not obviously signed. However, we were promptly welcomed by the friendly staff, and I left my wife to do the paperwork, doing my best to remain upright whilst carrying my body weight in baby paraphernalia.
Surprisingly, the receptionist left the safety of her desk to show us up to our room while chatting easily and patiently with my loquacious and opinionated five year old daughter. Our room was on the first floor, up a flight of stairs through a bright, spacious and tastefully decorated atrium-like central hallway.
A ROOM WITH NO VIEW
Once we got through the door off the landing, I instantly wondered whether I had taken one of Alice's "Drink Me" potions as the corridor to our room was barely wide enough to get a baby car seat through sideways. Fortunately, such spatial constraints did not extend to our room - which had plenty of space for a double bed, a single, a dresser, a chest of drawers, television stand with small no-name LCD TV (only four channels - no Channel 5) and a large, well appointed en-suite bathroom with power shower.
After we were left to our own devices by our helpful receptionist, we set about investigating the room with hotel inspector-like rapaciousness. On first impressions, the décor seemed quite dated. The furniture was a dark faux-mahogany, the blue patterned carpets were a little scruffy and soiled, the dresser was adorned with a lamp with one of those frilly shades last seen in my grandmother's living room, and the beds were covered with heavy gold textured bed covers and cushions that matched the curtains. The view out the window was onto a moss covered garage roof, but given we did not intend to be inside during the day, we were not at all bothered. You can book "sea view" rooms for an extra cost if you want to.
The room clearly needed some TLC and would have benefitted from some general maintenance. There were some deep gouges in the wall near the base of the double-bed headboard, the headboard itself was a bit grimy at the top, and the receiver for the telephone looked like it needed a bit of a clean. Luckily, my wife who, with three siblings, is a hardened veteran of family holidays, tends to come well prepared, and it wasn't long before the anti-bac wipes emerged for a thorough rub down of the facilities.
The room also came with tea making facilities, namely a modern cordless (and impressively scale-free) kettle that seemed a little out of keeping with the décor, two teacups and saucers (i.e. one short of room occupancy), some cinnamon biscuits, and the usual collection of Nescafe, PG Tips and a few Twinning's herbal teas. Two hairdryers were provided, as well as an ironing board and a steam iron which took up a fair bit of space in the two narrow mirrored wardrobes by the front door. The pillows and sheets were fresh, crisp and smelled great. The beds were a little hard for our tastes, but that's a personal issue and we managed a decent nights sleep in spite of it.
The bathroom initially looked clean - hygienically at least - but the silicone sealant around the bath needed a fair bit of attention and had attracted some black mildew. The glass shelf above the sink was tastefully adorned with some Gilbert & Soames toiletries, but the overall effect of sophistication was somewhat ruined by the wonkiness of the shelf, which was paradoxically loose but secure.
The bath had a Miele power-shower with excellent pressure and a proper glass shower screen. Those clingy white shower curtains that seem to get sucked into the bath and stick to you were, thankfully, nowhere in evidence. Our main complaint was how quickly the hot water got used up. Having gone for a swim in the hotel's indoor pool (more on that below) there was not enough hot water to de-chlorinate a family of four.
Having arrived at the hotel around 3:30pm, we decided we would have a good look around and make use of the facilities before heading out to dinner later in the evening. As my wife unpacked, I availed myself of the offer of free Wi-Fi to check out our dining options on the excellent Matt & Catt's website - highly recommended for places to eat on the IOW. We were told that the Wi-Fi router is behind reception and that the best signal was from the public areas on the ground floor. That said, I managed a perfectly acceptable signal from my room, which was not far from the router (as the crow flies), but reception is not guaranteed.
We had a quick walk around the hotel interior, taking in the spacious dining room with its fabulous views over the sea, the large "Bishop's Bar" with its upright piano, the lounge with its comfy sofas and free coffee and tea until 6pm, and finally, the leisure complex, which includes a pool table, a small gym, sauna, Jacuzzi, table tennis, pool and changing rooms, and, unusually for a hotel, a full sized squash court. Bats, racquets and cues are available from reception for a small deposit. The Hotel also has a therapist who attends on-site by appointment, providing facials, massages and reflexology treatments for around £40, all of which must be booked through reception.
The entrance to the landscaped, terraced gardens is through the dining room. The formerly award-winning gardens are not in the best shape, but still attractive (one or two of the ponds could do with a bit of clearing out), with various small nooks and quiet corners for guests to relax in. The outdoor pool was closed when we stayed (it opens for the summer months), so we made our way to the children's play area - or more accurately, chased our daughter who made a bee-line for it as soon as she saw it.
As with other parts of the hotel, the playground is well appointed and perfectly serviceable - but a bit faded and dated. The main feature is a new enclosed trampoline which I struggled to get my daughter out of once she got started on it. Close by is a cute little nine-hole putting green-on strikingly uneven ground. Clubs can be obtained from reception for a small £5 deposit.
A WORD ON THE POOL
Having completed our recce, we decided on a family swim before dinner. The pool was clean and warmly heated, although, oddly, the interior lighting was a bit dim (there is not much natural light in the pool area). The wall around the pool features an attractive mural which is not quite finished. Unfortunately, given how family friendly the hotel is in general, there is no paddling area for smaller children, and the pool grades very slightly from 4 ft at its shallowest to 5ft at deep end.
There is no lifeguard on duty and lone swimming not permitted as a result. Pool towels are available from reception, with new ones given out when old ones returned. They smell absolutely gorgeous - that may sound like a funny thing to say but given my experience at other hotels, when the towels smell vaguely chemically, I found these striking enough to warrant a comment. There are small lockers in the corridor leading to the pool, just in front of the changing rooms. They require a £1 coin to operate. The changing rooms themselves have a shower and toilet - very handy for little ones and their rapid-onset toilet emergencies.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
We stayed on a B&B rate. Dinner is available for £24 per head and is served between 6:30pm and 8pm - the menu changes daily. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9:30 (8:00 to 10:00 on weekends) in the Grandview restaurant. You start with a selection from the breakfast bar, which includes a large selection of cereals, fruit salad, grapefruit and orange juice, toast (which you make yourself), yoghurts, and various jams and jellies.
There are various cooked options, but we both opted for a Full English (with a smaller version for our daughter) which featured a perfectly poached egg, tasty, locally sourced sausage, great flavourful bacon, mushrooms done just right with a bit of bite, well prepared cooked tomato, a dollop of baked beans and a hash brown, accompanied by steaming pots of fresh tea and coffee. The only gripe was that you are seated according to room number, which means you get the same table each morning.
Service was very friendly, with staff anticipating our needs and brilliantly engaging with the children. For instance, a high chair was already waiting when we arrived on the first day, but it proved to be too big for Baby H. The waiter brought a cushion to prop him up with, which worked a treat. The next day, the cushion was already in situ with the high chair.
There are two other services of note - a traditional cream tea, which the hotel serves from 12pm to 4pm. Priced at £17.50 for two people, this includes a choice of teas and/or coffee, two rounds of sandwiches with various fillings and fruit scones with jams. They also do a special "Children's Tea" between 5:30 and 6pm with a kid-orientated menu, the idea being that it gives parents the chance to put their kids to bed before coming down for dinner themselves, whilst availing themselves of the "baby-listening service" (i.e. a baby monitor). We didn't try either of these, so they are included for completeness only.
We paid £350 for two nights on a bed and breakfast basis, including the ferry crossing. Despite the minor niggles with the décor, the service we received and the individual efforts of the staff themselves more than made up for any superficial deficiencies. This is a very good family-orientated hotel that falls just short of "excellent" mainly because it could do with a refurbishment.
To be fair, we have been reliably informed that such a programme is underway and that some rooms have already been dollied up, but I can only comment on my own experience. That said, most of the common parts are in very god order - it's just a shame that we stayed in a room that needed some TLC. A couple looking for a touch of class could probably do much better on the IOW, and indeed, in Shanklin itself, but, as a family hotel- it suited us down to the ground.
© Hishyeness 2010
Sister hotel of Luccombe Manor Country House