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Weekends Away — Wonderful Windsor, Great Fosters, and delightful Duck Tours — your weekend away

What an interesting opportunity we all have right now to plan ahead for travel to places we have always dreamed of. Or even to start a list of places we didn’t realise were so close and so convenient, in the case of a recent weekend trip we took before the UK’s second major lockdown of 2020.

We were so very lucky actually, as Windsor is now one of our family highlights this year. We loved our stay at Great Fosters in Windsor, followed by a day trip to Windsor Castle, and ending with the sweetest Duck tour. More on that to follow.

But first, let me recommend you sharpen you pen or get your diary ready because this was such a special weekend away that you will want to do it in 2021. It also happened to be especially easy to get to from London as well! So easy, yet also so rich with culture and history and beauty that I can’t believe we haves n’t done it sooner. Perhaps one upside to this year is that we are all looking at what is closer to our own backyards!

I will start my overview with travel and accommodations. We left London after the school pick-up on a Friday afternoon. We took two trains and a 5 minute taxi (to avoid driving traffic on a Friday night, and also because it was only 1 hour and 20 minutes door-to-door). Then we arrived at the entrance to the magical and stunning grounds of Great Fosters, which was met with oohs and aahhs.

But what matters most isn’t how you get there, just that you get there. There is more history, culture, art, architectural and interior beauty, gorgeous grounds and gardens, and delicious food than you can squeeze into one weekend. You will want to do it all, which might mean a full English breakfast followed by a dip in the heated pool, followed by a dunk in the room’s bathtub all before 11am! 🙂

The truth is, my children did not want to leave the following day for our excursion to Windsor Castle. And honestly, I couldn’t blame them. Great Fosters is as perfectly catered for families of all ages (even dogs are welcome!), as much as it is for romantic weekends away.

Windsor is a wonderful weekend of amazingness. I think it may be one of the UK’s greatest secrets as so many of my English friends (and family) have never been. And to be honest, I hope I have set them all straight with my photos and raving reviews!

As it says on the tin (or the website in this case), “Great Fosters is an endlessly charming Tudor estate steeped in royal history and located just outside of Windsor in the heart of Surrey. Set in 50 acres of iconic gardens and grounds, complete with listed topiary mazes, a fountain, Saxon moat, Japanese bridge and even a sundial gifted to the Estate by Sir Francis Drake himself, the instantly recognisable red-brick facade and chimney tops of Great Fosters is a sight to behold indeed.

Inside, you will find a chocolate-box selection of 43 individually designed bedroom and suites, including the famed Historic Named Suites (which we stayed in) and our two delicious restaurants, (one of which is a Michelin-star restaurant).”

We arrived at this former Royal Hunting Lodge to cute little backpacks, stuffed animals, books about Kings & Queens, and duck food to bring to the pond behind the hotel. It was exactly the welcome one would hope for.

After a very comfy night’s stay in our historic room, The Nursery Suite named after Charlie Chaplin who frequently visited Great Fosters with his family. With an original ornate ceiling and secret bathrooms revealed through the panelling, it’s easy to see why the room charmed the children and their accompanying Nanny. The room features two Victorian fold-down beds that pop out of a cupboard with gorgeous dark panelling. The plasterwork ceiling is straight out of fairytale, with every bird you can think of from peacocks to hawks and more… so no need to count sheep when you go to sleep with images of amazing flying creatures.

Every detail, if you are a detail person like me, is perfectly placed. It is like sleeping in a comfortable museum. I honestly do not recall any other hotel I have stayed in with such treasures in every hallway. Stairs that tell stories. Wall hangings that you would see in grand homes. The dining rooms with beams that have been part of great feasts and royal celebrations. It is a place that oozes details.

Great Fosters was not easy to leave, so we promised the children we will certainly be back again and see it in another season, as we can imagine that no two months in the garden are alike.

Once we were ready for our next adventure, we took a black cab to Windsor, which was a quick and picturesque twenty minute drive from Great Fosters.

Windsor Castle then absolutely took our weekend to the next level! We have been to Buckingham Palace to visit the Royal Mews which we loved. But Windsor Castle took things to an entirely other level… it is spectacular!

Sometimes places look better in photographs, or on the screens of televisions when you watch shows or perhaps a royal wedding, but this is not the case at Windsor Castle. This is a place you must visit in person. In any weather. At any time of year. It is a full day of being gobsmacked as you stroll past cannons and guards and moats and beautiful stone buildings and think, I am walking in one of the country’s most interesting places.

We stayed until the very end… can you tell? How we loved the crowds clearing out and the vistas throughout the grounds. Oh how we soaked it all in, that is how much we loved it. We may have even run out of time, hoping we could see and do even more. I think that is a testament to a place, when three children under eight find it that interesting. (And their parents do too of course!)

You are in a living, working, breathing castle. You do need to be

It is a lot of history to cover, nine hundred years to be specific, so I recommend sharpening up your parent knowledge and do a little bit of homework here the night before. Or even look into a mini tour if you can. Fortunately, the Royal Collection Trust has created a fun set of educational games and resources for children here too. Thankfully my husband seems to remember every date fed to him in history class, so he was our own personal guide.

There is also a lot of ground to cover for walking and it is stroller friendly (in parts, so talk to a helpful person at the front entry who will recommend a route and show you on a map).

There are also not a lot of places to eat. Thankfully we had eaten a power packed breakfast, had a few mini snacks on hand, and then indulged in lunch with cake and tea in the yummy Undercroft Cafe. The raspberry Victoria Sponge cake would have made Queen Victoria very proud indeed! And the blackberry macaroon was something to behold! The Undercroft once served as the Castle’s principal cellar, used for the storage of barrels of beer and wine, so it is spacious and great for an instant pick me up.

And speaking of families, the family loo outside of the cafe is first class. They have even considered twin changing tables! My children thought the loo was so cool that they even asked to go back again just to look.

I am not sharing photos of the State Apartments, Semi-State Rooms, St George’s Chapel, because to be honest, you are not supposed to take photos there! And I totally one hundred percent respect that. We don’t need to capture everything in life on these phones in our pockets. I also found it so liberating to put my camera down and just soak in the amazing moments. Because you will want to really take it in. The interiors will leave you speechless. The textures, colours, ornate details, the stories, even the way the light streams through.

My son, in awe of knights and swords, was practically tripping over himself he was so impressed by the rooms. My eldest daughter, a lover of art and crystal chandeliers it now seems, was just giggly she was so amazed by the details. And our littlest lady loved the texture and pattern on every carpet and kept stopping every few feet to stare at them… which did make getting thru the space a challenge, albeit the cutest challenge one could have!

Room after room out of a storybook. Windsor Castle does not disappoint. We left our head’s full of beauty and went out in to the windy sunken East Garden, which the Queen loves to spend time in. I mean of course she does, endless vistas to all of the gorgeous countryside.

I can’t even properly summarise all of our day at Windsor Castle, because it is so full and so fabulous, I can only scratch the surface. As you can tell, it is just a must see. And make sure you cant to guides, see the Changing of the Guard, visit St. George’s Chapel, stop for at least one cup of tea and a cake, and review their Exhibition schedule too so you are prepared to enjoy your visit to the fullest.

After the Castle, you will fell full, so a soft landing is a good idea. Our soft landing was just that — a Windsor Duck Boat Tour that met us at a bus stop just feet from the Castle. We then drove through the town where the driver pointed out a few facts. At that point, the amphibious vehicle headed into the water and we floated about next to the Queen’s swans. Yes she own all of them, and you must read more about it here.

The swan situation in Windsor is one to admire. And our children loved being on a boat on the Thames where we then past by the Castle, albeit from a different view. It was a great ending to our day, going full circle, first inside the grounds, then with a view from the outside.

We hope you enjoy this weekend away guide! Let us know if you try it.

I love to travel, and we would love to hear your tips and recommendations too.

Other trips I highly recommend for a UK weekend getaway are Sudeley Castle, Ascot, and if you are looking to go further afield in the UK, try our recent Lighthouse adventure.

Enjoy

Lara


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