If you’ve been thinking about a UK staycation that focuses on experience but unsure where best to go for a break that’s out of the ordinary, then the Birch in Hertfordshire might very well pique your interest.
The first time I saw the promotional material from the marketing team behind this new, unique destination, I knew the Birch was going to be special. It was presented as a hotel focused on experience, with a schedule of activities that looked more akin to Glastonbury than a country manor retreat in Hertfordshire; needless to say, I was curious to see what they had to offer.
With 55 acres of land to explore and food, overseen by the hugely talented Robin Gill, it sounded like the perfect place to escape the city. While travel abroad has become fraught with constantly changing restrictions, UK staycations have become all the rage this summer. What better way than to take our first tentative steps back into travel than to spend a weekend at the most exciting hotel opening in England this year. All that was left was for us to turn up and decide what kind of experience we’d like to have.
A home away from home
Your UK staycation at Birch begins two weeks before you arrive. After receiving a login for a classes portal, you can sign up for a range of activities from spin and yoga, to crafts and glass blowing workshops, to name a few. Check-in is completed ahead of arrival so all you need to do is pick up your keys and head to your room on the day.
From the outset, there is a feeling of stepping into an extension of your home. Staff are not in uniform, they are attentive and slick, slipping into the surroundings but always there if you need them.
Equipped with a QR code from reception, all food is ordered through an online system, settled straight away and ready to pick up from Valerie’s restaurant in the main house. With an endless amount of rooms, the policy here is that you can eat whenever you like, wherever you like.
This concept is Covid-friendly for now to encourage some social distancing but we believe there will be a regular service restaurant in the near future.
Design is not just intentional but inspiring
Walking through the main house, it almost feels like browsing through an art gallery. Each room has a unique personality, some with heavy, deep blues, to darker, more refined colours in others. If you need to work, the co-working area is a bright and welcoming space.
If you want to read a book and relax, there are cosy corners filled with chic rattan chairs dotted throughout. When you venture outside, there are fields after fields to wander through, and when the sun dips, there are fire pits with deckchairs perfectly positioned to enjoy drinks from.
Rooms are design-led with quirky components like bespoke vanity items and a generously large and extremely comfortable bed to lay your head on after a day of fun in the Birch community. The idea here is not to spend your staycation in your room: with so much to offer outside your door, it’s a lovely retreat but not the focal point. The only improvement we would like to see is the bathrooms becoming more modernised with the unique touches of the room.
If a door is open, you can go in
We loved this policy and made us feel like the place was ours. Traditional hotels usually have set rooms for certain events or occasions (such as a library, dining room etc.). Birch challenges this notion by allowing you to discover which room suits you best at that time.
A UK staycation like this makes you feel like a kid again. Guests are invited to explore every nook and cranny of the hotel, which indulges your child-like curiosity, yet allows for an adult appreciation of the fine detail of the furnishings and artwork.
Imagine a music room, with guitars, drums and a piano ready to play. An art studio, always open, with materials ready for you, if feeling creative. A cinema room with a steady stream of movies kitted out with seaside deckchairs. That’s just some of the many rooms open to guests of all ages. Who doesn’t like feeling like a child again? Birch manages to bring out your playful side without you realising it.
Create your own experience
Birch is truly about designing your own stay. Everyone will have their own, unique experience of this magical place. Our Saturday was split between my first taster of an incredible breathwork session by Breathpod whilst my wife spent 3 hours in a pottery workshop. We know that a sunny UK staycation is a premium, so even in bad weather (as we experienced), it’s set up in a way to keep you occupied and to give you the space to chill out inside.
You could feasibly come to Birch and do absolutely nothing. It’s the sort of place where you forget what time it is. There’s no set schedule for breakfast, lunch or dinner, unlike many hotels. You decide what you want to do, when you want to do it. If you’ve not booked an activity ahead of time, there is a schedule of events posted every day by reception.
There is a festival-like feel to Birch, with something always going on to dip your toes into. Fancy learning about woodland management and sustainable farming? Go on a walk with Tom (the farm owner). Need to sweat off last night’s drinks? No problem, there’s a HIIT class waiting for you in the state-of-the-art wellness centre.
I didn’t like rhubarb until now
Food is a big deal at Birch, and like any hotel worth its salt opening this year, it prioritises the provenance of their kitchen produce. Farmer Tom Morphew has partnered with expert chef Robin Gill to design a sustainable farming restaurant project. With produce almost entirely from the land at Birch, the dining experience at Zebra Riding Club alone is worth coming for, with its family-style sharing set menus catering well for vegan, vegetarians and pescatarians.
The more casual day to day food in the main house is also sumptuous and surprising. Again, a very hands-on approach is taken. There is a daily board outside the bakery with sessions allowing you to make your own soda bread and pain au chocolat. We can vouch both are amazing, even if you don’t end up making them yourselves.
True to their seasonal menu, they had swapped out peach for rhubarb in my porridge on our first morning. While I’m usually not a fan, let’s just say they may have turned me for life; yet another example of Birch challenging your perceptions of what you know.
Stay for two nights, get the third free on weekends
Spending two nights here feels like four, which is more than enough time to feel revitalised and re-connected. Yet for those who feel like this isn’t enough, quite incredibly, the hotel offers a free stay on a Sunday night if you stay Friday and Saturday. It’s a generous initiative to stretch a little more into your getaway, and a wonderful way to avoid Sunday night blues. Another example of how Birch goes the extra mile in unique and inventive ways.
The pandemic has caused so much uncertainty, so the fact that Birch has managed to create a space for you to come together with your friends and family makes it even more special. The greatest compliment we can give them is that we left feeling like we had travelled far away from home but safe in the knowledge it’s a place we can always return to, if in need of a reset.
It’s not who you know but what you know
For a UK staycation, Birch is a creative’s dream and their membership programme is open to anyone. Unlike other member clubs, you don’t need a referral. It’s more about what you know than who you know, making it ideal for small business owners and startups. With full access to the property and all classes, discounts off all food, drink and rooms, members get a very sweet deal whether they come to work or play.
With an outdoor 25m lido pool set to open in 2021 and more events down the line (Covid pending) it’s a very attractive proposition for those looking for an escape from city life. Only 30 mins from Central London by train but a world away in its surroundings, we feel that this is the perfect pandemic getaway staycation.
If you’d like to hear about more a UK staycation or to book a stay at Birch, contact us at Many Moons to organise your next trip in the UK.