Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire (review published 2015)

It’s Shakespeare this and Shakespeare that in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Bard’s birthplace.
The Warwickshire town, quite rightly, trades heavily on its literary links and attracts millions of visitors from across the world.
But what can Stratford offer a family with children not yet old enough to read Peter and Jane, let alone Romeo and Juliet?
Well, quite a lot actually, as my wife and I discovered during a weekend break with our children aged four and seven months.
We spent two nights at the four-star, family-friendly Macdonald Alveston Manor Hotel, just a short walk from the town centre.
The building’s origins date back to before the Norman Conquest while the central part is Elizabethan and there is some impressive panelling from that period in the bar.
A cedar tree in the gardens is thought to have served as the setting for the first performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the play is still periodically performed under its branches.
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Macdonald Alveston Manor Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
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There are some very fancy rooms in the oldest part of the hotel but the standard family rooms are located in a linked, modern annexe.
Our first floor room was spacious and boasted a dressing table, occasional table, chair, sofa bed and en suite bath, plus tea and coffee making facilities.
The hotel has a wellbeing spa with a gym and an 18-metre, heated pool which children are allowed to splash around in at any time.
We dined at the hotel’s Manor Restaurant, which prides itself on sourcing only the freshest fish, fruit and veg and the finest, free-range meats.
It succeeded in offering that rare thing, a fine dining experience in surroundings that were not stuffy, and where children are well catered for.
The restaurant is kind of divided into two rooms and, after being seated, we noticed that the families and the couples had been kept apart.
Far from being offended, we were relieved that our children would not be disturbing anyone out for a quiet meal. As a result, we could relax and enjoy our own dinners.
My starter of Scottish scallops (£10.50) and main of grilled Scottish rib eye steak (£23.50) were, justifiably, by far the most expensive items on the menu.
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Macdonald Alveston Manor Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
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My wife, Jayne, a vegetarian, started with the soup of the day (£4.50) but was limited to the rissotto (£15.95) to follow.
There was a children’s menu with puzzles on the back to keep Cerys, aged four, occupied.
At breakfast there was a wide choice of cereals, yoghurts, fruit, cheese, cold meats, freshly cooked bread and pastries from the buffet.
I had the “signature’’ breakfast, featuring award-winning sausages from a Yorkshire farm called Anna’s Happy Trotters and black pudding from the Outer Hebrides.
There was a veggie full English for Jayne and we were impressed by the offer of a pot of hot chocolate for Cerys.
The hotel is just over the road from the Recreation Ground and a short walk across the River Avon from both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bard’s birthplace and his final resting place.
The Recreation Ground is home to the UK’s largest tropical butterfly paradise, complete with waterfalls, pools filled with enormous fish and a caterpillar room.
Camera at the ready, I endured a fruitless wait at Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm for one of the winged beauties to land on Cerys’s head.
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Butterfly Farm, Stratford-upon-Avon
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I could have kicked myself when I later noticed that the butterflies were attracted – like moths to flame – to another little girl who was wearing a flowery headband.
There’s far more than just butterflies though, with displays of stick insects, beetles, ants, millipedes, crabs, scorpions and some of the world’s largest spiders.
In Stratford town centre, the captivating MAD (Mechanical Art and Design) Museum is the only one of its kind in the UK.
Showcasing the world’s finest pieces of kinetic art and automata from pioneering artists all over the globe, it’s a celebration of movement, mechanics, creativity and art.
While Jayne and I were amazed by the ingenuity, Cerys loved pressing the buttons which set the wheels in motion for the magic to happen.
Poor weather meant we postponed a visit to Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s mother’s house, where children can meet rare breed animals, try their hand at archery and explore nature trails.
But we’ll be back because a there’s just so much ado for children in Stratford-upon-Avon.
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MAD Museum, Stratford-upon-Avon
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Travel file
  • Adrian Caffery and family visited Stratford-uponAvon as guests of Macdonald Hotels. Rates at Macdonald Alveston Manor Hotel vary depending on the season. Children stay free of charge. For details call 0844 879 9138 or visit www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/our-hotels/alveston
  • MAD Museum, Henley Street, £5.50. 01789 269356, themadmuseum.co.uk
  • Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, Swan’s Nest Lane, 01789 299288, butterflyfarm.co.uk
  • Mary Arden’s Farm, Station Road, 01789 204016, shakespeare.org.uk

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Published report here

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