A recent spot of birthday weekend accommodation googling had me land on the youth hostel association website. I was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of accommodation from small to large, some with on site restaurants. There seemed to be a mixture to suit everyone. With family rooms available it hopes to provide the perfect break on a tight budget.
In fact there are also some available for exclusive bookings which is what I shall be doing with a group of friends to celebrate my 30th later this year.
So, I was very pleased to be offered the opportunity to review their National Forest hostel in Swadlincote. A great location in the Peak District and within easy reach of Conkers, Drayton Manor and Twycross Zoo.
National Forest is a newly built eco friendly hostel. It has family en suite rooms, licensed bar, restaurant, self catering kitchen and eating area and an outside dining area.
We set off straight from school on Friday so arrived late and with two tired children. the hostel was easy to find and is very eye catching in design. We were given a warm welcome, a quick run down of what was where, directed to our rooms where a cot was waiting for Munchie and then we popped to the dining area for an evening meal.
My instant impression was how relaxed it felt. No snobby receptionists with the usual forms to fill in, keys to register and credit cards to authorise like you often get in hotels. The other guests were friendly and didn't seem put out by having two tired children downstairs later than usual.
You need to have realistic expectations, you are getting budget accommodation, not 5 star hotel treatment. I knew what to expect and was pleasantly surprised.
The room was bigger than I expected. The rooms were basic but had the essentials, bunk beds (don't worry the parents get a bottom double bunk), en suite shower room and toilet, wooden lockers, under bed storage, a chair and a mirror.
Even with a cot in our room there was still floor space for the boys to play.
Bedding is provided but you will have to make the beds up yourself. Cots are available upon request although you do need to take your own bedding for it. You also need to take your own towels.
We didn't miss the lack of a TV, a portable DVD player kept Snaffles entertained after his 6am wake up!. However the very English me does need a cup of tea in the morning. I would have loved to have had a travel kettle in the room, I would happily provide my own tea and milk.
We didn't sleep great, that was more the grumpy hot baby's fault than the beds or room though.
Despite all the treats and days out activities that we did over our two days the bunk beds are apparently Snaffles favourite thing he did on holiday!
Food and drink:
The food we ate was very nice. It tended to be pub food type meals. I do feel it was a tad over priced, however under 10's eat free so it probably works out about the same as a pub meal anyway.
The children had the option of eating from the children's menu or having a smaller portion from the adult menu.
As part of the review we had a 3 course evening meal included each night. The Key Lime Pie Ice cream was to die for.
The restaurant is self-service, you will be expected to clear your own table, however the restaurant was very quiet and the staff were more than willing to assist us with clearing our table.
After a long drive on Friday night Mr C was ready for a pint from the licensed bar.
The hostels are even able to provide packed lunches. These contained sandwiches, crisps, fruit, water and snack bars. The cost is £5.75 per adult and £4.75 per child. We simply ordered our preference of sandwich filling and what time we needed it ready for and collected it on our way out for the day.
Things to do:
There is a large living area downstairs with a computer and TV. There is plenty of outside space and also a small park on site. There is lots to do in the surrounding area. Twycross Zoo, Llama trekking, Drayton Manor and Conkers.
We had a great time at Conkers, lots of walks, discovery activities, tree top walk, adventure play area and a great barefoot walking experience where you can walk barefoot over tree trunks, sun baked rocks, straw, cobbles and wiggle your toes in the mud.
We had a great time. Very impressed with the whole hostel. throughout our weekend stay there was one girl on duty the whole time, she worked like a trouper, she was receptionist, barmaid, waitress, cook and yet she still found time to chat to us and talk to Snaffles. Anyone that knows the name of his transformer is a friend for life.
The fellow guests seemed far more relaxed than the guests we have encountered in hotels. Everything was just so relaxed. People chatted to each other and seemed happy to have children playing among them.
The accommodation is very basic but provided that is what you are expecting I think you will be very surprised. The on site kitchen helps you save a few pennies if you need to.
I do feel the hostel could benefit a little from some toys for the children, even if it is just some paper and colouring crayons to help keep them sat still for a while. There was a giant connect 4 outside but it was broken.
Overall though we would definitely recommend staying at the National Forest Hostel, its clean, well located, friendly staff and affordable.
If you want to try a YHA break for yourself then this summer you can get a family room for 3 nights for only £99. Simply go to http://www.yha.org.uk/snaffles-mummy to book your break by the 12th June 2012 (for stays between 7th July and 12th September) and enter your offer code of FAMSTAY-029.
Disclaimer: Our room, meals and tickets to Conkers were all paid for. However all views and opinions expressed are our own.