Q. We want to rent a cottage between Christmas and New Year. We realise it's rather last-minute, but can you recommend somewhere characterful in the South of England? There will be six of us (four adults and two children), so we'd like somewhere with three bedrooms, although a sofabed would do. We are hoping to cook a New Year's Eve lunch for ourselves and some guests, so somewhere that could fit up to 10 diners would be good, too.
Denise Hanbury, via e-mail
A. It's not too late to book a holiday cottage, although you will probably have to be flexible with your dates. Since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, you might find that rental companies adhere to their weekend start dates, meaning you would have to take up a cottage on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. Also, many companies insist on a seven-night minimum letting for properties during school holidays.
With this in mind, you will have to consider spending Christmas Day itself in a cottage, or take up a shorter let from New Year's Eve. Renting a cottage can be a great way to see in the New Year, particularly if you find yourself in a secluded spot where you can turn up the volume a little. And if you choose a cottage in a coastal location, you'll be able to go for a bracing New Year's walk on the beach.
Several companies have good availability. The first is Rural Retreats (01386 701177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk), which has 450 UK properties, with a generous portion in the South and South-west of England. It lets out its cottages for a minimum of five nights over Christmas and New Year; with a start date of 30 December, this would mean you would get back just in time for the start of term.
One of its available properties is 2 Stable Courtyard in east Devon, near Lyme Regis. Situated on the 19th-century Rousdon Estate with views over the Jurassic Coast, the house sleeps six in three bedrooms. The modern kitchen opens on to an ample dining room, which could accommodate up to 10 guests, and has flagstones with underfloor heating. The sitting room has a wood-burning fireplace and French doors that open onto a garden, and also has a TV and DVD player. The estate offers plenty of walking opportunities within its 350 acres of farm and parkland, as well as a private beach. Five nights from 30 December costs £937.
Hideaways (01747 828170; www.hideaways.co.uk) also offers short breaks over the Christmas and New Year period, with a minimum three-night stay. This is dependent on availability, however, and you will have to call two weeks prior to departure to reserve a short break. At present, one of its more historic properties is available, Sterndale Cottage in Melbury Osmond, Dorset. A 400-year-old Grade II-listed thatched cottage, Sterndale also has exposed wooden beams and an inglenook fireplace. The kitchen and dining room could fit up to eight guests, with space for children in the adjoining sitting room, and there are three bedrooms. Dorset's Heritage Coast and South West Coastal Path are an easy drive away, and there are country walks accessible from the cottage's garden; maps are provided. The rental date begins on 30 December and, depending on availability, the price for a three-night break is £597.
Finally, Classic Cottages (01326 555555; www.classic.co.uk) began booking for its Christmas and New Year short breaks this week, offering a minimum two-night stay. One of its featured properties is The Old Byre near Dartmouth in Devon. A large, detached property, its garden leads to a footpath to Blackpool Sands and it has a raised sitting room overlooking the coast. The house easily sleeps six, and has a snug kitchen opening on to a wooden-floored dining area with a large dining table. Picturesque Dartmouth is a short drive away, where the New Year is seen in with an impressive firework display. The price for a four-night stay is £625, or £667 for five nights; start dates depend on availability.
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