This is a big year for travel anniversaries. Darwin's 200th birthday? Time to follow him to the Galápagos Islands. Four hundred years since the colonisation of Bermuda? Your smart shorts are, presumably, already packed. Fifty years since Britain's first duty-free shop? A bottle of Bombay Sapphire, please, and don't spare the Toblerones. But 2009 is also the 20th anniversary of a quieter sort of travel revolution – that of the luxury family hotel.
Yes, back in 1989, as an unpopular British government blamed everyone else for its difficulties and a miserable recession lurked around the corner, former accountant Nigel Chapman opened the doors of Woolley Grange in Bradford on Avon for the first time. His pioneering idea? A country-house hotel that welcomed children, rather than seeing them as an inconvenience likely to interfere with the grown-ups' weekend away. And it worked: what started as 15 rooms in this Jacobean manor house became the Luxury Family Hotels brand, including Ickworth Hall in Suffolk, Moonfleet Manor in West Dorset and Fowey Hall in Cornwall, as well as this much-expanded original property.
Chapman sold up in 2006 and the group was bought by Von Essen Hotels, which added The Elms in Worcestershire to the mix, but 20 years on, the concept is still working a treat. A stay at Woolley Grange isn't so much a holiday as an idealised version of what family life should be like all the time. Here you have the chance to enjoy the company of your children in well-appointed, comfortable surroundings – playing board games, going for a bike ride in the 14-acre grounds, cavorting in the heated outdoor swimming pool – all the while secure in the knowledge that there's no need to do any washing up, that no one will get cross if anything gets broken, and that a nice glass (or perhaps a bottle) of white wine and a lavish meal await you once the youngsters are tucked up in bed.
Woolley Grange, Woolley Green, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1TX (01225 864 705; woolleygrangehotel.co.uk). The 17th-century manor house sits, grand and grey, beside a jumble of outbuildings and a huge walled vegetable garden. It's a few minutes' walk from here to the centre of Bradford on Avon, where antique shops and coffee houses jostle for your attention alongside Georgian architecture and the river Avon itself.
Time from international airport: Bristol airport is 26 miles away. The usual approach is by car (junction 17 on the M4) or via Bradford on Avon's train station.
The interior of Woolley Grange is a charming, chaotic jumble that's immediately welcoming (even when you arrive, as we did, in the dark, with two tired children in tow). Winding staircases link half-landings and cubbyholes, while the public spaces on the ground floor are a cheerful mix of dark wood-panelling and sturdy furnishings that combine to create a comfy, relaxed whole.
The 26 bedrooms each have their idiosyncrasies. The Hayloft in the Coach House building is huge, a suite compromising two bedrooms and a sitting room, with an over-sized angle-poise lamp acting as a focus and big cushions scattered around the floor. Meanwhile, back in the Grange, the Francis Randolph room (named after the original owner) is more traditional, with a view over Salisbury Plain, chunky oak furniture and an iron bedstead.
When it comes to meal times you can dine en famille in the glass-roofed orangery (no tablecloths, lots of plastic cutlery, and a kids menu that includes staples such as sausage and mash for £8.50), or save yourselves for a proper blow-out (with proper cutlery) later on in the cosy dining room. Here, the menu is as comforting and sturdy as Woolley Grange itself: the likes of seared tuna nicoise salad, followed by roast lamb with minted summer vegetables.
Freebies: the (priceless) opportunity to walk Peanut, the resident brown spaniel, is available at no extra cost; a games room offers table football and pool; Ofsted-registered childminders are freely available in the Coach House's "Woolley Bear's Den" crèche; and a newspaper is delivered to your room in the morning, plus tea or coffee.
Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones; flat-screen televisions; DVD players; baby-monitoring; Wi-Fi (in the main building only) for £6.50 per day.
The bottom line
Doubles from £120 per night including breakfast (from £250 also including dinner). Children sharing the parents' room are free of charge, with meals charged as taken.
I'm not paying that: overlooking the town bridge in Bradford on Avon is the Georgian Lodge Hotel at 25 Bridge St (01225 862 268; georgianlodgehotel.com), a restaurant with rooms attached. The accommodation is pleasant, if basic, and doubles cost from £65 including breakfast.Reuse content