For those of us who live to holiday (*waves hands enthusiastically*) being grounded for the past year has meant a seriously limited amount of fun. No popping over to Berlin for the latest experimental art opening, no trips to Barcelona for beach-side music festivals, and any rosé-fuelled feasts of fruits de mer in Sète have been categorically off-menu.
One big boon, however, is that no flights has meant no pumping CO2 into the atmosphere while we jet off somewhere sunnier, which leaves a self-satisfied glow that's (almost) as warm as Aegean sunshine. Besides, no foreign travel certainly needn't mean no fun. Being forced to stick to these shores is the perfect reason to explore pleasures that lie a little closer to home.
The term 'staycation' has been somewhat bastardised in the last few years, but we're going to reclaim its original meaning – a holiday where you sleep in your house, but head out each day to explore the world that's within driving distance (ideally, that's electric driving distance, so you can double down on all those saved carbon emissions).
From long-forgotten historical sites of wonder to unexpected countryside art hotspots and off-the-beaten-track Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s all still out there for your enjoyment, just a road trip away – you just need to know where to look.
Proving you don’t need a boarding pass and a fist full of Euros to enjoy the high life, here’s our pick of the best luxe staycation day trips for a much-needed escape to another world.
South-east: Tillingham, near Rye
Even those with just a passing interest in wine can’t have failed to notice the rise and rise of natural wine during lockdown. For a crash course in how to tell your funky oranges from your Pet Nats, stop by Tillingham’s vineyards for a 90-minute tour (£35 per person), which includes a tasting of five of their home-grown young wines. Tillingham is currently producing some of the most exciting and lively bottles on offer in Britain, made using biodynamic and ancient techniques – its Qvevri, fermented in Georgian clay pots, is a must-try. Pop a cork on their wildflower-surrounded terrace and you could almost believe you’re in the rolling Tuscan hills. As well as an exceptional seasonal restaurant onsite, there’s also 11 boutique bedrooms, should you feel the need to extend your visit after a particularly fruitful liquid lunch.
Scotland: Culzean Castle, Ayrshire
While your own four walls might have been closing in on you over the past year, make like the lord of the manor and go castle hunting in Scotland – there’s an estimated 1,500 of them in the country to choose from. One of the most statuesque piles has to be Culzean Castle, built in the late 1770s, as the 10th Earl of Cassilis was “keen to impress with his wealth and status”. Well, this old thing certainly does the trick. Now part of the National Trust for Scotland, the huge estate boasts 40 buildings, 240 hectares of parkland surrounded by dramatic coastline, a swan pond and sea caves under the castle; all open to explore and get a taste of what, historically, the high(lands) life was all about. Stick around long enough and you might even get to see one of the seven ghosts rumoured to haunt the place. In other creepy connections, the venue was also used as Lord Summerisle’s castle in The Wicker Man.
Adult entry from £13.00; nts.org.uk/visit/places/culzean
South-west: Hauser & Wirth, Bruton
For anyone who’s missing rubbing shoulders with the cognoscenti at Art Basel or Frieze New York, a day trip to the west country will sate your appetite for site-specific installations, multimedia experiments and intriguing contemporary exhibitions. Hauser & Wirth opened its fifth outpost in the increasingly hip Bruton in 2014, and the site is centred around the working, free-range Durslade Farm, consisting of five gallery spaces, the peaceful Oudolf Field garden and, for a spot of lunch, the Roth Bar and Grill. Exhibitions this year include the American painter and sculptor, Henry Taylor, followed by German artist Gustav Metzger. Tickets are free, but time slots must be pre-booked in advance.
Northern Ireland: Royal County Down, Newcastle
This golf course in County Down hasn’t been bestowed the honour of “the world’s greatest golf course” several times over for nothing. Spain? Pah, who needs their courses, when Northern Ireland’s got this jewel in its crown. It’s almost hard to keep your eyes on the ball here, as the Championship course is nestled in the verdant Murlough Nature Reserve, alongside Dundrum Bay and flanked by the jaw-dropping Mountain of Mourne. As golf writer Bernard Darwin – grandson of Charles – once wrote of the place: “Big and glorious carries, nestling greens...and beautiful turf – the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams''. Consider that five stars on 19th century Tripadvisor. After a whiskey in the clubhouse after the 18th hole, you’ll be equally evangelical about the place.
Rounds from £270; royalcountydown.org
North: Rudding Park, Harrogate
Spa sessions don’t come much more luxurious than a heated rooftop pool overlooking the grounds of a Grade I listed Regency country house. Though drawing on Harrogate’s rich history as a spa town, the treatments offered in this opulent setting are strictly 21st century – think CBD experiences (£15, on top of any other booked treatment) that will see you dosed and rubbed down in the cannabis plant extract, which will reduce anxiety and promote positive mental health and relaxation. Not that that’s an issue here, swaddled up in a fat dressing gown on a daybed and looking over the idyllic surroundings. Follow it up with a hot rock massage to get stoned in an different but equally enjoyable manner.
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