Broadoaks Country House and the Lake District

Broadoaks Country House is a 19th century luxury boutique hotel in the Lake District set on a 7-acre grounds and last weekend my husband and I had the pleasure of staying there. A few weeks ago we were researching places to visit in the UK and although I have been to the Lake District previously, it was a brief visit and I really wanted to go back. We found a deal on Groupon for Broadoaks Country House for £195 which included a romantic room, an afternoon tea for two, four course meal in the evening, spa access at a neighbouring hotel and breakfast. 

We arrived at the hotel for midday and were greeted warmly by the staff and given a tour of the hotel. The hotel features 15 bespoke bedrooms, a music room with piano and guitars for those who are musically inclined with a warm glowing fire so you can serenade your loved ones, a luxury restaurant serving Cumbrian produce with a French twist and a beautiful orangery where afternoon tea and breakfast is served.

As soon as we got settled in, we were led to the orangery for our afternoon tea. The surroundings were tranquil and relaxing, looking out of the orangery you could see miles of autumnal woodland with little streams running through them and picturesque slate buildings on the hilltops. The afternoon tea was served with beautiful patterned china and was over flowing with cakes, delicious sandwiches and freshly baked scones, so much so that my husband and I boxed quite a lot of the cakes up to eat at a later date. It was a luxurious start to our trip.

After our afternoon tea my husband and I decided to check out the spa. Our deal included access to the Old England MacDonald hotel in Bowness-on-Windermere, which was a ten minute drive from Broadoaks. The Old England spa featured an infinity pool which overlooked Lake Windermere and seating outside so you could relax and watch the boats go by. For the brave there's an ice room and for those looking to relax in some heat there was an aroma steam room and sauna. The spa access was a nice little touch to our hotel package and it really added to our relaxing stay.

We spent several hours at Lake Windermere admiring the view and walking all the little cobbled lanes browsing the shops. For those who love little independent stores, Bowness-on-Windermere is the perfect place to visit and there's something for everyone. Also if you love Beatrix Potter as much as I do, there's the Beatrix Potter museum and plenty of gift shops.

Once we had finished looking around the lakes, we headed back to the hotel and finally checked into our room. Our room was the Walnut romantic room which featured a magnificent white super king sized bed adorned with a variety of soft cushions and a victorian style bath with overhead shower and double whirlpool spa bath for two. The room was very luxurious and the hotel went above and beyond to ensure you had a wonderful stay from the impeccable room service to the sweetest handmade biscuits on arrival. 

The star of the hotel stay was the four course meal in the evening. We ordered a bottle of wine in the music room while we ate our canapés and choose what we wanted to eat and then we were led to the Oaks Brasserie which was candle lit and romantic. I opted for the French Onion Soup to start and the mushroom risotto for main. Both of which were full of flavour and not too heavy, it was the amount of food. The mushroom risotto had the freshest ingredients and it was by far the best risotto I've ever had, the roasted peppers on the side were a nice added touch and the amount of risotto was perfect as some restaurants often try to give you too much. In between the courses we were given two palette cleansers - firstly a champagne sorbet and secondly a limoncello shot, both of which were nice little touches, even though I'm not a fan of limoncello. For dessert I chose the vanilla creme brûlée which was again really light and the perfect end to the meal. The food was exceptional and many Tripadvisor reviewers agree, I would happily dine at that restaurant again.

The next morning breakfast was served in the orangery and consisted of a help yourself continental breakfast or a hot cooked meal to your liking. The breakfast menus were hidden in Beatrix Potter books which I thought was a lovely touch and I really enjoyed reading through one of my favourite childhood books waiting for my meal to arrive.

Our stay at Broadoaks Country House was wonderful, the staff were lovely and we got so much for the money paid - £225 for a bottle of wine, a four course meal for the both of us, afternoon tea for the both of us, a beautiful room, spa access and breakfast was incredible, especially when you would pay that just for a room in some hotels in the Lake District. Would I stay again? Definitely.

Have you stayed in the Lake District before?
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Things to Keep in Mind when Using Travel Review Websites

The first thing many people do before booking a holiday is check travel review websites to ensure that they are going to get value for their money and to see what other peoples experiences have been like. Tripadvisor alone according to their website houses 'over 385 million reviews and opinions from travellers around the world', features 'over 70 million candid traveller photos' and has more than '255 new contributions posted online every minute', proving that review sites are very popular, but are they doing us more harm than good?

A lot of people including myself take what people say on travel review sites as the gospel, to the point that many of us are becoming afraid of making our own minds up. What we need to remember is that everyone's experiences are different and just because someone didn't like one thing, it doesn't necessarily mean that we all will have a bad experience. I research travel providers and hotels meticulously before going away - to the point I probably become a little bit too obsessive. However, I have also stayed in several hotels that have received shocking reviews online which made me panic, but when I got there I had an amazing time and service was second to none. We are taught when we are young not to trust everyone we come by, but people seem to think everyone written on the internet is true. Behind many computer screens are genuine people giving honest feedback, but there's also a plethora of keyboard warriors out to make peoples lives a misery. This is why I decided to write a post that hopefully will give you a few things to consider when looking up travel reviews so that you can make your own mind up as to whether you want to book that particular service.

Everyones expectations are different

There are many different people who use hotels from the groups of young people looking for something cheap and cheerful for a boozy night out to the professional couple in search of a romantic getaway, families who want to some quality time together to the people on business travelling alone and everyone else in-between.  All of these people have different personalities, social classes and also many of them have different experiences of hotels - some people may stay in hotels every month while others will book a hotel once a year or less as a treat, therefore all of these people will have different expectations when booking in. Ideally a hotel should cater for them all, but with everyone being so different it's not always the case and there will  always be one or two people left disgruntled.

Some people like to complain

As with anything in life, some people just like to complain and often travel review sites are a great way of these people unleashing their anger without the confrontation of management. Of course there are genuine people out there who have had issues that haven't been resolved and they have had not choice but to take it online, but there's still plenty of trolls out there.

Sometimes things happen that are not in the hotels control

Mistakes shouldn't happen when it comes to hotels, but occasionally they do and it's out of their control. Always read how the hotel dealt with the situation - sometimes the writer will say they complained to management and other times the manager will respond on the review site with their version of the story. Assess both sides and made your own judgement - how would you feel in that situation?

People like different things

Just because one person didn't like one thing, doesn't mean you will not. We are all different people and again everyone's expectations are different. You are your own person and you should trust your gut instinct.

Do you use travel review websites?

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Chaophraya Leeds Launches New Menu

Luxury Thai restaurant chain Chaophraya which has seven UK wide branches including one in Leeds, have transformed their dining experience with the introduction of a new revolutionary menu and re-brand. Fusing culinary imagination with fine cuisine, Chaophraya's new menu delivers a sophisticated edge to Thai dining, offering an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary dishes from across Thailand, with particular influence from Chiang Mai, the Maeklong River, Kanchanaburi and the Chaophraya itself which runs through central Bangkok.

Last week I was invited to sample the new menu for myself and discover Chaophrayas new culinary treats. Thai food is by far one of my favourite cuisines, my diet at home tends to be more Asian influenced than European as I love the flavours and I feel that Asian spices, especially Thai spices really help to add depth and excitement to often dull uninspired vegetarian dishes without being too overpowering. Chaophraya's new menu consists of a range of meat based and vegetarian dishes, still paying homage to traditional Thai favourites such as Thai red curries and Pad Thai's, as well as being innovative with new and exciting dishes. The menu also has a range of new cocktails and desserts.

While I was tempted to try something a little bit different for starter, I decided to opt for vegetarian spring rolls as they are my favourite and as I have had them before on the old menu, I was keen to discover whether they would be any different. One thing I immediately noticed when they arrived was that more thought had been put into the presentation this time - it was more sophisticated. The spring rolls themselves tasted as brilliantly as before - light flaky pastry with very little grease and a mouth-wateringly good sweet chili sauce.

For main course I decided to go with a new addition to the Chaophraya menu, the red vegetable curry with vegetarian duck. Vegetarian duck can be a little hit or miss at times, it's either succulent and juicy or like chewing a hard rubber - it's usually one extreme or the other, with no in between phase. Because of this I was little apprehensive about my main course arriving, however having dined at Chaophraya countless of times, I knew I could trust them to deliver a great meal. The red curry arrived at my table served in a beautiful black serving dish with a portion of jasmine rice on the side, yet again paying close attention to the level of detail in their presentation, in keeping with their new fine dining expectations. The dish itself was full of flavour with a gentle heat coming from the spices and the vegetarian duck was so moist that it flaked in my mouth and left me wanting more. It was a light, yet filling dish and left me incredibly satisfied yet with room for dessert if I wanted it. I will definitely be ordering this again.

After eating two really full courses, I decided to try the mango sorbet for dessert. The sorbet arrived in a simple glass bowl- which to be honest left me feeling a little bit let down after the presentation of the first two courses, but overall it did taste great (juicy and fresh) and that is all that really matters. 

If you're looking for an upmarket Thai restaurant which offers luxury at affordable prices, I would really recommend trying Chaophraya for yourselves. I have been to three of their restaurants and have never been disappointed and their menu is better than ever before. Dishes are priced from £6.50 for starters, £10.50 for mains and £7.50 for desserts.

Have you been to any of the Chaophraya restaurants before?
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Ways to Top Up your Travel Fund

Booking a holiday can be a really expensive affair, especially when you have added up all the essential items and not even counted the spending money that you would need to take. Not everyone has hundreds of pounds readily available at a drop of a hat to book a luxury holiday and unlike the 'rich kids of instagram' a lot of people don't have the banks of mum and dad to borrow money from. For regular people like me, holidays come after months of saving and scrimping by, saying goodbye to new clothes and hello to a lot of cosy weekends housebound so that you're not tempted to do any shopping. When saving up for a big purchase whether it's a big holiday or even a car, every little helps and a lot of people do not know that there are many ways that you can make a little bit of money, with very little effort online to help top up your funds.

Sell unwanted items

Firstly, consider selling any unwanted items on websites like eBay, Depop, Gumtree or Amazon. Have a look in your wardrobe, declutter the attic and ask yourself when was the last time you actually used an item. If it was longer than a year ago, ask yourself, will you ever use it? It's better to have money in your pocket than hundreds of items gathering dust.

Earn money from Surveys

Surveys used to be very time consuming and you used to get very little money from doing them, but these days thanks to a whole host of mobile apps, you can earn pennies filling out surveys on your commute to work and some of them cash out instantly. Qmee is one of my favourite apps as you can cash out as little as 50p to your bank account or keep building on the money until you have a decent pot to withdraw. Onepoll is also a really good website, but the surveys are few and far between and you can only cash out when you get to £5.

Mystery Shopping

If you have an eye for detail and you enjoy giving honest feedback to companies, consider signing up to some mystery shopping agencies. There are many different types of mystery shopping websites from ones where you will get paid to conduct audits in stores you regularly visit to mystery dining opportunities where you are paid to eat at a restaurant in exchange for constructive criticism after your visit. Depending on your availability and location, you could easily make at least £10 a week doing this.

Cashback websites

When doing any shopping online or in store, always check to see if there's any cashback offers on websites such as Quidco and Topcashback. You can earn cashback doing anything from your weekly food shop to shopping for clothes and at least if you are tempted to do shopping, you can rest knowing that will you be slightly rewarded for it.

What are your money saving tips?

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Booking Hotels Directly VS Comparison Sites

Purchasing a mini break or a full blown holiday can be a mind wrecking experience these days when you're faced with so many different offers and websites on the internet. Gone are the days when the only option you had was to book a holiday directly with a travel agent or ring up a brochure. These days there are thousands of websites, all which are competing to offer you the best price and it's hard to know which ones to trust. In most cases, many people will opt for the website that states 'discount' believing it is cheaper, but do you always get the best deal?

Last week my husband saw a deal on Groupon for a luxury spa break in the Lake District. The deals were £169 for a normal room, breakfast, four course meal, cream tea on arrival and spa access or £195 for the aforementioned but this time with a romantic suite which includes a four poster bed and a jacuzzi bath. Before booking the deal, my husband rang up the hotel to check the availability as it cannot be guaranteed on Groupon and the date is only two weeks away. The lower package had been sold out on the dates we wanted, but the higher priced package was available. During the phone call, the staff at the hotel informed us that if we paid £2 extra we both could have a full afternoon tea instead of cream tea and complimentary breakfast in bed, which would enhance our overall experience. This also meant that we got more for our money booking via the hotel rather than Groupon in this particular occasion.

Always ring the hotel first

I would always recommend that people check out the hotel website before booking through a comparison website to ensure you are getting the best deal and if you have any doubts, telephone them. Some hotels will prefer you booking directly with them as they can have a more hands on experience with their customers and if it's a special occasion, they are sometimes more likely to offer you discounts or a friendly treat on arrival.

Shop around

If you have a particular hotel that you really like, shop around and don't fall for the first discount website that you find. Sometimes you can find a better deal if you invest more time into looking. 

Read online travel reviews

Always make sure to read online travel reviews so that you can learn more about the hotel you are staying in and if you are booking through a discount website like Groupon or Wowcher, search for the term 'Groupon' or the website you booked with on the review page to see what other people using the same package thought about the hotel. Those with heavily discounted rates don't always get the same treatment as full paying guests and sometimes end up paying more than they anticipated - this is very rare, but it does sometimes happen.

Be flexible with your dates

If you are just looking for a quick getaway with no date in mind and no preference where you are staying, consider booking your hotel at last minute. The later you book your hotel, the more likely you are to get a greater discount as hotels will have rooms to fill.

Do you book your hotels directly?

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