The popular places you need to book early

Christopher Wilson-Elmes Profile Image

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

We pride ourselves on how diverse our collection is. Some of our guests love the homely cottages, some the Tuscan villas, others love a chic townhouse or a funky hotel. There are some places though, that everyone seems to love. These are the ones where a free weekend is rarer than a full set of hen’s teeth, the ones you need to be thinking about now, for summer. So take a look and if you find a date that works, don’t wait. You might not get another chance.

Bowcombe Boathouse, Kingsbridge, Devon

It’s not hard to see why this place does so well. The setting, right on the banks of the Kingsbridge Ria, is exquisite. The sound of rippling water laps up over the balcony and reflected sunlight dances on the ceiling. You can borrow the canoe and paddle round the corner for lunch, or just sit tight and enjoy the less celebrated but no less important aspect of this space – its beautiful interior, which has a relaxing “found and foraged” feel, despite being of the highest quality.  

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The Byre, Alfriston, Sussex

A lofty space where once the oxen were fed and watered, you can settle on a comfy sofa, be warmed by large cast-iron radiators, admire the view over the church and the famous Long Man of Wilmington. Two bedrooms with timber framed walls and antique chandeliers are off the hall and have lovely vistas over the lily pond or fields. A shared bathroom has a deep copper bath and on balmy days you can sit out at a small table near the lily pond and listen to birdsong or wander down the lane to The Sussex Ox for a restorative pint. It’s not wonder so many have come to do exactly that. 

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The Royal Oak, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

This lovely old pub sits in the heart of the village, welcoming locals, dog walkers, hikers and lovers of good food. If you’re familiar with it, as its ongoing popularity suggests many will be, you’ll delighted to find its atmosphere unchanged in spite of much recent refurbishment. It’s still a warm, soulful place with crackling log fires, well-trained staff, local ales and a seasonal menu of classic pub food. Bedrooms, two of them dog-friendly, are all a good size and are individually decorated by clever owner Amy who has masterminded the design.   

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Oliveto Estate, Marche, Italy

While Marche may often be called Italy’s best-kept secret, it hasn’t stopped Oliveto from being a solid hit with our guests for a long time. Find the time to get down there and you’ll be nodding off in a hammock and raising a glass to starry skies above the lush gardens on the nine-acre estate. You have your own spa, wellness studio and gym in Oliveto, or floating cushions in the infinity pool in the other house, Olivo. If you can coordinate all the calendars and bring a party of 22, you can merge the two and have it all, along with days of pizza making, truffle hunting, wine tasting, sailing, fishing, hiking, cycling, surfing, riding, day trips to the beach, and more.  

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Union Place, Whitby, Yorkshire

This listed Adam townhouse is elegance epitomised and has drawn many to Yorkshire over the years. Lofty rooms with polished floors and original features are dotted with quirky objects: bead-and-embroidery lampshades and chandeliers, bone china, a small mirrored Indian ceramic child’s dress – and your urbane host Richard’s accomplished paintings. His studio is at the bottom of the garden and you’re welcome to pop in. You might be tempted to buy too – his art is as popular as the place itself. Bedrooms have charm and fine linen, the claw-foot roll top in the shared bathroom cuts a dash and the guest sitting room with a fire is a welcome haven after a busy day.  

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Sextons Place, Docking, Norfolk

With its laid-back mix of cosy and coastal vibes, people flock to Sexton’s all year round. If you can grab a spot, you can cosy up in front of the glowing wood-burner in the snug, eat out in the enclosed sun-trap garden or head out to the beach, going with the flow of the weather. If you stay for a week, you can open the wine from your welcome pack (it also includes juice, butter, milk, local biscuits, marmalade, crisps and bread) before sleeping soundly upstairs. You get a generous double en suite with a roll top and two sunny bedrooms sharing a family bathroom. 

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The Bell, Ticehurst, Sussex

It’s fair to say that the 16th-century Bell Inn, has welcomed a few guests over the years and it continues to do so, even if it’s not “a penny a bed” anymore. The unassuming façade hides an atmospheric interior, quirky and charming in every way. Logs in the inglenook, big wonky beams, Harvey’s on tap, and dog treats by the bar. Equally wonderful is the dining room (red walls, flickering candles) and the cosy ‘snug’: sink into sofas by the log fire. Bedrooms – unique, unusual, and extremely comfortable – are designed to make you smile. Some are above the pub and the rest out the back, in a secluded courtyard garden with tables under the trees, a fire pit and a barbecue. Even if you can’t get a room, you should definitely bag a spot at the bar.  

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The Dabbling Duck, Norfolk

Another inn where many love to join the locals propped around the bar with a real ale or the pub’s own-brand gin, or book a table to sample the gourmet pub food. If you time your visit right (assuming you have that much choice!) then sit in the garden on Friday and Saturday evenings in summer and you can have pizza from the wood-fired oven. It seems a small thing, but the bedrooms have home-made biscuits as an arrival treat and that spirit of homely warmth runs right through the place. Dogs are welcome and there’s a lovely communal space with books and a sofa. A varied breakfast menu is served at separate tables in a high-ceilinged room called The Library, but don’t worry, you won’t be shushed. 

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L’Ecrin de Verdure, Indre-et-Loire, France

This beautiful scattering of lodges is set in a very particular corner of the Loire valley, not far from the fertile riverbanks yet very different in landscape and geology, near the sleepy farming village of Ligré. The area itself is famously popular and its takes a special place to draw this many people out of the main hotspots. There’s so much to do without budging: play pétanque, swim in the pool, enjoy your own hot tub in Verveine and Rosemary, book a massage or visit the lovely on-site shop. 2CV tours can be arranged to wine and truffle producers. The lodge has a good-sized kitchen, bedrooms are calm, bathrooms straight out of a country interiors magazine. You won’t regret claiming a few days here. 

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Villa du Roc Fleuri, Provence, France

You can just picture yourself eating breakfast in the great glass veranda before you head out for the day, island hopping or star spotting in Cannes and down the coast. The place is a labour of love for owner Fanny and do order dinner at least one night, as she’s an inventive cook. There are some superb restaurants in town for your other days. Bedrooms are simple, light and airy with French doors and tall windows, the two at the front overlook a tropical garden across the road – all have modern bathrooms with waterfall showers. Any room you can get will be a delight, but the suite, in a separate building and with its own terrace, is the one to ask for if you have the option.   

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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