Special occasions and big celebrations: Self-catering houses with private chefs

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Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

5 min read

One of the many highlights of holidaying with a big group of your favourite people is the delicious, convivial, chat-sprinkled dinners. Whether you’re seated at long, candlelit tables in an atmospheric dining room or in the balmy garden under a star-studded sky, the experience is always a delight. But before that comes the hard work! Someone has to be in charge of the planning and the prep, and no matter how many put their hands up and promise they’ll be your commis, the responsibility always falls on one person’s shoulders. We have the perfect solution: choose one of these gorgeous places with the services of an experienced chef and suddenly all that pressure is immediately lifted and you can simply sit back and enjoy.

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Le Mas, France 

Deep in the Dordogne, this elegantly renovated farmhouse with views and a large garden is a fuss-free, relaxing sort of place – just perfect for the whole tribe. Your thoughtful and generous hosts, Rupert and Franck, live nearby and haven’t forgotten a thing you may need: toys and games for children, heaps of books, a big kitchen for group cooking, although the private chef is a popular option, especially when you’re celebrating a special occasion. Outside find fruit trees, a veg and herb garden (help yourself), a sheltered ‘summer kitchen’ in an old barn, a private heated pool with wonderful views and lavender and jasmine scenting the air.

Owners Rupert & Franck: There are many local activities including hikes, horse-riding and bike hire, as well as river canoeing and swimming, massages, Pilates and yoga in the garden. We can book restaurants too. 

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Le Mas

Upton Cressett Hall, Shropshire

Gather those whose company you enjoy and immerse yourselves in beauty and history in four very special places to stay on one glorious estate. There’s plenty of space for entertaining, eating together indoors or out and blessed peace for escapees – this is the perfect spot for an inter-generational gathering. For rainy days there are wood burners, flat screen TVs, board games and books. Otherwise you’ll be spilling out into box-filled borders, level lawns and well-tended beds – barbecues can be arranged. Special dining experiences can be had in the atmospheric Dragon Hall, with a private drawing room and professional kitchen. If you don’t want to cook, a chef can be conjured up to make the whole shebang grand and memorable.

Inspector David: An enchanting historic estate surrounded by unspoilt, utterly peaceful countryside: a superb place to celebrate a special occasion. 

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The Manoir, Portugal

In a commanding position with long views across the valley, this splendid old manor house is excellently equipped and ideal for a big family holiday. Local chef, Momme, has created an array of delicious and seasonal menus, so if you fancy downing your cooking tools he’ll be on hand to whip up delicious feasts for the whole gang. Spread out indoors, there’s a large open plan living and dining room with a stone fireplace (logs provided), big bedrooms with lovely linen and antiques, and a mezzanine that’s perfect for teenagers, with a snug, sofa and smart TV. Arrive to a generous welcome hamper, chase the sun or the shade around the neat-as-a-pin garden that wraps around the house, ask about yoga, Tai chi sessions or Shiatsu massages. Spend your evenings under the covered dining area raising a glass to the stars. 

Owner Simone: Renowned Algarve beaches are only a 20 minute drive away. The nearest – Fuseta – is a Robinson Crusoe experience with little boats to take you to almost deserted beaches for a couple of Euros. 

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The Lodge, Cotswolds 

Beautiful, secluded and pristine, with a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, cinema room, games room and plenty of space for a grand gathering. This is a spoiling kind of place to bring family and friends to celebrate the important things in life with options to hire a private chef, enjoy massages onsite or yoga lessons beside the pool. Those who adore swish will be in their element here with big, bright interiors, plump sofas, leather armchairs, a nifty sound system and a huge TV. There’s underfloor heating but also a double-sided wood burner and a drinks bar – help yourself to different local gins. Bedrooms and bathrooms are gorgeous, there are wonderful opportunities for summer meals in the garden and you’ll arrive to a generous welcome hamper that includes a bottle of fizz, popcorn and marshmallows for toasting. Everyone will be in their element here. 

Owner Katie: There are many lovely country pubs in the area a stroll or bike ride away. Cricklade is the nearest town, with a pretty high-street, independent shops and a number of pubs and restaurants. 

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King John’s Palace, Cotswolds 

Bring a party, bring the dogs, and take it easy at this very fine house in the Cotswolds. Hire the services of an excellent chef, dine at The Lamb Inn at Burford (four miles), or gather in the garden for a great big barbecue. Sip pre-dinner drinks in front of crackling fires, watch your chef at work in the neat kitchen that’s incorporated into the great dining hall, and if the weather’s on your side, eat out under star-studded skies. The history of the house is fascinating: it was once a royal hunting lodge for Wychwood Forest (six miles), which you can cycle around on hired bikes. Return and order in an afternoon tea or a relaxing massage and sleep well in pretty, airy bedrooms. 

Owner Vicky: The Cotswolds are on your doorstep and we can guide you to whatever you fancy. Books of local interest and guides are here to help plan your days out.

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Paço da Glória, Portugal

Come to recharge the senses at this special and ancient house enveloped by wild gardens. It’s a glorious space for groups celebrating special occasions who can hire a live-in chef to whip up delicious meals in the huge, smart kitchen, arrange for a masseuse to visit, or take tennis lessons and yoga classes. Wander the gardens, woodland, orchard and veggie plot (help yourself), rest by the lake, float in the pools, one indoors, the other outside. Gather in the light-filled living room, peruse the art gallery in the Baroque 1737 house, dine on the vast terrace under a star-spangled sky, then retreat to calming en suite bedrooms. It’s deeply rural here, yet only 11 km to pretty Ponte de Lima for meals out. 

Owner Francisca: Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês (20-minute drive) is a huge natural park, with mountains, trails and waterfalls. A paradise for outdoor lovers.

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Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

Carmen is a freelance writer specialising in travel. She once lived in a bus in north Wales, skipped off to study in Barcelona, and now calls Bristol home. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she can be found reading (a lot), lake swimming (a little), and pottering on the allotment with husband and two kiddos. She’s currently dreaming about cold cerveza and torta in Mexico.

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