Far enough from London to get out of the smoke and into some fields, but close enough that a day or weekend trip isn’t a faff lies Berkshire, synonymous with horse-racing, the royals and beautiful scenery.
It’s provided inspiration for beloved books such as The Wind In The Willows (Kenneth Grahame lived in Cookham Dean) and has many famous sons and daughters, from Stanley Spencer (Cookham again), to Reading’s Kate Winslet and Hungerford’s Will Young.
Here’s 8 reasons why Berkshire is the perfect weekend break.
1. The culture
Berkshire has a wonderful array of regional venues hosting everything from comedy to opera.
2. The races
You don’t need any interest in gambling or horses to go – it’s as much an exercise in people-watching as anything else.
Plus they also host events such as Newbury’s Party In The Paddock, which last year saw Jess Glynne and Olly Murs headlining.
Alternatively, drive out to Lambourn for a walk and you’ll likely see a jockey training.
3. The walks
Go on a serious hike along The Ridgeway, walk along the Kennet and Avon or explore Bisham Woods.
Discover Black Park in Slough, or amble around beautiful Streatley or C4 Village Of The Year finalist Hampstead Norreys.
4. The Living Rainforest
Monkeys! Toucans! A two-toed sloth who almost certainly isn’t there! (honestly, I’ve been loads of times and still never spotted it).
If the weather’s too cold or damp for that country hike and pub lunch this is an absolute must.
As the name implies, The Living Rainforest is basically a mini rainforest in the middle of Berkshire, which is frankly a bit bonkers when you think about it but nevertheless fascinating.
5. The food
There’s some seriously fancy food in the Maidenhead area – the obvious one being Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray.
But down the road is the same chap’s far more affordable The Crown pub.
6. The castles
Ok, so it had to get a mention at some point – Windsor Castle, the most touristy of Berkshire days out but nevertheless unmissable if you’re into history and/or the royals.
Alternatively, Donnington Castle is a nice ruin to amble round, and infinitely quieter.
Not quite a castle but still lovely is Basildon Park, where you can loll about and pretend you’re in an Austen novel.
And just outside of Newbury (although technically in Hampshire) is Highclere Castle, that one off of Downton Abbey.
7. The shopping
The Oracle is arguably Berkshire’s shopping mecca, with a cinema and plenty of places to eat out as well as stores including House Of Fraser and Apple.
However, other towns in the region are still well-served – Windsor Royal Shopping is particularly chic.
8. Fun for kids and big kids
Everything is, of course, awesome at Legoland Windsor, which has more than 55 rides, live shows and attractions.
Where to stay
I stayed at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa, which specialises in elegant dinners, top class treatments and a warm welcome.
There’s an 18-hole golf course if you like that sort of thing but if, like me, you’re more interested in the serious business of relaxation you’re well served by their pool, steam room, aroma room, sauna and jacuzzi, not to mention their poolside menu which includes afternoon teas and bento boxes.
For spa treatments you pop upstairs in the lift. I can thoroughly recommend the Sonoma Invigorating Back Treatment, a nearly hour-long cleanse, exfoliation and massage which soothed muscles I was pretty sure had fused together from stress.
Rooms cost from £90 for a classic double or twin, while the Sonoma Invigorating Back Treatment costs from £73.
The hotel is also currently running various offers, such as a two-night luxury spa break in an executive room, including 55-minute and 25-minute spa treatments, three-course dinner, breakfasts and afternoon tea, for £249 per person.
How to get there
When it’s finally finished, the Elizabeth tube line will get you from central London right through to Reading.
Until then, if coming from London, you can usually get trains from Paddington.
If you’re staying at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa, you can get a direct train taking about an hour to Newbury (check times in advance as changing at Reading takes longer).
It’s a 20-minute taxi ride from the station to the spa.
Alternatively you can drive – from central London this takes at least an hour and 30 minutes. To visit all the places mentioned you’ll need a car.