The first taste of the West Country for holiday-hungry Londoners, Dorset is one of our favourite places in the UK, and has a shedload of great places to stay, many of which are no more than two hours from the capital. Get off the train or out of your car and sniff the air: you've escaped!
This town centre pub with rooms, right behind Dorset's famous Chesil beach, was recently taken over by the Harrison family, who have put their heart into turning it not only into an award-winning foodie's paradise but also a place to lay your head, with eight sweet and simple rooms upstairs and across the beautiful courtyard. A perfect spot to enjoy both Dorset's coast and countryside.
The Bull in Bridport is our kind of town centre hotel – a former coaching inn that has been reinvented as a contemporary boutique hotel, but one that’s as family-friendly and relaxed as it is chic and comfortable. It also has a great restaurant and a lively bar, while the bedrooms are comfortable and modern, with bright, sometimes quirky decor.
Surrounded by six acres of rolling lawns and woodlands, this Edwardian country house is home to a rather stylish B&B and some swish self-catering cottage accommodation in the grounds. It's grand without being too formal, with an imposing main hall and a cosy sitting room, and guest rooms that are a nice mixture of antique furnishings with modern touches.
We just love Updown Cottage, and with the remake of Far from the Madding Crowd having done the rounds, there couldn't be a better place to stay – right in the heart of Thomas Hardy Country, in the picturesque small Dorset town of Shaftesbury, where the first version of the film was filmed (along with the iconic 1960s Ridley Scott Hovis advert, no less). England at its most bucolic, tranquil and in many ways unchanged.
If you want to go mad and have a beatnik weekend in the heart of the Dorset countryside with your mates, or enjoy a Victorian-style house party, look no further - Dove House is the place, with space for no less than 13 people and a location that's very well placed for seeing the best of Dorset.
A beautiful, grey-stoned, traditional style property in the attractive village of Litton Cheney, nine miles west of Dorchester – family-owned and lived-in for many years, and bang in the centre of the village, yet still enjoying views over the countryside beyond. We reckon it's the perfect place for a large family or group of friends.
We love Tom's Field – not just because it's one of the best and most rural campsites in a county stacked to the brim with such places, but also because it's just a short walk from the South West Coast Path and a great wild swimming spot at Dancing Ledge.
Dorset has lots of great places to camp, but somehow this one manages to stand out – a fantastic family campsite, spread over three separate fields adjacent to the Swanage Steam Railway line.
A proper get-away-from-it-all cottage attached to the Anvil Point Lighthouse, which sits on a wild clifftop near Swanage, right on the South West Coast Path. Bright and contemporary, it sleeps five and has two bathrooms and its own little garden – plus they take dogs, although pert owners and parents should take care: the sheer drops are, well, sheer.
These are pretty much the only beach huts in the country where you can stay overnight, and are also situated in a perfect Bournemouth location right between the sea on one side and the harbour on the other. What's not to like?
A lovely Bournemouth hotel with sound eco-credentials a short walk from the seafront. Decor is Farrow and Ball paints and wallpaper, while the comfy rooms have organic toiletries, top-of-range TVs and ipod docks as well as nice touches such as free filtered water and homemade biscuits.
Situated in the hamlet where Thomas Hardy was born, Greenwood Grange is a lovely complex of beautifully furnished self-catering cottages on an eco-friendly farm. They sleep from 2 to 8 and are in converted barns and outbuildings, some of which were built by Thomas Hardy’s architect father. There's nothing ancient about them now, however, and they have all the comforts you might need – as well as large grounds and lots of stuff for kids to do.
This friendly, buzzy boutique hotel just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in Boscombe has long been one of our fave places to stay in Bournemouth, with rooms that are comfortable and stylish, and a bar beneath that serves mean cocktails.
We've always loved the Priory in Wareham, and this 550-year-old riverside hotel, with beautiful gardens running down to the river, is in our opinion the top choice for a posh weekend away in the Wareham region – perhaps even in Dorset itself, with traditional rooms in the main house along with more modern boathouse rooms with private terraces by the river. The restaurant is fab too.
If there's a better hotel in Dorset to visit with your family then we have yet to find it, because Moonfleet Manor has everything you need for a fantastic break with children – large grounds, comfortable family or inter-connecting rooms, a well-equipped games room, an indoor pool, a free supervised crèche and wonderful walks by the sea. You can even borrow the hotel dog to take with you if you don't have one of your own.
Many moons ago this was a fusty old seaside hotel, but it had the best location of anywhere in Lyme Regis, sitting on a clifftop with stunning sea views. Now, after a considerable refurbishment, it's the pick of the places to stay in Lyme,, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the bustling town centre, and with comfortable and contemporary rooms that vary in size but all come with flat-screen TVs, Egyptian cotton sheets and bathrobes.
A seasonal campsite (August only) but one with spectacular sea views and a path leading down to its own shingle beach. It's also an organic working farm, and the campsite offers solar-powered showers, tame goats, sheep, pigs and chickens for children to pet, as well as miniature ponies to ride.