Renting a holiday pad in the UK is the easiest way to get a little good old-fashioned countryside feelgood – whether that’s a quick weekend pick-me-up or a week’s holiday. And in a world where everyone is busy-busy, it’s also the easiest way to get your friends together – as they say, book it and they will come. We’ve picked ten great options for groups of all sizes to enjoy a little us-time, rain or shine…
A stone’s throw from the sea, with panoramic views of Cornish coast from almost every room, this coastal bolthole sleeps five – perfect for a small group getaway. A traditional whitewashed stone cottage on the hillside of Coverack, a fishing village on the Lizard Peninsula, the rugged exterior hides a cosy den of sheepskin rugs on flagstone floors, driftwood frames, an Aga and an open fire. By day, walk the coastal path, chow down on big local seafood lunches or try kayaking and windsurfing, Evenings are for good times, gossip and laughter on the cottage terrace as the sun sets over the harbor below.
Tucked on the border of Wiltshire and Dorset, near Shaftesbury, this converted barn on a working farm has has a touch of the Grand Designs about it; all plate glass set into stone, and blonde wood, while rare breed chickens roam free outside and countryside disappears off into watercolour horizons in all directions. A huge upstairs open plan kitchen and living area offer maximum sociability points; a long table for lazy breakfasts and a wood burner to drink wine round in the evening. Or stride over the fields with your torch to the local pub, The Bennett Arms, instead. Downstairs, two bedrooms sleep five – if you need more space then rent the Dairyman’s Cottage next door (sleeps four) as well.
The Landmark Trusts’ youngest property, this 1970s modernist masterpiece sits on a hillside in the Devon village of Goodleigh. And best of all, you can rent this statement stay, set amid the tiny hamlet of hedgerows, thatched roofs and a village pub. Built by architect Peter Aldington, it’s hard to know where the house ends and the fields begin, with plate glass windows framing swooping valley views. Inside, the house is equally radical – white breezeblocks marking out an open-plan, multi-level interior with three bedrooms, sleeping five. Leave the house if you want; surfers’ paradises Croyde and Woolacombe Bays are around 15 minutes' away. But why bother when you can sit and let the country come to you.
Indulge your historic fantasies and rent yourself a castle for the weekend. Forter Castle in Glenisla on the border of Aberdeenshire was built in 1560, destroyed a century later, and found a new life as a self-catered holiday let in the noughties. Designer Katharine Pooley has transformed the interior’s five floors, each reached by a stone spiral staircase, to a level of modern comfort your average 16th century castle dweller would marvel at. Perks of this let include your own hall spanning the width of the castle with an inlet log fireplace, painted ceiling and wall tapestries. The castle sleeps up to 12, so you only need another 11 lords and ladies to share the cost and you’re laughing.
Forget floral chintz, this 16th century former cider press turned country retreat on the Devon/Somerset border has all the interior design smarts you could hope for. It’s one stylish stay for larger groups, sleeping between up to 20 people in 10 super king size bedrooms, stacked with fine white linens and feather pillows. Kick off the day with a swim in the heated 15-metre indoor pool and explore the surrounding Quantock hills in the afternoons. Then settle down in the cinema and pool room around an open fire or stoke up the coal BBQ and enjoy some local Somerset cider. Rude not to, really.
With its leaded windows and pointy fairytale turrets, this former school in the grounds of the World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey is not your average holiday let. A National Trust property, the 19th century Choristers’ House sleeps 10 in five bedrooms, amid communal interior areas of squishy sofas, open fires and design touches by Victorian architect William Burges. The city of York, the North Yorkshire Moors and the Dales are within easy reach, while the house itself abuts an ancient 400-acre deer park. Expect to see Bambi wandering around your garden - although if the amorous (and surprisingly loud) sounds of frisky deer aren’t your bag avoid October, which is rutting season.
Hunker down at the bottom of the garden of a local Kent artist, whose four-storey mill is right up there on the Airbnb wish list. Picture-perfect Old Smock Mill sleeps two, with a quirky inside that includes massive beams spanning each floor, carrying the original shaft wheel and sack hoist, a pulley system for hanging clothes and a bathroom with claw bath up a spiral staircase. The mill itself is reached by a staircase onto the staging – a wooden platform perfect for relaxing on in the sunshine if you don’t want to do much else. If you’re keen to explore though, Camber sands with its rolling dunes and the pretty Cinque Port town of Rye are nearby.
Looking for somewhere that’s a bit more of a talking point than a two-up, two-down? Check in to the Balancing Barn, which cantilevers dramatically over the Suffolk landscape, providing panoramic views over woods, ponds and meadows. The space-age barn sleeps eight, and stands on the edge of a nature reserve, inland from the Suffolk coast and near the towns of Walberswick and Aldeburgh. Designed by the Dutch architects MVRDV, the house was featured in Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces, and is every bit as cool inside as out: an incredible modern space of blonde wood and geometric colour blocking, REN toiletries and Miele appliances. Basically, you’ll just want to live there.
Get some green points at Garden House, an architect-designed, contemporary cottage with real eco credentials. No lip service to the environment here, the let has been designed to maximise alternative energy sources; under floor heating, hot water and space heating are all supplemented by solar and wind power, and highly insulated buildings cut down on carbon emissions. Aside from a clear conscience, you also get a bright and modern space that sleeps six (combine it with the Avocet cottage next door, to sleep 12), with a living area that can be opened up to the outside - as well an indoor swimming pool and tennis courts.
Brunel himself might have built the Railway Cottage, but this historic bolthole, sleeping six, in Bicknoller manages to combine its period charm with real, contemporary comfort. Watch the trains of the West Somerset Steam Railway puff past the garden while you soak in the hot tub if the sun’s out – or if it’s rainy, curl up round the wood burner and play Pictionary. Take the lazy even further and book a private chef for your stay – the owners can arrange someone to whip up tasty dinners at the cottage. Leaving you and your gang free to go full steam ahead with some real chill out time.