Unlike the stag do replicas of old, the new breed of hen do is a far chicer affair. Here’s how to host the ultimate pre-wedding party.
I am all for celebrations of romance. I cry when I see an old couple holding hands. I secretly love Valentine’s Day, despite knowing it’s a swindle.
Last year, I cried at a wedding to which I was a plus-one and had met neither the bride nor groom. So, in theory, the concept of a hen do is right up my alley – a chance to celebrate the fact that one of your mates is getting married. Except it’s not quite as simple as that.
In Ancient Greece, women about to be wed would sacrifice their childhood toys to the virgin goddess Artemis to get her ready for sex-mad Aphrodite, but, surprisingly, it never really caught on. It was the sexual liberation of the Sixties that saw the emergence of hen parties as an expression of pre-marital sexual freedom; innuendos would be stuck to the bride-to-be’s coat while she was paraded around her local, which caused a right stir back in the day. And that’s the operative phrase: back in the day.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’re still acting like a rude word on a jacket is scandalous. It’s almost as if, through the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties, we’ve started playing chicken with our stag do counterparts, showing them that girls can be just as outrageous, just as sexually deviant. It’s only in the last 50 years or so that stag dos have incorporated the gross ‘last days of freedom’ mentality, and these days it’s looking as tired as we look trudging round Tiger Tiger wearing penis boppers.
But that’s because we don’t hear about the new breed of hens emerging from the rubble of willy straws. The mysterious rulebook that decreed only women can attend, everyone likes shots, and the maid of honour must organise activities reminiscent of a teenager’s birthday, is no longer the only option.
For every game of ‘pin the penis’, there’s a group cookery class. For every paint-balling session, there’s wine-tasting. It’s tricky finding activities that will bring not only different friendship groups but different generations together – but it looks like bowling isn’t the only thing both your gran and younger cousin can get involved with.
The hen do is undergoing a re-brand, and I for one am thrilled. Just like weddings are diversifying, so we enter a brave new world where pre-wedding parties feel personal too. Hen dos are no longer sexual liberation messages or attempts to compete with stag dos. We can do whatever the hell we want, and yes, if you really do want to shoot each other with paint guns, then power to you. But please, can we agree to cool it with the dicks?
Read ahead to see Stylist’s suggestions for a personalised hen.
For active hens
Embrace the trend for energetic escapes (and prepare to sweat)…
The Bear Grylls Getaway
Where? Kinloch Lodge, Sleat,
Isle of Skye, IV43
Why? Set on the wild and remote Isle of Skye, the lavish Kinloch Lodge boasts rugged views as far as the eye can see (it’s a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, Inverness, so you can expect to see a few others en route, too). Guests have access to a personal guide who will help create wilderness adventures such as foraging and fishing for lunch, wildlife spotting, and (for the hardy) overnight wild camping.
Price: From £199pp on a dinner and B&B basis. ‘Wild Walks’ from £200 a day; kinloch-lodge.co.uk
The Gorge Hopping Experience
Where? Adventure Okehampton, Okehampton, Devon, EX20
Why? Brave the elements, scale rocks and immerse yourself, quite literally, in some of Dartmoor’s wild rivers with a spot of gorge scrambling. You’ll spend half a day ascending and descending gorges, plunging into pools, wading across rivers and climbing waterfalls, all under the watchful eye of an expert guide. The group photo alone should provide adequate ammo for your big day speech.
Price: From £125 per person; adventureokehampton.com
The Sea and Surf Combo
Where? Chapel House, Chapel Street, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18
Why? If you’d rather be out on the sea than sat by it, Chapel House is the perfect base for a weekend of Cornish adventures. With six cosy sea-view double rooms, cooking demonstrations, foraging weekends, hearty breakfasts and Sunday brunch, this Georgian house has all the ingredients for leaving you feeling replenished after a day out on the surf. Book lessons through Global Boarders Surf Co Cornwall (£30 for two hours) and over the course of two hours you’ll learn the basics of surfing before (hopefully) standing up and catching a wave.
Price: rooms from £150 per night; chapelhousepz.co.uk
The Yachting Masterclass
Where? Lagoon Watersports Limited, Brighton Marina, BN2
Why? Marvel at Brighton’s skyline from a luxury yacht that will take you on a two-hour private sailing experience. Departing at sunset from Brighton Marina, you’ll hoist sails and set off along the East Sussex coast, glass of fizz in hand. Once at sea, you and up to 10 friends can learn the ropes and play captain with the instruction of a trained crew. The wind will push you home; the return is time to relax and enjoy the breeze.
Price: from £399 per boat; uk.viator.com; rooms at Artist Residence Brighton start at £125; artistresidence.co.uk
For hens who want to relax
Inject a healthy dose of self-care into your weekend away…
The Countryside Classic
Where? Soho Farmhouse, Great Tew, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7
Why? How long does it take for somewhere to become a classic choice? The Farmhouse, the first resort-style venture from Soho House Group, has only been open for three years, but it’s already established itself as one of the UK’s finest country escapes. Stay in one of 40 chic cabins; think warm woods, freestanding baths and sheepskin rugs. You’ll find pre-mixed cocktails in your fridge and can indulge in everything from the Cowshed spa to cookery lessons.
Price: from £330 per night for a cabin (sleeps two) for non-members, £250 for members; sohofarmhouse.com
The Luxe Camping in Rural Wales
Where? Penhein Glamping, Chepstow, NP16
Why? For large groups who want to get away from it all, these Persian- inspired luxury tents nestled in ancient woodland are a great choice. All come with real beds, wood- burning stoves, flushing loos and vintage-style kitchenware. Dine around a camp fire, walk in the woods, wade through nearby streams or simply enjoy the peace and quiet. Hen parties should book out the whole site, which sleeps up to 30 adults.
Price: tents from £220 for two nights (sleeps five), group booking prices on request; canopyandstars.co.uk
The City Centre Wind-Down
Where? The Spa at The Cube, Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1
Why? The Cube building is known for its posh nosh (Marco Pierre White’s steakhouse is here) and swanky bars (such as David Beckham’s favoured Haig Club) but it’s the spa area that makes it an indulgent oasis amid the clatter of the city. The sauna is built from wood only found within the Arctic Circle, there are seven different thermal areas including a Himalyan Salt Room, an extensive treatment menu, and a nail bar serving Laurent Perrier champagne.
Price: A spa day costs from £45pp, including lunch; thecube.co.uk/spa-gym
The Scottish Eco Retreat
Where? EcoYoga Centre, Inverliever
Lodge, Ford, Argyll, PA31
Why? This tranquil and magical place has an emphasis on sustainability, rather than luxury. When weekly retreats aren’t running, guests can arrange private yoga tuition, perfect for exhausted hens needing a breather before the big day. The setting is the real winner though, with wonderful loch-side views, a yoga studio filled with the sound of flowing water, a Japanese bath-inspired hot tub, a sauna built into the hillside and two outdoor wild river baths overlooking the waterfall.
Price: from £80 per person per night, self-catering; ecoyoga.org
For Hens With Good Taste
Get boozy over a pop-up supper or eat your way around a city…
The Wine Weekend
Where? Tinwood Estate, Halnaker, Chichester, PO18
Why? Acres of vines, three isolated lodges replete with a fully stocked wine fridge and the kind of silence through which you can hear a grape drop make this an ideal spot for an intimate hen. Use the free bikes to explore the area, take your mind off last-minute prep in the barrel sauna, or indulge in a vineyard tour and tasting (£18 per person).
Price: lodges for two from £175 on a B&B basis; tinwoodestate.com
The Gin Distillery Tour
Where? Edinburgh Gin Distillery, Edinburgh, EH1
Why? This three-hour gin-making experience includes a tour of the distillery, tasting session and the chance to make your own blend. Once you’ve sourced your botanicals, you’ll name your bespoke recipe before it’s bottled for keeping.
Price: £100, edinburghgin.com; rooms at Dunstane House from £109, thedunstane.com
The Gastronomic Base
Where? The Cow Hollow Hotel, Newton Street, Manchester, M1
Why? This 16-room former textile warehouse has a ‘less is more’ ethos, meaning their sole focus is on the stylish bedrooms, leaving sustenance to the local bar and restaurant scene, which is booming. Take lunch at food hall Mackie Mayor (mackiemayor.co.uk), before reserving a spot for dinner at 20 Stories (20stories. co.uk) in nearby Spinningfields, which sources all of its ingredients from within a 50-mile radius.
Price: Doubles from £99; cowhollow.co.uk
The Supper Club Experience
Where? Various London locations or at home.
Why? Finding the right dinner party venue for a large group can be panic- inducing. Keep things simple by holding your own private rendezvous, organised by someone else. Cluck’s Greek Supper Club Experience hosts pop-ups in various locations, providing three-course meal of Greek sharing dishes, a cocktail and serving staff.
Price: £75pp, thisiscluck.com
For Wanderlust Hens
Feed your travel bug with a jaunt overseas…
The Ancient Spa Capital
Where? Budapest, Hungary
Why? Explore a historical city while getting your wellness fix. Budapest boasts an abundance of medieval spas, including the Rudas Baths, which have an ice pool, rooftop jacuzzi and Turkish baths. After a day here, you’ll be ready to explore the hustle and bustle of the city’s famous ruin bars. Head to sleek Mazel Tov for wine and Israeli fusion food.
Price: stay at Brody House, from £75; brody.land
The Exotic Private Rental
Where? Marrakesh, Morocco
Why? For a complete blow-the-wedding-budget weekender, this boutique hotel in Marrakesh’s medina has recently opened its refurbished five-bedroom Riad-style annex for exclusive use. It’s one-minute from the main hotel but with its own plunge pool and secluded courtyard. Decor is opulent but hip, with impressive art. If you want one final splash, request a private dinner for your party on the roof terrace while a musician plays a grand piano.
Price: from £202pp for two nights (sleeps 10); el-fenn.com
The Perfect City Break
Where? Lisbon, Portugal
Why? Foodies, culture lovers and sun-dwellers all get a fix here. Once you’ve meandered the maze of hilly streets, got a taste of the city’s culinary scene and immersed yourself in its historic charm, you’ll be ready to head to the beach for a pre-wedding glow (catch the train from Cais do Sodré station to Cascais). Make the art nouveau 1908 Lisboa Hotel your base – it captures the laid-back vibe perfectly and on your doorstep you’ll find spectacular seafood at local favourite Cervejaria Ramiro.
Price: 1908 Lisboa Hotel, doubles from £109; 1908 lisboahotel.com
The Blissful Escape
Where? Ibiza, Spain
Why? Villa San Lorenzo, based in the quaint hamlet of Sant Llorenc in Ibiza’s northern hills, is a world away from the island’s crowds. The six-bedroom villa has an infinity pool with views across sun-soaked fields, plenty of open-plan living space and a sauna. If you can drag yourself away, rent a car to explore; there’s the nearby night market at Las Dalias or wine- tasting at Sa Cova Winery.
Price: Villa San Lorenzo sleeps 12, from £149pp per night (minimum seven-night stay); lecollectionist.com
For Party Hens
For those who still want to go out-out…
The Seaside Hotspot
Where? Dreamland, Margate, Kent, CT9
Why? Along with the Turner Gallery, this revamped vintage theme park (a favourite of Tracey Emin) has injected a dose of glamour to Margate’s seafront. Days are spent on the rides (designed for big kids too) but it’s after sunset you’ll find the real fun. Club nights draw in big names – Pete Tong, Norman Jay and Orbital have all played – but for those less ‘rave’ and more ‘relax’, there are also afternoon tea dances and live jazz orchestras. The bonus? It’s faff-free to reach, with direct trains from London taking less than 90 minutes.
Price: Check the website for specific events. £13 entry; dreamland.co.uk
The House Party
Where? Kaleidoscope House, Snettisham,
Why? The biggest problem here will be leaving. The nine-bedroom property, five miles from the north Norfolk coast, looks like a cosy country cottage on the outside, teased only by a garish yellow front door. Behind it lies a house ready to party. The hot tub isn’t a bad way to ease yourself in to shenanigans, and there’s also an Insta-worthy dressing- up room, board games, a karaoke machine and DJ decks. Spend your Sunday lounging about in the surround-sound cinema room.
Price: Sleeps 18, from £210pp for seven nights; thebigdomain.com
The Club Night
Surrey Quays Road, London, SE16
Why? Printworks is a high-end warehouse venue (no sticky floors here). Its 4,000-capacity means you shouldn’t have to wrangle at the door either; it’s big enough for even large groups to fit in. Housed in what was once the UK’s largest printing press, it’s a rabbit warren of old features, sultry rooms and winding corridors, all named after its former vocation. So even if the dancing wears off, the allure of its interiors won’t.
Price: various; printworkslondon.co.uk
Introduction: Stevie Martin / Additional Words: Anna Fielding, Hannah Keegan, Kate Leahy, Lizzie Pook / Images: Getty / Venues