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A Family Cycling Holiday In The South Downs

25/09/2014 14:52 | Updated 20 May 2015

A family cycling holiday in the South Downs

I've always loved spending family days out cycling with my other half and our two boys.

From the baby days when they would come along for the ride, strapped into their bike seats, progressing to toddler tag-along bikes, and then pedalling along on their own steam, we've covered hundreds of miles and have had hours of outdoor fun over the years.

Living close to a cycle trail that meanders through 55 miles of the Welsh countryside, we've been spoilt for choice, able to take to two wheels whenever the fancy has taken us.

But then... my boys grew up. In the past few years my elder teenage son has, naturally, been loathe to be seen out with his mum, dad and brother, riding through our locality looking something like the Von Trapps.

And my younger son - though I can still drag him out for a ride now and then - will probably go the same way soon, now he's started high school and 'image' will become an issue.

So when I heard about a hotel family cycling package - far from home in the Sussex South Downs - my interest was sparked. What if I took us more than 150 miles 'out of area' to do some cycling?

No one would know them there and we could rediscover the fun we'd had in younger years.

Of course they were up for it. A holiday in a luxury hotel with a pool, some cycling thrown in and a trip to the beach on offer? What wasn't to love?

Our base was The Spread Eagle Hotel, a gorgeous historic coaching inn, dating as far back as 1430. Set in grounds in the Sussex market town of Midhurst, it oozes olde worlde charm, retaining masses of original features – with the added advantage of housing an excellent spa and every luxury you'd expect from a top hotel.

We were lucky enough to stay in 'The Queen's Suite' – Elizabeth I herself was said to have stayed here in 1531 – and unlocking the door to our rooms really was like stepping back into the past.

A huge carved wooden four poster bed took pride of place on the sloping (uneven) floor under the sloping (uneven) beamed roof, surrounded by walls retaining their authentic lumps and bumps.

What looked like a cupboard in the corner of the room was, in fact a 'Wig and Powder Closet' – a special windowed cubicle set aside for the messy business of powdering any fashion-conscious guest's wig (powder was often applied to a wig using a bellows!)

The boys had their own adjoining mini bedroom and there was a luxuriously updated ensuite bathroom – complete with shower cubicle specially cut and adapted to accommodate the huge uneven wooden beam straddling the ceiling.

The South Downs is great cycling country (The Tour of Britain passes through there on one of its stages) with plenty of on-road and off-road cycle routes criss-crossing their way through the South Downs National Park.

Staff at the hotel are on hand to suggest routes suited to your abilities and wants. We opted for a 20 mile route mainly off-road, taking in the Saltern's Way through wheat and corn fields, private roads and Chichester Harbour down to the coast to our destination, West Wittering Beach.

Staff had advised us to pack our bathers and we were glad we did. After an enjoyable ride on what was a super-hot day, what better way to cool off than to take a dip in the sea? And after a glorious homeward bound ride (with a sandwich and coffee stop at Chichester Harbour) we all cooled off again with a plunge into the hotel's pool.

Not only are guests treated impeccably at the hotel, but your bikes can be too. Staff will wash them down after your cycle ride and securely lock them up overnight.

But the real treat? The hotel's cycling package also includes a Leg & Foot Energiser Spa Treatment. I always thought I was more of a back massage type of girl, but this leggy lovely was one of the most blissful (and well-deserved) treatments I've enjoyed in a spa.

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I didn't feel an ounce of guilt as I lay back and let the therapist work her magic on me. I figured my legs had worked hard for this half hour of relaxation. It was the perfect end to an active day.

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Also included in the package is a gourmet three-course dinner – the menu at the hotel celebrates modern British classic cuisine with dishes such as lamb, calves liver and sea bass - and we enjoyed a delicious and relaxed family meal, dining al fresco on the terrace as the sun went down.

After a good night's sleep, as we were surprisingly not saddle-sore, we ventured out on day two for another cycle along the Centurion Way Railway Path into Chichester for a spot of shopping and lunch.

We had a wonderful time on our mini-break that combined activity and luxury relaxation – and I can see that though cycling with my teens locally might not be on the cards anymore - cycling holidays might be the future!

We can't wait to come back to explore more of this gorgeous countryside on two-wheels.

The South Downs Cycle offer at The Spread Eagle Hotel, Midhurst, West Sussex, includes:

An overnight stay in a standard room including breakfast

Guide of cycling routes in the local area

Cycle, wash, clean, and secure lock-up for bikes

Leg & Foot Energiser Spa Treatment

A delicious three-course dinner

Full use of the spa facilities and swimming pool

From £299 based on a family of four sharing a superior room or from £438 when sharing an adjacent double and twin room. For reservations visit www.hshotels.co.uk or call 01730 816911.

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