My husband and I have organised plenty of parties at home over the years but with both of us hitting the same significant birthday in 2014, we wanted a more intimate celebration – a house-party week for our nearest and dearest. Our plan was to invite three couples, local friends we have known since school days, plus our son and daughter and their partners.
But although we have all travelled together before, a certain amount of pre-planning was essential to ensure that our special celebration was as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.
Here are a few tips that helped make our house party celebration an unqualified success:
Choosing a property
Have a clear check list before you start. Many big rental properties include children’s rooms, but I particularly wanted en-suite bedrooms of fairly equal size for our child-free group. And decide what other amenities are important to you, like outside space, Wi-Fi, or disabled access.
Consider too how you want to spend your days, especially if travelling out of season when some tourist attractions or rural businesses could be closed. Our group were all outdoor people with clothing to match, but I also wanted interesting towns nearby in case we hit bad weather. And because we all live inland, my perfect property was always going to be near the sea, preferably with coastal views.
Our group all live in traditional houses, so I looked for something out of the ordinary with a touch of luxury and eventually settled on Avocet, a stunning, ultra-modern property at Bigbury-on-Sea. With panoramic views over Burgh Island and the South Devon coast, it is one of many large properties available through West Country specialists Helpful Holidays.
Big properties can get booked up well ahead at peak periods so if you want a specific date, plan early. We chose a spring week between our birthdays, taking advantage of pre-Easter prices, which came in at under £200 a person for the week.
Car sharing may be environmentally friendly, but if you have some guests arriving late or leaving early, or simply want the option to make independent excursions, you will need room for vehicles. Avocet had a large, though steep, front drive plus a garage.
Before you go
When people first arrive, they want to relax and enjoy their new surroundings, so we took a deep frozen dinner along with fresh vegetables, desserts, and wine for our first evening. We also researched the websites of local pubs and restaurants suggested on the comprehensive Helpful Holidays website and booked ahead for our second night – parties of 10 or more may not be easily accommodated at short notice.
Make it clear what you are providing in terms of hospitality and food. If you are hosting the first dinner, for instance, do you then split restaurant bills equally or take it in turns to self-cater? And do your guests take their own breakfast basics? Most groups of Silver Surfers have a few food intolerances between them, so many will want to take their own safe foods. Local food deliveries may also be possible.
Many large properties are supplied with children’s games but we took a few favourites as well as a jigsaw for the coffee table – great fun for communal downtime. But do coordinate so that you don’t end up with four sets of Pictionary or Scrabble!
There’s a fine line between too much organisation and too little, especially as we all get older and like our routines. However well you know and love your friends, little habits can niggle when you spend several days together, so it’s worth building in at least one day mid-holiday when people can do their own thing.
We were based in the South Hams which includes Dartmouth, Totnes and Salcombe, an area we knew well already, but which was new to several of our guests. So I emailed everyone before departure with ideas for heritage sites, circular walks, and pretty towns to visit. “What shall we do today?”, therefore became an easy decision.
We also stressed that everyone was free to take days – or even nights – out to visit friends or family in the area, though in the end we were all having far too much fun to take advantage! And as a finishing touch, I compiled a souvenir photo book online when we got back, ordering a copy for each couple as a special memento of our fabulous Bigbury Birthday Bash.