The rolling driveway cuts across green and pleasant land. I feel every bit the English country gent as my family and I clamber out of the 4x4, having been transformed from London urbanites to smart country casual in just over an hour's drive. The Four Seasons Hotel near Hook in Hampshire is an elegant Georgian manor house set in heritage-listed gardens, rolling fields and woodlands.
Although a modern extension means it has more than 130 bedrooms, it still manages to retain something of a boutique feel, with neat personal touches and intuitive service. Our bedroom houses a glorious king-sized bed and offers great views of the surrounding countryside. There is a huge separate cosy lounge area. 'Where will the children sleep?' I ask the porter. 'Ah, well, they're actually in the connecting room just through here,' he replies, leading us down a small passage. Excellent. Separate rooms.
Next up we explore the grounds. Well, at least the children do. And if 500 acres doesn't sound like enough amusement, there's also the Kids for All Seasons programme, with activities for three- to 14-year-olds, including treasure hunts, chocolate-making and kite-flying. Elsewhere, there's an indoor pool, air hockey, a free DVD library and further games rooms with Wii, however, the hotel's USP is the equestrian centre and its Own a Pony for a Day scheme. Anyone with a horse-mad girl will know that this is holiday heaven.
Personally, I don't know one end of a horse from another, but even I can see that the tuition and knowledge of the staff are excellent. Rosie, 13, spends the entire day with a beaming smile, even while mucking out. Eight-year-old Ted completes his riding routine to proudly earn a rosette. I don't think he will make a cowboy just yet, but he is delighted to be involved. And there are plenty of bikes. So we set off round the estate. After ten minutes or so, I begin to experience a sense of freedom and exhilaration that I haven't had on holiday for years: snaking up and down paths with my children, wind ruffling our hair, laughing our heads off.
The next day Ted and I try pike fishing, taking the instruction of local angler Jon. Sadly, it is the case of the one that got away for us, but the experience of re-creating what I'd done 30 years ago with my father is a memory I shall treasure.
On our last night, we order room service. A trolley arrives laden with delicious dishes the chef has assembled, including huge desserts. The kids' eyes nearly pop out of their heads. Having a happy family life is the great modern pursuit. And for a few precious days, we communicate, spend time together and share mealtimes, and don't argue...much. As The Ramones once insisted, 'We're a happy family!' For a few days, we really are. And when we get home, although Ted's cries of 'room service' go unheeded, we discover the staff have smuggled a final batch of chocolate treats into the back of the car, which lessens the blow of being back. There's nothing like a five-star hotel to make things run smoothly.
A room at the Four Seasons starts from £275 for bed and breakfast. Own a Pony starts from £60 for half a day (fourseasons.com).