We all want to buy that perfect gift for the ones we love. We know they love adventure/cooking/travelling, so we rack our brains for the perfect present to suit their desires. But we have work, families, commitments, and the searching slips by the wayside. As that special day approaches we’re still none the wiser on what to give them, so we end up handing over a voucher for the local department store stuck inside a card with a picture of a rabbit on.
As my wedding anniversary approached last month I began the now annual ritual of Googling for hours on end in search of something innovative and exciting for the husband. As six years is celebrated by Iron it seemed either a pitch fork or a clothes press was going to be the way forward, until I remembered a Buy A Gift voucher that had landed on my doorstep just a few days before. The voucher was for ‘an overnight relaxation break for two’ and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
As an experience voucher virgin I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the snazzy enveloped package that contained my weekend away, but it is all surprisingly simple. The credit card sized voucher you receive contains all the info you need. Now experience vouchers can be for anything from a hot air balloon trip to a day driving Formula One cars, or even a Michelin Star meal at one of London’s finest restaurants. But I have two young kids and a freelance job that sees me working into the early hours. What I need is sleep. And anyone who knows me will testify that I’d choose a good night’s sleep over a good night out every time nowadays. So having been sent this Buy A Gift voucher, and with my anniversary rapidly approaching and still no clue as to what to buy or how to celebrate, the penny finally dropped.
I typed my code into the website and browsed the various hotels and locations on offer. This particular experience had more than 70 options, including several MacDonald hotel ones. I clicked on the one I fancied and was directed to the MacDonald booking line. When I finally got through to them (after a 20 minute wait on hold, listening to some godawful plinky plonk tunes), I booked a room for hubby and me at the Alveston Manor hotel and spa in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The deal included a standard double room and breakfast the next day. There was a bar in the hotel, which was basically the only other thing I was looking for, and the venue itself is less than a five minute walk from the historic city at the heart of Shakespeare country, so I gave the operator my voucher code, she reserved the room, and we were good to go.
As we approached the impressive 16th Century manor house the following Sunday it was hard not to feel happy just looking at it. Our relaxation break had begun! Knowing we had 24 hours away to not be Mummy and Daddy, to just be us, and knowing we were going to spend it in this beautiful building, was a boost to the body and mind. There’s a full gym and a decent sized pool at the hotel, and also an award-winning AA Rosette restaurant, and a separate cosy bar, so plenty to keep you entertained and relaxed without leaving the grounds. But being in a new place with all of the history on offer right on our doorstep, we decided to venture into Stratford itself.
Having crossed the River Avon and admired the various tour boats and private moorings around the quay, we were at the base of the hill and staring straight at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. However, it was a different type of spectacle the better half was after so he quickly coerced me into the Rose & Crown on Sheep Street to catch the second half of the football. He’s nothing if not romantic, my man. The Rose & Crown is a pub that does exactly what it says on the tin. There are screen showing all the games, food is typical pub grub and there are certainly no frills, but staff are friendly and it was a pleasant place to spend an hour before exploring the city. However we decided to forego the temptation to order a plate of nachos and once the game had finished we headed up the hill in search of more appetising lunch.
Lucky we did. Sheep Street is full of independent bistros and bars (as well as several well known chains) and each is housed in a building bearing nods to Shakespeare and boasting historic and endearing architecture. We were drawn to The Vintner, an informal bistro and bar with charming flagstone floors, impressive oak beams, and a staircase you wouldn’t dare tackle after more than two glasses of wine. We enjoyed a light lunch of a twice baked souffle and pan-fried king prawns, washed down with a crisp organic Verdajo, then started our tour of the museums. Stratford has several sites dedicated to Shakespearean history, but Shakespeare’s New Place, where the scribe spent most of his adult life, is probably the best one for getting a good all-round experience. It takes about an hour to tour, boasts beautiful gardens, and is great for an overall education on The Baird and his life.
Having ticked the culture box, it was back to the hotel for some R&R, before beginning the night with a glass of champagne (a very reasonable £8 for Veuve) at the hotel’s Manor Bar. We headed back to Sheep Street in search of dinner and delighted in the opportunity of dining at Lambs in Sheep Street. Lams, sheep. Geddit? Despite being a Sunday evening the restaurant was bustling and we were anticipating being turned away, but a spot at the very top of the building was found for us and we were seated and handed copies of the menu, which includes an a la carte and also a pre-theatre set deal. I went for the latter as it offered a pan-fried halloumi starter and open ravioli main, and husband had lightly battered calamari followed by a perfectly cooked neck fillet of lamb Navarin. We enjoyed a dessert each as well as a delightful bottle of Pinto Noir between us during the meal, and the final bill still only amounted to £70. Having found Lambs on the off-chance we are now praying for another night away treat so we can return to Stratford and visit again!
Experience vouchers aren’t all about fast cars and adrenaline sports, there really is something for everyone and the relaxation break was perfect for me and the man. And as opposed to other vouchers which basically say ‘I couldn’t be bothered to buy you a present’, a Buy A Gift voucher is tailored to the recipient’s taste and hobbies, so it’s still carefully thought out and gives gifting that personal touch. It also saves shedloads on wrapping paper. Everyone’s a winner!
- Buy A Gift sent us the voucher for the relaxation break for the purpose of reviewing the service but all opinions are honest reflections of our experience. For more information on BuyAGift vouchers or to browse choices, click here.