Last weekend my husband and I went on a mini-break to Majorca. Two weeks before this we spent a long weekend in Whitby, with friends. Earlier this summer I attended a two-day hen weekend in Manchester, and next week my husband is off on a three-day mid-week break to Valencia for the famous annual tomato-throwing (sounds like most dinner times with my two-year-old, but apparently this is special). I'm hoping to fit in a visit to Sitges before the end of September. And back in March we spent our anniversary night in the Cotswolds.“
Mmmm. Got lovely new mini-break brochure: Pride of Britain: Leading Country House Hotels of the British Isles. Marvellous. Going through all the pages one by one imagining Daniel and me being alternately sexual and romantic in all the bedrooms and dining-rooms.Bridget Jones's Diary
A round-up of our friends' weekend breaks over the past few months yields the following list of destinations: Nice, Budapest, Ibiza, Malaga, Rome, Port Merrion, Dublin (twice), Newcastle (stag weekend), another Cotswolds trip, Istanbul, Florence, Henlow Grange, Morocco, Amsterdam, Alghero and Padstow. Do not be fooled. We do not hang around with a particularly privileged set. This extensive weekend travel has become the new middle-class dream. Apparently, like Ms Jones, we have all become obsessed with mini-breaks. Trying to get a few people together for a nice weekend lunch in the pub or something cooked from the Lawson oeuvre is like trying to arrange a world peace summit: no one is available at less than two months' notice.
I've been wondering if it was always like this, or if the combination of cost-cutting airlines and Internet travel booking have made weekend breaks such a big part of our lives. The genius of lastminute, Expedia, Opodo et al.com is the ability they afford you to sit at your desk on a grey winter morning, giving the impression of diligent activity while actually pricing up hotels and flights to Fuerteventura. The very act of doing so and the excitement at going is almost better that the trip itself. I've been holding a grudge against lastminute since I recently booked a weekend away with them, only for them to whack up the price by 150 quid 24 hours later, and then cancel the weekend when I refused to pay (my hoity-toity protestations that I was 'a published travel journalist at The Spectator magazine' probably did me no favours). Not that this has put me off at all.
Whether a new phenomenon or not, it's certainly true that, before my mid- to late-twenties, I'd never been on a mini-break. A vast number of them are related to hen or stag parties. Men do particularly well here. In the last few years my husband has been to Glasgow, Prague, Paris, Southampton (sailing), Nottingham, Newcastle, Dublin, the Algarve (golf) and the Lake District on stag weekends. The casualties on these trips are heavy. From the above list, we've counted two nervous breakdowns, countless Awols, three or four destroyed friendships, one arrest (this figure sounds low to me, but I suspect the truth to have been re-written), one Uzi pulled in an East European nightclub, multiple robberies, one strip-search and one stroke. My husband returned from his own a pitifully broken man who collapsed sobbing into my arms upon arriving home, then slept for two days and came back early from work on the third, convinced that he was having a heart attack. And compared with the news story from last year of a man who fell off some docks and drowned on a stag party, we've escaped lightly.
Then there is the romantic break. In the first few months' courting with my husband, we did Amsterdam and Genoa – neither, I admit, noted as a romantic destination, but the flights were dirt cheap and ...well, you make your own romance in that first flush of enthusiasm, don't you?
These days the mini-break has a new significance for us and our peer group. Although our child has accompanied us on many of them – and shown a disconcerting enthusiasm for hotel stays (lifts! M&Ms in the mini-bar! Jacuzzis!) – they can represent a break from the children. Grandparents up and down the country gamely agree to spend two days spoiling our children to within an inch of their lives, while we book nights away with deranged enthusiasm.
All our aspirations for having quality time with each other, eating civilised meals, wearing nice frocks without snot or jam on them, staying up late and having uninterrupted conversations or even sex, are poured into the mini-break. Then we go on them, secretly knowing that the real thrill is a lie-in the morning after.
Still, a weekend away can be a thing of beauty. On our recent trip to Majorca we stayed at a lovely little hotel called Reads. This is a converted 17th-century farmhouse at the inland edge of the island's mountains, surrounded by orange and olive groves and vineyards. It was meticulously converted over seven laborious years by the Read family, who still own and run it.
The hotel is stuffed with antiques and artworks – and, indeed, artists – which makes it a quite different proposition from the faceless luxury of many of the prestige hotel chains. For example, one room still contains the farmhouse's huge original olive press, but also houses exhibitions by local painters. The bedrooms are all decorated in individual styles and range from the sleekly modernist to the traditional. One of the most impressive elements of the hotel is its Michelin-starred restaurant. The main dining area is in the farmhouse's old barn, which is two storeys high, pillared, lit with candles and decorated with frescoes.
We had to drag ourselves away after our two days, and the only downside to our stay is that back home our two-year-old is still holding a grudge that we didn't take him with us.