By Anna Pasternak
Last updated at 2:31 PM on 21st March 2010
Confession time: I’m a holiday property porn addict. My guilty obsession started during the recession because I simply couldn’t afford to go on holiday abroad. So I settled on a seaside jaunt in Britain.
But finding a divine Devon, dog-friendly bolthole was as rare as a British barbecue summer, because every seaside pad from Land’s End to the Scottish sea lochs was booked.
Then, stumbling across www.uniquehomestays.com, I felt as if I’d been transported from the dismal rental land of damp cottages with lumpy mattresses to a pampered world with dishwashers and tumble dryers where we might actually relax and have a holiday.
Ladies, I promise you that if you log onto this site you’ll discover how addictive sheer escapism can be.
The gorgeous properties they call ‘hometels’ are straight out of World Of Interiors with stylish understated decor, huge baths, power showers and piles of fluffy white towels.
But do these properties actually deliver rental nirvana or is it all an empty, air-brushed photographic promise?
We tried out the only property they had vacant last summer, Tides Reach in Willowhayne, a private seaside estate in West Sussex that sleeps eight. Twenty yards from a private beach, it said it had sea views from the upstairs bedrooms — and it did.
When we arrived, we mooched about opening cupboards and had a good old nosey around.
Along with the en suite bathrooms proffering lovely soap (which I always forget to take), the crisp white bedlinen and snazzy suede bedspreads, it boasted the best-stocked kitchen I’ve ever seen, with a cooking range that Heston Blumenthal is probably au fait with, but I could hardly fathom.My daughter was ecstatic with her bunk bed, while I coveted her splash of colourful Cath Kidston cushions.
And for all those rainy afternoons there was Sky and Sky+ on the plasma screen. There was also a large American fridge, piles of glossy magazines, enough DVDs to rival Blockbuster, comfy throws to snuggle under and a large garden with a table and chairs for eight.
The house came with the recommendation of a local cook — they all do — who charged £50 for a meal for four.
We had discussed menus before our stay (fuelling my lady-of-the-manor fantasies) and she arrived with a beautiful basket of local, organic vegetables from her garden, all tied up bundles.
Every day we walked off our excess calories along the coast, starting out on the Greensward, a sweeping avenue of grass separated from the sea by a wind break of tamarisk trees.
Willowhayne is a weird place, with a Desperate Housewives stillness and WAG-ish pretension.
Massive houses in mock-Tudor style sit slap-bang next to gargantuan bungalows backing onto the beach.
Founded in 1930, it’s like a lesser Beverly Hills-on-Sea. But it is doggie headven — pampered pooches promenade up and down (we met two Alsatians sporting Harrods diamond collars.)There are pockets of sophistication nearby, such as the East Beach Cafe in Littlehampton. This award-winning temple of cool — which serves superb fresh moules and crab linguine — looks like a huge hunk of driftwood that has washed up on the beach.
Inside, with sensational views across the expanse of sand to the grey-green Channel, it’s sleek and understated with polished concrete floors.
There’s masses to do in the area — visiting Arundel Castle, Brighton Pier, Climping and West Wittering beaches — and, for parents of young children, the Flying Fortress near Ford Open Prison.
This soft play area in a disused air hanger is run with prison-like security. I was told off for taking a photo of my daughter on a go-cart and chastised for not watching her vigilantly.
Despite dismal weather, we all enjoyed our stay at Tide’s Reach because we entertained there and it was fun to be together as a family in a swanky, well-stocked, big home.
Of course, the worst thing was the crashing low after the holiday, when we returned home to everyday reality: to our fridge without an ice machine, our non-high definition TV and my dreary cooking.
Has finding this fantastic website beaten my holiday property porn addiction? I’m afraid not. I’m already fantasising about Christmas in Cornwall.
A week’s stay at Tides Reach starts from £1,750 (01637 881 942, www.uniquehomestays.com).