Our Lisa Bailey went on a whistle stop tour of North Yorkshire for a weekend - just before The Tour de France visits the county.
With the Tour de France Grand Depart just a few months away the spotlight will soon be turning to Yorkshire. Stage one of the race will be Leeds to Harrogate and stage two will be Sheffield to York.
Our first night was staying at the Black Swan at Helmsley - a picturesque market town which is a gateway to the Yorkshire Moors. It has a beautiful square and castle ruins on the outskirts of the town.
The boutique hotel, which is a former coaching inn, is eye catching from the front and the 45 rooms seem to stretch on forever.
We were staying in a king sized double bedroom towards the back of the hotel. The room was luxurious with Molten Brown toiletries.
The Black Swan describes itself as beautifully different and wonderfully unique and it is.
It does ooze olde worlde charm.
Dinner that evening was in The Gallery, which is headed up by Australian born chef Paul Peters. The classic contemporary designed restaurant has been relaunched this year and does get its name because it doubles up as an art gallery showcasing original artwork from the Helmsley Galleries.
The staff were friendly and accommodating in the restaurant, which has been awarded 3 AA rosettes. It offers a 10-course menu The Gallery Signature Menu, a six-course Tasting Menu, the Daily Dinner Menu and the Market Menu.
We chose the Daily Dinner Menu. For a starter, I had scallops, Neil had mackerel and Daniel had leek and potato soup. I then had Waterford Farm lamb - braised cheek and cutlet, chervil root, broad beans, wild garlic and grain mustard.
Neil had Waterford Farm beef with tarragon gnocchi, red wine and onions. Daniel had Helmsley sausages with mashed potato.
All the meals were beautifully presented and tasted magnificent. The Gallery uses locally sourced produce. Staff were attentive, but not overpowering.
The clientele was a good mix of locals and those out for a special occasion.
The Black Swan offers interesting and unusual breaks - 'Hungry for More' a one or two-night gourmet short break, which starts with Champagne and strawberries in your room; Laurent Perrier Champagne Dinner on Friday, May 9 and its canine-themed Its a Dogs Life. The unique package for a couple and dog/s includes afternoon tea, a doggy portrait, dinner and overnight stay.
It also has an award-winning tearoom.
Ryedale Folk Museum
They say looks can be deceptive and front the front this looks very unassuming. But, once in there it is a hidden gem on a six-acre site. You can see why it won Small Visitor Attraction in last year's White Rose Awards and celebrates its 50th birthday this year.
On Saturday and Sunday, August 9 and 10, the museum is celebrating 50 years by going back to 1964 with a sixties and scarecrows theme.
From old machinery to an Iron Age roundhouse there are such varied attractions. There's also an old village shop, shop chemist and saddlery - the list is endless. Maud the pig captured Daniel’s imagination for a good while. He even dressed up in a uniform in the photographic studio - do you remember the days of dark rooms?
I would never have ventured to the museum until it was recommended and it would have been a shame to have missed out on such a wonderful experience. At £22.50 for a family of two adults and two children the attraction is not badly priced.
Talbot Hotel, Malton
We later went for afternoon tea at The Talbot Hotel in Malton (talbotmalton.co.uk) an elegant hotel which has belonged to the same family since 1739. Recently restored, the hotel features the James Martin-run restaurant. For afternoon tea, we opted to sit in the lounge area and as the temperatures had plummeted the log fire was lit for us.
Afternoon tea was a selection of sandwiches, scone with clotted cream and other cakes. The setting was wonderful, the service was good, but I did not think the afternoon tea had the wow factor I was expecting at £19.50.
Next stop was the National Trust property Nunnington Hall, which was a beautiful manor house with picturesque gardens. It was intriguing to wander around the house and the staff took the time to tell you many tales from the house. They also gave Daniel a glimpse of what life would have been like for a youngster of his age. In its top floor gallery there was a simply stunning exhibition of British wildlife photography awards.
We ventured out in the garden where there were peacocks and Daniel took a ribbon to put on the tree and make a wish. He was told that if it dropped off his wish would come true! (Nationaltrust.org.uk/nunnington-hall)
Time was now getting on, so we made our way to the White Swan, Pickering.
White Swan, Pickering
This is where we were to spend our second night. We were staying in one of the White Swan's Hideaway Rooms - there are nine and 11 rooms in the main hotel.
On our way to our room we were shown The Bothy, which was a separate lounge area for guests. Manager Catherine Feather said that guests also hired out The Bothy for the evening for small parties with a small bar area and furniture could be pushed back to make a small dance floor. It was a lovely room to sit and relax.
The hotel is quirky with penguin book wallpaper behind reception and wine labels on the ceiling of the restaurant. There were also some unusual entries in the guest details in our contemporary room. "Anyone seen wearing a shell suit etc. will be pushed near an open fire." Thankfully we don't possess one!
The interior design of the hotel and the Hideaway Rooms has been masterminded by Marion Buchanan, who owns the hotel with her husband Victor. The hotel has been part of the Buchanan family for 30 years and was taken over by the couple 17 years ago.
We wandered into the restaurant for our evening meal. There is also a private dining room for bigger parties.
The atmosphere was very relaxed and we were immediately put at our ease by Catherine.
Daniel and I shared Moules Marinere as a starter. For my main, I had sirloin steak from the 'charcoal grill' with mustard sauce. Neil went for stone bass with basil pesto.
Daniel chose pasta with slow roasted tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.
For dessert, Neil had sticky toffee pudding and again Daniel and I shared pavlova.
Meat for the hotel and restaurant is from Ginger Pig Meat, which is farmed locally in Lewisham, Newton and Wykeham.
After a lovely relaxing and fitful sleep, we had breakfast and this certainly was worth singing from the rooftops about. For a change, I went for Eggs Benedict. The ham was delicious and the best I have tasted in a good few years. The only thing I was disappointed about was that I never managed to finish it.
Neil had smoked Whitby haddock with free range poached egg, which he also said was the best he had tasted.
While we were marvelling at our breakfast, our seven-year-old had quietly polished off cereal and a sausage sandwich. Again the staff were great.
The homely feel was exceptional and you did feel as if you were part of an extended family. We later found out that the White Swan's chef Darren Clemmit had worked there for 26 years - he had worked his way through the ranks and had started out washing up at the hotel.
The restaurant was accredited with AA rosettes in 1997.
The hotel has plans for its own allotments - at the moment a member of staff grows vegetables and takes it into the hotel.
It's motto is 'nothing is too much trouble' and you can see every member of staff strives to fulfil that.
The White Swan caters for you whether you are a family, looking for a romantic break, a cyclist or dog owner – the list is endless.
Pickering is a buzzing market town. With plenty to do with a castle, train station and thriving Market Place. In autumn, Pickering hosts a wartime and 1940s weekend with parades and visitors dressed in period costume.
On the way home, we popped into Castle Howard - a 10,000-acre estate. The 18th century stately home is grandiose. We spent a good hour on the adventure playground and it is also close to the boathouse.
As we walked by the daffodils, a hail storm broke out and we managed to get to the house - Brideshead Revisited was filmed twice at the home.
If we had had more time we probably would have gone on one of the woodland discovery trails.
North Yorkshire is an ideal weekend break. It was voted Europe's Leading Destination 2013 in the World Travel Awards and third best holiday destination in the world according to Lonely Planet's 2014 Best in Travel list.
The race is on its way, but the only rush is to make sure you put North Yorkshire on your 'to do' list.
- For details about the places where Lisa Bailey stayed with her family see www.yorkshire.com
- Packages for three-course dinner from the Daily Dinner Menu, bed & breakfast at the Black Swan (blackswan-helmsley.co.uk) in Helmsley start at £198 for a double room per night.
- Packages for dinner, bed & breakfast at the White Swan (white-swan.co.uk) in Pickering start at £209 for a double room per night