The phrase ‘hen do’ has always conjured up images of all-female parties in a whirlwind of pink. But pre-wedding get-togethers with friends are now, thankfully, so far away from that preconceived picture. Many of us are getting married older and therefore it’s harder and harder to carve out space for just you and your friends (and of course totally impossible during a pandemic).

So what most of us really want is time. Time away with a close-knit group to talk until sunrise: to eat, to drink, to laugh and to share memories – to truly connect in a more understated way before moving onto a new chapter. These are the smart houses and beautiful spaces where all of the above is possible. Plus, they’re not silly expensive either, so gather your crew and enjoy.


    • THE LOST MUSIC HALL, DEVONIf you thought houses with pools didn’t come cheap then think again: this intriguing Italianate property hidden in the Devon hills has a sizable (heated) outdoor pool in summer and if you’re lucky enough to get crisp blue skies and sunshine, drinks on the terracotta terrace could easily be imagined in a rustic part of Italy – Puglia perhaps. Riverford Field Kitchen, an award-winning organic restaurant, is close by. Bookings for supper need to be made far in advance and its cooking classes make for a fun afternoon.Sleeps: 12
      Price: From about £130 per person for a short break
    • SHEEPSCOMBE HOUSE, GLOUCESTERSHIRENot really a destination for a raucous rave but with more of an ‘everybody bring cake and bed at midnight vibe’, Sheepscombe is a fine example of an elegant country house. Minimum stays here are five nights, so this is one to take over for a longer break. Very close to the Cotswold village of Painswick, where boutique hotel The Painswick is a great option for supper, the home has just changed hands and the new owners have given it more than a lick of paint so it’s boxfresh for a new season. There’s also a knockout heated outdoor pool and a wood-burning pizza oven.Sleeps: 10
      Price: From about £250 per person for a three-night weekend
    • LITTLE COTTAGE, PRAA SANDS, CORNWALLThis is the Cornish holiday home of Soho House architect Alex Michaelis, so there is nothing ‘little’ or indeed ‘cottage-y’ about this stunning whitewashed contemporary house. Sleeping 10 in four bedrooms all with yawning glass windows, it has main sliding doors that open out onto a large garden with hot tub and giant hammocks. And Praa Sands beach is a few steps below, the sand almost as dazzling as the exterior of the house. Activities-wise there are private surfing lessons down the coast at Dan Joel Surf School, plus the world-famous Minack open-air theatre.Sleeps: 10
      Price: From about £130 per person for a three-night stay
    • LARY, ABERDEENSHIREUnlike many other Scottish Highland lodges (often buried deep in difficult-to-get-to mountains), Lary is easy to access from the nearest town of Ballater, just four miles away, so directing 20 guests there shouldn’t be too tricky. Once here, it’s easy to get lost in its charm – a fresh Scandi-chic refurb has cleverly jazzed up both houses but kept the traditional feel too (you can still expect antlers on the walls). There’s also a brilliant sheltered courtyard with an enormous oak table that’s glorious for late-summer evenings.Sleeps: 20
      Price: From about £130 per person for a two-night stay
    • HENRY’S TOWNHOUSE, LONDONThere aren’t many Mayfair townhouses that are designed especially for a party, but this seven-bedroom building, which opened last year, was masterminded to be exactly that. The former home of Jane Austen’s brother Henry, it’s visually extravagant but extremely tasteful (glittering chandeliers next to powder-blue palettes). Housekeeper Ann will arrange cocktails in Jane’s sitting room then head downstairs to the eat-in pantry with Aga – it’s a space where debaucherous dinner parties are actively encouraged.Sleeps: 14
      Price: From about £350 per person per night (including breakfast, in-room treats, evening aperitif and afternoon tea and cakes)
      Website: former home of Jane Austen’s brother is now a smart London hotelThe former home of Jane Austen’s brother is now a smart London hotelPLACES TO STAYThe former home of Jane Austen’s brother is now a smart London hotelRAY MAIN
    • SPARKFORD HALL, SOMERSETThis handsome Grade II-listed Georgian mansion is perfect for hosting raise-the-roof parties. It’s a popular wedding venue, but it’s also booked for tons of events and gatherings where pretty much anything goes. There’s even an underground club that can be styled to any theme with production and lighting taken care of by a local company. The surrounding grounds are peaceful with a handful of animals to hang out with (llama, ducks, ponies), and the artsy towns of Frome and Bruton are nearby.Sleeps: 28
      Price: From about £250 per person per night
    • LULWORTH HOUSE, DORSETSnuggled into the coastline among the jagged cliffs of Lulworth cove is this extraordinarily large and lavish (and therefore quite pricey) thatched-roof house, the sort that you would expect A-listers to purchase on a whim for an annual seaside break. There’s a cinema room, games room, library, cocktail bar and, set beneath the main house, a saline pool with doors that open out onto the sunken lawn. Things to do nearby are of the hearty (hiking, pubs) or charming (tearooms, pretty villages) variety.Sleeps: 20
      Price: From about £385 per person for three nights
    • THE DOWER HOUSE, KNOWLTON COURT, KENTThe Dower House is tucked away on the vast Knowlton estate, a working farm owned by equestrian family the Fox-Pitts. The main building is often booked for weddings and this smaller Tudor manor usually reserved for wedding guests or for separate weekend-long house parties. The interior is simple and traditional, but it’s the space for large groups and value for money that make this a savvy choice.Sleeps: 20
      Price: From about £175 per person for a three-night weekend
    • THE HARPY HOUSEBOAT, LONDONRight next to Tower Bridge, this unique historical boat, which once served as a floating customs house, was bought by the current owner Andrew Wadsworth in the 1980s and has cheerfully been hosting groups for decades since. The four cabins are all at water level so there are views across the river wherever you look, and everything from the polished Twenties oak furniture to the tribal fabrics has a gleaming, retro yacht feel to it. Have cocktails on deck then the whole of the City is at your fingertips for a night out.Sleeps: 10
      Price: From about £300 per person for a three-night weekend
    • KNOTTING HILL BARN HOUSE, LEICESTERSHIREOne of the largest cabin rentals in the UK (it sleeps eight in supreme comfort), this place isn’t just big enough for a small gaggle of your best pals, it’s smart enough to be on a par with a cool boutique hotel. It’s still off-grid though and set in a bluebell-strewn woodland with canoes at the front door for paddling on the lake, so it has that distinct outdoorsy feel to it. There’s also space for four extra guests to camp on the land next to it for £20 each.Sleeps: Eight in the cabin, plus four camping
      Price: From about £225 per person for a three-night weekend
      Website: knottinghillbarnhouse.comMORE PLACES WE LIKE THE LOOK OFWhile we have not stayed in every property featured, we have done the hard work for you. We have carefully selected these as recommendations based on their location, design and previous guest reviews at the time of our research. All listings on Condé Nast Traveller are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
    • NANTSEREN, CARMARTHENSHIRE, WALESA brand-new glamping site so tastefully done that even the most reluctant camper couldn’t fail to fall for it, especially when you take into account the rainfall shower and heated towels in the main barn, plus the delightful mini spa. Spot wild ponies on the mountains, watch red kites soar above, dodge hares among the tent poles and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way at night (this camp is located in a Dark Sky Reserve). Take over the whole four-tent site and the team can arrange anything from foraging and foodie adventures to wellness experiences such as yoga and meditation.Sleeps: 16
      Price: From £850 for two nights
    • NATIVE, MANCHESTERSkip the Airbnb scrolling fatigue and book a handful of these chic yet cheap apartments. Fully self-contained, each one has an NYC loft vibe – perhaps because the building is a renovated warehouse – with exposed brickwork and parquet flooring, stylish Conran Shop sofas and a generous kitchen. Located on Ducie Street, it’s close to tons of cafés and cool restaurants, but tram stops elsewhere are less than a five-minute walk away. The warehouse itself does a great brunch menu with excellent cured-bacon sourdough sandwiches.Sleeps: two to four
      Price: From about £80 per night
    • THE GATHERING CAMP, ASH FARM, DORSETPerfect for a small collection of hardy friends, this teeny but exquisite camp has a central living space in the form of a huge tin hut, with dark-blue windows and wide doors that open onto the main fire-pit. It’s ideal for late-evening games, reveal-all chats and toasting marshmallows over flames. There are bunk beds tucked into one corner, plus two other sleeping huts with double beds, a bathroom in a former horsebox (the back opens to reveal a snug tub) and a fancy composting loo.Sleeps: six
      Price: From about £230 per person (four nights minimum)
    • OLD HALL BARN, DARNSHAM, SUFFOLKNear the coastal towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold, where the fish and chips are sensational and Adnams brewery does fabulous make-your-own-gin classes, is this vast barn conversion sleeping 14. There’s a garden spanning one acre, two side-by-side hot tubs with uplighters for the evening and a sauna, meaning the potential for outdoor fun is huge. But the inside is also large enough that a rainy day won’t affect the mood. The nearest pub, the White Horse Inn, is a two-mile stomp away but perfect for a light lunch and a pint.Sleeps: 14
      Price: From about £135 per person per night (two nights minimum)
    • DINHAM WEIR HOUSE, SHROPSHIREThis building at the foot of Ludlow Castle was once a Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms, called Mr Underhill’s, and new owners Ed Godrich and Rupert and Jude Hunt felt it was important that the house could still be shared and enjoyed by the public. So, with an expert eye (they own London-based interiors firm Godrich) they revamped it for big rentals. The former stainless-steel chef’s kitchen has been retained, though, and is a lovely nod to its past. The Green Café next door provides breakfast – the American pancakes with Shropshire honey are glorious.Sleeps: 14
      Price: From about £175 per person for three nights