Actress Helena Bonham Carter and family try out British country-house hotel life near London—babysitters waiting in the wings


When Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, director Tim Burton, decided to go away for a weekend, my husband and I came along. Helena and I have been friends since we were schoolgirls, and our children—her son and my two daughters—are toddlers together. Our plan was to try the Four Seasons in Hampshire, an hour from London, which bills itself as being perfect for families.

The moment we pulled up to the Georgian manor, valets in smart green uniforms rushed to greet us. We were whisked to our suites—dark-wood furniture and plasma-screen TV's—where we found the kids' names spelled out in chocolate letters. Although the 500-acre estate has a long history, only a small section of the hotel is actually original, with modern wings added on. Helena, who will next appear in Paul Weiland's film Sixty Six, found this newness "a tad disappointing," but there were no complaints when a babysitter took charge of the kids, allowing the grown-ups to escape to the spa.

We all shared a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, had tea in the walled garden, and went on a canal cruise (with a butler serving champagne and the theme song from Titanic piped in). Over the top?Yes, but very British. "The only thing missing," said Tim, the sole American in our group, "is Smythson stationery." Pity, or we might have seen his jottings for his next project.

Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire Dogmersfield Park, Chalky Lane; 800/332-3442 or 44-1252/853-000;; doubles from $485, including breakfast for two adults and one child.