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8 February 2021

Holiday cottage company reviews

We reveal the best and worst UK holiday cottage providers, from National Trust and Forest Holidays to Sykes and Homeaway.
Ben Slater

Demand for UK holiday cottages has gone through the roof as restrictions on overseas travel have seen thousands of us look closer to home for our next holiday.

But don't rush into booking with big name providers like Sykes and Hoseasons. They can't match smaller-scale providers for quality of accommodation, customer service or most other things. That's according to guests. More than 6,000 of you rated your recent holiday cottage rentals and told us the likes of the Landmark Trust and Forest Holidays offered the best experience. 

Crucially, it's essential you book with a provider that offers refunds if your trip can't go ahead because of a local or national lockdown. All of our Which? Recommended Providers have committed to doing just that. 

Contrast that with Sykes and Hoseasons: both were happy to leave thousands of customers out of pocket until Which? reported them to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and it persuaded them to change their ways. 

For more reviews, as well as exclusive investigations and expert advice, subscribe to Which? Travel.

Best and worst holiday cottage companies

Only book a UK cottage holiday after you've checked our table below. We've ranked 19 companies in a range of categories, including the quality of their accommodation, the ease of searching for properties on their website and how well the description of their cottages matches reality.

Cottage company WRP* Price per night Region served Approx. number of properties Quality of accommodation Description vs reality Customer service Ease of searching online Value for money Customer score
Landmark Trust (81)   £47 Nationwidea 200 88%
National Trust (130)
£44 Nationwideb 400 85%
Heart of the Lakes (41)   £40 Lake District 350 79%
Forest Holidays (33)
£56 Nationwidea 660 77%
Independent Cottages (42)   £35 Nationwidea 1,800 76%
Lakelovers (45)   £39 Lake District 570 76%
Rural Retreats   £54 Nationwide 600 76%
English Country Cottages (112)   £38 England 4,600 75%
Suffolk Secrets (48)   £44 Suffolk 800 74%
Airbnb (933)   £36 Nationwide 223,000c 73%
Cornish Cottage Holidays (58)   £32 Cornwall 980 73%
Coast & Country Cottages (57)   £38 Devon 400 71%
Cottages.com (427)   £37 Nationwide 21,000 71%
Booking.com (111)   £40 Nationwide 75,000 70%
Holidaycottages.co.uk (228)   £39 Nationwidea 6,000 70%
Homeaway (209)   £41 Nationwide 87,000 70%
Hoseasons (172)   £40 Nationwide 30,000 70%
Sykes (717)   £36 Nationwide 15,000 69%
Toad Hall Cottages (50)   £38 West Country 900 69%
Using the table: *WRP stands for Which? Recommended Provider; aExcluding Northern Ireland; bExcluding Scotland; cAccording to Statista data. Results based on a June 2020 of survey of 6,537 Which? members and members of the public. Sample sizes for each provider are in brackets. The more stars the better. Indicative price per night Based on average spend per person per night. Description vs reality How well website or brochure description represented reality. Value for money Price in relation to experience. Customer score Combines overall satisfaction and likelihood of recommending to a friend or family member.

Video: the UK's top holiday cottage companies

As you can see from the video and table above, the highest-scoring holiday cottage companies in our survey were Landmark Trust, National Trust, Heart of the Lakes and Forest Holidays.

All provide exceptional UK cottage holidays, yet only National Trust and Forest Holidays have been crowned Which? Recommended Providers.

That's because only they confirmed that you'll get a full refund if either a local or national lockdown prevents you from fulfilling your booking.

National Trust – Which? Recommended Provider

  • Customer score: 85%
  • Average cost: £44 per person per night

Better known for its historic attractions, National Trust also has 400 holiday cottages to rent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Several have literary or television connections, from the Famous Five and Jane Eyre to Poirot and Poldark. But whichever cottage you choose, you'll be supporting a good cause: National Trust is a charity that spends the money it makes from your booking on preserving historical properties for future generations to enjoy.

Better yet, it scored highly in every part of our survey, with customers telling us about the ‘sense of security’ they get from booking with this brand, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be well looked after.

Staff are efficient and helpful, the booking process couldn’t be easier and the quality of information provided is ‘comprehensive’. And if your booking is disrupted due to COVID-19, you’ll get a full refund if you don’t want to reschedule.

Of course, it's the brilliant properties that are the star attraction, with National Trust offering everything from a clifftop fortress in Cornwall to a Welsh clom in Ceredigion. One customer said: ‘We stayed in a house that I had dreamt of stopping in when I visited the Lakes as a young adult. To have my children there with us was magical.’

Which? verdict: For a standout stay in a historical cottage, look no further. The excellence of National Trust's properties is matched only by the quality of its customer service and the flexibility of its COVID-19 refund policy.

Browse National Trust's range of UK holiday cottages.

Forest Holidays – Which? Recommended Provider

  • Customer score: 77%
  • Average cost: £56 per person per night

Forest Holidays provides stunning cabin retreats in 11 of the UK’s most beautiful forests, from Argyll in Scotland, to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Managed by the Forestry Commission until 2006, it is still committed to building sustainable sites that protect and promote the country’s forests and the wildlife within them.

There are dozens of cabins at each of its locations, but they aren’t all packed in next to one another, so they still feel ‘very peaceful’, as one person in our survey put it. You can choose between a range of different size and spec cabins, but all have hot tubs and pet-friendly options. It also has accessible cabins, making it ‘one of the very few self-catering cottage providers that offer reasonably adapted accommodation for wheelchair users.’

Whichever cabin you opt for, it will be ‘first class’, as Forest Holidays earned five stars out of five for the quality of its accommodation. But it’s equally impressive for customer service. One recent customer said: ‘the staff were lovely – when we had a problem with our hot tub they refunded us a whole day as well as fixing the tub’.

Forest Holidays is one of the priciest providers in our survey, but that didn’t stop the vast majority of customers enjoying their stay. And because it will fully refund customers who cannot travel due to local or national lockdowns, paying a little bit more may prove to be worth the extra peace of mind.

Which? verdict: Forest Holidays is a great all-round company but its ‘delightful’ and ‘outstanding’ forest locations are rightly the main attraction.

See Forest Holidays' range of woodland lodges.

Other holiday cottage providers

Landmark Trust – 88%

The Landmark Trust is a charity dedicated to the conservation of unique historic landmarks. By staying in one of its 200 properties, you’re helping to ensure future generations will enjoy its history. Whether it’s an immaculately restored historical cottage or medieval prison, no one else offers a better selection of memorable landmark stays. There’s no TV, radio or wi-fi, but that’s the point – you’re paying to get away from it all. Needless to say, it’s not cheap. But that didn’t stop guests awarding The Landmark Trust five stars for value for money. In fact, it scored full marks in every category in our survey, which is almost unheard of. Sadly, it can’t be a Which? Recommended Provider. While it’s issuing refunds if properties are closed due to lockdown, it’s not doing so for customers who are affected by a local lockdown and can’t travel. 

Which? verdict: For jaw-dropping properties you won’t find anywhere else, book with The Landmark Trust – just do it early, as places can be reserved months in advance.

Search for a Landmark Trust property.

Heart of the Lakes – 79%

From Bowness and Coniston to Ullswater and Windermere, Heart of the Lakes has 350 properties to choose from, all within the Lake District National Park. Visit Heart of the Lakes’ slightly clunky website and you might think about booking elsewhere, but call up and you’ll find friendly staff willing to talk through any options. That’s part of the reason it’s the most highly rated regional cottage holiday provider in the country. The location and size of its cottages are varied enough to suit most budgets. It’s not a WRP because it didn’t confirm refunds would be paid if customers couldn’t travel due to a local lockdown. 

Which? verdict: If you’re heading to the Lakes, look no further.

Take a look at Heart of the Lakes' cottages.

Independent Cottages – 76%

Set up to promote independently owned cottages, the company has more than 1,800 listings across the UK. Best of all, every penny you spend goes directly to the owner. If Airbnb didn’t charge owners commission and didn’t make guests pay a booking fee, it might look like Independent Cottages. You can’t even book through its website: you have to book directly with the owner. The only drawback is that the cottages listed are run by the owner but advertised by Independent Cottages, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that some guests didn’t feel the listing matched reality. The owner also decides the refund policy. 

Which? verdict: One of the cheapest providers in our survey, with all your money going straight to the owner. 

See Independent Cottages' range of UK properties.

Rural Retreats – 76%

Rural Retreats deals exclusively in luxury cottages in countryside locations and has more than 600 properties around the country if you want to splash out. From fully refurbished barns to mansion-sized beach houses, Rural Retreats has lots of statement properties that are ideal for larger groups and big events. The website’s homepage even has a section titled ‘cottages with hot tubs’. Wherever you stay, expect swish touches, such as a welcome hamper or box of goodies. Its average price per night is one of the highest in our survey, but customers still felt what they got in return was worth it – rating it four out of five stars for value for money. 

Which? verdict: The best choice if you’re looking for a luxury stay.

Browse self-catered accommodation on Rural Retreats.

Cottages.com – 69%

The best of the big names, Cottages.com has 21,000 UK properties, which it says are inspected by regional experts. The sheer number can make it hard to find what you’re looking for, especially as you can’t always rely on the online descriptions. And while comments about customer service were generally positive, that didn’t extend to trying to get in touch about bookings cancelled because of COVID-19. But the range and quality of its cottages did impress customers, and it’s a great place to look for a last-minute bargain. 

Which? verdict: If smaller, superior providers don’t have what you’re looking for, or any availability at short notice, Cottages.com is a decent choice.

Search for properties on cottages.com.

Sykes – 69%

Even before the unwanted attention from the CMA’s investigation into its coronavirus refund policy, Sykes was one of the best-known cottage companies in the UK, with 15,000 properties. While plenty of people reported satisfactory recent stays, ‘OK’ and ‘acceptable’ aren’t exactly ringing endorsements, and you don’t have to look far to find negative experiences. Sifting through thousands of cottages on Sykes’ website can be unwieldy and descriptions could be more accurate. Some unhappy customers reported problems with appliances, heating and cleanliness. 

Which? verdict: Sykes says it aims to ‘become the number one provider of UK breaks’. Don’t let it. Book with Independent Cottages instead.

Browse Sykes' range of holiday cottages.

Cottages with hot tubs

Renting a holiday home with a hot tub lets you unwind outside while enjoying the rural surroundings of your cottage or lodge. 

But if you want the very best cottage holiday, you may have to sacrifice the jacuzzi. That's because neither of the top-scoring companies in our survey, Landmark Trust and National Trust, have any properties with hot tubs. Both specialise in preserving historical properties, from water towers to medieval manor houses, so it's really no wonder there isn't a hot tub in sight.

Every other cottage company in our 2020 survey does have some cottages with hot tubs. You may need to book quickly if you want to use a smaller local provider, though, because several, including Heart of the Lakes and Coast and Country Cottages, have fewer than 30 cottages with hot tubs to choose from.

Dog-friendly cottages

UK cottage holidays are made for countryside walks, so it's no surprise that each of the 19 cottage companies in our table above cater to dog-owners. 

Even the smallest provider in our survey, Landmark Trust, has 115 dog-friendly cottages to choose from — more than half of its total number. The likes of Sykes and cottages.com, meanwhile, each have several thousand cottages that are suitable for dogs.

Thankfully, if you're allergic to dogs, many holiday cottage companies also let you filter out dog-friendly properties from your search results, so you can be sure previous guests didn't bring their pet with them.

Holiday cottages and coronavirus

As more coronavirus restrictions continue to be introduced around the country, it's crucial you book a holiday cottage with a flexible cancellation policy. Both our Which? Recommended Providers will refund you if coronavirus restrictions prevent you from travelling. But if you're thinking of booking with another company, read their cancellation terms and conditions carefully.

It's also a good idea to check what cleaning measures the cottage owner or company have introduced to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. To give you more confidence in your stay, practices you should ask about include:

  • Bedding, linen and laundry — Used bedding, linen and towels should be removed from the property altogether before any other cleaning starts. Pillows and mattress protectors should also be laundered between guests. 
  • Disinfectant and PPE — Properties should be cleaned using disinfectants that have been proven to kill COVID-19 (EN14675 or EN14476). Cleaners are being advised to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times when inside the property, and your key should be given to you in a way that makes the spread of germs impossible. 
  • Later check-in, earlier checkout — Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to arrive an hour later and leave an hour earlier. This gives cleaners enough time to follow the additional guidelines, and also maximises the time between previous guests leaving and you arriving.