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22 September 2021

Holiday cottage company reviews

We reveal the best and worst UK holiday cottage providers, from Rural Retreats and National Trust to Sykes and Hoseasons.
Ben Slater
Generic-holiday-cottage

Demand for UK holiday cottages and accommodation is high as 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. Most can't match smaller-scale providers for quality of the cottage or accommodation, customer service or most other things. That's according to recent guests. More than 2,400 of you rated your recent holiday cottage rentals and told us the likes of the Rural Retreats and The Landmark Trust offered the best experience. 

Crucially, it's essential you book with a provider that offers refunds if your UK holiday can't go ahead because of Covid-19, whether that's national or local lockdowns, rules on household mixing or the NHS test and trace app telling you to self-isolate. We've studied the refund policies of all holiday cottage providers in our survey. Each of our three Which? Recommended Providers have committed to refunding in all those scenarios.

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)

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 15 companies in a range of categories, including the quality and cleanliness of their accommodation, customer service and how well the description of their cottages matches reality.

Cottage company
WRP*
Price per night
Region served
Approx. number of cottages
Quality of cottages
Cleanliness of cottages
Description vs reality
Customer service
Value for money
Customer score
Rural Retreats (34)
Y
£55
Nationwide
600
91%
The Landmark Trust (42)
 
£53
Nationwidea
200
89%
National Trust (91)
Y
£45
Nationwideb
500
87%
Classic Cottages (38)
Y
£42
South and West
1,130
85%
English Country Cottages (43)
 
£49
England
2,700
83%
Holidaycottages.co.uk (124)
 
£43
Nationwidea
7,100
80%
Airbnb (405)
 
£39
Nationwide
223,000c
79%
Suffolk Secrets (31)
 
 - 
Suffolk
800
 -
79%
Booking.com (119)
 
£40
Nationwide
2,500
78%
Norfolk Cottages (31)
 
£37
Norfolk
550
 -
77%
Vrbo (62)
 
£40
Nationwide
77,700
77%
Original Cottages (31)

£41
England & Wales
5,700
 -
 -
 -
 -
75%
Cottages.com
 
£38
Nationwidea
19,000
74%
Hoseasons (81)
 
£42
Nationwidea
17,700
71%
Sykes (377)
 
£39
Nationwide
16,300
70%
Using the table: *WRP stands for Which? Recommended Provider; aExcluding Northern Ireland; bExcluding Scotland; cAccording to Statista data. Results based on a March/April 2021 of survey of 2,412 Which? members. Sample sizes for each provider are in brackets. The more stars the better. 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. Refund satisfaction Based on a separate Which? survey assessing how satisfied holiday cottage customers were with the outcome of a recently cancelled booking Customer score Combines overall satisfaction and likelihood of recommending to a friend or family member.

The UK's top holiday cottage companies

As you can see from the table above, the highest-scoring holiday cottage companies in our survey were Rural Retreats, The Landmark Trust, National Trust and Classic Cottages.

All provide exceptional UK cottage holidays, yet only three of the four also meet our Covid-19 refund requirements. Rural Retreats, National Trust and Classic Cottages will fully refund you if you're booking can't go ahead due to coronavirus. 

The Landmark Trust misses out, however, because while it will refund you if your cottage cannot open due to Covid-19, it will only let you defer if household mixing rules, catching Covid-19 or a local lockdown where you live prevent you from fulfilling your booking.

Rural Retreats review – Which? Recommended Provider

  • Customer score: 91%
  • Average cost: £55 per person per night

Specialising in luxurious holiday, Rural Retreats has around 600 high-end properties nationwide, from grand manor houses and stylish converted barns to homely farmhouses and cosy shepherd’s huts. 

While it's the most expensive provider in our survey, on average, it’s money well spent. Despite being pricier than the likes of Sykes and Cottages.com, members rated Rural Retreats higher than either for value for money. One customer said their cottage ‘turned out to be even more spectacular than the photographs’, while several others loved the complimentary welcome hamper of fresh bread, eggs, milk and the like, which means ‘you don’t have to worry about finding a supermarket after a long drive’.

It rated highly last year, but has since upped its game and improved its refund policy to make it an even better bet this year. As well as refunding for any Covid-related reason, it no longer charges a £42 amendment fee to make bookings more flexible.

Which? verdict: The best cottage provider isn’t cheap, but that extra money means you know you’ll either get a fantastic holiday or a full refund if it can’t go ahead due to the pandemic.

Find your next Rural Retreats holiday cottage.

National Trust review – Which? Recommended Provider

  • Customer score: 87%
  • Average cost: £45 per person per night

For more than 70 years, the National Trust has protected hundreds of the UK’s historic buildings, whether it’s a 12th-century Norman Hall in the Cotswolds to a 1930’s Art Deco villa in Dorset. As a charity, the money it makes from renting the properties enables the National Trust to restore 10 additional buildings each year.

Like The Landmark Trust, the National Trust has wonderful, historic stays. But it has a much wider range of properties, more than twice the number of The Landmark Trust, and is also much cheaper. It works out more than £50 per person per week cheaper, on average, than its rival. The refund policy is better, too. Almost nine in 10 National Trust customers were satisfied with the outcome of their cancelled booking during the pandemic – more than any other provider in our survey. When combined with the fact that 97% of the customers who were able to take their holiday were satisfied with their recent stay, National Trust becomes hard to beat.

Which? verdict: For a historic holiday home with a modern-day refund policy, look no further.

Browse National Trust holiday cottages.

Classic Cottages review – Which? Recommended Provider

  • Customer score: 85%
  • Average cost: £42 per person per night

From Kent and Sussex to Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, Classic Cottages has around 1,100 holiday homes to rent in the South and West of the UK. Not only is it the best regional provider in our survey, it's also the cheapest Which? Recommended Provider, on average, so it's a good place to look for a deal, safe in the knowledge that you'll be refunded if Covid-19 disrupts your booking.

As well as offering good value for money, Classic Cottages stands out for the accuracy of its cottage descriptions, the quality of its website and its 'top notch' customer service. One recent customer said staff are 'particularly friendly and helpful people, who go out of their way to answer questions carefully and make the experience as pleasant as possible', while another said they would never think of booking with anyone else.

Which? verdict: Make Classic Cottages your first port of call for a reasonably priced holiday home in the South and West of the UK.

See Classic Cottages' range of holiday homes.

Other holiday cottage providers

The Landmark Trust review – 89%

The Landmark Trust is a charity that offers you the chance to experience history on your next holiday. None of its 200 properties – which include Britain’s only surviving semaphore tower and a Tudor hospital – have TV or wi-fi to enhance the feeling of stepping back in time.

What you see on the website is what you get, namely a beautiful, lovingly restored holiday property that’s unique and spotlessly clean. Many customers told us that they return to The Landmark Trust year after year, with staff always helpful and willing to go the extra mile. 

The same can’t always be said for it’s handling of refunds, however. A fair number of customers weren’t satisfied with the way their cancelled booking was dealt with, perhaps because The Landmark Trust won’t refund you if household mixing rules, catching Covid-19 or a local lockdown where you live prevent you travelling, although it will if national or local restrictions prevent the cottage from opening.

Which? verdict: ‘For the same money or less you could go and lie on a beach somewhere hot’, said one customer. But if you’ve decided not to venture abroad this year, you could do worse than treating yourself to a memorable Landmark stay – provided you’re happy to defer rather than get a refund.

Search for a Landmark Trust holiday cottage.

Holidaycottages.co.uk review – 80%

Holidaycottages.co.uk is now one of the largest providers in the UK, offering a choice of more than 7,000 cottages in England, Wales and Scotland — and it's the best of the big providers by a distance. While finding and booking cottages on its website could be easier, holidaycottages.co.uk provides better-quality cottages, better descriptions and information, and superior customer service than big-name rivals. 

One happy customer said: ‘We wanted a cosy warm cottage with good views and easy access to walks, and it was just right’. ‘Lovely’, ‘well equipped’ and ‘superbly comfortable’ were among the compliments of other recent customers, with only one in 50 dissenting voices saying they were dissatisfied with their stay. And its refund satisfaction score of 81% is second only to the National Trust (88%).

Which? verdict: Provides better cottages and has a better refund record than its major nationwide rivals, so it’s your best bet if our Which? Recommended Providers don’t have what you’re after.

Browse self-catered accommodation on holidaycottages.co.uk.

Sykes review – 70%

Sykes is among the cheapest and biggest UK cottage providers, claiming to take a million customers on holiday every year. It was also one of the companies to refuse refunds last year until the government intervened. So perhaps not surprisingly, less than half of customers whose holidays were cancelled due to Covid-19 were satisfied with how the situation was resolved – less than any other brand. 

Meanwhile, of those who did stay in a cottage, one in 10 were dissatisfied with the experience – more than any other brand. Some of Sykes’ 16,300 holiday homes are excellent, but it seems there are more than a few bad apples. One recent customer’s cottage was invaded by flies, another described their experience with an ‘aggressive owner’ and said their accommodation was ‘not fit for purpose’, while a third said ‘the Sykes website was inaccurate in about five respects’.

Which? verdict: Not recommended when there are so many other superior cottage companies.

Search for Sykes holiday cottages.

Which cottage companies own which brands?

While there are dozens of cottage brands to choose from, many are owned by just a handful of larger companies. That's one reason why you’ll often see the same property available with similar, if not identical, booking conditions on several different sites.  It's worth being aware of, especially if you've had a negative experience with a brand and now want to avoid all association with that company.

Three of the biggest groups of cottage companies in the UK are Awaze, Sykes Holiday Cottages and The Travel Chapter:

  • Awaze owns the following brands: Blue Chip Holidays; Chez Nous; Cottages.com; Cumbrian Cottages; Dartmouth Holiday Homes; Derbyshire Cottages; English Country Cottages; French Country Cottages; Hoseasons; Italian Country Cottages; Landal; Mulberry Cottages; Northumbrian Cottages; Salcombe Holiday Homes; Scottish Cottages;  Scottish Country Cottages; Stiwell's/Cottages Direct; The Arran Team; Wales Cottages; Welcome Cottages; Yorkshire Cottages.
  • Sykes Holiday Cottages owns the following brands: Bachcare; Carbis Bay; Character Cottages; Coast & Country Cottages; Coast & Country Holidays; Cornish Cottage Holidays; Dream Cottages; Heart of the Lakes; Helpful Holidays; Hideaways; Hogan's Irish Cottages; John Bray Cornish Holidays; Lakes Cottage Holidays; Lake District Lodge Holidays; Manor Cottages; Menai Holidays; Sykes; Yorkshire Coastal Cottages.
  • The Travel Chapter owns the following brands: Big Domain; Bramley & Teal Holiday Cottages; Brecon Beacons Holiday Cottages; Brixham Cottages; Canine Cottages; Cottages & Castles; Cottages in Northumberland; Cottages in Seahouses; Dorset Coastal Cottages; Eastbourne Holiday Cottages; Farm Holidays; FBM Holidays; Gorgeous Cottages; Hide & Sleep; Holidaycottages.co.uk; Harrogate Holidays; Holidays in the Cotswolds; Island Cottage Holidays; Kett Country Cottages; Lakeland Hideaways; Little Domain; New Forest Living; Peak Cottages; Polruan & Fowey Cottages Cornwall; Sheepskin; Stayin; Stayin Cornwall; Stayin Devon; Sugar & Loaf; The Lakeland Cottage Company; The Norfolk Cottage Company; The Whitstable Cottage Company.

Cottages with hot tubs

Two seater hot tub 488136

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 to stay in the very best holiday cottages, you may have to sacrifice the jacuzzi. That's because two of the top-scoring three companies in our survey, Landmark Trust and National Trust, don't 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 2021 survey does have some cottages with hot tubs. You may need to book quickly if you want to use a smaller local provider, though.

Dog-friendly cottages

UK cottage holidays are made for countryside walks, so it's no surprise that each of the 15 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 cottage refunds and coronavirus

No matter how far in advance you're booking a holiday cottage, you need to consider the possibility Covid-19 might disrupt your booking. A new variant might emerge, for example, or you might catch Covid-19 and have to self-isolate.

While all our Which? Recommended Providers will refund you if coronavirus prevents you from fulfilling your booking, the same can't be said for every cottage provider. If you're thinking of booking with another company, read their cancellation terms and conditions carefully. Companies are approaching refunds for cancelled bookings in many different ways, as reflected by the wide range of refund satisfaction scores in the table below.

Cottage company
Refund satisfaction
National Trust
88%
Holidaycottages.co.uk
81%
Airbnb
79%
Booking.com
74%
The Landmark Trust
73%
Hoseasons
71%
Cottages.com
67%
Vrbo
62%
Sykes
52%
Refund satisfaction scores based on a separate 2021 survey of 6,076 Which? members and members of the public who had a holiday cottage booking that couldn't go ahead due to government laws or restrictions on Covid-19. the refund satisfaction score indicates how satisfied holiday cottage customers were with the outcome of their cancelled booking.

As well as carefully considering the terms and conditions of any cottage company you're thinking of booking with, 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.