You did it. You made it through Lockdown 3.0: This Time With Endless Rain. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last month dreaming of a proper getaway – that is, literally anywhere other than your own sofa, listening to your partner’s favourite cricket podcast and the sound of next door arguing, again.
Speaking of neighbours… let’s just say wide open spaces dotted with wild ponies, pigs and donkeys are sounding pretty good right now. Just before Boris called time on, well, life, we spent a few days on the ground in the New Forest, Hampshire, checking out the best places to get amongst neigh-ture (sorry) and absolutely-not-look-at-the-news.
And now we’ve got the green light, here are the hotels poised to schedule you in for some frolicing with the foals and fillies. Remember frolicing? Remember… fun?
Best For Families: New Park Manor
Short of catching sight of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, New Park Manor might deliver the most magical view to share with kids. Around midnight (red wine stupor somehow disturbed) we awoke to a curious noise. Feeling the way to our balcony overlooking rolling green grounds, we delighted in watching a family of deer and three wild horses play together, yards from the usually busy patio beneath.
Short of catching sight of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, New Park Manor might deliver the most magical view to share with kids...
In the very heart of the National Park, New Park Manor combines contemporary touches (modern bedroom furnishings, indoor and outdoor pools, plus a spa with Elemis treatments) with fantastic, family-friendly facilities.
Expect an impressive creche, a dedicated ‘snug zone’, a cinema room, morning and evening milk deliveries, and comprehensive children’s menus. Indeed, our hearts melted when we spotted some six year-olds enjoying a socially distant, Beatrix Potter-themed afternoon tea – complete with edible soil-filled chocolate flower pots.
A little more on the food – The Stag offers a sophisticated dinner option, so take advantage of the hotel’s listening service and treat yourselves – just you two. Omnivores will appreciate the selection of meats fired on the grill, while vegans can try a kale and hemp cheeseburger, roasted beetroot risotto or Thai curry with pickled limes. Don’t miss the magnificent Sunday roasts, served every week 12-2pm.
For more family-friendly hotels, here are some of our favourites.
Best For Activities (Got A Hound? Even Better): The Master Builder’s
The Master Builder’s promises a super warm welcome. The hotel was built in c.1729, its gorgeous original rooms once hosting Henry Adams (he’s the bloke who built ships for Nelson’s Navy, including three used at Trafalgar). Everywhere you look, there are historic features and naval artefacts – think interesting nods to the past, without stuffiness.
Everywhere you look, there are historic features and naval artefacts...
Rooms offer views of the pretty Beaulieu River or Bucklers Hard village, where an abundance of relaxing walks await (your dog will love them… and the doggie room service menu). Follow signs to Beaulieu and you’ll end up at a hopelessly cute line of shops. Check out Fairweather’s garden centre for unusual decorative bits, The Old Bake House Tea Rooms and Beaulieu Chocolate Studio (they’re doing three bars for £10 right now – you’re welcome). The beautiful town of Lymington isn’t far away, as well as leafy Exbury Gardens and Longdown Farm.
Active types will love archery and kayaking at New Forest Activity Centre, a lovely hour’s walk (or five minute drive!) from the hotel. You can rent bikes from here, and organise a plethora of group activities for kids and teens, too.
We gorged on pressed pork, sage and onion terrain...
All that movement calls for a sumptuous dinner at the AA Rosette-awarded Riverview Restaurant (no prizes for guessing the setting). We gorged on pressed pork terrine, followed by pan-roasted bream and a doorstop slice of warm pear and ginger cake.
Best For Shopping: The Pilgrim Inn
Hoping to welcome guests ASAP, this quaint, thatched pub with rooms offers boutique bedrooms (think four poster beds and antique wooden furniture) plus seriously good grub.
You’d never guess you’re just fifteen minutes from Southampton West Quay Shopping Centre
Ever booked a trip to ‘get away from it all’, then upon arrival, realised you love and miss ‘it all’ very much? This one’s for you. Located in sleepy Marchwood, on the very edge of the stunning New Forest National Park, you’d never guess you’re just fifteen minutes from Southampton West Quay Shopping Centre.
So after a lovely day (ok, an hour) reconnecting with nature, you can reconnect with Pret, Starbucks and the Odeon. Upload a snap of a Shetland pony to Insta, then hop in a taxi… it’ll be our little secret.
When you return weary (arms full of bags… boots suspiciously mud-free), super charming General Manager Colum is on hand to guide you through the menu. The 28-day dry-aged Hampshire sirloin steak and chips is a great choice, followed by the warm chocolate brownie. Next day, a hearty breakfast of avocado and eggs on toast awaits, and what fun – there’s something deliciously novel about propping up the bar at 9am.
Best For People Who Don’t Like Nature At All, Quite Frankly: Southampton Harbour Hotel
I’ll level with you – this one’s not technically in the New Forest, and it’s really not in nature. Just fifteen minutes’ drive from horse whisperer’s paradise sits the glittering Southampton Harbour Hotel, overlooking one of the country’s busiest ports. Surrounded not by donkeys but flashy cars (and even flashier yachts), this super cosmopolitan 5-star retreat offers state-of-the-art everything (and it’s walking distance from the aforementioned shopping mecca).
Bedrooms are stocked with White Company toiletries, plus a lot of free gin and whiskey. Deep baths and huge, heavenly beds (400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, hello!) beckon you to unwind, but not before sampling the spa, complete with a hydrotherapy pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam and (small) swimming pool. We did an hour’s HIT class in the state-of-the-art gym (joy! No more squatting with plant pots!) followed by a session in the mud rasul.
Two destination restaurants in their own right, HarBAR on the 6th floor and The Jetty create much-missed atmosphere and buzz (while sticking to safety guidelines, natch). Locally-caught seafood and eclectic wines are the focus, making use of seasonal New Forest ingredients – so really, it is just like you’re outside… *slurps third G&T in bathrobe*
Just My Absolute Favourite: Lime Wood
I love super swanky spa hotel Lime Wood so much, I wrote a separate article on it. Angela Hartnett takes care of the food (Italian, candlelit, divine), an abundance of adorable wild animals take care of the scenery – and you take care of yourself. From private pavilions to forest lodges and cabins, the lodgings are uber luxurious. Perfect for curling up with a book and a glass of wine after a couple of hours’ rambling (to the lovely staff, about how you’re thinking of moving to the New Forest). Read my Lime Wood review here.