The Handbook
The Handbook

It was 3pm on a Saturday and I’d just ruined my new boots. Having endured SWR’s strike and suffered a delayed train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst, I then had to masterfully deal with a whining taxi driver who demanded I reimburse him for rides he’d missed while waiting, oh and I’d forgotten my straighteners in a bag on the platform and most probably sparked a countryside lockdown. And now, with my snakeskin heels two inches deep in horse poo, here I was in the village of Beaulieu, Brockenhurst. It was fair to say I wasn’t in the chirpiest of moods as I stormed into the reception of The Montagu Arms. And yet, within moments, I was bewitched.

The name calls to mind a village inn, above which Leaky Cauldron-type rooms nestle. The actual venue is both grand and picturesque, perched just off the quaint Beaulieu high street and garlanded in fairy lights. Although an inn stands to one side to fulfil that village fantasy, the main hotel’s hallway is high-ceilinged and oak-panelled, an inviting lounge with an open fire leading off it.

The Montagu Arms is the ideal country getaway, burrowed in a wild expanse of the New Forest where wild ponies frolick obligingly. There’s a gently wafting scent of firewood, leather and whiskey. The hall leads to The Terrace Restaurant, proudly boasting 3 AA rosettes. On our first night (after I’d changed my shoes) we dined on a tasting menu of local produce. Dishes included fillet of plaice with mussels and saffron sauce, elegantly plated and decadently rich. Sea bream, slow cooked squid and tender lamb neck all featured. Our main course was a carefully curated and a showcase of the best that the New Forest had to offer: local beef was complemented by thick, salty cuts of smoky bacon and mushroom puree. The restaurant overlooks the golden-lit conservatory and tiered gardens, and is populated by friendly, suited staff and smart local diners.

As I wandered the corridors, exploring the hidden rooms and the ghost stories that lined the walls, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I had stepped back in time. The winding staircases and lead-lined windows packed a refreshing character punch. Whilst I would have been content to remain curled up by the fire, sister hotel Carey’s Manor also offers a hydrotherapy spa that guests are encouraged to take advantage of whilst staying at The Montagu Arms. I happily whiled away an afternoon in the hot tub of the Hogwarts-esque pile before returning to clean sheets and biscuits.

Bedrooms come in a number of styles and sizes, from cosy doubles to four poster suites and even a secluded, dog-friendly cottage. Our home for the weekend was ‘Walnut’, a charming suite with bay windows overlooking the Beaulieu village and river. I felt instantly at home. The bed was fluffy and vast. Traditional wood panelling was offset by modern touches, including Smart flat screens and an iPhone dock. We watched the sun set on the first night, catching the fairy lights that outlined the cosy cottages flicker on, to a soundtrack of owls hooting in the forest.

Breakfast is a deli feast of cured meats, fresh juices and homemade fruit compotes, with eggs from the individually named chickens that peck around the garden. A full New Forest spread is on offer, including plate-sized grilled mushrooms and black pudding. Both mornings followed long, lazy evenings by the open fire in the bar, which is well stocked with smoky whiskies and nibbles, and fuelled us for exploring the village and surrounding woodland.

I would happily return and felt a pang of melancholia as the taxi drove away, towards the train that would carry us back to London. We hadn’t gotten far down the village high street before a pony decided to leisurely cross the road – and it is that bucolic quaintness that made The Montagu Arms such an enveloping escape from real life. Beaulieu is a haven within the rugged expanse of the forest, and The Montagu Arms is the beating heart of the village.

www.montaguarmshotel.co.uk