I went on an adventure at the weekend. It was technically a work trip, as I had to write an article for one of my magazines we create, but it was a lot of fun. I got to stay in a lovely country hotel, eat incredibly fancy food, and have a spa day. As far as weekends go, it was pretty great.
I vlogged the whole trip especially for you, so put the kettle on, sit down, and have a watch. Then come back and read my review of the trip. Enjoy!
It’s hard to imagine that we are only two hours from London via train. A place with such a charming country feel should not be accessible on a direct train from Waterloo, but somehow Brockenhurst has managed to retain a countryside feel without being difficult to get to.
Maybe it’s the friendly locals that help make us feel at home, like the barman in The Snakecatcher who helpfully minds our bags for a few hours while we explore. Or perhaps it’s the wandering wildlife. Cattle grids are spotted around, and I quickly start to love crossing them as it means wild horses could be around any corner. After fruitlessly looking for horses grazing on the village green, we finally spot two very calm and collected horses standing like peaceful sentries on the driveway of a period home.
But it’s upon leaving this large village that the New Forest National Park comes alive.
The taxis are comparable in price to London, which is somewhat of a surprise, but the journey is infinitely more enjoyable. The forests around the area finally show themselves as we pass through acres of well-maintained trees. Somewhat like a fairy tale, we even spot a few deer peering brazenly at us from the side of the road. We rattle over another cattle grid and the landscape transforms. Open grassland stretches away from the taxi on either side. Spotting pockets of horses out of the windows quickly becomes a game.
All too soon we are turning off the main road and into the picture-perfect village of Beaulieu. The Montagu Arms hotel is right in the centre. We walk into the cosy warmth of the entrance hall, a welcome respite from the chill outside, and see a wood fire popping and crackling in the grate. Our bags are carried up to the guest rooms and we follow them to our room, which is called Cherry, and all the rooms are named after different British trees.
Exploring the room turns into a treasure hunt. First, there’s a welcome letter leaning against a box of local handmade chocolates on the dresser. With the full Tassimo coffee and tea making facilities, we discover delicious local biscuits hidden in a tin. The welcome materials contain more surprises. Did we know that we could leave our shoes outside the door to be shined overnight? Or have a tray of loose leaf tea delivered to the room in the morning?
The winter night is already starting to draw in, so we quickly unpack and try to take the warmth of the hotel with us. The setting sun looks magical across the river. A few people other people mill around, sharing tips for the best spots to capture a photo of the sunset. It feels like we’re in on a beautiful secret. We make the most of the fading light, discovering the ancient church and trying to peer in to the historic Palace House confined behind stone walls.
Once the light has faded, we find wild horses posing perfectly in front of the hotel. We steal a few photos and a dapple-grey horse takes a liking to my coat. They’re friendly animals and eagerly try to find any hidden food. We don’t have anything for them, but they are still happy to let us reach out to their muzzles.
The quiet hotel has started to come to life when we arrive for our dinner reservation in The Terrace Restaurant, which boats a 3AA Rosette menu. We order wine and cocktails and select dishes from the menu while relaxing in the lounge, before being escorted into the restaurant itself. The layout is clever as everyone faces in the same direction rather than sitting across the table from one another. It means that every table feels private, and conversations are kept quiet.
The food is brought out in perfect intervals. The taste buds are delighted from the start, from a pickled mushroom amuse-bouche, to the blissfully warm selection of breads with salty butter. The main course was a pleasant surprise as the portion was larger than many fine dining restaurants would offer. My plate was full of small slices of honey roasted duck with a tarte fine of caramelised endive. The pastry and sweetness of the endive combined surprisingly well with the duck. The highlight of the evening was surely dessert. Salted caramel is a favourite of mine, and this stunning fondant did not disappoint. It was so smooth, with the smallest hint of crispiness on the outside. Caramel oozed out onto my plate as I slid my spoon through. The perfect way to end the meal.
After quickly falling asleep in soft and cosy beds, we were treated to yet more food in the morning. Not only do they offer a full cooked breakfast, but there is also a tempting spread of fruit, cereals and preserves to accompany the fresh pastries that are brought to every table.
We left behind the peace and quiet of Beaulieu with heavy hearts, but more rest and relaxation awaited us at the Montagu Arms’s sister hotel – Careys Manor. Even though the two hotels are only six miles apart, they have a very different atmosphere and our destination, the award-winning SenSpa, feels like a different world entirely. Hidden within the labyrinth of stairs and small corridors is a series of relaxing spaces, exercise classes, a gym, pool and world-class hydrotherapy facilities. There are plentiful treatments to choose from, from traditional Thai massages to manicures and facials. There are saunas of varying temperatures, steam and ice rooms and ‘experience showers’ to explore. A highlight is the hydrotherapy pool, which is comparable to a giant jacuzzi. At one end, it’s possible to lie down while the jets bubble away. It’s a revelation.
All too soon, it’s time to catch the train back to the big city. London feels like a world away after a weekend of peace and quiet, rest and relaxation. There is so much more to explore in the New Forest, and I’m already making my plans to return as we return to the frantic pace of the city.