So, I've planned a mini-break. A little tour of the best that Hampshire has to offer. As you will know, I've always been an avid traveller and whenever possible, a luxury one at that. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for simplicity too but my standards are very high ( especially when it comes to cleanliness I'm a self diagnosed, borderline OCD sufferer!). I find, that in order to narrow your chances of disappointment, opt for the most luxurious option. That said, I've stayed in South America in fabulous, out-if-this-world, spotless lodges with no heating or electricity and have complained numerous times in the world's top hotels, where everything has fallen below par when compared to the price you pay.
A little about Hampshire; well, it houses the New Forest for one; wild ponies and wonderful open expanse and its the largest county is South East England. It plays host to award-winning country parks, quaint villages. Four Seasons is close to Stonehenge, and Legoland, Birdworld, Winchester Cathedral and beautiful coastline and beaches.
This is a trip of two halves and will be posted as such, with another to follow this post soon. We are starting just 40 minutes outside London in Dogmersfield. 'Where?' I hear you ask. Well it's basically the Four Seasons Hampshire. I say that because this wonderful piece of the world, all 300 acres of it forms part of its estate. Lakes, canals, cows, chickens, horses and stables, falconry,flora and fauna. You name it, it's here.
I've been a fan of the Four Seasons since I can remember. But for the sake of this review lets focus on two memorable trips that span the life of my family. Our first foray as a couple into Four Seasons world was in Bali. A truly grown-up choice. A quick stop at the Penninsula in Hong Kong and we were there - honeymoon paradise! I don't remember all that much apart from the private plunge pool and the wonderful Balinese villa (it was over 12 years ago!) but suffice it to say that we are still together 13 years later and we still favour Four Seasons over many other luxury offerings out there. You can always count on a them hitting the mark even for the truly difficult to please.
It is with that in mind that we find ourselves motoring up the driveway with our 19 month old little boy in our classic Aston Martin ( my husband's other baby) on a cloudless, almost balmy, June afternoon. We are here because I have heard so many positive things about this place. To be honest, in my former life sans enfant, I would have steered towards 'boutique' or' luxury b&b' in the UK. Our offering of larger properties can be a bit of a disappointment from my experience - too much margin for error. . We do small and beautiful much better outside of the Capital. However, needs change and whereas before a cosy room with an open log fire might have been heaven, a comfy cot with a baby bathrobe floats my boat! How life changes. Four Seasons Hampshire, as I had heard, is the g0-to for discerning parents - another slightly off-putting feature for the footloose and fancy free. Or is it? This is where the hotel comes into its own.
We pull up in front of an imposing, lovingly restored, Georgian manor, set up on the hill looking out on to a vast expanse of countryside - the estate. From the minute we arrived I felt at ease with a little of the English aristocrat thrown in for good measure! Greeted by Oliver, the hotel's sociable and very loveable chocolate-brown labrador you are taken one step further and truly feel at home. Any airs and graces can be left back in London. Here, there is nothing to do but relax and enjoy. They offer a form of luxury that is effortless, relaxed and easy-going. From the valet parking to the bags being whisked off to our suite without me even noticing. The building, imposing from the outside but like a luxurious country house on the inside. One where you aren't afraid to touch anything but more inclined just to potter and enjoy. It's a rare balance to strike. Most large properties lose any sense of character but not here, they have mastered the art . Your wish is their command, the feel is home from home or an intimate hotel where you still have space to roam.
I haven't yet mentioned anything child-related despite the main draw of this hotel for us being how child-friendly Four Seasons Hampshire is. With a superb kids club, two large but aesthetically pleasing, wooden climbing frames; one for older and one for younger kids and every facility you could need to make bringing even an infant who doesn't sleep through the night a joy!
We settled into our suite, cot in sitting room and pre-filled with Hampshire bear, baby slippers and baby dressing gown. A brilliant addition and always welcome but rarely provided was a changing mat and basket filled with a selection of nappies in each size, a pack of baby wipes and baby toiletries - the bubble bath smells divine - mandarin. In the luxuriously large marble bathroom along with the grown-up's walk- in shower, deep bath and a welcome surprise for the little one in the form of some new toys to occupy him for a while was a nappy bin. Genius! Well, okay, not genius but actually, when stacking up against the competition, then pretty damn close! It doesn't take rocket scientists to figure out how helpful it is for parents with children of nappy-wearing age. You are grateful for any help and likely to have forgotten or left something you need at home. Plus it's a bulky business, so if you can take fewer nappies or one less pack of wipes, then all the more room for the selfish things that you used to fill the suitcase with pre-baby!
No doubt from the get go that you are in one of the country's top hotels as the service, attention to detail and anticipation of guests needs is second to none (lunchbox packed with apples and carrots ready with the concierge to take with us on our bike ride to the stables to feed the horses without us even to needing to ask). The offering for babies through to toddlers, children and teens is honed to perfection with three separate menus for the three age groups below eight years old, each catering specifically for nutritional and feeding needs of each age bracket and staff welcoming and at ease with the little ones. Great lengths are taken to keep the atmosphere calm but still grown-up and not once did I feel that I was an adult in a kid's fun park despite every facility being available.
The food also deserves a mention. We are both big foodies so I was certainly looking for something over and above a £25 club sandwich and luckily, we got it. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet, emphasis on quality, with two types of bacon, fresh fruits, freshly made yogurt with muesli and compotes, cheeses, meats, smoked salmon, baked goods,eggs, cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, just everything you could want if you are a breakfast glutton! Of course, anything else that your heart desired was just an order away. Yummy pancakes, fluffy omelettes and when Alexander would eat no more it was all packed away for us to take with for later (a godsend for fussy eaters). Breakfast is my meal and we spent a good hour and half each morning enjoying the spread whilst Hannah, our wonderful waitress entertained Alexander, even taking him on a tour of the kitchen. Dinner was just as good. We tried the Taste of Hampshire tasting menu one night. It's lovely to see such a dedication to the use of local produce, especially when there is so much available.
My hat off to the chef Pannier and his team for managing to lift the offering, whether it be in the main restaurant, the more relaxed Bistro or the bar (we sat outside enjoying the sunset for one dinner) to a level that isn't often seen or even expected from a big five-star hotel. So often the food is just good, not outstanding. Here, it stands alone, in its own
We kept things close to nature this stay although there is a fabulously equipped kids club - Kids For All Seasons- open weekends and holidays. We were blessed with clear blue skies so the estate was ours for the exploration.
We fed the chickens and looked at eggs with the chef , we cycled to the cows, to the lake and Alexander ran through the fields of thigh-high grass and flowers to the duck pond for a photocall!
For the adults every country pursuit is there on your doorstep. You need never leave. From shooting to fishing to horse riding to tennis or a trip on the hotel's own barge . If that's not enough then croquet, cycling, walking, swimming or in the outstanding Spa with vitality pool and of course gym. So, we didn't leave.....until the time came when we had to check-out, get back into our car, drive down the sweeping driveway and back onto the road to reality.