It seems like a long time has passed since those three idyllic days in Hampshire. The clear blue sky and swimming outdoors temperatures, those days that we have now classed as our summer, having given up on any reemergence of the sun this year. Long gone!
There are two reason why I chose Hampshire this time. Proximity to London being the first. Also, ease of access (I'll count those as one point given their similarity!). I feel that the weather is also slightly better. Further south, near the coast - it figures. It feels a bit more summery than going north, doesn't it?
Our first stop on the Hampshire tour showcased a hotel where children come first. The obvious family destination but our second, Lime Wood, is the wild card! I had wanted to stay there all those years ago; when relaxation and a full nights sleep were guaranteed - when there was just the two of us but somehow we never made it and the only time we were in the vicinity, they well fully booked.
From a family perspective, it's not-to-be-so-wild soon, as family suites are to be on offer too. They already do all the usual suspects; the cots, highchairs and children's menu though. However, for the sake of this review, lets focus on the true essence of Lime Wood and that is a grown-up hotel with a very special feel where children somehow become part of the chilled out experience. rather than adults becoming part of the children's experience. There is no kids club, no climbing frames and they don't shout 'families welcome!' at the tops of their voices, flinging out the crayons and the bouncy castles but once you are there, there's plenty to enjoy together and the staff are surprisingly accommodating and adept with children. No, they don't. What you see as you drive past the ponies wandering freely on the moorlands of the New Forest that the road winds through is a discreet sign pointing the way up the drive to this small but perfectly formed, sixteen room, boutique hotel.
At the top of the drive, past the lake and the smoke house, sitting in spectacular and extensive, restored gardens - part manicured -part natural, part contemporary ponds and eye-catching metal statues -glistening in the rays of the sun is a stunning regency country house, used in the 13th century as a hunting lodge. Lovingly restored, keeping the original charm and spirit of the surroundings but with all those touches of luxury that gives Lime Wood the coveted Relais and Chateaux status that I so respect . If you are looking for a hotel with little time for research then a Relais and Chateaux will rarely disappoint or almost certainly exceed.
The use of local materials and muted natural colours in the decor adds a classic yet contemporary edge but overwhelmingly the feeling is 'close to nature'. You really feel that you are in the New Forest. An attention to detail has been paid to furnishing too and those who appreciate art will find some eclectic and eccentric pieces to make them smile. You feel welcome once walking through the door. It's relaxed yet professional and polished but instead of hi-shine, it's Farrow and Ball French Gray. It's difficult to strike a balance between classic and the modern, stuffy and trendy but Lime Wood has managed to pitch itself slap bang in the middle of these, offering the best of all but in just the right measures and most of all, it's relaxed!
Our suite wasn't quite ready when we arrived early which gave us the opportunity to enjoy a jug of Pimms, as you do in the summer, sitting on the terrace just taking in the surroundings, adjoined by both forest and parkland. And whilst we sat back and enjoyed the sunshine, Alexander ran around happily, enchanted by the grown-up toys dotted about the garden.
When we did eventually make it to our duplex Forest Suite, I didn't want to leave. With a lounge and wood burner on the ground floor opening onto a terrace literally in the forest and a winding stone staircase up to our four-poster bedroom with yet another fire it was heavenly. A gorgeous balcony here too, where we sat and sipped red wine, a huge bathroom with walk-in shower and luxurious roll top bath complete with not two but three fluffy bathrobes and Bamford toiletries for the very discerning among us, of which I am one!
With its own entrance set in the The Crescent, away from the main house we felt as if we were in own country cottage in the woods. There were umbrellas in the stand by the front door (we used the once but it was a pleasure somehow because the place is so cosy) and a mailbox by the front door for the morning paper delivery. The separate bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor provides the perfect family accommodation. The decor and attention to detail really makes this place. It's so easy on the eye, comfortable yet luxurious.
I was rudely dragged away from our forest dream to the Herb House. Morag, my amazing therapist awaited. Now the spa really is something else. I'm starting to feel a little sickened by this overly sweet review but I have to be honest here. Nothing is lacking in what they offer. Some spas are great for relaxation but light on the health and fitness, others just light scented candles and ply you with herbal tea and after a mediocre treatment. Not here. Everything is state of the art and sympathetically presented. There is an indoor pool of perfect size - intimate but practical opening on to an outdoor steaming hot pool set in a walled garden. There is a state of the art gym, a studio,a hyrodpool and caldarium, a steam room, massive sauna and my personal favourite (I'll have to try it next time) - the Mud House, where you get to relax and steam covered in mineral-rich mud-a traditional Arabian treatment that re-hydrates and exfoliates the skin.
The spa brochure reads like a copy of Vogue but for Spa-goer with the best holistic and ayurvedic therapies I have seen in a long time. There is a shop stocked with loads of goodies including the signature Bamford range and Raw and Cured, a food bar where a mouthwatering selection of natural healthy food and drink; cured meats and fish from Lime Wood's very own smoke house, salads and sushi can be sampled either indoors overlooking the pool or again in a walled garden admiring the fresh herbs growing around you. Nothing has been missed here. Muted colours bring the outside of the forest in and relaxation is impossible to avoid!
A word or two on my Bamford Rose Relaxing Upper Body and Facial Massage. It didn't seem like the most exciting on the menu by a long shot, however and I am a seasoned spa-goer, it was a little piece of heaven in 60 minutes. I came away relaxed and refreshed. Morag was one of the most skilled therapists that I have encountered in a long time. The facial massage was so effective that my face was noticeably lifted. So much so that upon arriving home I started googling facial lifting massage because I want one every month and I can't just pop to Lime Wood can I! ? ( can I please -guys?!). The result was truly was amazing.
From spa in my fluffy robe and slippers back to our gorgeous suite, that red wine that I mentioned earlier and a leisurely change for dinner. Another pleasant surprise for me. No standing on ceremony, no flashy couples dripping in designer clothes, just an eclectic mix of burgundy leather and shiny bar opening on to the courtyard. The atmosphere relaxed with emphasis on 'fun dining, not fine dining'. Alexander was given pride of place perched on his chair taking counsel with one and all. It is here that I have to mention how amazing the waiting staff were with him. Firstly, there was a children's menu (something that you wouldn't necessarily expect in a restaurant serving such seriously good food) but secondly, when he had had enough of sitting, preferring to wander in and out of the garden his pizzetta in hand, they were truly accommodating, thus taking the anxiety out of having a toddler roaming free in a restaurant.
The collaboration between Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder focuses on provenance and sharing. British food but with Italian attitude. This is also where that amazing smoke house comes into it's own. We had to try the plate of home-cured meat and pickles as a pre-starter. It would have been rude not to! I then had asparagus with brown shrimp and raisins (divine), Mr PCG had the aforementioned pizzetta which went down a treat with Alexander, we shared a pasta dish- macaroni with lamb sweetbreads - another hit with all three of us and then moving on to tender, juicy lamb chops with nettles for me and 'possibly the best steak I have ever had' for Mr PGC.
Desserts were a triumph too with all three of us managing to finish a whole portion! Cheese (with mustard fruit -yum!), lemon curd jelly - tart and sweet and stunning vanilla tart with run prunes and a mention to the wine list too. Only the second place that I have managed to find the elusive yet delicious, Hungarian Furmint. It's all in the detail!
Our stay had to come to end after our comfortable nights sleep in our forest hideaway but not before a delicious breakfast. The freshest and best ingredients only on offer, smoked salmon and meats again from the smoke house and an English breakfast that couldn't be refused having seen the quality of its components!
And then it began to rain! Such a shame but a godsend too because it made it slightly easier to leave this little piece of almost perfection. We packed the car, trundled through the boot room to the front door and sped back to London just 1.5 hours away, hoping, just hoping that another stay wouldn't be far away!