Chewton Glen, Hampshire

LOCATION: The problem with many country house hotels is the country element – it’s all very beautiful, but it can’t half be a pain to get there. Not so with Chewton Glen, which despite feeling utterly secluded – something to do with the extensive, established grounds – is actually on the outskirts of the small town of New Milton in Hampshire, on the edge of the beautiful New Forest, and an easy drive or train ride from London. It’s also merely a 10-minute stroll through the aforementioned grounds to the sea – you pop out on to a long, pebbly beach with a view across to the Isle of Wight, and on a clear day you can spot The Needles.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: There are two approaches to Chewton Glen and neither will disappoint. One takes you past the walled kitchen garden, surrounded with colourful wild flowers, and the entrance to the Treehouses (of which more later); the other snakes through the nine-hole golf course and alongside the croquet lawn. The hotel itself is a beauty, an early 18th century manor that manages to be simultaneously rather grand but still domestic in scale. Stepping inside – through yet another meticulously well-tended garden – you experience your first taste of what makes Chewton Glen so very special – the absolutely pitch-perfect service. Francisco at the front desk was charm personified, settling us on the terrace by the croquet lawn with a drink while we waited for a few minutes until our room was ready, before ushering us solicitously up to our suite – a sumptuous triumph of contemporary country-house design in restful shades of sage and royal purple. THE

THE FACTS: There are 70 rooms and suites, 58 in the main house with classic looks and every conceivable comfort, but for a different feel there are the 12 Treehouse Suites – modern, glass-walled hideaways nestled in the canopy on raised stilts. It’d be easy to hide away – even the smallest rooms are 40m2, so you’re never crowded in – but this a hotel where the public areas actually get used, from the bar, all warm wood and leather, to the light-filled lounge areas and sunny terraces. The restaurant, Vetiver has a more striking and modern appearance, changing character from an airy breakfast room to an atmospheric dining location. The food is seasonal, sourced locally – much from the hotel’s lovely kitchen gardens – and absolutely spectacular. Our tasting menu’s standout dishes were foie gras with crunchy grapes, pineau jelly, and almond vinaigrette, and raspberry gazpacho with roasted red pepper ice cream – a revelation. There’s a seriously good spa with numerous pools and ten treatments rooms, plus a state-of-the-art gym, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a croquet lawn – and that’s before you’ve even set foot outside the hotel grounds.

A GOOD BASE FOR: Exploring the breathtakingly lovely scenery of the New Forest – wild ponies, ancient woodlands and open heath, all just minutes from the coast. A 20-minute drive brings you to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, with collection of beautiful vintage cars. There’s plenty to do, but this is also the kind of hotel you could happily retreat to for a weekend without leaving the grounds.

WOW: Even though this is a hotel with some fairly unusual facilities, it’s not the croquet lawn, the tasting menu – memorably delicious though it was – or the treehouse suites that gave me my biggest, most enduring wow. It’s the way the simplest, most basic elements of hospitality are pitched to perfection that makes this one of the country’s very best hotels. The staff to guest ratio is three to one, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced better, more personal service, whether it was from Anneli, who tailormade a facial for me in the spa; Oscar, the sommelier who brought over a complimentary glass of unusual French ice-wine for us simply because he thought we’d be interested to try it; or the bartender who made ordering a simple gin and tonic a memorable event by telling us the story behind Monkey 47 gin – read on, if you’re interested.

HOW MUCH: A Garden Room starts from £325 per room per night, including use of the spa facilities, golf course, tennis courts, and croquet lawn. chewtonglen.com

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