When the working week gets just too much and you’re looking to escape for the weekend, look no further than the beautiful New Forest. Often overlooked as a holiday destination by busy Londoners, this vast expanse of heathland and forest offers a haven for hardworking Belles. Created as a Royal Forest by William the Conquerer, the New Forest is one of the largest unenclosed pasturelands in Britain. And at just an hour-and-a-half’s train ride direct from Waterloo it’s the perfect destination for a bit of escapism, whatever the weather. There’s just as much to see and do in the winter months as there is in the summer, and watching snow falling on heathlands through the window while you’re toasted by an open fire is just the antidote to a hellish week at work!
Where to Eat:
The Happy Cheese in Ashurst – a traditional country pub with a vast menu and large garden. Unlike so many of the roadside pubs you will pass this isn’t an overpriced chain with the same menu as your local back home. From freshly made fajitas to gigantic burgers and stalwart classics such as scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, and racks of ribs, there’s something for every taste. There’s also a kids menu and even an ice cream stall selling New Forest ice cream (try the millioanire’s shortcake – it’s to-die-for!).
Le Blaireau in Brockenhurst – situated in the grounds of Careys Manor Hotel and Spa, this bar and brasserie offers a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere serving simple, high quality authentic French cuisine. Staff are friendly and helpful from the moment you set foot in the door, not at all stuffy as you might expect from such a classy venue. Sample some of the best French cuisine in Hampshire, with a delicious menu inspired by regional French cooking, a selection of fine wines and a vibrant informal atmosphere. Dishes change frequently to reflect the availability of local seasonal produce, but we highly recommend the roast cannon of lamb stuffed with tapenade, and the spinach and ricotta malfatti.
The Marine in Milford-on-Sea – The south coast’s newest beach-front Cafe Bar and restaurant, the art-deco styled venue is spectacularly situated on the seafront enjoying panoramic views across The Needles, Christchurch Bay and Sturt Pond Nature Reserve. The ground floor is a high quality, family friendly cafe during the day and a contemporary informal bar in the evening. The first floor al a carte restaurant proudly serves great modern British cuisine in a more formal, yet still friendly and relaxed, setting. There’s also a roof terrace featuring a circular raised deck, providing uninterrupted views of the coastline; an ideal place to dine alfresco, enjoy a pre-dinner drink or after-dinner coffee.
Where to Stay:
Immerse yourself in the beauty of the New Forest by staying in a cottage overlooking the heathland where horses, donkeys and cattle graze daily. New Forest Cottages have hundreds of properties to choose from, be it as remote as possible, nestled in a sleepy village, or overlooking the sea in one of the coastal towns. We stayed at 2 Knoll Cottages, just outside the beautiful village of Brockenhurst. Set in an idyllic location with direct forest access, this cottage offered well equipped cosy rooms, period features, an open fire and lovely views of heathland and forest. The nearby village of Brockenhurst with its railway station going direct to Waterloo, shops, pubs and restaurants is a ten minute walk away, while miles of open forest stretch from the cottage and we found wild ponies nodding at the gate every morning when we drew the curtains! The cottage was the perfect base for a family holiday, just fifteen minutes’ drive from the seaside town of Lymington, and New Forest hub Lyndhurst, yet right in the middle of the forest and an ideal starting point for long walks or cycles; and children will love the little stream just a minute’s walk away, with more stones to throw than could ever be imagined! To book visit www.newforestcottages.co.uk or call 01590 679655.
Where to Pamper:
If rest and relaxation is on your agenda then you have to head to SenSpa at Careys Manor in the heart of the New Forest. This purpose built, multi-million pound spa offers a true taste of Thailand that will refresh your senses. An authentic Thai spa inspired by holistic wellness; with the greatest focus on the health of the mind, body and spirit. Combining the best of Western and Eastern traditions, SenSpa offers authentic Thai therapies and mouth-watering Thai cuisine, all balanced perfectly with state-of the-art hydrotherapy facilities and an unrivalled spa experience. Winner of a number of awards including the 2013 ‘Best Spa in the South East’ Award, SenSpa is a truly unique and sensual escape to discover in the most beautiful location, guaranteed to leave the body glowing, the mind renewed and the soul soothed. There are more than 40 spa and beauty treatments on offer, including luxurious traditional Thai massages, an Ayurvedic head massage and pregnancy massages, alongside indulgent facials using organic herbs and flowers. From body scrubs which have been freshly prepared to the more unique Pure Spa treatments using Moroccan Rhassoul mud, there really is something for everyone! And if you fancy indulging in a bit of SenSpa luxury in the privacy of your own nathroom once you’re home, you can pick up their exclusive product range of oils and lotions from your local Waitrose.
Where to take the Family:
Beaulieu Motor Museum is a great day out for kids aged two to one hundred and two. The museum itself has hundreds of models for the most fanatic motor lover, and younger ones can be entertained by rides on the ‘pods’ taking you on a journey through motoring history, and the monorail which travels the distance of the estate from the unique Top Gear exhibition to the historic mansion house.
Longdown Farm Park will appeal to toddlers and teens alike with its array of animals as well as a huge playground, tractor rides and opportunities to get up close and personal with all types of animals from creepy crawlies to cattle, with plenty of cuddly chicks and lambs in between. There’s also a fun sensory room for toddlers, a nice touch. The café leaves a bit to be desired though, so take a packed lunch, or buy some fresh fruit from the on-site farm shop.
For more information on what to do, see and where to stay in the New Forest see www.thenewforest.co.uk