It isn’t often you find yourself sleeping in the wilds when you’ve booked into one of the country’s most luxurious hotels. But then this one is a little bit special…
No doubt you’ve heard all about it, nestled at the edge of the New Forest, a luxury retreat to rival the best, but if not, it’s worth getting acquainted. Welcome to the five star country hotel and spa, Chewton Glen, where among its most opulent rooms, its treehouse suites are undeniably its most prized hidden gems.
My other half had kept all details of location and hotel a surprise for me, so my curiosity was fully aflame by the time we arrived. The approach takes you through the typical luxe hotel kind of entry: grand double gates, long winding driveway to arrive at the hotel’s main courtyard where car and bags are whisked away by valets. But knowing the place by reputation, the gate’s initials gave the game away, and as Jamie shot me a satisfied grin, I knew to expect an especially enchanted if brief twenty-four hour stay.
A cursory wander through the lobby, breakfast room, restaurant, and bar, decorated tastefully in quintessential refined English style, is enough to sense the relaxed, cheerful atmosphere that fills the place. Having checked in, afternoon tea arrived for us in the parlour on a tiered stand brimming with scrummy sandwiches, cakes, scones and jams which I failed to capture before they vanished, along with a steaming pot of tea.
Fully revived, we were escorted off to our suite in a buggy on a short drive through coppice and brush. The track falls away steeply into the valley on one side where the secluded treehouses rise loftily into the blue, and acres of green field extend as far as the eye can see on the other. Drawing up opposite the very last treehouse, our driver hopped out to open doors and fetch bags, while we surveyed the size and stature of these hideaways. Far from the rickety little ‘Pooh Bear’ childhood play dens that the word ‘treehouse’ instinctively conjures up, these striding wooden lodges erected high on towering stilts march in an imposing line through a strip of the hotel’s extensive 130-acre grounds and are built to stand the test of time.
And secluded is the most apt description. Despite being serviced by a luxury hotel only two hundred metres away, you feel entirely private in the best of ways, immersed in the natural habitat and perfectly qualified to consider the place your own for the duration of your stay. Entering our suite, we were given a quick tour round the room with a member of staff, who briefed us on all the activities on offer, showed us our kitchenette filled with complimentary jars of hot chocolate and snacks, and alerted us to the option of a breakfast hamper full of pastries, cereal and fruit, delivered through a hatch in the morning, instead of attending the hotel if desired.
They must have known… I hate learning how any kind of new machine works, to the extent that I simply won’t do it if I’m not given a rapid crash course or it proves too complicated! Jamie is the ‘instruction reader’ at home, so the fact that the coffee machine was the same as ours was pretty handy.
We were then left to enjoy the place alone and, making an instant beeline for the balcony, we stepped out into fresh spring air and beautiful views across the wilderness, our private whirlpool bath all prepped and ready for an evening under the stars.
Foregoing the buggy, we took the slower way back to the hotel. Walking hand in hand at leisure along the winding pathway on foot under bright sunny skies, the sensation of being a thousand miles away from civilisation and busy life ‘to do’ lists, immersed in nothing but the sound of birdsong, rustling leaves and each other, has to be the one of the most beautiful ways to slow down and refresh the mind in this fast-paced world we live in. At home, woodland walks are the happiest time of day with my three boys.
Venturing out into the grounds, in part beautifully manicured, and in other parts overgrown woodland, we wove a path through the foliage, over fallen trees and past weather worn statues, past a rather pretty if neglected outdoor pool and through children’s play areas, all of which prompted a familiar tug at the heart-strings.
Our eldest loves the outdoors and we rarely go anywhere without our children, yet already we had seen four very little ones about the place. A happy surprise, it also struck me with a pang of sadness that our boys weren’t here with us – it felt like we were missing a limb without them causing mischief at our feet. Despite the gentlemen’s club vibe inherent in the dark luxurious furnishings and low lit interior, Chewton Glen actually prides itself on its unstuffy and welcoming attitude towards the littles. And if it’s especially suited to the older child able to make the most of all of the brilliantly family-oriented facilities and activities the place has to offer – riding, falconry and archery and beach sports – I was nonetheless thrilled to discover how welcome even the tiny tots are. Brightened by the thought of bringing our boys back with us for a family visit, I knew Jamie had booked this for a rare moment to do things that mostly just aren’t manageable with little ones, and all while knowing they were being thoroughly spoiled by their grandparents for an evening – having called three times in six hours and heard long nonsensical conversations and giggling the other end of the phone, I knew they weren’t missing mummy nearly as much as she was missing them!
Smelling salt on the wind and spotting the beach sign, we left the grounds and set upon the path down to the shore just as the weather was turning.
Iron grey clouds had rolled in above us and a strong wind was blowing in, but we stomped on regardless, past smug warm guests inside. There’s just something about walk in a storm that never fails to tempt.
Rain lanced down around us moments later and we watched uncomfortably as one poor soul found out too late that the grounds were not meant for stilettos and suede!
It’s a fifteen minute walk, or a shorter bike ride if you choose to borrow from the hotel’s hoard of double wheelers, but we favoured the walk. Cutting through an area of woodland known as Chewton Bunny, we made the journey in windy conditions with a gale blowing around us – the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs. Coming out onto the coast at Highcliffe-on-sea, the wind intensified hitting us with the most incredible force, and we were made to battle our way across the sand onto the promontory, almost unable to push against it. We stood for a while, shouting into each other’s ears as we laughed and looked out over the choppy grey waters, smashing onto the rocks below us and covering us in spray.
Staying til we were soaked to the skin, we turned back for the hotel and its cosy comforts, warmed by the thought of a toasty fire in our log burner and marshmallows. The moment we stepped over the threshold, we shuffled out of Chameaus and Jamie lit a fire, filled a steaming bath with bubbles, cracked open a bottle of champagne and took us for a soak where he washed the salt from my tangled hair. Pure heaven after a briny, blustery walk! Dry and wrapped up in fluffy bathrobes, we nibbled on the pastries and had a quick phone call with our boys, before cuddling up in the cloud-like, marshmallow-soft bed for a few sweet hours.
Twilight rolled in and we gathered towels to head for the spa. Beautifully appointed, it’s worth as many visits as you can cram in. Whether you’ve spent your stay diving, sailing, kayaking, riding, mountain biking, flying birds, playing tennis, in the dance studio, at the gym, playing croquet, hitting a nine iron, or just being thoroughly indolent and sipping cups of tea but still want a little pampering, this place is entirely kitted out with every treatment you might be after.
There’s a sense of complete calm and serenity the moment you walk in through the door. Downstairs, pedicures and manicures are offered in a light, refreshing room overlooking the garden, and include a bottle of polish to take with you for touching up when you need it. A large, sparkling 17m pool is housed in a light, airy neoclassical room, pillared and painted for a tranquil old-world Roman feel not dissimilar to my old favourite at our London club. And upstairs, the changing rooms feel more like a homely dressing room with pretty wall-lighting and individual dressing stations, each supplied with hairdryers and straighteners.
Just beyond the pool, the hydrotherapy pool beckons where we spent the greater part of the early evening, followed by aromatherapy saunas, crystal steam rooms, and treatment massage rooms for the most luxurious massages using organic products hand-blended in the Cotswolds and offering over fifty different treatments, including pressure point and holistic therapies. Couple massages can even be booked on the balcony of your treehouse.
The outdoor jacuzzi seemed a less inviting choice in the wintry weather, but sinking into its toasty jets made stepping out into the cold breeze worth it – the extreme contrasting temperatures of icy air and hot bubbling water almost feigned something of the romantic experience of Icelandic hot springs. Back inside, with the onset of dusk, the ceiling had been transformed to mimic the night sky, with stars twinkling down at us from a cloudy heaven. Nothing could have made for a more enchanted evening.
Back in our room a little later than planned, we jumped into fresh outfits, called for a buggy and set off back to the hotel for dinner.
Champagne arrived in a flourish, and we got stuck into the menu, choosing starters and mains.
Twice baked Emmental soufflé, famously and deservedly on the menu for 16 years – puffed, golden and perfect in every way. Uhh..sooooo good!
Flambard’s egg for Jamie.
Duck breast and pink grapefruit – fall-off-the-fork tender and wow did the flavours sing.
Venison, parsley root, quince and sloe gin.
All polished off with scrummy puddings and some Akashi-tai sake. Jamie was so taken with the sake, he ordered two crates of the stuff for home – with a rounded, plummy flavour, and free of any residual alcoholic aftertaste, this was hands down the most delicious desert wine we’ve ever had and has become a famed favourite among our guests whenever we throw dinner parties.
Too often we’ve been disappointed with haute cuisine dining when the chef’s urge to be too interesting goes perilously wrong, but with unique twists and stunning flavour combinations on classic dishes, Chewton Glen’s Head Chef has discerningly avoided all those hazards, offering the most beautifully presented dishes that more than live up to their good looks.
We at last adjourned to the bar for a final giggly hour spent sipping espresso martinis – quite bitter, but then I’m a rare coffee drinker, and when I do indulge, it’s lattes drowned in maple syrup every time.
It was well past midnight when we left the main hotel, and with a clear sky above us, we decided to enjoy an dip in the pool on our balcony, nestled under the glimmering stars. Just beautiful. We dried off, climbed into bed and slept with the windows ajar, whispering a while as we listened to the sounds of the forest. All tucked up under thick eiderdowns, we drifted off to sleep, warm, snug and incredibly content.
Morning arrived with sunshine streaming through our windows onto the bed and wrapped up together under the sheets, we made the most of a rare morning lie in, with no need to jump up and begin the day.
Finally, tummies rumbling, we showered and changed and went in search of breakfast.
No less inviting than every other dish we’d sampled over the course of our short stay, we weren’t surprised to find everything fresh, beautifully presented and truly delicious.
As we made our way to check out, Jamie had a last little surprise organised: a morning ride through the New Forest on two pretty white mares, Jamie’s a little less stubborn than mine. With a will of iron, she needed some stern direction!
But a trot and canter later, she lightened up, and after a gorgeous ride over field and marsh, we circled back to the stables to hop into our car, just as the clouds threatened torrents.
In just twenty four short hours, our early spring getaway had thrown every kind of weather at us for our stay, from brilliant blue skies and sunshine to driving rain, hailstones, gale force winds and a thunderstorm.
Arriving back to one radiant, chirpy little face and one very cute sleepy one, we received the warmest cuddles from our eldest who was halfway through a slice of Grandmama’s best lemon drizzle cake and over the moon to see us – incomparably the best bit of the trip!
Summing up our twenty four hour stay, I’d say Chewton Glen is a place that captures perfectly the balance between unsurpassed English luxury and child-friendly chic with a breadth of activities to rival the best retreats around. Whether you’re looking for an inspired family holiday or a romantic getaway, needing a wide range of sports, plenty of pampering or a truly incredible dining experience, we’ve not yet come across a better place that ticks all the boxes quite so impressively.