Have a thoroughly English romance in the New Forest, where wine, adventure, delicious food – and some handsome hotels – await.
1 LIME WOOD
It was one of those rare golden, sun-drenched summer evenings when we arrived at Lime Wood. You know you’ve made good life decisions when you sit in a pretty countryside courtyard, with fat olives and expert cocktails in front of you, and happy fellow guests on either side of you. To up the smugness levels, we were booked into dinner at the excellent Hartnett Holder & Co, captained by acclaimed chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder. The parmesan gnocchi we devoured should replace roses and chocolates as a love gift on Valentine’s Day; the lobster and pig’s head main escalated the romance. Sadly we had no room for pudding, but ran a bubble-filled bath and mixed Sipsmith gin and tonics back in our palatial suite, instead.
This author is not renowned for her arm strength so, somewhat unsurprisingly, was not exactly a natural at kayaking. However, given all the talk of falling in, and the fact that no falling-in actually occurred, this section of the adventure could be counted a success. (The bit when the instructor tried to encourage us all to lift ourselves-plus-boats out of the water, under a pontoon: less so). On the bright side, we spotted natural oysters, ducks a-go-go and gawped at megabucks mansions. Extra points must be given to our brilliant guides, who did not punish or capsize us, despite our late arrival (Lime Wood’s delicious breakfast, which we ate in bed, was fully to blame).
3 MASTER ARMS
The only sensible reason to exercise is to work up an appetite (and thirst). If you’ve been kayaking, you might not be able to use your arms properly – I struggled to lift a fork – but you’ll be in dire need of food and alcohol. There’s no better place to reward your Beaulieu River exertions than The Master Builder’s. The pint of cider consumed post-boat helped swiftly redress the natural balance, as did our delicious seafood platter from the pub’s new al fresco menu, which is more casual than the formal restaurant’s. Picture juicy prawns, herby fishcakes, giant mussels, blush-pink salmon, plump sardines – all plucked from local waters. They serve a rather lovely seafood-suited Pinot Grigio, too.
Speaking of wine, did you know that Hampshire produces its own delicious varieties? Get the lowdown at Setley Ridge Vineyard: owner Paul will take you around the vineyards where white and red grapes flourish, show off some of his beautiful local plants at the garden centre and then further beguile you with a wine-tasting in his gourmet Aladdin’s Cave, aka the Farm Shop. Sun-worshippers can top up their tan in the little café, too – have an iced coffee and congratulate yourselves on your life choices. If you don’t want to move an inch, and you’ve come prepared, you can use the grounds as a campsite, too – but why skip porcine perfection at The Pig, nearby?
A short drive from Setley Ridge Vineyard is Milford on Sea, where we hopped out and basked in the sun for half an hour, just to delay the inevitable return to London. People were swimming in the sea, walking their dogs, chattering away to strangers companionably, and generally de-Englishifying themselves under the liberating effect of unexpected sunshine. Apparently, the area has some excellent fish and chip shops, too – regrettably, we were too stuffed from Master Builder’s to investigate.
Featured image via The Master Builder’s