Old World castle style and an ancient forest await you on a long weekend visit to the countryside south of London. The region’s shining star is an 18th-century resort near the sea in Hampshire… a country house called Chewton Glen, according to our intrepid traveler Lance Avery Morgan.
Photography courtesy of Chewton Glen
LORD OF THE MANOR
To nurture your inner Brit, you’ve got see the English countryside and live like the lord of the manor for at least a few days this season. Chewton Glen is a prime example of five-star English resort, offering warm, attentive service coupled with Old World style. One of the first grand estates to become a hotel back in the 1970s, the house is located on the edge of the ancient New Forest, one and one-half hours from London via chauffeured car. Today, it’s considered one of England’s poshest resorts, with the classic feeling of an Agatha Christie mystery novel – chintz couches, roaring fires and all. The grounds encompass 130 acres of exquisitely landscaped parks, gardens and woodland, all just a short walk from the sea.
Completed in 1732, the estate came into prominence in the mid-19th century when the novel The Children of the New Forest was written at the estate. This literary link has contributed to the house’s fabled allure. Captain Frederick Marryat, the book’s author, must have found the area inspiring… and intriguing. Since the locale was within easy reach of the sea, smugglers brought their contraband up through the grounds and into the forest beyond it. Marryat’s brother, George, owned the property from 1837 until 1855, when it was sold to the Elphinstone family. Add to this the fact that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland nearby, and you have the makings of literary lore. When I asked the hotel’s staff if they thought the property has otherworldly spirits lurking about, they replied, “The hotel is not haunted to the best of my knowledge, but the memory of Captain Marryat still remains in all the themed rooms,” according to managing director Andrew Stembridge. The estate began its transformation into a luxury hotel in the late 1960s, yet it still retains every bit of its original charm and nobility.
Voted “Best Small Hotel Under 100 Rooms” by the Gallivanter’s Guide Grand Awards of Excellence, each of Chewton’s 58 bedrooms and suites has been restored to the splendor of the late 19th century. Many of the suites and rooms are named after characters in The Children of the New Forest. Mine, The Beacon Suite, named for the cleric character in the novel, is exactly what you’d expect in a country estate resort, complete with a Wedgwood blue and navy color scheme, the essential architectural sketches and bird species prints, and a balcony overlooking the croquet lawn.
RESTORE, THEN RELAX
Want to do more than take in the breathtaking English scenery? Head for the resort’s luxurious spa. Chewton Glen sets a new benchmark in hotel spa facilities thanks to an $8 million refurbishment that was completed in early 2005. A team of qualified therapists and fitness instructors provides a selection of over 50 treatments. The centerpiece is a 50-foot-long, ozone-treated indoor pool. There’s also a hydrotherapy pool, considered to be the crowning glory of the new spa. Three new treatment rooms and a relaxation room have been added, with separate saunas and steam rooms in the ladies and gentlemen’s changing areas. After a swim, you’ll want to take at least one of the treatments at the spa. Mine, a grape-seed extract scrub, sea-kelp body wrap and extensive sports massage was the perfect cure for common jet lag. Afterwards, I stretched out in the relaxation room, a serene hideaway complete with terrycloth chaise lounges and private headsets.
After the treatment, you’re sure to be hungry. A casual daytime option is the Pool Bar, with a buffet lunch and breakfast served most of the day. At night, get ready for a spectacular meal. The English so often receive a bad rap for their cuisine, but these days most fine dining meals are as good as a four-star offering anywhere in the world. And Chewton certainly provides world-class meals. But before dinner, cocktails anyone? Any of the common area rooms with their chintz couches, casual wing chairs and tasseled grace will do, because everywhere you look, there is someone impeccably qualified to serve you. “Everything is prepared in our Michelin-starred kitchen, where executive chef, Luke Matthews and his 30-strong kitchen brigade oversee the operation to ensure that the same high standards of cooking excellence applies to everything that is served to guests, from a gourmet dining experience to an in-room club sandwich,” noted Stembridge.
Whether served in the formal dining room, terraced solarium, or al fresco areas, the Marryat restaurant offers a variety of dishes from a selection of menus. The style of its cuisine is eclectic, with an extensive use of fresh, local produce, such as wild mushrooms, vegetables and game from the New Forest, as well as seafood from Christchurch and Lymington. Want the perfect wine to accompany the perfect meal? Choose a bottle from over 500 wines in the extensive cellar. Recently voted one of the 25 best restaurants in the United Kingdom by famed restaurant guide Egon Ronay, it’s worthy to note that the Marryat has held its Michelin-starred status for decades.
In fact, with the addition of the Kitchen School and six luxe treehouse suites on the property, you could spend a month here and still not be bored with the surroundings or amenities. Guests can enjoy a range of spa treatments in the treehouse lodges. Hampers with local produce can be delivered from the kitchens, so that guests can also cater for themselves, if they’d like. These suites appeal particularly to those looking for seclusion, as well as small groups and families who want to enjoy an independent stay, but with all the benefits of a luxury five-star hotel within easy reach.
Should you wish to indulge your sporty side, I recommend a quick game of croquet before supper. The grounds also boast a nine-hole, par-three golf course, a practice range, a putting green and two indoor and two outdoor tennis courts. An outdoor pool overlooks the manor, surrounded by clinging vines of bougainvillea.
Because Chewton is so enticing, offering a taste of what it’s like to be a country gentleman, you may not want to leave the grounds. You must, however, and make the short drive to the New Forest. The forest is indeed something out of a fairytale. Over 2,000 horses run wild, adding a mythical element. A quick walk down a path and you’ll find the ocean. Another fun excursion is the seaside villages. Nearby is The Broadlands, a country home about an hour away, which is owned by the very charming Lord and Lady Romsey. The estate is open for private tours a few weeks out of the year during the summer. The home is tastefully appointed by the family, who have had it for centuries and have amassed a substantial collection of nearly priceless 18th-century English paintings. This, as you may know, was where Prince Charles and Lady Diana spent their honeymoon. The manors in this area are grand, noble and each full of its own rich history.
So, get thee to a simple country life for a long weekend at Chewton—simple, but elegant, and certainly never dull. Introduce yourself to the other guests, and you are sure to make lifelong friendships, like I have. In a location so inspiring, you might even end up between the pages of the next great English novel.