Report by Thea Lewis-Yates
Photography by Martin Yates
Chewton Glen collects glittering awards like travel journalists collect cab receipts and hangovers. Arriving at the 5 star country hotel, I instantly start to gear down. With a generous staff-to-guest ratio of two-to-one, personalised service is guaranteed, ensuring instant switch-off from the moment the car pulls into the ludicrously pretty grounds.
Built in the early eighteenth century - land and premises known as “Chewton Glen House” appear on records from 1732 - this stately home is steeped in history. Capt. Frederick Marryat wrote his famous novel The Children of the New Forest here, presumably inspired by the hotel’s enviable location on the picturesque national park's edge . When we visit in late May, on a whistle-stop anniversary celebration, the hotel’s 130 acres are in full bloom: roses, lilac, wisteria, and peonies vie for attention in a wondrous English garden that appears almost acid-trip-like in its over-blown splendour.
Facilities here are legion; a lavish spa - complete with Europe’s largest hydrotherapy pool - draws me in from the off, and I’m soon luxuriating in a blissful Natura Bisse Sweet Dreams Massage, a restorative deep tissue treatment that purges my accumulated London stresses at a touch. For sporty types, there’s a golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, archery and tennis courts. Quintessentially British pursuits range from falconry and duck herding to gun dog handling. With delighted toddler in tow, we while away our first afternoon en famille at the sunny outdoor pool. Heated to a balmy 30 degrees, it feels like Juan-les-Pins transplanted in the New Forest. A stroll in dappled sunlight through the charmingly-named wooded Bunny Walk (no, I have no clue either but junior is captivated) takes us to Naish Beach, with its view of the The Needles rising dramatically from the sea. Behold England at its most enchanting: halcyon summers of the Famous Five with a smattering of Alice In Wonderland fairy dust.
With 2 private balconies and a bathroom bigger than some entire London flats, our spacious suite is a dream brought to life. Contemporary interiors in the softest blues and greys; a gigantic bed; state-of-the-art flat screen TV; sofas so squishy you are reluctant to leave their embrace: Chewton Glen excels at low-key luxe. Seizing the chance for a grown-ups only dinner at the hotels award-winning restaurant The Dining Room we entrust our 3 year-old to Chewton Glen’s on site Mary Poppins. My husband’s starter - hand-dived scallops, cauliflower, pine nuts and parmesan - is earthy, rich and unctuous while my dressed Devonshire crab with apple and celeriac - an English springtime classic - is given a zingy modern Oriental twist by incorporating pickled daikon. Still on a crustacean tip, lobster curry is subtly aromatic. Meat-mad mister goes for dry-aged fillet steak, a rich hunk of firm, pink meat sealed inside a smoky, charred crust that is pronounced “fabulous”. Deserts include a masterful custard tart that bears no comparison to the gloopy school-dinner horror of my youth, and a chocolate fondant millefeuille, all light layers of cocoa-rich deliciousness, finished with a silken, salted toffee sauce and wood-smoked caramel ice cream. With a starry cast of two thousand wines for its sommelier to recommend, Chewton Glen is oenophile delight: a sweet vin santo, one of 100 different dessert wines, is perfect with our pudding course .
We divide the morning after between the beach, the pool and the seemingly never-ending leafy grounds. For lunch we try The Kitchen - one-time Chewton Glen pâtissier-turned as-seen-on-TV chef James Martin’s latest restaurant, kitchen garden and cookery school. Martin's menu focuses on simple, hearty cooking with home-grown ingredients: think wood-fired pizzas, gourmet burgers and a particularly fabulous salad with chargrilled chicken, tarragon fresh from the herb garden and local Blue Viny cheese. Day classes that cover kitchen skills as diverse as Sri Lankan cuisine, churning and cheese-making, raw cooking, and chocolate-making will appeal to beginner and pro alike. Too soon, it’s back to the city slog - harsh reality after our dream weekend. Neither stuffy, nor pretentious; warmly welcoming; unflappably accommodating and generous: Chewton Glen is the ideal country house weekend host. And with a stroke of luck, we leave before our rambunctious runaway trashes the joint.