Annunciata Elwes visits Chewton Glen, the New Forest gem that's one of Britain's best-loved country house hotels.
My mother laughed when I messaged our family WhatsApp group to say we’d been upgraded to a treehouse. ‘Doesn’t sound like an upgrade!’ she commented — but she changed her tune when she saw the photos.
To be frank, any stay at Chewton Glen, on the edge in Hampshire’s wild New Forest, is going to be magical. En route, my husband and I drove past roaming donkeys and a family of piglets on pannage duty among russet leaves, ushered by their own mother pig, snuffling up acorns and chestnuts as they do at this time of year. And as we reached New Milton and turned onto the long drive belonging to the only privately-owned five-star hotel in the UK, the sun came out of hiding after a morning of torrential rain and all was right with the world — perfectly indicative of how this hotel makes all its guests feel. This is the sort of place with constantly cheerful staff who somehow find out you’re heavily pregnant before you arrive and thoughtfully provide a special support pillow in your bedroom.
There are 58 rooms and suites in the main, early-18th-century house at Chewton Glen and not one of them is the same. All are kitted out with supreme luxury in mind, with a mix of antique and modern furniture, colourful textiles, king-size beds and enormous bathtubs. Many, such as Jacob Faithful and Midshipman Easy, are named for characters in Capt Frederick Marryat’s The Children of the New Forest, which was written here in 1847, when the house was owned by the author’s brother Col George Marryat. Fiction aside, this is a hotel that manages to combine five-star peace and quiet with a family-friendly vibe, with its Beehive Kids Club, treasure hunts, nature rambles and cookery lessons.
From 2012, 14 treehouse suites were added to the hotel’s offering (dogs welcome) — and trust me, these are like no treehouse you’ve ever been in. Each is surrounded by cool evergreen branches, some down secret footpaths on the hillside, giving an almost jungle-like view from hot tubs on private terraces; they have woodburners, floor-to-ceiling windows to let the green in and eco-credentials such as rainwater harvesting, air-source heat pumps and solar panels.
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Planting in the vicinity as been undertaken with immense care — a wonderful balance of ecology and privacy that makes you feel like you are in your own private rainforest. In a range of sizes (sleeping up to 12), each treehouse suite also comes with a private concierge and the opportunity for in-room spa treatments and dining; breakfast hampers filled with fresh, estate fruit, pastries, yoghurts, cooked meats, cheeses and sourdough loaves appear as if by magic every morning and lunch and dinner hampers are available, too, on request. We were in Great Yew and I genuinely wanted to stay forever.
With 130 acres, the Chewton Glen estate is a hive of activity that belies its peaceful ambience. Five million bees produce honey for the hotel — you can buy a pot in the boutique, alongside chutneys, jams and jellies made by resident forager Jennifer Williams, Dorset-grown Parterre fragrances, Ettinger leather goods and Alex Monroe jewellery. It being October, we found the picturesque walled garden full of pumpkins and gourds.
Beyond, we were lucky enough to bump into estate manager Darren Venables, tending his 200 heritage fruit trees while contentedly munching on an apple, watched closely by the estate’s herd of ‘teddy bear’ sheep (a rare breed otherwise known as Southdown).
Elsewhere, there’s indoor and outdoor tennis courts, overseen by resident pro Matthew Salisbury, a former men’s county tennis champion, and a stream that was once popular with smugglers bringing contraband to the area and now marks the county boundary, so you can breakfast in Hampshire and hit the court in Dorset.
Last but not least is the Chewton Glen Spa, renowned for having the UK’s largest hydrotherapy spa pool as well as a 17-metre swimming pool, outdoor whirlpool, aromatherapy saunas, crystal steam rooms and a treatment menu filled with OSKIA facials and detoxifying massages. Hours of perfect relaxation can be wiled away here, fuelled by the ‘alkaline buffet’ at the Pool Bar.
Main house rooms at Chewton Glen cost from £500 to £1,450; Treehouse Suites are between £1,350 and £3,500 — www.chewtonglen.com
Food and drink
Having worked up an appetite out on the estate and, later, in the cocktail bar, the enormous Dining Room — with its wall-to-wall bottled Wine Room, Summer House and terrace area overlooking the outdoor pool and woodland walk down to the beach — will provide. From head chef Simon Addison and executive head chef Luke Matthews’s menu, we enjoyed a tangy twice-baked Emmental soufflé, Carlingford Lough oysters, melt-in-the-mouth dry-aged sirloin carved from the trolly and a sweet-and-sour Asian slaw with spicy beef. It was far too much food but wholly worth it and much enhanced by the gently knowledgeable sommelier who picked the perfect wine for each course: lots of non-alcoholic sparkling wine for me (it’s so good these days, has anyone else noticed?) from Steinbock and Wild Idol, interspersed with appreciative sips of my husband’s Hoffmann & Rathbone Bacchus made from a 124-year old yeast called Sleeping Beauty and, best of all, a 1999 vintage D’Oliveiras Sercial Madeira.
Further culinary delights can be found over in Dorset (across the stream) at Chewton’s Kitchen Restaurant with adjoining 12-station cookery school, overseen by celebrity head chef James Martin, which opened in 2017. Once again, vegetables, fruit and herbs come from the kitchen garden and the food was faultless, from spicy soft-shelled crab to whisky bread-and-butter pudding and an incredibly realistic ‘apple’, which turned out to have been crafted from white chocolate, filled with ice cream and decorated with a basil leaf.
Thnigs to to see and do
Should you really wish to leave the hotel — they can arrange watercolour painting, wine tasting, kite flying, mountain biking, falconry, shooting and archery, as well as riding in the New Forest or power boating on the Solent — there’s plenty nearby.
The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu has ‘one of the finest collections of cars, motorcycles and motoring memorabilia in the world’, close to the atmospheric 800-year-old ruins of Beaulieu Abbey.
Just across the River Beaulieu from the motor musuem is Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway, with its Rothschild rhododendron and azalea collections.
Henry VIII’s fortress Hurst Castle sits on the tip of Hurst Spit, just beyond Milford-on-Sea, about 10 minutes from Chewton Glen, and crossings to the Isle of Wight run from nearby Lymington to Yarmouth.
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