Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest has established itself as one of Britain's best country house hotels, but does it live up to the hype? We sent Rosie Paterson to find out.
Lime Wood has masqueraded as many things in its former incarnations: a working farm, a school, a private house, and even a fire station: the National Fire Service used it as a base during the Second World War. In the 21st century, however, it has established itself firmly as one of the UK’s original country house hotels, a role it’s played for 14 years and counting, as of 2023.
And the place really seems to have found its niche: it’s a bastion of good taste and excellent food, with a superb spa to boot.
There are 33 rooms ranging in style and size, from the bijou Eaves Rooms and Cosy Rooms, to the spacious Forest Suites — which come with their own living spaces — and the two-storey Forest Lofts and Forest Hideaway Suites including a Lake Cabin. Our favourites are the Susie Atkinson-designed Forest Lofts, located inside the main building. Some have views of the walled garden and forest beyond, others of manicured grounds; all are effortlessly elegant, so much so that we featured one of Lime Wood’s bedrooms in our interiors pages a little while ago.
On the ground floor of each suite, you will find a large bathroom — with a walk-in shower, roll-top bath and a double vanity sink — and cosy sitting room; on the mezzanine floor, a super king-size bed set beneath large skylights. We particularly liked the caramel-coloured fabric walls, chequerboard sofa, bobbin mirrors and quirky valet clothes stand.
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Eating and drinking
In this day and age, a five-star hotel must have five-star worthy food. It’s surprising how many don’t, but this is something that Lime Wood has truly understood from the off. Angela Hartnett of London’s Murano fame was brought in to be in charge of all things culinary, and the results are exceptional.
Her on-site restaurant, Hartnett Holder & Co, is open for lunch, supper and afternoon tea; the food served a nod to rustic Italian cooking and seasonal, English ingredients. This is proper, wholesome food, expertly prepared, designed to fill you up and put a smile on your face.
As for breakfast the morning after? Expect a cornucopia of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, seeds, yoghurts and cereals, plus inventive riffs on the oft-overdone egg and avocado front. It’s served up in the old, scrubbed-wood Scullery; well worth getting out of bed for.
How they’ll keep you busy
Lime Wood’s Herb House Spa has earned a reputation just as glowing as that of its food, and as of 2023 they have a new spa partner, GROUND Wellbeing. Annoying block capitals aside, this means a curated selection of products that are handmade in small batches in Cork. A number of several GROUND-specific treatments have also been added to the spa menu; they’ll also be quite happy to sell you more of them in the spa shop.
As for treatments, our go-to is the Grounding Ritual, a properly-relaxing 90-minute, full-body experience. Instead of working on the body piece-by-piece from top-to-bottom (or vice-versa), which can feel a bit disjointed, therapists work on one side of the body in its entirety in one go, head-to-toe using long, sweeping strokes. Some reflexology, head and facial massage is also included.
All that said? You might well prefer to just order a drink and soak up the atmosphere in the grounds. That definitely works.
What else to do while you’re there
Once-upon-a-time, the New Forest, like much of England, was deciduous woodland, primarily colonised by birch, beech and oak. The majority of this widespread woodland started to disappear in the Bronze Age onwards as the need for space, pasture and building materials grew.
Today, the New Forest is one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed forest, heath- and pasture-land in the whole of southern England, and still home to the New Forest Commoner — a person with still-recognised, historic rights of common pasture.
The grazing animals — primarily cattle and pigs — play an important role in forest life. The pigs, for example, are turned out between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts which are poisonous to other livestock and the famous wild ponies.
As well as the forest it’s worth exploring the coastline, a 20 minute drive south. On Avon and Highcliffe beaches it’s even possible to surf when the conditions are right.
Who is it for?
Not a place to take the kids: this is one for couples young and old in need of some wholesome rest and relaxation.
The Herb House spa organises various wellness-themed retreats throughout the year for those who require a more regimented approach to unwinding.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor
We were really taken by the sheer amount of loosely-arranged flowers and potted plants, dotted all around the hotel, from the blousy, oversized arrangements in the lobby, to the mismatched pots of daffodils and hellebores in the Scullery. A simple touch that makes a really big difference.
The one thing we’d change
The spa treatments run off a corridor linking the Herb House reception and the spa and gym itself. Everyone is very considerate, but from time-to-time you can hear people tiptoeing past. If you’re easily distracted, simply ask your therapist to turn the music up in your room.
Rooms at Lime Wood Hotel from £405 a night; GROUND treatments from £130; spa days from £175 — call 02380 287 177 or book direct at www.limewoodhotel.co.uk
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