• Countryside Forests, farms and market towns
  • Country life Rural road trips, pastoral picnics

A hop from London, Hampshire has long been the go-to county for urbanite weekenders in need of a rural retreat.

Perhaps it’s the pastoral patchwork of farms and fields, the traditional charms of biscuit-box villages, or just the promise of a pub lunch that makes Hampshire so alluring, but beyond the county’s rustic-idyll clichés, there’s plenty of enticement on offer. Portsmouth – spiritual home of Britain’s nautical glories is one for the naval gazers. Farnborough’s an international aviation hub for those with their heads in the clouds. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground (or on the pedals or in the stirrups), there’s 150 square miles of the New Forest, William the Conqueror’s hunting spot of choice. This is a land of country drives in leafy lanes, picnic lunches on grassy hilltops and rooting around antique fairs for vintage finds. Life at its most leisurely, basically.

Do go/Don’t go

Hampshire’s both sunnier and rainier than most areas of the UK, but make the most of the former and go between May and September. The coastal towns heave with seaside-seekers in July and August, and pretty Winchester swarms in summer, but most parts of the county are pleasant and crowd-free throughout the year.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Gatwick and Heathrow are the county’s international gateways, but Bournemouth and Southampton are better placed if you’re hitting the coast or the New Forest. The business airport TAG Farnborough (www.tagaviation.com) is useful if you have a private jet to hand.
  • Boats Portsmouth has been a maritime hub for centuries. Brittany Ferries (www.brittanyferries.com) operates regular channel-hoppers to Caen and Cherbourg in northern France and Santander in Spain. P&O boats over to Bilbao and there are regular car ferries to and from the Isle of Wight (www.wightlink.co.uk).
  • Trains Hampshire is well networked, railway-wise, with major train lines (Southern and South West) linking major cities such as Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester with London Waterloo. Short distances from town to town mean touring Hampshire by train is an easy and eco-friendly option.
  • Automobiles Hampshire’s tree-lined lanes and forest roads are perfect for old-school rural road trips | with plenty of village-pub stop-offs and ooh-let’s-go-see-that detours. The M3 is the county’s pet motorway | snaking from south-west London to Southampton via Basingstoke and Winchester.
  • Taxis There are plenty of ranks in Hampshire’s major cities, but you’re better off booking ahead in smaller towns. Brockenhurst Taxis (+44 (0)1425 619922; www.brockenhursttaxis.co.uk) are handy for getting around the New Forest area and Southampton Taxis (+44 (0)23 8039 2798; www.southampton-taxis.com) cover the city and surroundings pretty well. In northern Hampshire, try Aldershot-based Rushmoor Taxis (+44 (0)1252 333555; www.rushmoortaxis.com).