Spotting wild ponies and singing loudly to the Glee soundtrack in glorious evening sunshine isn’t a bad way to pass the time in the mother of all traffic jams. But then this is a Friday evening, and we are heading to Lyndhurst. Yet it is with peckers up that we turn off the Beaulieu Road to Lime Wood. In the style of the best country house hotel arrivals, we approach a suitably patrician Georgian house in golden stone along a sweeping drive flanked by well-tended lawns. Perfection. All we need is a dashingly handsome young man in a slightly self-conscious tweed cap to take our bags. Ah yes, there he is. Next, cheery front-of-housers joke with the children, ignoring chocolatey faces and bare feet. Lime Wood, you do welcomes very well indeed.
The new owners spent five years and untold millions creating a destination that offers the last word in out-of-town indulgence. The kind of place to spend your bonus admiring a beautiful view, pretending to be country types without leaving your freestanding bath. Lime Wood’s setting is stunning, and the building was handsome even before extensive remodeling, which has resulted in a fabulous central atrium with a retractable roof.
Imaginative annexes have been added to the 29-bedroom property, and an enormous spa, more Champneys than Chiva Som, is set to be booked solid by locals. The gardens are not yet mature, but are spectacular, and showcase excellent sculptures. Inside, David Collins’ decor has won awards, and is what I’d describe as Hotel Costes meets Daylesford: lots of silk upholstery in cool subdued colours and rustic touches applied with exquisite taste in Farrow & Ball. There’s even a basement billiard room with cigars and a massive screen for Sky Sports. The place simply reeks of cash.
And here are we with our mismatched luggage, too-cool 10-year-old tomboy and hot-pant-wearing four year old, alongside my exuberant entrepreneur Mr Smith. ‘This isn’t a business venture, this is a trophy asset,’ he decrees in less-than-subtle tones as we’re shown to our quarters. Is it a little house? A maisonette? Or a duplex? I’m not sure of terminology to suit such rarified surroundings, but there’s a rather lovely sitting room with a massive sofabed for the girls, French windows opening onto our own terrace, and the forest beyond. Upstairs, an opulent master suite displays an orgy of cushions on the bed and just as exrtravagant an array of fluffy towels in the bathroom.
After my second glass of complimentary wine, I declare our little corner of Lime Wood ‘New England show home’ in look. White painted slatted walls, exposed eaves, sisal matting, everything gleaming, no detail overlooked. (Actually, they forgot a corkscrew, but the nice tweed-capped chap soon puts that right.) There’s even fresh fruit and reference books to identify the local trees and tips on how to forage for mushrooms. Yes, there are two massive plasma TVs, but the kids are champing at the bit to choose from a rainbow of borrowable Hunter wellies and bikes. As there are not yet child seats or stabilisers, Mr Smith rediscovers the lost art of the ‘backie’ and we’re off.
Enid Blyton would be proud as we pedal away in the early evening sun, our cheery faces glowing as we explore cycle paths galore. A corner of England where sturdy ponies with fluffy hooves roam freely is undeniably special, especially when you can cycle energetically and safely down country lanes. And thankfully, as after 20 minutes our muscles start to burn, when it even promises world-class cocktails within reach.
Mealtimes are when hotels show their mettle, never more so than when they sell themselves as luxury hotels that actively welcome children. This isn’t a nursery tea and babysitters kind of place (though they are available) – no, this is a grown-up environment that is genuinely friendly towards kids. It’s a tricky path to navigate, and I heartily applaud any establishment that succeeds. There are two restaurants – the Scullery, for fantastic breakfasts, lunches and relaxed suppers, and also a full-on posh-crockery formal dining – and unusually, kids are welcome at both.
Dithering over cocktails in the atrium, we munch on olives as big as the gobstoppers we buy the next day in Lyndhurst’s Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe. From the all-adult, well-dressed clientele in the smart dining room, we consider stage exit left to the Scullery. Yet, feeling it our duty to you dear Mr & Mrs Smith reader to sample that tasting menu, we stay committed. Yes, we’re going Michelin-starred all for you. At this point we meet Lime Wood’s star, Cedric, the charming Belgian maître d’. Proffering not just top-drawer amuses bouches, he also suggests that our family might like the best table in the hotel… Seats at the chef’s table in the kitchen – a rare privilege, of course – and the best of the menus accompanied by the theatre of watching the chefs at work. It is a masterstroke of diplomacy and bonhomie.
In the sepia tint of this uncharacteristically clement spring weather, we turn back the clock to 1950, and go crab fishing on Mudeford Quay. Next thing we’re riding horses through the kind of ancient forest that Robin and his merry men would have happily capered about in. How comforting that should the heavens open, we could head back to Lime Wood, settle back against the scatter cushions, book a massage, and order tip-top room service. There’s no question that Lime Wood is a hotel prepared to go to any length to ensure its guests, whatever age, get what they want. It’s not what you’d call understated, and neither – having counted the Porsches and Ferraris in the car park – are its guests. But Lime Wood delivers on its promise of luxury, with genuine friendliness, and a damn-fine melon martinis. Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Nouveau Forêt.
Anonymously reviewed by Katie Derham (Prom queen)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in Lime Wood's guestbook below.
I am not usually a spa person, but Lime Wood's spa is fantastic; you could not get me out! The cocktail bar and staff were excellent, and were happy to make whatever you wanted. The snooker room was also somewhere that was great to spend time.
I like to choose if I give a tip, not for it to be automatically added to the bill. Although I was happy to pay as the service was excellent, it should still be a choice.
Richard, BlackSmith stayed on 18 Oct 2013
Every aspect of our stay at Limewood was first class and we cannot wait to return!
We could not recommend it enough.
Carly, BlackSmith stayed on 23 Jun 2013
Everything! It was the most wonderful and relaxing place to stay and de-stress.What really shone through was the genuine friendliness and willingness to please of the staff.We shall definitely return.
Richard, BlackSmith stayed on 8 May 2013
Everything. Such an amazing place for a break. We're still feeling the benefits. I can honestly say that the facial I had at Lime Wood was the best I have ever had and my husband felt the same about his massage. We'll definitely be going back to Lime Wood. I'd have moved there permanently if I could.
I didn't love having to pay extra for breakfast.
Kate, SilverSmith stayed on 9 Nov 2012
We loved this hotel. I managed to book the wrong dates and we arrived too early! It was sorted with tact and efficiency, and a similar room was found very quickly. The food in the Scullery was amazing and room service was good with everything arriving in a wicker basket. The staff were polite and very helpful.
The only complaint we had was the noise coming from the room next door. The hairdryer sounded as if it was in our room, and I never like to hear other loos flushing!
Susan, SilverSmith stayed on 14 Oct 2012
We loved the decor, the proximity to the gorgeous forest, the attentive and friendly service. It was all lovely.
Not one thing!
Diane, BlackSmith stayed on 2 Oct 2012
A truly fabulous stay. The hotel rooms are so lovely, we were happy to spend most of our time there. And thanks to the accommodating staff, that’s very easy to do. It's well worth going to the spa too and splashing out (on treatments and not just in the pool). Definitely a highlight of our trip to the New Forest. Looking forward to visiting again next year.
With Angela Hartnett on board the dining room should reach another level.
symon, SilverSmith stayed on 19 Jun 2012
An excellent choice of hotel for my wife's special birthday (or for any other time). Everything surpassed my expectations. The staff were most welcoming, helpful and obliging in every aspect and in all areas of the hotel. The bedroom was superb – clean and comfortable with a great bathroom. The restaurants had a good choice of menus and excellent food (including breakfast). For relaxation, the many lounges and sitting rooms are all decorated to impeccable taste, as is the whole hotel. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to taking advantage of the hotel's other facilities, such as the wonderful outdoor swimming pool, sun lounge areas, gym and Nature Trails. We will certainly return and recommend to friends. The position of Lime Wood in the New Forest is also an excellent site for exploring this part of the world. No negative remarks whatsoever.
Harold, BlackSmith stayed on 24 Apr 2012
Just back from our weekend at Lime Wood. Well, I'd agree with all that's written in the review and more. I was worried that having looked forward to a weekend here for such a long time it wouldn't live up to expectations, a bit like reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin then watching the disappointing film version. It did and more. Ditto everything in the review but I'd also add a few words about the spa and gym. I'm not really a gym bunny but who wouldn't enjoy gazing at fabulous views of the forest gardens or Herb Garden to take your mind off what you are putting your body through. After the exertion, on to some serious pampering. The spa is exquisite and treatments whilst relaxing but extremely professional carried out by therapists who really know what they are doing – a rarity these days. All in all, a fabulous weekend. Thank you Lime Wood.
Renate, GoldSmith stayed on 20 Apr 2012
This is a really well appointed hotel which we found to be fabulous. The spa is outstanding, the service attentive and relaxed, the food superb and the area beautiful. If you stay here be sure to spend some time appreciating the hotel as it really is superb.
Tim, BlackSmith stayed on 17 Feb 2012