Jane Austen once said, ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’ We completely concur, with just one tiny amendment… because we declare that there is no enjoyment like reading in hotels. At home, where ‘life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings’ (also Austen), we barely manage a few desultory pages before bed. In a hotel, you can actively dedicate yourself to the pursuit: snuggle under the covers with Mr Darcy after breakfast, lounge in the garden with Tom Ripley all afternoon, bring Bunny Corcoran along to the bar.
To reconnect you with your love of reading, we’ve gathered five of the best boutique and luxury hotels in Hampshire, Jane Austen’s home county. Each of these restful country boltholes surrounded by fields, forests and rivers will release you from your routine, spring you from your obligations and create a haven for your imagination. In short, they’re each the perfect place to get lost in a book… or maybe even to pick up a pen and start your own.
The Penguin classic
Set in an immaculate deer park in the pony-populated New Forest, stately stay Lime Wood has an aura of grandeur. But you won’t need to stand on ceremony – rather like an Austen novel, the hotel has progressive ideals smuggled inside its genteel Georgian jacket.
For instance, the restaurant may be helmed by Michelin-fȇted chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder, but little Smiths are more than welcome anytime and the Italian-British menu is full of unpretentious comfort food: risotto, gnocchi and roasted Cornish fish.
Since you’ll be spending your days reading, we won’t go chapter and verse into the myriad distractions on offer in the form of horseback riding, cooking lessons and yoga in the herb garden. We’ll only point you towards our favourite spots to while away the undisturbed hours: on a lime-green lounger by the indoor or outdoor pool, in a squishy chair by the fireplace in the library, or pruning in a Generous Room’s roll-top bath tub beneath a wisteria-framed window.
Detail to underline The hotel has a partnership with star London facialist Sarah Chapman so you can now have one of her sought-after Skinesis facials in the Herb House spa (and shop her products in the Curated boutique).
Novel idea A nutritionist consults on all the hotel’s menus, so you’ll find goodness-giving ingredients featured in the main restaurant, HH&Co, and particularly at Raw & Cured, the colourful café in the spa.
The memoirs of a country vet
The Pig may have started life as Lime Wood’s lovable little sister, but she’s now a matriarch in her own right. The hotel’s rustic charm and kitchen-garden concept proved so popular that it birthed a whole litter, and you’ll now find Pigs in some of the loveliest parts of England. But we still have a soft spot for the New Forest original who, over a decade later, remains a total babe.
Rooms are spread across the main house and over a handful of huts in the grounds which have a Hansel & Gretel thing going on with their wood-panelled walls and forest views. Then there’s the conservatory-esque restaurant where the story started – still obsessively committed to home-grown and local, still as delicious as ever.
Be sure to start off with their famous ‘piggy bits’ (crackling and chipolatas) and a glass of English sparkling wine before moving on to mains like game, beef, or fish that’s been smoked that afternoon in the barn out back.
Detail to underline In Animal Farm, two pigs called Napoleon and Snowball rise up to become despotic rulers. But, the friendly saddlebacks that live here don’t seem to harbour any political ambitions, they’re too busy munching on fallen apples to their heart’s content. You can find them by walking through the grounds (past the smoke house, kitchen garden, fruit cages and wildflower orchard).
Novel idea It’s not just the kitchen that works hand-in-hand with the gardener; there’s also a garden-to-glass concept in the bar – try a rosemary-infused vodka or a Garden Soda with purple basil and pineapple sage.
The Booker Prize-winner
Surrounded by 400 acres of estate, you’ll feel reassuringly remote at Heckfield Place near Hook, though actually you’re just an hour from London and 45 minutes from Heathrow.
We couldn’t possibly list all there is to do at this coolest of country estates – a day might start with wild swimming in the pond before a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes with plum jam or the Skye Gyngell-helmed main restaurant, Marle.
To follow, perhaps a Bodyism class or therapeutic massage at the Little Bothy Spa (where treatments use the hotel’s own Wildsmith Skin products, named for former head gardener William Wildsmith). Then, scamper to the screening room to see a new release before moving to the ethereal Moon Bar where cocktails are inspired by lunar phases.
Detail to underline Before you go, check what’s on at the Assembly, the hotel’s programme of talks, events, workshops and film screenings – you might join a whiskey workshop, learn to weave a rush basket or send little Smiths off to build a fort in the forest.
Novel idea The hotel has the noble ambition to be entirely self-sufficient in the not-too-distant future. They’re not there yet, but their kitchen garden is bio-dynamically certified and Marle has been given a Michelin ‘green star’, an award recognising restaurants with pioneering sustainability practices.
The Compleat Angler
The Grosvenor Hotel presides over the high street in the tiny town of Stockbridge right in the heart of the Test Valley. It won’t take you long to notice that people round here are fly fishing mad – the trout-filled River Test runs right under the high street and the shops are stuffed with rods, waders and complicated-looking tackle.
If you’re not the most avid of anglers, don’t worry, there’s plenty for literature lovers, too: the town has an independent book shop (the Bookmark), plus a poetry trail that will lead you along the river bank, and you could even walk the Test Way to Mottisfont Abbey, a setting for the intrigues of the Bloomsbury Set. But you won’t want to meander too far from the Grosvenor’s sun-trap walled garden, view-blessed bedrooms and cosy reading room, the Danebury.
Detail to underline You may wonder what goes on in the bay-windowed rooms above the hotel’s porte-cochère. It’s actually the home of the secretive Houghton Club, the oldest fishing club in Britain, which has an elected membership of just 25. It’s rumoured that one table at the Grosvenor’s restaurant is always left purposely unoccupied in case club members pop in.
Novel idea In the winter months, the hotel’s covered terrace becomes La Hutte, an alpine-inspired outdoor restaurant serving French onion soup, raclette and buttery tarte tatin (with plenty of space heaters and sheepskin rugs).
Five Go to the Countryside
Chewton Glen has won (almost) every accolade there is, so this grande dame doesn’t need much by way of introduction. It’s perched right on the edge of the New Forest in 130 acres of Hampshire countryside, so hale pursuits like archery, walking, fishing and biking are the obvious draw here. But, you’re also just a short walk from the beach at Highcliffe on Sea so when the weather is fine (hey, it happens), there’s the possibility of afternoons spent with your toes in the sand and your nose in a book.
Former guest Captain Frederick Marryat found Chewton Glen’s setting so inspiring that he penned The Children of the New Forest here. And you might even find time to read it during your stay since little Smiths will be occupied with art classes, croquet, golf, rifle shooting and goat-grooming (yep) on the grounds.
And, we doubt even the moodiest teenager would find it hard to stay sullen in one of the hotel’s hot-tub toting, night sky-gazing Treehouse Suites where you’ll need to walk an actual gangplank to get in.
Detail to underline Wilderness, mud and the smells of the farmyard feel far at bay in the pristine spa complex where you can lounge by the whirlpool in a fluffy white robe – the treatment menu runs the gamut from bespoke facials to Ayurvedic body rituals.
Novel idea Always wanted to bake your own bread, throw impressive dinner parties or put together a curry in a hurry? Those are just three of the workshops offered at Chewton’s Glen on-site cookery school. You can choose between full-day, half-day and evening courses and, of course, you’ll get to feast on what you make.
Now you’ve read the preface, dive into our complete compendium of Hampshire hotels