Originally a mediaeval hunting lodge way back in the 13th century, this New Forest manor was reclaimed for royalty by the Duke of Clarence in the 1740s. Since then, Lime Wood hotel has had another extravagant makeover, giving this stately pile an air of perfection, with landscaped grounds, devotedly designed interiors, a super spa and a tantalising restaurant to prove it.
33, including 12 suites, one Forest Cabin, one Lake Cabin and two Forest Cottages.
11.30am. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £393.76, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (£21 for Continental; £28 for full English).
At the hotel
The Herb House has a spa, gym and indoor pool. Library of books and DVDs, pool, snooker and billiards, mountain bikes and wellies for guests, walking and running trails, valet parking, helipad, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Roberts radio, reusable water bottle and Bamford bath products.
Our favourite rooms
For honeymoon‑perfect privacy, pick the Pavilion Lodge – it’s separate from the main house and has a private terrace overlooking the forest and a roll‑top bath in the bay window. The bedrooms in the main house are also high on romance, thanks mainly to the elegant Italian marble bathrooms in soft grey and white – Rooms 1 and 2 have bath tubs beneath wide sash windows, and Room 11 has double sinks and an enormous bathroom. If you like a quirky attic abode, plump for an Eaves or Forest Loft room.
The 16-metre heated indoor swimming pool is bordered by glass windows overlooking the gardens. The pool is child-friendly, but only during specific hours, so be sure to book ahead with the Herb House reception before bringing along accompanying little Smiths.
The soul-soothing Herb House spa is spread across three floors, with assorted treatment rooms (eight single rooms, two couple rooms and three for manis), a sauna, an indoor pool with serene forest views, and the Raw & Cured café serving fresh smoothies, juices and other virtuous treats. The decked-out gym is has all the latest Technogym equipment and you can take an extensive range of group fitness classes in the studio or the Hideout.
Leave sensible shoes at home – there’s a whole range of wellies to borrow.
A two night minimum stay is required at weekends, and a three night minimum stay on bank holidays.
Pups are welcome in the Garden Room and Lodges for £30 a night; the hotel provides beds and bowls, but they can't be taken into the Main House, Spa or restaurants. See more pet-friendly hotels in Hampshire.
Little Smiths are well looked after at Lime Wood – cots are £10, extra beds are £30; there’s a children’s menu and bikes on loan. Babysitting with a local nanny starts from £70 an evening (for a minimum of four hours per evening).
Pick a quiet table for two by the window, or ask to dine at the chef’s table in the kitchen.
There’s a grown-up manor feel, so clean off the country muck before dinner.
Chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder (who have a formidable Michelin pedigree) plunder their British and Italian heritage, forage for fungi in neighbouring woods and cure it in the onsite Smokehouse to bring refined comfort food – on small, less formal plates – to Hartnett, Holder & Co. The dining space mixes aristocratic eccentricity with trattoria bric-a-brac, including an espresso machine, oak bar and Tracy Emin artwork; or guests can get cosy on a velvet corner sofa and split a sharing dish for more intimate affairs. Adjourn to The Courtyard for alfresco afternoon tea or opt for a leaner, but no less delectable, salad at Raw & Cured, the Herb House Spa’s food bar.
The light and bright Courtyard Bar has cosy sofas and swivelly Chesterfield-style bar seating; it's a sociable place to enjoy a glass from their extensively researched wine list, a freshly shaken cocktail or a few bits to nibble from the grazing menu.
Breakfast is served in the Scullery between 7am and 10.30am. Hartnett Holder & Co serves lunch from noon and dinner from 6pm until 9pm. The grazing menu in the Courtyard Bar is served until 9.30pm.
Dishes from the Hartnett Holder and Co à la carte can be eaten in-room from noon to 9.30pm. After hours (until 7am), a few select picks from the Lime Wood after-hours menu can be brought to your room.
Lime Wood is a grand country house hotel in the New Forest with a luxurious spa and indulgent restaurant.
Southampton airport is the nearest, a mere 15 miles away, or 25 minutes' drive. Bournemouth airport is 25 miles (40 minutes' drive) away.
The nearest station is Brockenhurst, a 10-minute drive (six miles) away with trains connecting you to Winchester, Southampton, Basingstoke and London – South West Trains (www.southwesttrains.co.uk) can whisk you here from London Waterloo in about 90 minutes.
The hotel is conveniently located just 20 minutes from Southampton and has free valet parking for guests, as well as an additional car park for spa- and restaurant-goers. A car's not essential if you're weekending here, but for longer stays you'll want one to get out and explore.
There's also a helipad (call ahead if you're planning on making a big entrance): N50:51:52, W01:33:11, OS: 196 (SU) 314073.
Worth getting out of bed for
Don your wellies and get out into the country air. Visit Beaulieu Motor Museum and wander along the river to Buckeler's Hard hamlet (lovely at high tide). Let Lime Wood know in advance and they'll arrange a kayak trip on the nearby Beaulieu River. Venture into Lymington for seaside walks, nature reserve trails and Isle of Wight day trips.
At Beaulieu, call in at TheMaster Builder’s at Buckler’s Hard for lunch or dinner – this elegant rustic pub makes the most of the excellent local produce, turning a recent shoot’s venison into sausages and cooking up comforting Sunday roasts. More locally sourced fare awaits at the Oak Inn on Pinkney Lane in Bank – seafood from Lymington in summer and game from within a five-mile radius in winter.
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.