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.
Double rooms from £435.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (around £16.50 for Continental; £25 for full English).
At the hotel
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. The Herb House Spa has an indoor pool. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Roberts radio, reusable water bottle and Bamford bath products.
Our favourite rooms
For honeymoon‑perfect privacy, pick the Pavilion Forest Lodge – it’s separate from the main house and has a four‑poster bed, a private terrace overlooking the countryside 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 room.
The heated indoor swimming pool is family friendly and has specific children’s swim hours: from 8:30am to 10am Monday to Friday and from 8:30am to 11am on weekends and Bank Holidays. There’s also a hydrotherapy pool and an outdoor hot pool connected to the spa.
The soul-soothing Herb House spa is spread across three floors, with assorted treatment rooms (eight single, two double and one for manis and pedis), a mud house, sauna, steam house, indoor pool with serene forest views, steamingly-hot outdoor pool, sun deck with a herb garden and the Raw & Cured café serving fresh smoothies, juices and other virtuous treats. The 'Matt Roberts' gym is fitted out with the latest equipment and you can take an extensive range of group fitness classes in the studio.
Leave sensible shoes and coats at home – there’s a whole range of wellies and waterproofs to borrow.
In-room spa and beauty treatments can be arranged. A two night minimum stay is required at weekends.
Little Smiths are well looked after at Lime Wood – cots are £10, extra beds are £30; there’s a children’s menu and bikes and scooters on loan. Babysitting with a local nanny costs £60 an evening (for a minimum of four hours).
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, hand rear their meat 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 café. Don't be surprised if you have a healthy glow after a stay at Lime Wood – the hotel has worked with celebrity nutritionist Amelia Freer to incorporate her food philosophy in many of their menus.
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. Roasted heritage beetroot with goats cheese, arancini and comfort food including eggs and marmite toast and meatballs and Tuscan ragout are just some of the finger foods with flair on Hartnett Holder and Co's menu.
Breakfast is served in the Scullery between 7am and 11am. Hartnett Holder & Co serves lunch from noon to 2.30pm, dinner from 6pm until 11pm. The grazing menu in the Courtyard Bar is served until 11pm.
Dishes from the Hartnett Holder and Co à la carte can be eaten in-room from noon to 11pm. After hours (until 7am), a few select picks from the Courtyard Grazing menu can be brought to your room.
Set in neatly manicured grounds on the outskirts of the New Forest, near to Lyndhurst, Lime Wood is easily accessible from London and close to Southampton.
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
Among its myriad charms, the hotel's cuisine is a stand-out, so take a cue from the talented kitchen team and attend a class at HH & Co's on-site cookery school. Both beginners and masterchefs can learn insider tips and tricks from Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder, the duo behind the hotel's acclaimed restaurant. Full- and half-day courses range from risotto and pasta making to cocktail mixing and biscotti crafting. Get out into the country air for a spot of horse-riding, archery, falconry or rambling. Stock up on seasonal fruit and veg at Warborne Farm, a mile and a half east of Lymington. Visit Beaulieu, then walk along the river to Buckler’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.
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. For something more Continental, head toFra Noion the high street in Lyndhurst, an Italian trattoria serving up authentic delights from foodie region Emilia-Romagna.
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.