January in the UK feels like the low-point of the year; the sparkle of December festivities is long-faded, the days are short, cold and dark and London feels particularly grey and uninspiring. Combine this with the toxic-fog that’s been asphyxiating the city lately, prompting a Mayoral warning to stay inside, and you’ll understand why we needed to escape to the country for a few days.
The New Forest might only be 2 hours’ drive south from London but when we took in a deep breath of clean forest air and looked up at the star-filled night sky, unpolluted by street-lighting, we felt a world away from the capital. For suburbanites and city-dwellers like us, there’s a sense of magic in the wind that blows through the New Forest; wild ponies roam freely, sticking their heads into phone boxes while they stroll around the edges of local village pubs and whether rain or shine the landscape is painted with natural beauty.
We found Lime Wood when we googled “best spa hotels in southeast England” and after seeing their website we booked a short stay without even checking any tripadvisor reviews. The layout of the estate, which sits magnificently in its own sprawling grounds, is one of many buildings; the grand main house (where we had cocktails in the cosy library in front of an open fire), the Herb House spa (which houses hydrotherapy pools, a gym, a health-food bar and a large outdoor hot tub) and the collection of guest houses all arranged village-like around the larger main buildings.
You’ll see from our YouTube video that the spa is pretty lush. It might not the biggest spa but all Herb House’s features are smart and designed with style. I love the large, bright sauna with its huge window into the forest (the complete opposite of the usual claustrophobic sweat-box sauna) and the hydro-pool’s panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows that make sitting back and mindlessly staring straight ahead so much more peaceful than people-watching your fellow spa-users’ red faces bob up and down through the bubbles and steam.
We tried to spend some time in the outdoor hot tub but sadly for us the rain came hammering down so we ran back inside with our dressing gowns over our heads.
Make sure you try something healthy and delicious from the Raw & Cured food bar in the spa.
After a day at the spa you’d think we’d have had enough of soaking ourselves but when we saw the free-standing bathtub in our room, set in a bay window with 180 degree views into the forest, we popped a bottle of champagne, put on some music and filled the bath all the way to the top. The room was so warm that we had all the windows open so we could hear the birds singing as we relaxed in the bath. The cupcakes left in our room on our arrival were a great touch – thanks, Lime Wood.
A quick note on our dinner at the hotel's Hartnett Holder & Co restaurant – some of the best red deer and suckling pig we’ve ever eaten! Certainly the best we’ve had in the UK. Top marks to the chef!
Now, they say you can judge someone by their friends and I’ve always thought you can judge a place by its visitors. Based on what we’d seen on Lime Wood’s website we were expecting the hotel’s décor to be lots of natural wood with modern touches; kind of hipster Shoreditch warehouse-cum-health retreat but this really isn’t the style of Lime Wood at all.
From the moment you pull up to the grand entrance and see Bentleys and Rolls Royces parked outside you quickly realise this isn’t a young hipster hangout but more of a classic country pile. Built as a hunting lodge back in the 13th century, this New Forest manor house was taken over by the Duke of Clarence in the 1740s and, having now been lovingly restored and renovated, is fit for royalty.
Inside, the hotel is perfectly proper; whether you take tea by an open fire, have cocktails in the scullery or share a beer in the billiard room, you’ll not fail to be impressed by the grandeur of Lime Wood. Visit during summer and you’ll get to see the million-pound glass ceiling over the inner-courtyard retract at the flick of a switch while the DJ spins a set from the mezzanine.
Lime Wood’s guests fit right into this opulent pseudo-royalty mould, at least, they seem to think they do. They’re what Leo and I refer to as ‘Mullins people’ (If you think you might know that reference then let us know!). Middle-aged husbands ignore their wives while they read the FT and order breakfast from the delightful staff without ever making eye contact with their server. The first wives club on a mid-week pamper-break cackle around the dining table, complaining about the amount of chicken in their salads and asking to taste every red wine before they make a decision. Some of the people we saw and heard seemed to think they had enough money that they think they’d bought their way out of politeness to others (more than once our smiles to the other guests were met with faces so sour we thought the bartender had spiked the lemonade). Mullins people!
(But don't be put off by that - there were also plenty of nice people around who were just as taken by Lime Wood as we were and happy to chat).
We blocked the Mullins crowd out of our view and focused on what is a stunning hotel in a beautiful location. The staff are the stars of the show at Lime Wood; attentive, friendly and down-to-Earth. We really enjoyed our short break and would love to visit again.
We stayed in a Generous Room on a B&B package for £395 per night.