UK HOTELS

Is this the Home Counties’ best country house escape for families?

Just an hour from London is family favourite Four Seasons Hampshire, and it’s just had a large-scale renovation. Cathy Adams checks in, toddler in tow

<p>The two original 16th century dovecotes on the property</p>

The two original 16th century dovecotes on the property

In a nutshell: Upscale family-friendly country retreat fresh from renovation that’s pulling in the London smart set

The neighbourhood

The little Hampshire village of Dogmersfield is the setting for Four Seasons’ quintessential country retreat. The 18th-century manor house hotel stands proud amid 200 hectares of the historic parkland that is Dogmersfield Park, which featured in the 11th-century Domesday Book – it’s where Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, met her husband for the first time.

From the Four Seasons Hampshire, London is about an hour’s drive down the A3, while the town of Fleet is four miles away. If you’re here to walk, the North Downs isn’t far; Gatwick and Heathrow airports are also convenient-ish – not that this is an airport hotel. If you come here, chances are it’s to kick back, not fly off.

The look

Regal. The stately Georgian manor house, after a mile-ish trip up the winding hotel driveway, provides quite the entrance. As the hotel mushroomed, the original house has been added to with in-keeping wings and a glass conservatory housing the pools. Impressively, two original 16th-century dovecotes remain on the property, next to the groomed English garden.

This traditional English heritage threads through the entire property, from the interiors to the exteriors. Inside, there’s the elegant library – which serves afternoon tea – with wood panelling, navy armchairs and fresh flowers, with a duck egg-blue wooden bar.

During the extended Covid shutdown, the hotel underwent a large-scale renovation, which has just been completed, mainly refreshing the interiors and upgrading bedrooms.

An interiors highlight from the refresh is the light green wallpaper in the corridors, by Glasgow-based Timorous Beasties, which depicts the natural life straight outside the Four Seasons’ door: deer, fishing and country pursuits.

The vibe

Relaxed. It might be a Four Seasons (and this Toronto-based hotel group does a great line in fancy city hotels) but the vibe is very much Londoner-on-country-spa-retreat. There were a lot of wellies, families of all ages and dogs relaxing in the Library and in the restaurant Wild Carrot (see below). Muddy shoes and scruffy children are very much tolerated here, which is certainly a first for me when staying in a five-star hotel.

As you’d expect from one of the world’s best hotel groups, everyone is made to feel impeccably welcomed, and nothing feels like too much trouble.

Go Ape is on site

Bed and bath

Plush rooms are similarly in keeping with the 18th-century English vibe – pea green walls the colour of the lawn outside, russet velvet chaise longues, roll-top baths and crisp white linens, all provided by British companies.

As part of the renovation, rooms have been upgraded with sofa bed options, new nightstands, soft furnishings such as ottomans and – my personal favourite – high-tech headboards, which have USB power access and reading spotlights. Catering to busy families, the Four Seasons Hampshire also added connecting rooms, which is ideal to capture the new multigenerational travel trend or to cater for those staying with older kids.

Food and drink

Wild Carrot is the hotel’s main restaurant, situated on the ground floor with views over the groomed grounds and beyond. Food runs along seasonal, locally sourced lines (steaks, roast chicken, plenty of fish options) while the children’s menu was adventurous: my toddler enjoyed the chicken korma and poppadoms with mango chutney, a far cry from the usual chicken nuggets and chips. Round, squashy booths make the whole thing feel familial.

The restaurant’s bar provides the after-hours fun, and practically begs you to pull up a high green leather chair.

Public areas

The pool fits in with the hotel’s sense of luxury

Let’s start with the spa, housed in an 18th-century stable block. This also houses a 20m indoor pool (leading to the outdoor vitality pool) as well as the all singing, all-dancing new Sharkie’s Reef for kids, with a slide and all kinds of fun water features.

Guests are unlikely to get bored with the sheer variety of activities on offer: there’s a Go Ape on site, plus a dizzying array of outdoor pursuits including horse-riding, archery, clay pigeon shooting, tennis and croquet. There’s also a wooden children’s playground. We had an acute case of Fomo for choosing to just walk around the grounds and the lake... boring!

Nuts and bolts

Room count: 134

Freebies: Fresh fruit basket in the room

In the bathroom: Asprey goodies for adults, Le Petit Prince toiletries for children

Wifi: Complimentary

Extra charges: None

Minibar prices: From £3

Disability access: Yes

Pet policy: Enthusiastically welcomed, with their own special bed and “personalised welcome”

Covid precautions: Hand sanitiser stations; temperature taken on check-in (guests are encouraged to do this daily); one-way systems through reception; booked dinner and pool times

Bottom line

Best thing: How it neatly balances being both family-friendly and a sexy country house escape for adults. I’d describe it as being very family-friendly, while a young couple might call it a “millennial country house” – the fact it caters to both demographics admirably is impressive

Worst thing: The price

Perfect for: Families of all ages. It’s hard to find a more child-friendly luxe hotel that has so much to do for kids

Not right for: Anyone who doesn’t own “suitable shoes”

Instagram from: The manor house looks particularly elegant when seen from the grounds at the front

Room rate: From £525 + VAT, B&B

fourseasons.com/hampshire

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