A new departure for the New Forest

Lime Wood, The New Forest, Hampshire

Sophie Lam
Saturday 02 January 2010 01:00
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The New Forest was defined in 1079 by the then king of England, William the Conqueror, as a "new hunting forest". But now, almost a millennium later, it appears to have taken on a new purpose as a hunting ground for luxury hotel developers, particularly those with one eye on gastronomy, who can make use of the region's natural larder.

After selling the successful Hotel du Vin chain, Gerard Basset, one of its founders, chose the New Forest as the site for his new project in 2007. Hotel Terravina is a country house that's one dash boutique hotel and two slugs "California wine country restaurant". And, not even five miles away, Hotel du Vin's other founding member, Robin Hutson is behind the forest's latest hotel opening: Lime Wood.

This isn't an exercise in one-upmanship. The pair met while working at Chewton Glen, the New Forest's prototype luxury country house hotel, and Hutson says it is entirely natural that they have both settled here. The crux of the operation, though, is Alex Aitken, a self-taught chef who garnered a Michelin star at his former restaurant, Le Poussin, in nearby Brockenhurst. He bought the hotel with his wife in 1999, running it for five years until it closed for what has transpired to be a £30m redevelopment.

He has since sold his share and concentrates on the kitchen, leaving the hotel business to Hutson and Justin Pinchbeck, formerly of The Zetter in London. You can see where the money has gone: the graceful Regency house has been brought into the present by design doyen David Collins, who has revived the country house concept.

The historic framework is still in place – a smattering of pastoral oil paintings, a grand central staircase and 29 working fireplaces. But every detail has been reworked for a country house hotel of today. The bar, for example, is classic Collins – reminiscent of his London projects at The Berkeley and The Connaught hotels, with rich colours and masculine lines. In the interconnecting public rooms he has created a kaleidoscopic effect, with pistachio green, lilac, duck egg blue and butter-hued walls shifting seamlessly as you pass from one room to the next.

The main Portland stone house now seeps into a red- brick extension, and a collection of new outbuildings houses a spa and additional suites, buffering the main house from the encroaching trees. As I pulled up to the house at night, a team of staff in winter coats and flat caps was waiting at the door, indicative of the polished but welcoming level of service.

There are two restaurants: the Scullery, a cosy room with white crockery lining the walls and an open fireplace, and Alex Aitken's fine dining restaurant.

The Scullery is just the sort of place every country house hotel needs: somewhere informal where you can order beans on toast, local Dexter beef bolognaise or "Lime Wood sausage" and mash at reasonable prices (the average cost of a main course is £15). Aitken's more refined restaurant is a triumph too, with fine local produce contributing to dishes such as saddle of New Forest venison with haggis, or sautéd halibut with bog myrtle and caramelised onions.

Location

The hotel is surrounded by landscaped gardens and paddocks backing onto the forest. There are maps for woodland walks (and a boot room stocked dozens of Hunter wellies) and mountain bikes to borrow. The small town of Lyndhurst is just over a mile away and Ashurst, with rail connections to Southampton, Bournemouth and London Waterloo, is just over two miles away.

Comfort

There are 29 rooms in total, in both the main Regency house and the new outbuildings. The Coach House is built in a modern Arts and Crafts style from pale stone that looks like a bank of clouds at sunset. It leads to the New England-style Crescent: all white clapboard with slate roofs and private patios.

Two brick Pavilions sit discreetly at the end of the garden on the edge of the forest: private cottages where the woodland comes right up to your window (in the Ash Pavilion, the decadent roll-top bath sits in an alcove with wrap-around views of the trees), with sitting rooms and gardens.

The attention to detail throughout is exquisite, but for hoteliers and guests alike, the draw here is the green canopy that lies outside.

Lime Wood

Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7FZ (023 8028 7177; limewood hotel.com)

Rooms: 5/5

Value: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Double rooms start at £265, room only.

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