“Englishness” is certainly Buckingham Palace and afternoon tea and swathes of very green countryside, but, from a hotel point of view, it is no longer floral wallpaper, saggy beds and appalling coffee. Chewton Glen Hampshire, a 90-minute drive “at seven 'clock” from Heathrow Airport, beautifully illustrates what the ideal English rural hotels offer — it was indeed deemed, last month, “best country house hotel, 2018,” by hoteliers and others voting via a leading industry publication, Caterer Magazine.
Think of 130 acres of gorgeous pasture situated right next to the famous New Forest, where wild ponies saunter across public roads as if they own them. There, back in 1732, a compact two-floor brick house was built. Its most famous owner was George Marryat, whose brother, Captain Frederick Marryat, wrote the classic “Children of the New Forest” when staying there in 1847. Jump to today, and the house has been most tastefully expanded, to offer, in all, 72 bedrooms in a variety of formations.
Millennials especially tend to reserve Treehouse Suites — note, these are booked months ahead. There are seven houses, one designed by fashion leader Stella McCartney, a personal friend of Chewton Glen's Owner Ian Livingstone, whose company (L&R) has a massive portfolio that includes England's Cliveden and The Lygon Arms, as well as Fairmont Monte-Carlo and over a hundred other significant properties worldwide.
Treehouses, gardens and croquet
At Chewton Glen, each Treehouse, poised on wooden stilts about ten feet high, is actually two connecting suites. Interiors feel somewhat Scandinavian, with wooden walls, working log fires and hideaway bunk beds for kids; all suites have prominent balconies, with hot tubs, and guests can look out into what could be taken for a virgin forest. It is a five-minute walk from the main house, with buggies available, but a walkway takes guests past a few of the dozens of outstanding modern sculptures, mostly metal, and displayed around the whole estate.
While on the subject of the outdoors at Chewton Glen, the two-acre Walled Garden, with a wide range of fruit and vegetables and over 200 rare trees, is not to be missed. Elsewhere, there is a golf putting, and indoor and outdoor tennis; and, the hotel it is only a 20-minute walk to the coast, and along the English Channel beach.
On property, there is the quintessentially English game, croquet. I think my favorite rooms, especially for families, are the Croquet View Suites, especially those on the first floor, with direct terrace access to the lawn, which is what a croquet field is technically called. All rooms have electrically heated rails in the bathroom, ideal for warming or drying clothes if it is raining outside (umbrellas, of course, are provided).
Nothing is too much trouble for GM Andrew Cook, at one time with then-Orient Express in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Want a New York Times? It will be hanging outside your door by 6.30 a.m.
Local fare and afternoon tea
Feel like a proper U.S.-style burger? Compose your own filling at the superb Kitchen restaurant, a stand-alone designer conservatory by Chewton Glen's main gate — it is justly popular with local people. Kitchen, open for lunch and dinner, has indoor and terrace seating: inside, guests can look through two glass walls, one into the kitchen, the other into the cookery school where lessons are held daily.
Main dining is in Vetiver, in the main house. This has several rooms, including a conservatory that makes the most of the slightest bit of sun; and, ideal for family parties or even a romantic dinner for two, there is an agreeably private, though without a door, Wine Room. Here, a maximum of 20 can sit around a table lit by silver candelabra with candles giving a magnificent glow to the bottles lining the three main walls. Guests must not, under any circumstances, miss Vetiver's breakfast, with a lavish buffet of local produce, about 90 percent organic, which comes with a choice of a main course that could well be such specialties as kippers. If guests do not see something, such as fried bread (truly an Olde English staple) they can ask and it comes, without anyone turning a hair.
Of course, there is afternoon tea. And, anytime from 7 a.m., the spa offers a Palladian-feel indoor pool and a vitality pool with 11 stations. The only frustration, honestly, is that I never have enough time at Chewton Glen. I still need to perfect my croquet.