Criss-crossed with sunken lanes, dotted with gentle hills and unspoilt villages, Dorset has so far escaped the brutality - yet convenience - of a motorway. So the landscape of Thomas Hardy's novels has retained much of its lush, pastoral look.
It's Dorset's seaside that many people are here for, both the wildly fascinating Jurassic Coast and the pretty seaside towns with their piers and arcades. And many of the best places to stay in Dorset are along the coastline.
Dorset is far enough from London to feel properly rural, and the incredible coastline has a bevy of beaches which will be irresistible to walkers, runners and sitters alike. Rich both in fossils and iconic coastal locations, three quarters of Dorset's coast is a World Heritage Site, and over half the county is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and the impressive 150 million year old Portland stone arch, Durdle Door are all well worth a visit. You might want to pack a copy of Ian McEwan’s short elegant novel On Chesil Beach to read during your stay. If you plan to do more than eat, drink, sleep, relax and enjoy your surroundings, then you can stick to the Jurassic Coast and hike, sail, kayak, swim or fossil hunt to your heart's content.
Inland you'll find the iron age forts, stately homes and pretty pastoral villages of Hardy. The Dorset County Museum has the world's largest collection of Hardy artefacts if you're interested in the great man. Dorset is also home to Clouds Hill, the home of T.E. Lawrence, which is much as he left it, when he was tragically killed at 46, in a motorbike accident just down the road.
The Roman Town House in Dorchester sits atop many sightseeing lists. The only example of a fully exposed Roman town house in the UK, it is free to visit and open all the year round. And Corfe Castle is one of Dorset's iconic landmarks. Sherborne Old Castle, once home to Sir Walter Raleigh, and Kingston Lacy, the stately home which housed the Bankes family after the Roundheads turfed them out of Corfe Castle.
Smart B&B - part of a new b+b concept chain - offering modern design on Weymouth's seafront, opposite the beach, for an affordable price. Convenient and central base.
Thatched tudor cottage turned B&B just outside Dorchester. Period features and walls crammed with art. Only two bedrooms ensure an intimate atmosphere. Great bolthole for exploring the Jurassic coast and surrounding area.
Buckhorn Weston, Dorset
A reinvention of the English country pub, boutique style. Original highlights - wooden beams, inglenook fireplaces - retained, with addition of stylish, freshly designed rooms.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Charming and eccentric restaurant with rooms, bags of character, in a Queen Ann manor house. Good value, simple rooms, old fashioned, in great countryside.
near Dorchester, Dorset
Superb private country house b&b wonderfully situated amidst fields, for total relaxation, walking & good food. Secluded with great views, surrounded by lovely countryside.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Quirky and stylish artists house and studio - Georgian villa with sloping lawn and seaviews in charming seaside town. Five minute walk to the beach, and right in the middle of town.
After a makeover, this former Georgian inn in the middle of Hardy country oozes casual elegance. Retire to stylish rooms upstairs after dinner in the first-rate revamped restaurant. Great service and classy accommodation without the high price tag.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Award-winning thatched country pub in picture postcard village in rural north Dorset, with great food (game a speciality), and cosy, stylish rooms.
Chic, cosy hotel for a weekend break in Dorset. 23 rooms are ultimate shabby chic with four-posters, wooden floors, stand alone bath tubs. Gourmet restaurant uses produce fresh from the kitchen garden. Miles of English coastline to explore and stunning views. The perfect getaway.
Renovated country town hotel, with great food, for romantic weekending. Stylish mix of contemporary and traditional, in an excellent town for antiquing surrounded by great countryside.
Designer eco hotel a few hundred yards from the beach, with fine dining - great for business stays or small conferences.
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Characterful Jacobean manor house hotel in glorious Thomas Hardy country, in the same family for centuries, with portraits to match. An air of faded grandeur. The real deal.
Style and exceptional service on the Dorset coast. The newly refurbished Christchurch Harbour Hotel offers smart bedrooms, excellent food, pampering spa and wonderful views. Perfect for an indulgent break by the sea.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Panoramic views over the ocean and the harbour from this cliff top boutique hotel. Luxurious bedrooms with private balconies, gourmet restaurant and sea-facing terrace, and an excellent spa too. Great for a weekend away, think lobster and sea breeze.
A slice of old England served with China tea, a peaceful and romantic hotel in lovely Wareham on the edge of the Isle of Purbeck. Plenty of great excursions for adults and older kids.
Christchurch (East Dorset)
A modern seaside hotel on the banks of the River Stour in Christchurch. Self-catering rooms and suites have fully equipped kitchens, modern furnishings, and balconies with views. Top of the range spa and therapies, terraces, good restaurant, and plenty of local activities. Very family oriented.
Hardyesque country house hotel that pulls the stops out, with spa, pool, gourmet cooking and luxurious rooms. Multiple fabrics and plush furnishings, not for minimalists.