Review by Fiona Duncan, published 8th November 2011.
Have I gone soft? Chewton Glen, whose charms I have hitherto largely resisted, is getting to me.
It's always been a class act; indeed, as far as all-enveloping luxury country house hotels are concerned, it's undoubtedly one of the very finest. But personally, though I've never failed to admire the hotel's professionalism, I've never warmed to its unexceptional location nor, hitherto, to its ever-so-posh, carefully manicured character.
It used to feel – for my tastes – too coiffed and cloying, full of middle-aged golfers in tartan trousers and spike-haired footballers trailing teetering, tarted-up wives. I admired it as an operation, but my heart never skipped a beat. There was a lot of faffing about in the dining room with silver domes and somehow the solicitous ministrations of the staff and studied perfection of the place made me want to run amok.
It's not like that any more. OK, it's not Babington cool or Lime Wood cool, but not everyone wants that, and indeed the clientele at Chewton, on my latest visit, seemed much more of a comfortable cross section than the mix of City boys, media trendies and dubious assorted aspirants you get at those places. It felt sorted and I felt at home. I'm getting on.
But that's not the only reason. It's this hotel's willingness to adapt that marks it out, and I must say, as I dine in the glamorous new black-and-white restaurant and sip my breakfast coffee in the new conservatory, watching new children dashing about on the lawn (the advent of children at Chewton Glen is a recent invention), I tell myself that the current incarnation is the one that suits me best.
"The family rooms do take a terrible bashing," says G M Andrew Stembridge ruefully, "but we keep redecorating, so it's fine." How fine he'd think it if he'd seen, as I did, the horde of little darlings scooping up gravel from the terrace and spraying it all over the lawn, I'm not sure, though once they'd moved to the swings under the big trees, they looked much more appealing: like something out of The Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. Marryat wrote much of his book here in 1847. He wouldn't recognise it now. The original eight-bedroom house has expanded to 58, plus a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis centre and nine-hole golf course.
Recent improvements include the remodelled and enlarged restaurant, Vetiver, which stretches across five rooms, including a wine room and conservatory. It offers flexible menus, from light dishes, oysters and caviars to splendid silver trolleys bearing meats and cheese. Bedrooms and suites, in many different styles, still display their customary attention to detail, down to the stamped postcards on each desk, but are less fussy than they were.
Soon there will be two further major features, as desirable today as trouser presses must have seemed when the hotel first opened. One is a de rigueur walled kitchen garden, the other is more innovative and already causing a stir: treehouse suites. They will be on stilts for fun, eco-friendly for PC purposes, and the last word in luxury because this is, after all, Chewton Glen. They will be a huge hit.
- New Milton BH25 6QS (01425 275341; chewtonglen.com). Doubles from £351 per night, singles from £325, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities
Chewton Glen stands in a rather built-up area, but the New Forest and The Solent are near by. Charming places close at hand are Mudiford Beach, with its rows of traditional beach huts, and Milford-on-Sea and Keyhaven, with its little harbour. A great, blowy walk is from there to Hurst Spit, right out in The Solent, with a Tudor fort your goal. Or take a boat trip from Keyhaven Harbour around the Needles and to Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight.
At Chewton Glen
You could just stay put at Chewton Glen, because within the confines of the hotel and its grounds there is plenty to keep you occupied, from a blissful Ananda facial in the spa to the joys of ferret racing, beekeeping, duck herding and riding Apache buggies, as well as tennis in the indoor centre, golf on the nine-hole course, archery and croquet under the tutelage of the hotel’s own croquet master.