Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st January 2011.
You know those luxurious resort hotels that spring up in exotic but impoverished locations? Where the locals are busy washing clothes in the river while guests call for buggies to take them to the spa? For the natives, it must be akin to a spaceship full of idle, dissolute, champagne-quaffing Martians landing in the middle of your rice paddy.
Well, in the case of this week’s hotel, I am one of those natives and Lime Wood is the spaceship that has come to rest on my patch: 145 square miles of ancient heath and woodland where ponies, donkeys, pigs, cattle and deer still freely roam – the New Forest. When the hotel first opened, we scratched our heads, muttered about pretentiousness and generally reacted as if we’d spotted Joan Collins in the chippy.
Its Herb House setting is gorgeous: private bathrooms in the changing rooms; sensuous swimming and hydrotherapy pools, a charming Raw and Cured bar/restaurant, and a herb garden on the roof, all with sylvan views beyond. The attention to detail is astonishing.
Indeed, it’s the attention to detail throughout Lime Wood that makes it special and why it will stand the test of time. Bankrolled by billionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe, it was created by architects Charles Morris and Ben Pentreath, and designer David Collins from the shell of a Georgian house, formerly a placid country hotel.
The oak doors are thick, the paint finishes lush, the brickwork laid to the architect’s design; soft floorlights switch on automatically as you walk into the bathroom; a million-pound glass roof retracts above the inner courtyard at the press of a button; stylised sitting rooms melt one into the other, pale lemon into lilac into mint green, each with an open fire. A pity about some of the pictures, especially those in the lovely hall (fabulous “oak leaf” chandelier, though).
At first it all felt too glacial; now there are children tickling the ivories of the Yamaha grand, and couples swanning on the terrace and among the carp pools. Dogs are welcomed with Bonios wrapped in lime green ribbon.
It feels a treat to be here and relaxing. Lime Wood bridges the gap between the tweedy traditional country house of yore and taxingly cool Babington and its ilk. I’m thrilled that it’s landed on my patch, but I also note that while the New Forest has gained glamour and style from Lime Wood, Lime Wood has gained naturalness from the Forest.
- Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst (02380 287177; www.limewood.co.uk). Doubles from £245 per night, including breakfast. Adapted rooms for guests with disabilitie
WHERE TO WALK
Do as I do when I have weekend guests. Two especially lovely areas, close to Lime Wood, are Denny Wood, with it’s keeper’s lodge (look out for wood warblers and restarts) and Matley Heath, a lovely open area threaded by the upper part of the Beaulieu river, here a stream; also Beaulieu Road Station, excellent for Dartford warblers and stonechats.
BEST FOR LUNCH
As a contrast, drive to Beaulieu and follow the signposted riverside walk to Buckler’s Hard, where you can lunch at the excellent Master Builder’s (Buckler’s Hard Beaulieu Estate; 0844 815 3399;www.themasterbuilders.co.uk), either simply in the yachtsman’s pub there, or in the pretty, informal restaurant with lovely river views.
WHAT TO SEE
Also worth a visit is Lymington, with its steeply sloping Georgian High Street and cobbled quay, with a busy street market on Saturdays. Whatever you do, avoid Lyndhurst and its appalling traffic system; on busy weekends you risk being stuck for a long time. Never approach Lime Wood via Lyndhurst; approach via Beaulieu and Beaulieu Road Station. If you are interested in sailing in The Solent during your stay, Lime Wood can arrange.