Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th July 2011.
I may be biased in favour of Lymington High Street – I know every inch of it, including its secretive alleyways – but it strikes me as a great place to while away a couple of days, especially at weekends when there’s a terrific Saturday market along its length.
At Stanwell House, I’m happy to report, you’ll find a very decent, and affordable, base. So once you have tired of the considerable charms of Lymington, its location “twixt coast and forest” as the tourist brochures will have it, you will be perfectly placed to enjoy both The Solent and the New Forest National Park.
Stanwell House, first a private house, then a finishing school for young ladies, and a hotel since 1945, is the finest building in a very fine Georgian thoroughfare that runs steeply downhill to the charming, cobbled lane leading to The Quay. Costa Coffee, W H Smith, et al, notwithstanding, the whole street makes me feel like a character in a Jane Austen novel, and I half expect to find myself wearing a bonnet and a gown of sprigged muslin.
For years, I could never quite bring myself to recommend Stanwell House; now I can because the current owners have striven to bring it back into the local community (one used to hurry past, without a second glance).
Beyond the entrance, with a bar (dedicated to local Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie) to one side and the most pleasant of the two restaurants to the other, the heart of the hotel is a glass-covered courtyard, where you can eat, drink or read a newspaper. If no one is occupying it, the place feels very unpromising and rather dreary and not somewhere one would want to linger.
Nowadays, however, thanks to excellent all day food from a variety of menus including Grill, Tapas, Seafood and Brunch, there often people around. Hungry sailors can stuff themselves at three in the afternoon, and their wives can refuse to return to the boat and book a room for the night.
Bedrooms are divided between boxlike but pleasantly decorated affairs in an unremarkable garden annexe (horrid corridors) and characterful ones in the main house; Nos 23, 24 and 25 have four-posters, creaky floorboards, original panelling and fireplaces. Almost all the hotel’s bathrooms are new.
So: I’d say that Stanwell House is on the way to being a very good hotel. On the way? It could be, and should be, so much more stylish than it is. The bedrooms are fine, but that courtyard… let me at it. All right, not me, but someone with flair and imagination who would make it into an enveloping space you just never wanted to drag yourself away from, with sofas as well as tables and chairs.
They do weddings here, though not an inordinate number. More romantic would be to tie the knot in St Thomas’s Church at the top of the hill, and then walk hand in hand, as I happened to witness a couple doing last Saturday, down the High Street past cheering and clapping market traders, to your reception at Stanwell House.
High Street, Lymington (0844 7046820; www.stanwellhousehotel.co.uk). Doubles from £99 per night, including breakfast. Access limited for guests with disabilities.