Balmer Lawn Hotel, New Forest reviewed by Kerry Potter
Usually, looking out of your bedroom window to discover a horse in your front yard would be cause for alarm but in the New Forest it is all part of the bucolic charm.
At the 4 star Balmer Lawn Hotel, set deep in the woodland just outside Brockenhurst, local ponies, pigs and sheep wander freely in the grounds.
Formerly a 19th century hunting lodge, a WW1 field hospital and then a WW2 military college, today it's a 54-room, family-run hotel with cosy, traditional décor - think lots of dark wood, burgundy hues and velvets, and view of the forest.
But you'll probably spend more time outdoors than in, as the big thing here is fitness. There are – deep breath, limber up – a gym, tennis court, squash courts, table tennis, croquet, miles of cycling and walking trails, plus kayaking, archery and sailing all nearby, and swimming, with indoor and outdoor pools on site. If you're tired just reading that list, you can flop into the recently refurbished spa, with its six treatment rooms, relaxation zone and ESPA products, sauna and Jacuzzi. You could also just sneak off to the lounge – where you can curl up on an old leather armchair in front of the log burner, with a glass of red to hand.
- The 'Choose Your Room' facility on the hotel's website allows you to do a recce before you book - a neat idea to avoid that heart-sinking moment when you skip into your room… only to discover it has a view of the bins. The website has detailed info and images for every room, including an honest view shot from each bedroom window.
- The extensive spa and sports facilities. With some hotels, they're a hastily assembled afterthought – not here.
- The ponies. I mean, just look at them. Could they be any more Instagrammable?
- Party animals need not apply – this is a tranquil weekend kind of place.
- The hotel is very child-friendly, so if you're seeking a kid-free haven it's best to avoid school holidays.
- Check in/ check out times: 3pm, 11am.
- Swimming pool: yes, heated indoor and outdoor pools, with the latter open roughly May to September.
Wi-fi free throughout the hotel.
Eating and drinking The hotel's airy AA rosette-awarded restaurant, Beresford's, is a glutton's paradise. Kick off with sharing plates of chickpea chips with garlic aioli, harissa roasted peppers and garlic chilli tiger prawns. Then move onto the steaks– which all come with fat chips, vine tomatoes and mushrooms. Round things off with banana, peanut and white chocolate bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream. Then collapse in a food coma.
Near to Trees. A lot of trees. Gorgeous for hearty walks, but if you want beaches, Bournemouth's golden sands are just a 30 minute drive away, or 15 minutes south takes you to the pretty coastal town of Lymington with its marina (you can catch a boat to the Isle of Wight) and thriving Saturday street market.
Type country hotel/ traditional/ dog-friendly
Hotel style rural retreat
Getting there It's roughly a two hour drive from London, or you can take the train from Waterloo direct to Brockenhurst (approx 90 mins). The station is a 15 minute walk or short taxi ride from the hotel.
Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest, SO42 7ZB ; 01590 421 095 Doubles from £99,B&B
2017 Saltus Spa Breaks include full use of the leisure centre – swimming pools, Nordic Sauna, jacuzzi DB&B, plus 55-minute bespoke treatment, staying in a Superior Twin or Double Room, Dinner, Bed and Breakfast from £165pp*
Easter Breaks 7th – 23rd April 2017 Superior rooms from £179 B&B based on two sharing (min 2-night stay) *
*Subject to availability