Short stay: Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa, The New Forest, UK


Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa is a mere handful of New Forest acres from picturesque Brockenhurst. The 4* hotel’s 54 rooms are surrounded by some of the oldest forestry in Western Europe.

This is a historic forest that has an archaic language of its own. Agisters care for 8,000 creatures – ponies, cattle and deer – who roam the 220 square miles of national park. Livestock is owned by commoners and in years gone by a snake catcher was a highly respected profession. Once a coaching inn, the property became a hunting lodge during the 19th century.

Then it served as a First World War field hospital for New Zealand soldiers who named Brockenhurst’s roads after their Kiwi hometowns. The great and the good have called by. General Eisenhower issued D-Day orders from here. King George V, Queen Mary and Sir Winston Churchill have all stayed.

The welcome

Breakfast and dinner reservation times are checked. As it is Sunday, a saxophonist plays smooth soothing jazz. The Reception Manager takes our luggage to the room. A welcome platter of hand-made chocolates awaits.

The room

Our luxury room, with balcony, overlooks the lawn which hosts the local cricket club. New Forest ponies nibble on the outfield. Last season it was a case of “Horses stopped play” when a trio ambled too close to the wicket. A seven-foot bed, 84 inches of peaceful deep sleep, is the room’s star attraction.

Decor is contemporary. A feature wall of silver leaf wallpaper picks up the silver of the wall lights. Cushions and curtains introduce warm red accents. Other walls are a soft grey with the ceiling grey a few whispers lighter. Two leather wingback chairs are positioned by two sets of double doors that open onto the balcony for cricket-watching and forest gazing.

Alternatively, Balmer Lawn also offers more traditionally styled rooms with four-poster beds.

The bathroom

Back in the 19th century, rooms with bathrooms was a unique selling point for Balmer Lawn. Nowadays nothing other than an en-suite is expected.

Above black-and-white chessboard tiling, the bathroom is well-designed. Plenty of space on the tiling surrounds for bathroom accoutrements. Both bath and shower are provided.

The facilities

Andrew Gault, Head Chef at Beresfords restaurant, has led his restaurant staff to two AA rosettes for the creativity and quality of the food. From the moment nibbles arrive, as we lounge in a deeply sumptuous sofa by the fire, ingenuity is shown through a lozenge of bread and butter pudding topped with a black truffle sauce.

The menu tells a local story. Nearby Lymington grew rich as the nation’s greatest supplier of salt. For a starter, the celeriac is salt-roasted, slices of sweet pear balancing the saltiness. Just half-dozen miles from the sea, there are plenty of fish choices. Our knowledgeable waiter recommends carrots, cooked with pancetta and maple syrup, to accompany the haddock. The creamy tomato and mascarpone risotto, providing a resting place for pan-fried Stone Bass, could successfully accompany many a dish.

The star dessert radically crosses boundaries, both cultural and geographical. Think of caramelised soy sauce as an oriental take on salted caramel. And consider toasted popcorn as crunchy gourmet fare rather than cinema fodder. Then you are creating the mindset to enjoy the ingredients topping the vanilla panna cotta. Though some may argue that the passion fruit and cranberry cheesecake or the chocolate delice or the selection of artisanal cheeses are also stars of the dessert menu.

Social-distancing and outdoor hospitality encouraged the owners to create a new covered outdoor eating area. The Lodge has heating and blankets. In summer, the roof can be rolled back. The grounds feature squash and tennis courts as well as an outdoor heated pool.

Location

Turn left out of the hotel and a six-mile drive takes you to Beaulieu. Although renowned for its Motor Museum, with hundreds of vehicles on display, there is something for all the family. Alongside the Motor Museum, the Top Gear exhibition recalls some of the programme’s weirdest moments, including a Robin Reliant built into a rocket. A monorail takes visitors to some of the more distant points of the estate such as the grand house, The Secret Army exhibit recalling Special Operations Executive training during the Second World War and the Russian art  at The Clock House.

Currently, the headline attraction is the Bond in Motion – No Time To Die exhibition which runs through to November 2022.

Vehicles and gadgets used in the latest 007 movie are displayed alongside touch screens showing short clips of the vehicles in action in the film and fact panels too. Nor is it just bullet-spattered Aston Martins, amongst other exhibits are a Royal Alloy Scooter and a Land Rover Defender used in an action-packed chase.

Other nice touches

Recalling its hunting lodge heritage much of the architecture celebrates New Forest deer with antler chandeliers, wrought iron sculptures and wooden carvings. Balmer Lawn Hotel welcomes families. After all Paultons Park featuring Peppa Pig World is nearby. There are family rooms with bunkbeds and inter-connecting doors equipped with PlayStation and DVDs. Henry, the son of owners Chris and Alison Wilson, brews herby Henry’s Pale Ale on site: an American style beer with subtle notes of grapefruit and lychee. His next challenge is to produce a lager.

The cost

Prices start at £195 for accommodation in a Standard Double room, which includes full English breakfast, a £30 per person evening food allowance to be used in either the Beresford Restaurant or the Lodge Kitchen & Bar, plus use of the leisure facilities. Room upgrades are available at a supplement.

Well-behaved dogs welcome, charged at £25 per dog per night. This includes dog bed, towel, poo bags, treats, water bowl, food bowl and a sausage at breakfast.

The best bit

There is a sense of woodland calm flowing through the Saltus Spa. Six treatment rooms, including one for couples, are named after local trees, hosting massages and ESPA facials.

A relaxation room looking out to the forest, recalling tranquil Japanese forest-bathing, uses sculpted wood and furniture made from reclaimed wood to create a peaceful ambience. Next door to the spa are an indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi.

The final verdict

Balmer Lawn Hotel is perfectly located providing bikes and maps for those wishing to explore the New Forest, either on two wheels or by foot. This is a family run hotel, with friendly and helpful staff anticipating guests’ needs, catering for all the family. Offering luxury for the more mature while providing plenty of entertainment for the youngsters. All in all, a hotel for all seasons.

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa.


Comments (2)

  1. Craig says:

    This brings back fond memories of childhood holidays in the New Forest though our family never stayed in luxury like this. It’s probably time that I took my own kids there.

  2. Jessica Chadwick says:

    Staycations are great until the British weather intervenes, especially if you’ve got kids. It looks as if the hotel has got rainy days covered. Also Beaulieu sounds OK for a wet day. Sorry, but you have to think like this as a mum planning a holiday.

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