This is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt corners of the British Isles. The New Forest is an area in southern England with an expanse of open pasture, heath and forest and it covers south-west Hampshire, south-east Wiltshire and on to east Dorset.
The New Forest was created as a royal hunting ground by William I, the chap who came over in 1066. His dedication to sport has allowed these acres (380 km2) to remain relatively unchanged, and the roaming cattle and horses add to the charm. Yes, those animals are fearless in the face of traffic, adopting a strategy of making eye contact with car drivers whilst continuing to nibble the grass verge with a minimum of two hooves on the tarmac.
Two of the top hotels in the New Forest National Park have been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2012: Careys Manor & SenSpa in Brockenhurst and its sister hotel The Montagu Arms in Beaulieu have both received that honour, and one can see why.
The Careys Manor we see today was built in 1888 on the site of former buildings named after John Carey, who was given the original Manor in the mid-1600s by Charles II as a reward for his service. The present owners bought the hotel in 1975 and later the pub at the front of the hotel which was renovated and transformed into Le Blaireau, the French Bar and Bistro, giving hotel visitors even more dining choices.
This casual dining option tempts locals as well as hotel guests. Its menu offers French classics in an informal setting that will raise a smile. The walls are covered with Parisian tiles, the tables are marble-topped, there is a 2CV embedded in the wall, and an alley from Marseilles has been imported for your Francophile delight.
The changes didn’t stop with the bistro. In 2004, the Health Club underwent extensive updating and was transformed into the award-winning SenSpa. It has a pronounced Thai theme with teak carving and mirrors in the exercise studio, black fabric and bamboo in the areas dedicated to meditation and quiet. One doesn’t even have to move far from the swimming pool to enjoy authentic Thai food: the Zen Garden Thai restaurant has hand-decorated columns and exotic foliage that will convince the visitor that they have stumbled upon a rather classy corner of Bangkok.
Back in the main hotel, the Manor Lounge has a wood-vaulted ceiling and was added to the main building in 1983; it is the area of choice on cold wintery days. The huge fireplace and soft sofas make the lounge perfect for, well, lounging and reading the papers, and possibly dozing near those blazing logs.
The main entrance of Careys Manor is just what one would hope for in a former Victorian hunting lodge. Its reception is oak panelled with an inviting open fire. The imposing staircase sweeps guests up to their rooms, which are well appointed with all the amenities befitting the Manor’s 4-star status. The Victoriana is picturesque, but one will appreciate the electricity, TV, hot showers, and all the other benefits of the 21st century. There is something comforting about staying in a country house hotel: one finds a timeless quality and a genteel elegance. Careys Manor is one of the finest of these characterful hotels, and it’s the attention to detail that has guests returning.
Quality continues in the dining room. Low ceilings, cornice mouldings and wall-lights contrive to make this an intimate experience. The tables are well-spaced, the service friendly but unobtrusive, and the food is outstanding. The menu changes frequently to take advantage of the freshest of local produce from land and sea, and all dishes are presented with flair and a touch of innovation. This is British food with a little French je ne sais quoi, each dish prepared by executive chef Chris Wheeldon, who deserves his two AA Rosettes.
Careys Manor is a hotel for all seasons and for all occasions. Its setting in the New Forest is ideal for long walks and for visiting Beaulieu and other historic villages, as well as Lyndhurst with its traditional high street and tea rooms. But the Manor has the advantage over other hotels in the neighbourhood: it has its celebrated SenSpa which is a destination in its own right. I have visited many excellent spas in the UK, Europe and Asia but SenSpa is outstanding with its pool, steam rooms, treatment rooms, and gym. It’s available for the enjoyment of hotel guests but it’s also appreciated by non-residents who just want day membership.
Careys Manor is whatever you want it to be – relaxing, vibrant, healthful, or indulgent. Its setting is striking but it will be hard to pull yourself away from these superb facilities; so come for a few days and then you might even find the time for an outing to visit the wildlife.
Careys Manor & SenSpa
Brockenhurst, New Forest
Hampshire, SO42 7RH
Phone: 01590 623551
Fax: 01590 622799
Central Reservations: 01590 624467
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018