Can a luxury countryside retreat mix happily with a 14-month-old baby? We sent Charlotte Kewley – fashion stylist, writer and Contributing Fashion Editor at Mother & Baby magazine – and her husband and daughter Isabella along to Chewton Glen in the New Forest to find out…
Early September on a surprisingly sunny day my husband and I along with our 14 month old daughter Isabella rocked up at the 5 star, Conde Nast Johansens Best Hotel For Families 2015, world-renowned Chewton Glen on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire for an overnighter. We’ve done a few weekend breaks with Isabella as well as a Spanish holiday but still I get a nervous ‘will she sleep/scream/throw food’ feeling as we pull up at this luxury country house with its own helipad, for you know, anyone who has a chopper.
I needn’t have worried, we received the warmest welcome. They have valet (whoop) and drove our car off to the back ignoring the bits of rice cake and Organix carrot sticks scattered over the seats…we were introduced to a member of staff whom kindly gave us a quick tour of the beautiful hotel and it’s facilities before showing us to the restaurant for a spot of lunch overlooking the croquet lawn. The whole place has an air of elegance, Englishness and wealth but it’s refreshingly unpretentious. Nobody blinked when Isabella promptly made a run for the huge, pristine expanse of grass screaming at top volume, I took her off for a walk to explore the children’s area and bug hotel in-between munching on smoked salmon sandwiches and, erm, chips. (Don’t judge me!)
When we were taken up to our room (Room 11) we had a bit of a wow moment. All of the rooms at Chewton are elegantly spacious. The beds are the kind you want to jump up and down on in silk pyjamas. We felt a little like royalty as we were given a grand tour (of the room) and welcomed with fresh fruit, chocolates and champagne on ice along with an adorable little platter for Isabella with her name in chocolate. The travel cot was all set up (phew) complete with a cute mini-sized rabbit robe and slippers and gift-wrapped pop-up book. Obviously she was in her element just running around the room climbing on and off various throne-like chairs… In the bathroom there are Korres products for adults and Child’s Farm bits for little ones. And there was a TV over the bath. Sorted. We also had a massive terrace complete with dining table and sunbeds.
Chewton isn’t necessarily homely comfortable. It’s too formal for that. It’s not a quirky ‘wish it was my lounge at home’ place like Babington House or pretty much anywhere in the Cotswolds where you feel comfortable just lazing around in ripped jeans and your husbands sweatshirt – there’s plenty of space in your room for that. It’s classically traditional which you appreciate and respect. I would never slob around Chewton in old Converse (though I’m sure they wouldn’t mind at all); it’s more a ballet flat, brogue or loafer vibe. And I put Isabella in a dress, something I don’t often do.
We wanted to make the most of our stay so we set off on the 10-15 minute walk through forest to the coast, a lovely stroll with just the right amount of ‘jiggle surface’ to get the baby off to sleep while we enjoyed a quick ice cream with sea view before heading back for a dip in the pool. Children are allowed in the heated outdoor pool at anytime but the indoor pool between 9-10.30amd and 4-5.30pm only.
Come dinner, we had planned to eat in the main restaurant where children are welcomed up until 8pm with under 5s eating for free (they’re also happy to arrange babysitters but I’m to much of a clingy new mum at the moment) but as we had a very tired little girl by this point we chose to eat in the room. There is a room service menu (as well as a children’s menu) but the staff are extremely accommodating and bought the A La Carte menu up to our room for us to choose from too. The food was delicious, service was super quick and the staff made sure not to knock too loudly so as not to wake the little one. A small gesture I think every parent appreciates!
The next day we headed down for breakfast, there’s a great spread but it’s not cheap, though again under 5s do eat free. Then my husband and I had treatments booked in the spa so we tag teamed parenting duties. I had the most relaxing treatment I’ve ever experienced – the Ila Kundalini Back Treatment which restores a balanced state – something any mother needs! Feeling extremely Zen (and according to my husband I remained ‘balanced’ for several weeks after) we then unfortunately had to head straight back to London but otherwise would have set out to explore the New Forest in all it’s glory. Though you could easily spend the whole day being entertained in the hotel. There’s a golf course, tennis courts, bikes to hire, a kids club and more.
All in all, Chewton is a beautiful country house hotel with magnificent grounds. It’s pure luxury that you would think might alienate families when in fact it wholeheartedly welcomes them. There’s a whole ‘family’ section on the website with details of the kids club, meals and great days out nearby (including Peppa Pig World which, thank God, Isabella is to young for!). The staff were fantastic with her, us and our family needs and made the stay quite easy for us all. It’s not a cheap place to stay but it is top notch, a great base to explore this part of the world and only a few hours from London. If I could afford it I’d be a regular… next time I’ll be testing out the Treehouses!
NEED TO KNOW: Charlotte and her family stayed at Chewton Glen (chewtonglen.com) where family rooms start from £415 per night and luxury treehouses from £800 per night. See the website for more information on family facilities.