Mr and Mrs Smith
Chewton Glen Hotel Review
OK, I admit it – I didn’t even try not to fall in love. Gliding down Chewton Glen’s luxuriously long drive we caught our first heady glimpse across the beautiful lawns and knew we were in for a seriously good time. That mixture of five-star elegance, country-club atmosphere and edge-of-the-New-Forest setting was a formula I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. Even so, I don’t think either of us expected to fall quite so head over heels with this boutique hotel in Hampshire.
Our weekend hideaway – an inviting amalgam of courtyard, flowers and warm brickwork –doesn’t seem overly imposing from the main entrance. But the second we step inside, we realise we are somewhere very special.
Chewton Glen is an 18th-century beautiful beast – and, with its refined air and formal elegance, it can’t help but exude that very particular type of Englishness that makes you wish you knew all the words to the national anthem. But this place is far too well bred to be stuffy or pretentious.
Post-check in, we pop along to the bar while we wait for our room. It’s very red, very plush and very clubby – with many ancient editions lining the wall (Captain Marryat wrote The Children of the New Forest while staying here). Such masculine, old school surroundings automatically make you feel that a stiff drink is in order. Gazing over the pristine lawn, we promise ourselves that as soon as we’ve dealt with our vodka tonics, we’ll have a game of croquet. The trouble is, the seemingly innocent squishy sofa swallows us up, and the damn thing holds us captive for two hours. There we are forced to remain; swapping stories about losing our virginity (I can’t believe that hasn’t come up until now), drinking more V&Ts to stave off dehydration – and very definitelynot playing croquet.
The decor at this Hampshire boutique hotel may be traditional, but it’s freshened up with contemporary lighting, big, bold flower displays and acid-coloured cushions resting on delightfully upholstered armchairs (an effect so potent that one starts saying things like ‘delightfully upholstered armchairs’ quite unselfconsciously).
The front-of-house staff are unfailingly polite, but also rather quirky; as I swap my stilettos for flats, an older porter nods in sympathy and sighs that it is, indeed, hard work being stylish. When we finally get to our room, we question the wisdom of spending so much time out of it. It’s stunning. The bed is bigger than my whole bedroom at home, the secluded balcony has the most incredible view, the carpet is toe-sinkingly thick, and there’s a whole wall of mirrored wardrobes. This is pure, understated sumptuousness.
If this hotel is English with a capital E, then our bathroom is pure Americana. Bad-ass-MTV-pimp-my-crib-hip-hop-sextastic Americana, to be precise. It’s huge: nearly as big as the bedroom. There’s a party-sized shower, a TV in the wall, and a glut of Molton Brown goodies. Accompanied by a bottle of champagne, we watch music videos from our huge tub until both types of bubbles have disappeared.
We return from our naked state back into clothes, just in time for dinner. There’s something unnervingly sexy about country hotels of a certain standard who still request (politely) jackets for dinner. Mr Smith obliges, and so to the restaurant we head. Supper is worth dressing up for. On arrival we’re given the most delicious amuse-bouche (plump for the avocado morsels) before I polish off a succulent asparagus and artichoke salad, followed by pumpkin tortellini. Mr Smith is in some kind of lamb heaven; it’s so mouth-wateringly rich that he tries to tempt me out of 20 years of vegetarianism. I nearly give in. This is the type of dinner that makes you smile when you think about it afterwards.
At breakfast the next day, an old man at the table behind us booms away in the kind of voice that suggests he was once a ‘somebody’ in the army. He resolutely declares ‘this is the best toast I’ve ever had’. Quite. Many lazy hours later we take the woodland walk down through the hotel grounds to the beach, where we are confronted with another particularly English combination: sunburnt skin, too-tight swimwear and a retro ice-cream van.
We take our sticky mint choc-chip hands for a walk along the front to Barton on Sea and soon stumble across a cliff-top restaurant called the Beachcomber. They may not request a dinner jacket, but they do provide satisfying chip butties and chardonnay. Returning to the beach, we find a quiet spot and drift into a sea-induced slumber on the pebbles, joining the ranks of the slightly sunburnt ourselves.
This weekend has turned into a total food and wine fest – and indeed later that evening back at Chewton Glen, we find Richard, aka 'The Best Barman In The World'. (He’s got to be happy with that title, surely?) Discreet, passionate about his job and great company, he regales us with tales of old regulars, such as the male guest who lent a fledgling businesswoman four grand in return for half a per cent of her profits. She turned out to be the late Anita Roddick. He became rich enough to live six months of the year at Chewton Glen.
We couldn’t bolt from our boutique bolthole without pampering our souls at the spa. We laze around in the outdoor pool, loving the fact that waiters will hand you a glass of whatever you fancy without you even leaving the water. There’s an indoor pool, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a hydrotherapy spa pool with a high-tech make-any-kind-of-bubbles machine, saunas, steam rooms – and an exhaustive range of health and beauty treatments should you feel the need. I end up pleading with Mr Smith to get very rich, very quickly so that I can become a professional spa wife.
The hands on the clock do something peculiar at Chewton Glen: time disappears way too quickly. Tragically, it is soon time to leave – but not before every member of staff we pass has made sure we’ve had a lovely time. Gloriously romantic, this is a hotel I have been deprived of until this weekend. Now all I have to do is persuade Mr Smith to re-pack his dinner jacket and make a return visit soon.