A typical English gent, and his lady of course, would start the day with a tea tray. About 70 years ago someone invented a Teasmade, an electric contraption with a square teapot, the gal was told. At the time you had set, you were woken up by the sound of boiling water pouring into said teapot (hope you had remembered to put in the tea) and you had your cuppa. Then people realized it was actually much easier to get up and make tea in the kitchen – unless, of course, you are staying at a truly posh luxury hotel. At Chewton Glen Hampshire, a diplomatic sort of fellow who could have been a top solicitor knocked on the door at the exact hour, and brought in a tray, with the requested newspaper in a fabric-handled strong brown paper bag.
After that, a typical day at this idyllic spot, in 130 acres of gently-rolling park and farmland, might start with a good work out in the gym, or a cycle ride, or a jog over to see the tennis courts (two indoor, two out) and the driving range. Others might opt for the pools, one inside, one out, and heated. The indoor pool is classic, ozone-treated with high-high ceiling painted as the sky, and a central clear-storey beams in masses of light. After some laps, I head next door, to the circular conservatory that holds an 11-station vitality pool.
And then it is time for breakfast. Oh what a view, to look out over a paved area that last night saw guests of the long shiny hair, size-zero body and six inch heel variety, elegantly drinking Taittinger, the house champagne – the hotel has been a dedicated Relais & Châteaux member for decades. Breakfast is buffet, with à la carte main items. I am tempted by such English specialities as kedgeree, a kind of risotto with bits of smoked haddock and egg, but the buffet is just too good. A fish fanatic could satiate on the amount of smoked salmon spread out.
I find what is honestly one of the best home-made yoghurts anywhere in the world. Tiny pots reveal only that they are made by someone called Hot Jam Lady – yes, she also produces the preserves that are here in big open pots. She lives locally, and I would love to know more about her. I also try a big bowl of chalky-white Greek yoghurt, with enormous prunes and figs and hulled-and-cut strawberries. One section of one table has a selection of colourful utensils for kids. This is a big weekend destination for London-based Range Rover-driving yummy mummies and their little darlings.
Cleverly, they never seem to intrude. Kids have set hours in the pools, and, all hours, there are plenty of physical things for them to do. I head for the spa, for its ten o’clock opening. Already nearly 20 ladies, some of the 500-plus ‘local members’, are in the pool for aqua-exercise, and the gym is full. Anna puts me through an oxygen revitaliser, yet another brilliant treatment from Linda Meredith, who is to faces what Bastien Gonzalez is to feet – based in London, Linda now has several outlets in Spain, and her products not only smell divine but do seem to work.
I mentioned that Andrew Stembridge oversees this gorgeous luxury country house hotel. He also does the same at Cliveden, similarly owned by Ian Livingstone and his brother Richard. As a result, Andrew Stembridge has a newly-elevated GM here, Mark Bevan. It is only as I leave that I realize our farewell photo, as I drive away, would suitably fit in Hello! magazine’s weddings pages…
Simply Sunday. A talk the other day with a hotelier running independent hotels was a reminder of the importance of genuine hospitality. He says it is easier for one-off hotels to be authentic. That might be, but there are specific examples in group hotels when thoughtful authenticity shows through. One was the advanced birthday welcome at Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore. Another is this magnificent carved watermelon at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok. Memo to all ‘givers’, in other words hospitality providers – customers do remember when you do something special. Memo, equally, to those customers, my friends, known and unknown, who stay in, and love, luxury hotels around the world – remember such special acts of welcome, and support those particular hotels. The gal also remembers, at opposite extreme, arriving at The Essex House in New York – before it became Jumeirah – to find it as flower-filled as a flower shop. Finally a card was visible – for someone else. A telephone call down to front desk resulted in every single bloom being taken away. That is equally memorable, sadly.
Arguably the best-known centuries-old English country house luxury hotel (Cliveden and The Grove fit into a more palatial category) is Chewton Glen Hampshire, on the edge of the gorgeous New Forest. The forest, established as a royal hunting preserve in 1079, has over 3,000 wild ponies roaming free. The house itself dates from about 1732. Here is its front door. Look to the upper left, to the first floor, English-style, balcony. That is the private terrace of room three, the Marryat Suite, says the gal.
At one point the hotel was owned by George Marryat, whose brother Captain Frederick Marryat wrote the 1847 classic, The Children of the New Forest. Many of the total-70 rooms, which include suites and the six justifiably lauded treehouse double-suites, are named. The Marryat Suite has just been redone by Anita Rosato. I love what she has done in the bedroom. The same deep chocolate and champagne pattern on the wallpaper is repeated, embroidered, on full length taupe curtains.
The bathroom is deep burgundy marble, with an electric towel rail and both basins have electric magnifying lights – and the shower has two sets of two shower heads. Andrew Stembridge, the legendary, if still youthful, hotelier who oversees this hotel, is really thoughtful. You want to host a cocktail for up to 50? Perfect, the suite’s terrace, as mentioned above, is certainly big enough, with commanding views over a croquet lawn. Yes, you can partake of many English sports here: tennis indoor and outdoor, and there is nine-hole golf.
While you are here in England, of course you must at least taste tea. The salon of the Marryat Suite has a whole selection of teas, and espresso if you must. The suite also has a taxidermist’s delight: a stuffed pheasant, with glass-bed eyes, seems to hold court from his stand on a side table, and a big old fireplace is stuffed with logs. There are lots of books to read, including a copy of Simon Gudgeon’s Sculptures by the Lake.
Even on a Sunday night the restaurant, Vetiver, is full. It has five adjoining rooms, including a snug wine-cellar room, but, especially on a summer night I really like the glassed-in conservatory. It is elegantly casual. Crisp and highly starched white linens go with purple drinking tumblers that just about match the purple ties and cufflinks that the male servers, in black suits and white shirts, wear – love the girls’ beautifully cut shifts with purple pocket edges. I start with lots of colour, multicoloured heirloom tomatoes from the hotel’s own extensive vegetable and herb gardens.
The daily Bulletin newspaper tells me what produce, and what variety, is ripe for picking right now – the walled vegetable garden has 200 assorted trees and bushes, as well as about 15 bee colonies. I read how the weather will be for the next three days, and the spa and fitness programmes. But first I must do justice to an all-time English favourite, fish and chips. Here, at this luxury New Forest hotel, it is superb. Thank goodness they did not give me any more of those yummy chips…