Luxury Hotels

Croquet and more at the definitive English luxury country hotel

Andrew Cook

Chewton Glen, England’s epitomal English country house hotel on 130 acres in the New Forest, has origins going back to 1732, and as the decades progressed its main lawn seems to have been used for bowls.  At some point, however, this was switched to the oh-so-English game of croquet, though now, says the gal, the beautiful grass area seems to do double-duty, croquet-proper and play area for the many families who love staying here (see the photo above).  Chewton Glen has a brand new MD, Andrew Cook, a long-time Orient-Express man who spent 11 years at that company’s South Africa properties. Yes, he agreed, Chewton Glen, which now has 72 rooms, including those in the highly desirable stilted Treehouses, does have similarities with his previous hotels.

Kitchen garden view

But neither Belmond Mount Nelson or what is now Four Seasons Westcliff Johannesburg can rival Chewton Glen when it comes to surroundings.  Some of Chewton Glen’s space has been left natural, fortunately, but it does have the most amazing walled vegetable garden. This is well publicised.  On arrival, you are given various maps and a postcard, already stamped, first class, that shows the layout of the garden. You are encouraged to visit, and when you do it is pure education – everything is so well labelled.  Estate Manager, Darren Venables, started here straight from agricultural college, went off for more training, and returned as Head Gardener in 1997.

Varieties of kale…

All these details, by the way, are in what is arguably one of the best-ever ‘hotel books’, simply called Chewton Glen – An English Original.  Why do I like it?  It has history, and current facts, and profiles of suppliers, and superb recipes of perennially popular dishes, and stories of some of the 395 people who make the entire hotel complex work (none of them are housed, says Andrew Cook, but the hotel has a roster of houses nearby which might have a bedroom to rent).  Anyway, as well as the kitchen garden Darren Venables and his team also keep bees, working with Bee Line Honey’s Rob Oliver, who keeps 80 of his hives here.

..and rhubarb

The hotel also partners with Jennifer Williams, a former tour manager with the Bolshoi Ballet who now produces Naked Jams.  She also uses Darren Venables’ fruits to make Chewton Glen’s own jams, available in big pots at the breakfast buffet and also sold. Other partners include the Heritage Fruit Tree Company, with whom Chewton Glen has planted over 250 trees, including crab apples, damsons, greengages, medlars and quinces.  Yes, you can take garden and arboretum tours at this unforgettable hotel – and you certainly need several nights, or rather days, to do it justice. AND NOW SEE A CROQUET VIDEO