You appreciate the thoughtful luxury of such an ideal countryside resort as Chewton Glen if you leave it for a while (this maxim does not apply to a private island resort in, say, The Maldives, but in England it certainly runs true). Particularly in winter you could stay for many days within the sprawling complex of this 72-room hotel. From room 74, a Croquet View Suite built in 1989, you can, indeed, walk for a full ten minutes inside, up and down stairs, to get to the spa, well-planned gym and indoor pool, with its attached 11-station vitality workout.
Later in the day you could browse the boutique, and its selection of books, which not surprisingly includes the excellent, and compulsive read, The Mistresses of Cliveden, by Natalie Livingstone, whose husband Ian owns not only Chewton Glen but, says the gal, management of its sister property, Cliveden. And you can walk or cycle the enormous grounds, admiring the modern metal sculptures, all so carefully chosen, and displayed – Chewton Glen works with sculptor Simon Gudgeon, the owner of Pallington Lakes outdoor gallery in Dorset, about an hour’s drive away. On this visit to Chewton Glen, my first return after an inexcusable absence of exactly four years, we decided to take the hotel-provided map to get to the sea, the English Channel. This is an easy and picturesque 20-minute walk, but you do have to cross one extremely busy and speed restriction-free road on the way.
Once down at the beach, we turned right, past a lifeguard station – see photo above – until we came to a picturesque line of wooden beach huts, absolutely side to side, all with pointed roofs. They were colours of the rainbow, more icecreams in a chilled display than nail varnish hues in a salon. At the beach huts, we turned up inland to Highcliffe Castle. What a surprise, this Gothic Revival oddity, built originally around 1833 with carved stonework recovered from the Abbey of St Peter at Jumieges and the Grand’Maison des Andelys. During its private ownership, under Baron Stuart de Rothesay and later family members, Mr Selfridge, who built up that London department store, was a regular houseguest.
Two disastrous fires later, the Castle was taken over by Christchurch Council, and is now coming to the end of a major restoration. It hosts weddings and concerts and, any time, has a surprisingly good snack bar – my salad was spot on after two hours’ heavy-foot hiking through soft sand (both shoes scattered sand for days afterwards). Without time for coffee, I started heading back to the iconic hotel that I am calling my temporary home. Didn’t someone once sing “I mustn’t be late for a very important date”?