by Fiona Duncan, The Telegraph, October 30, 2019
Lime Wood is 10 years old this month. I may as well fess up: I live nearby, I know it and I love it. This is less an impartial review, therefore, more a celebration of a hotel that does what all hotels should do: make their guests feel good.
I didn’t love it at first. I suppose my appreciation of Lime Wood has grown at just about the same rate that it has gained in unruffled, calming confidence as every year has passed. If you asked me what are the three best things about living where I do – across the heath in Beaulieu, Hampshire – I would say 1) the community; 2) the Beaulieu river; and 3) Lime Wood, because it is such a treat.
Back in 2009, with its showy David Collins interiors and its glacial atmosphere, the hotel felt like an alien spaceship that had landed at the centre of the New Forest, Hampshire’s 145-square-mile ancient heath and woodland where ponies, donkeys, pigs, cattle and deer still freely roam. Jim Ratcliffe, the chemicals billionaire, had bought the Georgian country house-turned-hotel and lavished £40 million on its refurbishment, but he needed a guiding hand to give it direction.
It came in the form of Robin Hutson, who had sold his Hotel du Vin mini-chain. The two met because their children were at school together; now their Home Grown Hotels include Lime Wood and six Pig hotels, with two more on the way.
It was a fortuitous union. Hutson, who has a gift for knowing what guests want, quickly made changes, creating a laid-back yet glamorous Martin Brudnizki-designed restaurant, inviting delightful, down-to-earth Angela Hartnett to join head chef Luke Holder, and overseeing, down to every last detail, the creation of the spa. More recently he has employed designer Susie Atkinson to add yet more warmth to public rooms and bedrooms, including the two fabulous new Pavilion suites.
While the Herb House Spa is certainly neither the largest, nor the best equipped, that I have come across, it is hands-down my favourite because it feels like a sanctuary. I love its circular design, for a start; then there are the inviting sofas in the spacious changing rooms; the sauna with its huge window on to the sylvan forest; the rooftop herb garden; the pool in which I religiously count 62 lengths because that’s a kilometre; the many and varied classes; the elegant shop; and most of all, Sheila Hulme’s delicious and inventive raw food in the Raw & Cured café.
Babington House in Somerset was the first country house hotel to break the stiff, traditional mould, so much so that it was hard to tell the staff from its trendy media-type guests. Lime Wood took a more measured approach, where staff were sufficiently professional and polite but also made the hotel’s guests feel relaxed, at ease and at home.
Since then, several other addresses in the same vein have opened, most recently Heckfield Place (also in Hampshire) and The Newt (in Somerset), yet Lime Wood effortlessly holds it own, now the grande dame of the genre.
It’s not perfect, however; nowhere is perfect, but the lovely people who run the place (Hutson seems to attract good eggs) do continually strive for perfection, and the current crop of top experts in their field who are associated with the hotel – Angela Hartnett for food, Amelia Freer for nutrition, Matt Roberts for fitness, Sarah Chapman for skin treatments – only add to the reassuring sense of excellence at Lime Wood.
I’ve been reflecting on what has drawn me to write about hotels for so many years, and I think it must be because they are places of welcome, kindness and friendship. You can celebrate in them, or you can find solace in them.
As a family, we have been in need of some solace of late, and so last Sunday we treated ourselves to a night at Lime Wood, and a wonderful Sarah Chapman facial for me and a pregnancy massage for my daughter-in-law Flick, who is expecting her first child – and our first grandchild – any day. For her and my son, the stay was a blissful, much appreciated and restorative pause in their crazy busy lives, about to get a whole lot busier.
As soon as the four of us walked in and installed ourselves in the bar, we felt uplifted – and it stayed that way through dinner in Hartnett Holder & Co and in our gorgeous bedrooms (where there were kind touches, such as a pregnancy pillow for Flick), until we left the next day.
The dozens of staff employed at Lime Wood conspire to create the effect that a great hotel can have – to make you feel good, better, best.
Double rooms cost from £395 per night; breakfast from £18.50. Access is possible for guests using wheelchairs
Read the full hotel review: Lime Wood