The idea of a sneaky few days away to a boutique country house hotel in the midst of Autumn with long walks, roaring fires, healthy food and the opportunity to be pampered at the same time is my idea of heaven. Add to this that it’s at Robin Hutson’s Lime Wood Hotel in the heart of the New Forest and I am taken to a different dimension altogether.
Forgive me if I sound a bit like a Robin Hutson cheerleader, but quite frankly I am. For me Mr Hutson sits in the realm of hotelier aristocracy and if there is ever a lifelong achievement award as thanks from all of us ‘weekend escapologists’, Mr Hutson should be taking home some silverware.
Initially our paths crossed in the late 80’s when Robin was the General Manager at the illustrious grand dam of country house hotels, The Chewton Glen Hotel. It’s a place I have very fond memories of as it was one of my late father’s favourite places. At the time the hotel was truly in a class of its own and the pacemaker in terms of excellence – something I am sure Mr H was largely responsible for.
I then watched him go on to create a whole new category – the ‘boutique’ hotel. Hotel Du Vin, a small but wonderfully eclectic group of landmark properties in the UK, delivered an entirely new vibe that was uber style conscious yet extremely affordable and offered a more contemporary, refreshingly open and honest hotel experience.
His trademark approach was to simply deliver the key attributes of a relaxed weekend away but do it exceptionally well with bags of style. Great power showers in amazing bathrooms, the best Egyptian bed linen, towels that were so fluffy it was like being wrapped in cotton wool, all enhanced by wonderful uncomplicated food served with a collection of exciting wines that were approachable for the novice. His concept also initiated the idea that guests could even take a bit of this wonderful boutique hotel lifestyle home. Each room had a menu of items of the HdV hallmarks and where they could be sourced so that they could be transplanted into your own home. Genius, experiential marketing at its best.
Add in some time creating the savvy Soho House Group, it is no surprise that I arrived at Lime Wood excited, if with high expectations, to see how Robin’s powerful pedigree and passion for creating something fresh and pioneering in hotels has been birthed at Lime Wood.
The first thing noteworthy is Lime Wood’s stunning location. A short hop from London yet nestled within the 145 square miles of ancient heath and woodland of the New Forest, the feeling of being away from it all under the biggest sky couldn’t be more palatable.
As you cross the cattle grid and meander up the long drive it really does feel as if the change of pace has already started, detoxing from the frenetic speed that we all tend to live at.
Not that I have ever had a “country pile” but if I ever did this would be it – the reception hall is roomy and relaxed with a welcoming roaring fire and stunning fresh seasonal flowers, the staff are dressed in jeans and riding boots so it feels incredibly informal and relaxed.
It’s the attention to detail and quality throughout Lime Wood that makes it special and why it will stand the test of time. The oak doors are thick, the paint finishes lush, the brickwork laid to the architect’s design; soft floor lights switch on automatically as you walk into the bathroom; a million-pound glass roof retracts above the inner courtyard at the press of a button and beautiful appointed sitting rooms melt one into the other. Then there is the boot room of course where wellies, brollies and helmets sit waiting to be taken out on a jaunt! And of course 4-legged friends are welcomed with Bonio’s branded with Lime Wood green ribbons.
The choice of rooms is just as thoughtful, allowing guests to chose a room to suit their style and occasion, from the eaves and cosy rooms to the grand spacious, generous rooms. Or for the ultimate treat there are forest suites and hideaways, forest lodges, cabin and cottages. (My top tip – make sure to book a room away from the cattle grids if you are set on long lie-ins).
Our Forest Cottage felt like the ultimate Hansel and Gretel retreat, tucked away in the stunning grounds of the hotel and stuffed to the brim with sweet things. The two bedroomed cottage had the trademark Robin Hutson bathrooms that you just can’t face leaving in the morning. A wonderfully rich sitting room with its own log burning stove and well stocked book shelf which meant that I just wanted to curl up on the leather sofa with a mug of tea never to be seen again until Spring comes. This feeling of wanting to hibernate was made even more tempting by the kitchen being lavishly stocked with wonderful wines, fresh coffee and homemade compote and bread. So having arrived in this haven it was challenging to leave it. But dinner at Hartnett Holder & Co (HH&C) was not worth missing, so we hailed the hotel Land Rover to whisk us to the main hotel.
Dinner at HH&C is a culinary collaboration of celebrity chef, Angela Hartnett, with existing Lime Wood chef Luke Holder. Fine dining and big plates are banned; sharing plates are in; home cooking is the key. It’s gourmet without the glamour and glitz. The passion for great food is clear matched by the provenance of the ingredients. The menu was seasonal and inspiring. The salt baked sea bass was stunning but my personal favourite was the mushroom risotto made with mushrooms collected that day by resident forager Garry Eveleigh.
The final jewel in the Lime Wood crown is the Herb House Spa. It’s brave claim is that “we don’t do average“ and I am delighted to say nothing about this place is. The way this spa has been designed to blend with its stunning natural environment is beyond words – it is true alchemy.
It is airy yet intimate and its glass encasement welcomes in the ancient woodlands in a peaceful almost mesmeric manner. There are individual treatment rooms as well as private couples suits that offer saunas and outdoor copper baths, hydrotherapy and steam pools, a pioneering raw food café, Raw and Cured, a mud house and relaxation rooms. The state of the art gym leads to a beautiful rooftop herb garden where you can practice yoga or meditation, all with sylvan views.
The spa treatments themselves are by Bamford, Voya, Pai, Tri-Dosha and Aromatherapy Associates.
It’s no surprise that Robin Hutson has struck gold again with the wonderful Lime Wood and Herb House, this ‘pied piper’ of the hotel industry seems to instinctively know exactly what people are looking for in a hotel and delivers it with bucket loads of style and substance. Whilst I may be a bit of a Robin Hutson fan don’t take my word for it go and try it for yourself and then see what I mean about raising the bar again – for the rest to follow!