Thank goodness the overriding theme at Lime Wood is gluttony and general piggery. Because, trust me, while you are there, you are going to be porcine. I trotted about the chic Hampshire retreat, troughed every morsel thrown my way and, heavy-stomached, enjoyed one of the longest afternoon snoozes I can remember. Down at the spa, there’s probably a treatment that allows you to roll around in mud, but that really would be going the whole hog. People come to Lime Wood to reconnect with nature. Throw open your windows and the heady scent of beech, oak and unfurling ferns floods in. There’s no road noise, no city lights, just the sound of wind rustling in the forest canopy and a constant chorus of birds. Rarely have I felt this relaxed – and we’d only just checked in.
Despite it’s impressive façade: a 13th century Regency hunting lodge, nothing is grand or patrician at Lime Wood. Having good old-fashioned fun is what it’s all about. Staff dress like parlour maids and barrow boys wheel luggage and logs around the property in creaky wooden carts. Downton Abbey eat your heart out. From the back door of our suite (Crescent III), you can nip across a lawn dotted with daffodils through a mossy gate and straight into the bluebell-strewn New Forest, where wild ponies roam. It’s a recipe for indecent behaviour, really the management ought to know better. But maybe their guests aren’t as deprived of nature as we are.
Inside our suite, New England romance meets charming country cottage with log fires, cashmere throws and pussy-willow wreaths. Best of all, our four-poster bed was perfectly positioned to make the most of the view: dappled light, towering trunks and foliate loveliness as far as the eye can see. Dinner is a formal affair although it tries not to be. Linen tablecloths have been replaced with red leather banquettes and an Italian brasserie-style look in the newly revamped Hartnett Holder & Co restaurant but guests still come in smart attire and sit up straight.
Buxom waitresses deliver copper pans of glistening garganelli pasta seasoned with wood pigeon, and when a wooden board heaving with bone marrow and bloody Cumbrian rib-eye made its way towards us, I nearly keeled over. Should you wish to chat with the chefs, Luke Holder and the newly installed Angela Hartnett (Michelin-starred protégée of Gordon Ramsay), there’s a chef’s table just inside the swing doors, ready and waiting. No invitation is required.
The hotel’s Herb House spa offers a healthy contrast to the main restaurant with its holier-than-thou ‘spatisserie’ menu. Fruit and veg is pressed, squeezed and wrung out until every nutritious drop is collected, then the husks are compressed and made into crisps. The swamp juice (yes, really) is certain to get your bowels moving and a massage here is as good as any I’ve had. Service is immaculate throughout. A newspaper was delivered to my room along with a pot of steaming English Breakfast tea on the dot of 8am – not a minute earlier or later – not that I was checking my watch. At Lime Wood, somehow time has a way of standing still.
IN THE AREA
Allow time for ramble around The Pig, Lime Wood’s sister hotel-cum-restaurant. Smaller, with a homely worn-in feel, my other half actually preferred the vibe here (and the prices). The bar is particularly inviting with panelled walls, boars’ heads and 14 different types of infused vodka (Bog Myrtle is the best). Choose a cosy nook, grab a bundle of newspapers and settle in for the afternoon after a hearty Sunday lunch. The restaurant serves the best goddamn crackling in the land, but be warned, you need to book at least three months in advance.
Double rooms start at £255. The Crescent Suite starts at £775 per night. For more information and to book, see limewoodhotel.co.uk