Journey to the New Forest, Hampshire’s 145 square-mile ancient heath and woodland hunting ground where ponies, donkeys, pigs, cattle and deer still freely roam, and you will have everything you need for a perfect weekend away from the Big Smoke, says Fiona Duncan
Less than two hours from London, it offers both countryside and coast: you can nip across to charming Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight on the ferry from Lymington, or stroll on the beach at Milford-on-Sea, while the walk from Keyhaven to Lymington (or vice versa) across the marshes is a birdwatchers paradise, including spoonbills and avocets aplenty. As for the Forest itself, just yards from the car parks and you will find peace, not to mention deer, mushrooms, fine trees and pretty streams. Here are some of my favourite places to stay and to eat.
The Pig, Brockenhurst
The original Pig: fabulous kitchen garden, shepherds’ hut for treatments, conservatory restaurant, rustic-chic bedrooms, and pigs – of course. From £165, thepighotel.com
Lime Wood, Nr Lyndhurst
Irresistible pleasure palace, now with new suites by Susie Atkinson, plus Angela Hartnett with Luke Holder in the restaurant, and Sheila Hulme’s wonderful Raw & Cured health food in the Herb House Spa. From £395, limewoodhotel.co.uk
East End Arms, East End
Charming pub with sophisticated rooms, excellent food, a thriving locals’ bar and black and white photos of rock stars in the restaurant, courtesy of owner John Ilsley, bass guitarist of Dire Straights. From £125, eastendarms.co.uk