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New Forest review: Take to the woods

By Roger St Pierre

Set deep in the heart of Hampshire’s glorious New Forest, majestic Rhinefield House has the appearance of a classic Jacobean stately home but enter its portals and the clock winds on a couple of hundred years to the romantic ambience of the Victorian era.

There has been a house on this secluded and leafy site since William the Conqueror created the New Forest as a royal hunting ground, sometime around AD1097, and the estate’s history since then has certainly been colourful.

It was here that the ill-fated Charles I, being escorted on his way back to London from imprisonment at Carisbrooke, on the Isle of Wight, to his trial in London, was granted an ill-fated meeting with Oliver Cromwell in a final bid for reconciliation between King and Parliament.

The original house at Rhinefield was pulled down in the 19th Century to make way for construction of the present edifice – a £250,000 (several millions in today’s money) wedding gift for the only daughter of the Walkers, an ultra-wealthy Nottinghamshire-based coal mining family on whom, incidentally, DH Lawrence is said to have based several of his novels.

No expense was spared in realising the project. Serious attention to detail occurred at every level, from the fabric of the massive main house to the exquisite works of art adorning the maze of rooms – eye-catchers including a fabulous monumental relief of the Spanish Armada, reputedly carved from a huge single piece of wood by the redoubtable woodwork artist Grindling Gibbons (1648 - 1721).

There’s a feast for the eyes in every salon of this meticulously restored Baronial masterpiece.

A team of Moroccan artisans worked on-site for months to create the whimsical mosaic-tile adorned cylindrical Alhambra Room, created as a smoking room for the men-folk among the proud owners’ guests and today serving as one of the hotel’s popular private extra-special dining spaces.

Gothic, Tudor and later stylistic influences pervade the property, with grandeur as the by-word throughout.

The new house was completed in 1887. After a century in private occupation it was death duties that eventually brought Rhinefield House onto the market, leading to its conversion into a luxurious country house hotel.

Perfectly located amongst tall conifers and scented pines, yet within easy reach of Southampton, Bournemouth, Winchester and Salisbury.

Rhinefield today functions under the aegis of the burgeoning Hand Picked Hotels group, whose ethos is totally in accord with the property’s top drawer ambience, to give guests a taste of how the other half live.

As well as the original very grand period rooms of the main house, Rhinefield offers a wing of more modern accommodations. There are 50 luxurious guestrooms in all, including three majestic suites.

Classic bedrooms feature a wide range of amenities and creature comforts, including fine cotton sheets, oversized flat-screen TVs and free broadband internet access

Executive rooms feature spacious double and twin options, many of which have views of the New Forest. – from which herds of deer often emerge to graze.

All Executive rooms are located in the garden wing. These rooms are larger than Classic rooms, although they do vary in size and shape. Standard amenities include large bathrooms with powerful showers, plus television screens above the bath.

The hotel’s award-winning Armada Restaurant offers specially selected menus imaginatively created from fresh regional ingredients and seasonal flavours, including a superb Taste Of Hampshire menu, enjoyed in elaborate surroundings. There is also the less formal The Grill option.

Parking is free and, reflecting the high standards of technology made available to guests, amenities include the innovation of an electric car charging point.

Rhinefield is a house for all seasons: you will never be short of things to do. Amble through the forest and admire the gloriously spectacular colours of autumn or, in the depths of winter, unwind with a hot toddy in front of a roaring log fire. Enjoy the bluebells in spring or, in summer, take a dip in the outdoor pool before enjoying a picnic in the grounds or dropping in to the new health club, which includes an indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and work-out area.

The charming little country towns of Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, the historic city of Winchester – the capital of Saxon England – Romsey, with its ancient abbey; and the fascinating maritime cities of Portsmouth and Southampton are all within easy striking distance. However you spend your time in the area, it is sure to be an outstanding experience and  Rhinefield House truly is, as proudly claimed by the operators, ‘The Jewel Of The Forest’.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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