They say ‘never meet your heroes’ and that’s kind of how I felt when I heard that I’d got a booking at Chewton Glen. The five-star hotel had been on my must-visit list for years and now I was wondering if it could ever live up to expectations.
For those that don’t know, Chewton Glen is something of an institution. It’s been voted ‘Best Hotel’ year after year after year and has been awarded numerous awards (far too many to mention here), both for the hotel and the restaurant. It has an eye-popping staff-to-guest ratio of two-to-one and has recently launched a forest of luxury treehouses with private hot tubs.
So it was with extremely high hopes that we pulled up to the luxury 18th century country retreat. Room not quite ready (and it being just days before my 30th birthday) we got stuck into celebrating and ordered a glass of champagne – Taittinger is their house fizz – to enjoy on the terrace. Comfy sofas beckoned which overlook manicured lawns in every direction, including a croquet lawn which we didn’t feel quite brave enough to tackle just yet.
Chewton Glen is undeniably ‘English’ – décor is traditional and there’s an old-school vibe about it, yet it manages to refrain from feeling stuffy or pompous. The grounds are immaculate – in fact it’s the kind of place where you marvel about how nice it must be to be a gardener. If you had a case of wisteria hysteria back in London, just wait until you see this place.
Too excited to explore the rest of the hotel we seek out the spa. And what a spa it is! Slipping into fluffy white gowns we make our way past the 17 metre swimming pool, to the largest hydrotherapy pool we ever did see. With the whole place seemingly to ourselves, we let the jets do their worst, pummelling us into a blissful state of relaxation. Ceilings have been painted with a dreamy skyscape, but there’s no need to imagine blue skies, as there’s also an outdoor pool and separate hot tub. Making the most of the glorious weather, we commandeered a couple of sun loungers which overlook more garden, where all we needed to do was think about a glass of rose for it to appear. Curiosity getting the better of us, we tore ourselves away to get better acquainted with our room for the night.
We were staying in a Coach House Suite which was utterly ridiculous in its luxuriousness. The ground floor (yep, that’s right, there were two!) contained a bathroom, giant corner sofa, desk and TV before opening up onto a gorgeous little sun trap of a walled courtyard where we spent the next few hours drinking – yep, you guessed it – more champagne. Upstairs was a giant bed, giant marble bathroom with a TV-in-the-bath situation, separate walk in shower big enough for at least two and twin sinks, with full size products courtesy of REN. There was another separate toilet and a walk in wardrobe – if you’re after a rousing game of hide and seek, this is the room for you.
Front of house staff point out all the features, whilst we try to take it all in, mouths agape. We’re told there’s a pleasant 20 minute walk which will take us all the way to the coast, but the room’s just too nice to leave. Sweet touches include a postcard – already stamped – for you to send ‘I-wish-you-were-here’s’ to loved ones from their onsite post box.
But if there’s one thing that can propel us forward, it’s the promise of dinner. Chewton Glen’s dining room is light, bright and airy, with full length windows overlooking the lawns outside.
Everything that can be is grown in the kitchen garden (which you’re free to walk around), and everything else is sourced locally. For that reason you’ll find seasonal produce gracing the menus. We swerved the tasting menu and got stuck into a starter of tender asparagus, dotted with breaded quail’s egg, halved and gooey in the middle. Creamy goats curd cooled the vibrant green splodges of Zhoug (a paste of coriander, parsley and green chilli), a sprinkle of puffed seeds added texture. The chateaubriand we share as a main is so succulent that I quickly forget all about my recent pledge to reduce my meat intake. It’s sliced for us at the table (to avoid fighting over the biggest piece?) and served with a mushroom and greens.
Utterly full but unable to resist the temptation of dessert, we plump for the decidedly grown up pineapple and black pepper tarte tatin for two, served with clotted cream ice cream. Far too relaxed to tackle the intimidating wine list (it’s one of the biggest in England, with 1,966 individual wines available) our waitress helpfully pairs each course for us.
The bed must have been comfy because the next thing I remember is waking up to the phone ringing – the coffee tray we requested the night before was en route. A lovely young gentleman arrives with our hot drinks and a few mini pastries for good measure. Slightly regretting the amount of champagne we’d managed to put away the day before, we pulled ourselves together and made our way back down to the dining room for a reviving breakfast.
Still full from last night, I could only manage smashed avocado on toast, feeling slightly sorry to miss out on the buffet of smoked salmon, cured meat and foraged preserves. I needn’t have felt like it was a poor man’s choice, the bread is all made on site in the bakery, and the sun blushed tomatoes and chia seeds are more than I can muster rustling up at home.
Running late, we jump in the handy shuttle bus which ferries us up the road to The Kitchen where we’d be taking part in the days cookery course.
The Kitchen Cookery School
Run in collaboration with celeb-chef James Martin, The Kitchen is an open plan, modern space, home to both the state of the art cookery school, as well as a more informal restaurant – think wood-fired pizzas & gourmet burgers. We started with pastries and coffee and were each given an apron and iPad with the recipes we’d be making that day.
The class begins with us gathered around the Chef Tutor station – we’re here to ‘Recreate the Chewton Glen Classics’ with Executive Head Chef Luke Mathews. He joined back in 1993 and in that time has tried to take the infamous double-baked emmental soufflé off the menu twice – both times guests kicked up such a stink that he had to acquiesce. Good friends with former Chewton Glen colleague, James Martin – he tells us he can’t see what the appeal is with the ladies. If you can’t tell from that, he’s quite the joker. In fact the whole team were fab. Super laid back, very good fun – giving us tasks that challenged without completely leaving us to sink should something go wrong. Which plenty did, it would be fair to say – it’s hard to follow instructions with a hangover.
We started with said soufflé, which was a revelation (we’d never made a soufflé before!), before moving onto roast chicken with herb gnocchi, sautéed mushrooms and kale. Dessert was the ultra-decadent chocolate marquis with coffee creme anglaise and we even made a box of Chewton Glen fudge for the road. We left laden down with our creations – there is no chance of leaving hungry. The class runs from 9.30 until about 4pm but you break regularly to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy what you’ve created. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, it was such a brilliant day, and although we visited on a complimentary basis, I think it’s excellent value for money.
Staying just the one night, we barely scratched the surface of what Chewton Glen had to offer. A nine-hole golf course, mountain bike loan, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and spa treatments are just some of the activities we’ve saved for next time. A quintessentially English retreat where you won’t fail to fall under its spell.
Need to Know
Chewton Glen is a mere 2 hours train journey from London’s Waterloo, alight at New Milton.
For a list of upcoming cookery classes at The Kitchen visit: https://www.chewtonglen.com/the-kitchen/cookery-courses-prices/
Coach House Suites (which we stayed in) from £1,220