By Laura Mason
A herd of cows marching in line momentarily break up the stillness of grazing ponies that lazily munch in the last rays of the early summer evening – nature at its purest and all the while my family and I sit on the hotel terrace enjoying our very own sundowner taking it all in.
Our recent visit to Balmer Lawn Hotel in the majestic New Forest provided a picture-perfect backdrop to an explorative weekend break filled with nature, wildlife and a new find – New Forest ice cream.
Located in the heart of the New Forest, 4* Balmer Lawn Hotel is tucked right in the heart of quaint Brockenhurst village. The iconic hotel building dates back to the mid-1800s and is steeped in history – originally a hunting lodge, it has since undertaken many purposes including an Army Hospital during WWI and an Army Staff College in WWII before finding its place as a hotel in the late 1940s.
I had no previous knowledge of this, however as you take in the grand staircase, cascading chandeliers and vintage furnishings, there’s an apparent air of history; and upon further inspection between the prints on the walls and titbits of history dotted around the hotel you eagerly begin to uncover a story and sense of what has been.
Our traditional Family Room, one of the many family rooms available at the hotel, was a huge interconnecting room comprising of a main room with super king bed coupled with adjoining space for the children featuring one single bed and bunk bed. Marley was kitted out with a cot so the room layout accommodated up to six which is a huge plus for larger families that can often struggle to find suitable accommodation for anything above the 2/2 set up.
The slightly creaking floors coupled with old-fashioned colonial window bays that flooded light into the plush beech room just added to its heritage and charm.
The onsite AA two Rosette restaurant, Beresford’s, is truly superb. We were informed that there had been a lot of change to the kitchen and waiting team; and while I hadn’t previously visited, there was a real enthusiasm and passion to provide exemplary service with food to match.
Welcoming young children into a fine dining establishment can be a fine line to juggle but they were greeted with such gusto and presented with children’s menus and engaging conversation by our charming waitress that it put us all at ease. The food is a showcase of local and seasonal produce that won’t disappoint. The majority of foods are made in-house impressively including the delicious bread and butter and ice creams.
The Sticky Beef Short Rib was melt in the mouth type of stuff with caramelised onions and a creamy mascarpone mash that was made to ruin all other mash potatoes I have encountered prior! A faultless dish and I am salivating just thinking back to the meal. The desserts are also absolutely delectable and beautifully presented with a unique spin on some of the classics such as the distinct pairing of Salted Caramel Fondant with Green Apple Sorbet.
Breakfast is an equally impressive spread of fruits; pastries and cereals with cooked breakfast items from the hot plate or made to order specials straight from the kitchen.
Once we had finished eating, and we definitely did plenty of it, we explored more of the hotel visiting the Saltus Spa that has a medium-sized indoor pool and larger outdoor heated pool that is open during the summer months. Quiet and fairly shallow with steps leading in, it provided good fun for the children and other families taking advantage of the pool meant it was lively and entertaining for us all. Treatments are also available should you manage to sneak one in with massages, facials and body treatments using ESPA products conducted daily by high trained therapists.
I took some time to chat with the Hotel Manager and he told us about some of the things they do to engage with families from film nights with free popcorn and drinks in the school holidays; themed stays; indoor and outdoor games activities, and partner services they offer including babysitting and monitoring. With more scheduled down the line, they’re very much open to suggestion which can only be a great thing for families wanting somewhere committed to embracing families with young children.
The hotel provides a great starting point for many walks and bike rides in the forest and the passionate reception staff can recommend routes and footpaths for your family. There are even some wellies you can borrow by the front door, which I’d highly recommend, even if it were just for wading in the brook, of which there’s one a stone’s throw from the front entrance.
The local villages are perfect to explore, we found ourselves at a vineyard just a five-minute drive away and slightly further afield there’s plenty of attractions that include one of my faves – family-friendly theme park Paultons Park, home to Peppa Pig World (for all those Peppa-mad toddlers) and Beaulieu National Motor Museum.
Standard Family rooms start from £189 on a Bed and Breakfast rate. For more information and special offers. Visit www.balmerlawnhotel.com.