Tell us more…
When you read about the English countryside, the New Forest is as typical as it gets. This peaceful national park, about an hour south of London, is brimming with wildlife, greenery and postcard-worthy village charm. The iconic Montagu Arms Hotel sits proudly in the centre of a petite town called Beaulieau and has got the balance of traditional charm and modern flair absolutely spot on.
I paid the hotel a visit, to find out if its recent facelift had compromised any of the hotel’s historic charm and was delighted to discover, it had done no such thing.
Why it’s great
Similar to a scene from a film-set, the beautiful front façade of the Montagu Arms (which is constantly lined with a selection of classic cars) is enough to make your jaw drop. The hotel’s powder red brickwork and grand entrance scream stately home, whilst the traditional interiors and plush suites ooze warmth and class. You’ve got the option of dining in the hotel’s informal brasserie, Monty’s Inn, which serves lovely pub grub and is great for kids, but the real lure of a stay here is the grand dining room of The Terrace restaurant, led by renowned head chef Matthew Whitfield.
What’s the food like?
It wouldn’t be right if the restaurant didn’t pay homage to its local surroundings. You’ll notice that all of the menu’s dishes use ingredients from across The New Forest as well as its neighbouring counties: Hampshire and Dorset. The restaurant also proudly boasts its own organic kitchen garden, where a lot of the produce is grown. On first entry, the dining room appears a little old-fashioned, but once you’re inside you’ll find that it’s actually sumptuously comfy and has a welcoming, relaxed vibe.
As an advocate of the always-save-room-for-pudding motto, I’m a little hesitant about overdoing it with starters. But scrimping on first course here would be sacrilege. I chose plaice, served on top of a shellfish bisque, to start, which was fresh, zingy and just the right amount to whet my appetite for the courses to follow.
When it comes to mains, they really have covered all bases. I opted for the Pennington lamb and was pleasantly surprised when a variety of small cuts were served, alongside a handful of garlicky hispi cabbage, potatoes and a scattering of sharp goat’s cheese.
Forget what I said earlier – do me a favour and save room for dessert. Their patisserie offering is exquisite and every dish arrives beautifully plated. Naturally, my sweet tooth drew me to their warm hazelnut financier, which was all sorts of heaven, but the restaurant’s iconic cheese trolley is the thing to go for here. Sit tight as an enormous selection of English and French farmhouse cheeses are wheeled straight to your seat. And you can go back for more as many times as you fancy.
Their wine selection is vast and will suit all grape preferences. However, if you’re willing to let your hair down, allow their brilliant sommelier, Sergio dos Santos, to do the choosing for you. If you tell him what you like, he’ll match wines to each course of your meal down to a tee.
What’s in the rooms?
The Montagu Arms offers 24 spacious rooms split across two sections of the hotel – the main building and the newly renovated loft suites. The rooms are truly beautiful; expect English countryside touches, like fresh flowers in your room, fluffy bathrobes and home-baked biscuits on arrival. The sofas should come with a warning though – they’re ridiculously comfy and you’ll have trouble getting back up once you slink into one for the afternoon.
Honestly? Not an awful lot, but that’s what makes it so perfect.
Peace and quiet come in unlimited supply in the town of Beaulieau and you can walk from one end to the other in a matter of minutes. Pop your head into some of the local gift shops and stop off at Palletts tea and coffee shop for a seriously good latte with a scone the size of your head. Keep an eye out for the town’s local donkeys (they’re ever so friendly), too! After a short stroll, head back to the Montagu Arms and spend an afternoon in the hotel’s adjoining pub, Monty’s Inn, and sip on one of their local ciders.
If you’ve got more time on your hands, the local area offers plenty of bookable outdoor amenities (visit New Forest Activities to plan a great itinerary). Go boating in the lake, rent bikes and cycle around the New Forest or even hire a classic car!
What’s not so great?
It’s hard to fault this charming countryside pad. If you’re looking for a buzzier destination, however, you might be heading to the wrong place. It’s also worth noting that the Terrace Restaurant isn’t necessarily ideal for kids, but the adjoining restaurant Monty’s Inn is great for families.
The hotel’s website mentions a pool but, to my disappointment, the facilities are actually part of their sister hotel, 20 minutes’ drive away.
What’s the damage?
Rooms start from £129 per night ,including a fabulous breakfast.