In need of a cosy weekend away from the noisy chaos that London becomes during the pre-Christmas shopping panic, we stumbled across Burley Manor online – and it ticked all our boxes. Country hotel with stunning grounds and scenery? Check. Short drive from London? Check. Interior designed with beautiful boutique style bedrooms? Check. Top rated restaurant? Check. Dog-friendly? Check.
Decision made, we drove through beautiful New Forest scenery (doing most of our Christmas shopping at the huge HomeSense on the way) to the impressive adults-only hotel (and former manor house) set in the middle of the New Forest countryside.
Pulling up the long driveway to the grand entrance, the historic Grade II-listed building (dating back to 1852!) looks even more impressive at night when it’s all lit up. The hotel is set in eight acres of land including a red deer sanctuary, but as it was dark already when we arrived around 4:30pm, we didn’t get to see the beautiful herds of deer that surround the hotel it until the following morning.
Although the original building dates back to 1852 and has been a hotel since 1935, it’s recently changed ownership to New Forest Hotels (in April 2015), and has undergone a £1.8 million refurbishment. Thankfully the refurbishment hasn’t lost any of the hotel’s original old-fashioned and historical features, but has improved and refreshed things without losing any of its charm.
As a result, the interiors are the perfect combination of old and new; bold patterned fabrics, modern bathrooms, wood-panelled walls, a 164-year old carved wooden staircase and original fireplaces in almost every main area of the hotel.
Coming through the main entrance we were immediately welcomed by some lovely ladies in the wood-panelled reception area. Once we were checked in, we were given a quick tour of the hotel’s main areas which included the lounge to the left of the reception, the restaurant (more on this later), the bar and its more relaxed seating area (perfect for a drink by the fire), before being led to our room.
Two-thirds of the 40 bedrooms are in the main building, and the rest are in the more modern Garden Wing which connects to the main hotel by a modern corridor, or a short walk across the grounds via your own back door and private decking area (perfect for dog owners).
Our garden suite (room 40) was at the far end of the extension, and like all the rooms it was decorated with a mix of antiques – a dark wood blanket box, wardrobe and dressing table – and more modern furniture, the highlight of which was the huge, comfy Hypnos bed with a statement yellow Ikat-patterned headboard. Our back door opened onto our private terrace overlooking the grounds, which Flora immediately explored, running in circles through the grass.
The bathroom was tastefully decorated with metro tiles, a modern bath with an overhead power shower, super fluffy robes and slippers and a complimentary selection of Temple Spa toiletries. After walking the dog and freshening up, we headed to the restaurant for dinner.
The restaurant was interiors porn to me, with William Yeoward style fabrics and upholstery, William Morris style curtains, Cole & Son style wallpaper, and gorgeous generously proportioned antique furniture.
The menu was equally pleasing, a seasonal Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring a lot of fish, vegetarian and game meat dishes, all locally sourced. The vegetables come from Brockenhurst greengrocer ‘Village Veg’, ‘Cobley Wood’ provides some of the rare breed birds, and master butcher ‘T Bartlett & Sons’ supplies the meat. The chefs are also proud of their wood fired oven, which they use in many of the dishes to enhance the flavours.
We started with some of their tapas (some olives, some home-baked bread still hot from the oven, with some dipping oils), and the wine list. I don’t think I’ve ever taken quite so long to stare at a menu but it took us nearly 25 minutes to pick a wine and our food as everything sounded so amazing! We went for a caraffe of the Malbec (divine), then the mussels to start (for me), and the bresaola with crispy mozzarella (for him).
The mussels were creamy and fragrant, each mussel perfectly cooked and with no duds, the bresaola was rich and concentrated, and the mozzarella was coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
For mains we had the roast venison and the roast duck, both wild (therefore free range) and from a local butcher, and both super flavoursome, succulent and juicy.
We were just about to order desert (a peanut butter, caramelised pineapple and popcorn ice cream concoction), when we heard that our puppy had apparently started whining and had started to annoy our neighbouring guests (oops) so we went to collect her (naughty thing had jumped up on the bed – we can’t wait for puppy training classes to start in January!) and we had our desserts by the fire in the lounge – which was dog friendly.
The staff gave her some treats and played with her, whilst we experienced nothing short of a foodgasm with our peanut butter ice cream, and the rest of our wine.
Feeling full, we collapsed into the cloud-like bed and fell asleep instantly.
The following morning we were able to fully enjoy the views from our room and the rest of the hotel. The grounds were frosty and you could just make out the deer in the surrounding fields! Having direct access to the grounds also meant I could ‘walk’ the dog whilst not having to leave my porch, and whilst still wearing my dressing gown, with a steaming mug of tea in my hands.
Breakfast was served in the conservatory room, which overlooked the grounds and the deer. There was a generous buffet table with cold meats, cheeses, fruits and pastries, and we were also provided with a menu featuring popular brunch items from fruit and yoghurt, to eggs benedict. Jonathan went for the full English whilst I chose the smoked trout (thinking ‘when else am I going to have smoked trout for breakfast?’).
Unfortunately I immediately regretted my decision as it seemed far too heavy, fishy and creamy for a still-full stomach (not to mention a bit sickly in advance of a car journey back to London), and on second thoughts I would have much preferred the vegetarian full English breakfast which a neighbouring diner was having. Ah well.
We walked back to the car, inhaling the last big gulps of fresh and frosty countryside air, then drove a beautiful drive back through the New Forest into London.
It had been a perfect and peaceful little escape, and we arrived home feeling super relaxed and refreshed (and with a car laden with Christmas shopping). I would recommend it as a perfect dog-friendly country hotel, but the food was so great that even for those not staying at the hotel I would even recommend booking a table just to enjoy a meal in the restaurant!
Book it: Burley Manor Hotel, Ringwood Road, Burley, BH24 4BS, www.burleymanor.com.