Summer Escape: New Forest

New ForestThe New Forest is like almost nowhere else in Britain; a rolling, rugged, open expanse of country, criss-crossed with open roads, littered with pubs and restaurants and inns, quaint villages, and free-roaming ponies. We headed in pursuit of all that and more.

We started, as ever, by responding to the call of or appetite. The Michelin-starred Montagu Arms came highly-recommended, and after zipping out way through the endless green scenes and beautifully craggy, wild foliage that's found all over the New Forest, we arrived ready for a feed. 

We weren't disappointed - our lunchtime feast of Wild South Coast Sea Bass with Watercress, Garden Artichoke Puree, Serrano Ham and Red Wine Sauce was incredible. So was the wine list, which we would happily have taken with us, to keep beside our beds as required night-time reading. It was that good. 

Our onward journey takes us via the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, home to more than 250 historic motor vehicles. On arriving at the Beaulieu Estate, you are struck by the Victorian, gothic-style Palace House which is still the family home of the Montagu family, who have lived here continuously since 1538. However we are here for one thing only, to take in the collection of cars and motorcycles.

In one afternoon at Beaulieu, you can journey through the eras of motor travel - The National Motor Museum collection includes classics such as J.H. Knight's first British petrol-driven road car from 1895 and J.S. Irving's Golden Arrow, which was driven to the land speed record by Henry Segrave at Daytona Beach Florida in 1929

With the British Grand Prix on our minds, we take a last look at the Formula 1 car collection - including and Graham Hill's Lotus 49 R3 and Damon Hill's 1996 Williams - before we have to reluctantly tear ourselves away. We piled back into the Land Rover - what else would we be driving through the New Forest? - and sought out our base for the night, Lime Wood Hotel.

On the one hand, Lime Wood appears to be an ordinary country house hotel - however behind the traditional exterior is a smart and modern hotel experience. The historic building has been transformed with contemporary interiors and a level of service that you would expect from a boutique London hotel.

It's welcoming, luxurious, refined. For a moment we forget that we are surrounded by deer, and assorted other wildlife, all frolicking about the New Forest all around us. It's idyllic. Before we head to bed, we have worked up an appetite again. Fortunately, Lime Wood is also home to Hartnett Holder & Co - a relaxed, modern Italian/British restaurant from esteemed chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder.

We eat to our heart's content, safe in the knowledge that we haven't far to go to bed. Full again, we sink a few tipples, carefully-chosen by our barman. The service is impeccable throughout. Our rooms provide the perfect end to a wonderful day. We sleep like fresh-felled New Forest logs.

The following morning, we don our walking boots and head out, in no particular direction, in search of clean air and green scenery. 

Our phones are happily free of signal. The weather is fair, the sky a washy blue. We keep a vague track of where home is - broadly speaking, back over our left shoulders - but the beauty of the New Forest is that there is so much of it to explore. There is no need to be prescriptive about where you walk. Whichever direction you take, the views, the colours, the wildlife are all guaranteed.

Eventually, we do find our way back to Lime Wood. We load up and head back to the noise and clatter of the city. It may have only been a brief trip, but the New Forest is the sort of place that makes a quick and lasting impression. We'll be trying to get back there soon, and we'd heartily recommend you pay a visit yourself too.