24 hours in the New Forest, Brockenhurst, 2 hours from London Victoria
Imagine taking your kids on a weekend of cycling through some of the most enchanting countryside in England. Now imagine staying a child-friendly hotel with great food and service, but not so stuffy or pricey to put off families with young children. Next, imagine that you can get to this place in 2 hours by train from London and will not need a car when you arrive. Read on and learn about the fabulous Balmer Lawn Hotel in the New Forest, one of the best deals for family trips outside of London.
My family and I have taken many trips to Brockenhurst, it’s a not too long train ride from London Victoria and most importantly, when you arrive, you do not need a car. Next to the station is a bike rental, New Forest Cycle Hire. You can literally get off the train and hop right on your bike and head off into the New Forest. They have baby seats, trailers, tag-alongs, children’s bikes, recumbent bikes, helmets, locks and maps. Just show up and ride away. There are spaces on the train for your own bicycles, too. When you arrive at the station there are several taxis who can run you around Brockenhurst for around £5 for local trips from the station.
The New Forest is a national treasure. Home to over 5,000 ponies that graze on the commons, the New Forest Ponies are lovely, gentle creatures; some of whom are accustomed to being around people and some are even happy to be pet and stoked (do not EVER feed a pony, this is very unwelcome and can harm the ponies). Any bike ride in the New Forest results in several sightings and sometimes very close encounters with these beautiful animals, making a very warm and lasting impression on everyone, especially children.
We have now stayed at the Balmer Lawn twice and we cannot praise the exceptional value, the wealth of activities and lovely service enough. The hotel is situated right on the edge of The New Forest, you can walk right in and out from the grounds of the hotel. Some rooms look right onto the forest and you can watch ponies eating day and night.
The hotel is a 20 minute walk from the station or you can take a £4.50 taxi ride instead. If there is not a taxi right at the station, they will arrive soon. We opted for the taxi this trip, but have walked it before with the pushchair and suitcases.
When we arrived we took the kids up to the family superior suite and were very impressed (£239 per night with breakfast included, you may find discounts online for just £179 per night for the same package). The children had their very own room with a bunk bed and lovely views over the forest; they also had sofa and their own television. Our room had enormous bed, wardrobe, television, large en suite and sitting area where the children sat down and had a spot of tea and biscuits before we rode to our lunch destination.
The Balmer Lawn arranged for our cycle hire and they bicycles were waiting for us on our arrival. There was a tiny bit of confusion, we had requested the tag along and we had a trailer waiting for us instead. The staff hotel quickly sorted it out in a calm and efficient manner.
We rode from the Balmer Lawn just down the road to The Pig, a boutique hotel for foodies; their restaurant has as an emphasis food grown on the estate, with the rest sourced nearby. This is another magical place for children as the hotel has their own picturesque vegetable gardens, chickens, quails, fish pond and of course, pigs. The gardens, animal pens and greenhouse are open for people to admire. Both my children were fascinated with seeing the vegetables and animals in the farm that was to be prepared into food.
The grounds of The Pig are just as beautiful as the vegetable gardens; there are tennis courts, lawns for playing ball games (you can barrow sets from the foyer) and an enormous swing to play on. Our children happily wandered around the grounds while we sampled the local cider and ale on offer. The restaurant is an amazing atrium filled with living plants and herbs, but we chose to sit in the lounge instead where there were two roaring fires and all kinds of beautiful curiosities and faux finishes to admire.
After lunch we cycled right into the forest and saw ponies and horses. We were all charmed by these lovely animals so receptive to the children.
After lunch and our ride, we headed back to the hotel for a swim. The Balmer Lawn boasts a gorgeous swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna that works perfectly for kids and adults as the kids can play in the pool and the grown-ups don’t have to freeze while minding them. This is really the selling point for us as our kids are the happiest in water.
The pool is .6 meters at the shallowest and goes to 1.6 meters and very pleasantly warm. You cannot leave non-swimmers completely unattended, but the pool is nice and shallow for small children and they can wade and splash somewhat independently while you watch them from the hot tub.
After our late afternoon swim it was time for dinner. The food was impressive. The children begged to have afternoon tea for their dinner and the spread was wonderful. It included fresh egg and cress, cheese and beetroot chutney, generous portions of smoked salmon followed by scones and cream with cakes and biscuits to finish.
The adults each had a cocktail, two starters (smoked duck with quail eggs, chicken livers with apples – both fantastic) a main of short rib beef and one of saddle of lamb (both creatively and deliciously mashed root vegetables, kale, squash – we were both impressed and more importantly inspired) and a bottle of Boudreaux for £118.
We were treated to attentive and kind service in the more relaxed bar area. The children had tea at the sofas and the parents got their own table to enjoy their fabulous food and wine by themselves, thanks to a little help from our good friend Mindcraft. The meal was outstanding, we checked the bill over and over as we could not believe the fantastic value.
After dinner we all went for another swim, a soak in the Jaccuzzi, dried off in the sauna, bundled up in our robes and led our sleepy children upstairs. They went off into their own room and watched a movie while we tried to finish the bottle of wine we had started with dinner. After all our cycling and swimming, we all comfortably drifted off to sleep early that evening.
The following morning, our kids were too excited to sleep in very late, so we went down for breakfast and enjoyed their ample breakfast buffet that was refreshingly not overrun with too many sugary foods for the kids, just a small basket of pastries and one sweet cereal. We all feasted on cheese, toast, cured meats, sausages, eggs, dried cereal, local mushrooms and tomatoes, local bacon, fresh fruit and yoghurt.
After breakfast we set out again for a long ride through the forest. We enjoyed the early-morning sunshine and saw a small heard of deer run by, including a buck with enormous antlers. The children walked in silence for 20 minutes trying to stalk the deer to see them again, sadly to no avail, but it was such a great experience. We found their tracks and followed them for a bit, but soon made our way back to the hotel for a swim before lunch.
Check out was 11, but the staff held our bags at reception and allowed us to go for one last swim before leaving the hotel. The kids had a great time and after cycling, swimming and sauna needed another afternoon tea before heading to the train. They ate away next to the blazing fire and were all ready for the train ride home soon after.
We only got to see and experience a small portion of what the Balmer Lawn Hotel has to offer. They have outdoor tennis courts, squash courts, a spa and self-catering cottages on the grounds.
There are near-by restaurants and pubs that you can either cycle to or ring up the taxi service in town and they will be happy to run you near-by.Tweet