It was my pleasure to be able to collaborate with The Epicurean Club on this blog post, but, as always, all views are my own.
The New Forest is reminiscent of my childhood – free-roaming ponies, long country walks and an endless sky. I’ve always felt at home in this gorgeous national park, and have recently taken the time to visit it more and more. With over 218 square miles to explore and 141 miles of footpaths, I’ve never felt like it could get boring.
When I heard that The Epicurean Club had listed a number of hotels in the area, I immediately knew that I had to visit again – there’s something about exploring childhood memories as an adult that adds a new magic to them.
The Epicurean Club lists a collection of the very best boutique hotels, pubs and inns across Britain. Each place is situated in beautiful surroundings and boasts superior food (just wait ’til you see) and interiors. One of my favourite features about The Epicurean, however, is the ease in which they allow you to make the most of the local surroundings. We see so many images of foreign lands and white sandy beaches on social media, forgetting, somehow, that we have so much of our own culture and beauty (and yes, white sandy beaches) just on our doorstep. The Epicurean Club hosts experiences in each location, designed to help you get the most out of your stay, be it riding in the New Forest or a helicopter flight over the South Downs. There really is something for everyone.
The Mayflower, Lymington
Our Epicurean experience took us first to The Mayflower in Lymington, a harbourside inn known for its al fresco dining and delicious local food.
Upon arrival, Fiann and I took a walk around the local wetlands, tucked behind the yacht harbour. It was amazing to see the yachts, but I loved the fact that despite all the wealth, the wetlands were preserved and protected. If you’re a bird-nerd, you’ll love it here.
Our room was beautiful and cosy – who doesn’t want a huge bathtub in the room? Despite the antique feel, everything was beautifully presented and modern, with a traditional twist. Think low ceilings and wooden beams, but walk-in rain shower, huge double bed and espresso machine. Win-win.
By far my favourite part about our stay at The Mayflower was the food. Forget what you know about pub food – this was deserving of a Michelin star! In fact, the hotel has a one-rosette restaurant, which sources many of its ingredients locally – a big selling point for me, as sustainability is something I’d like to see thought about more in the hospitality industry.
If you’re vegan, fear not. We were handed the vegan menu which is extensive (rare for a British pub anywhere!) and aided in choosing a vegan wine. Our waitress really knew her wines, and we ended up with a gorgeous red and one portion of everything on the vegan menu (I’m not joking).
The food was impeccable, possibly the best vegan food I have ever tasted. We ate three courses each, so it was great that the food wasn’t too heavy, but rich enough to be immensely satisfying and warming. My favourite dish was the smoked celeriac and mushroom orzo (centre image above), which tasted so much like a smoked-salmon dish I nearly sent it back. The sorbets could do with tasting a little more natural, but they were the perfect end to a rich and delicious meal.
The Epicurean Club’s specialty is the experiences they combine with local stays, chosen to make the most of the surrounding countryside and towns. As Fiann and I are pretty active, we decided to head out on a self-guided bike ride with Cyclexperience.
Booking includes bike hire for a full day, and we were blessed with such amazing weather we took full advantage of this! Jon and the rest of the helpful crew at Cyclexperience helped us choose a sufficiently challenging route and send us on our way, complete with map, GPS, mountain bikes, helmets (optional) and toolkit. Thankfully they provide a breakdown service for free, so it was good to know we were safe if we got lost/anything broke!
We had so much fun exploring the woods and grasslands on the bikes, saying hi to the ponies and, of course, sampling the recommended local pubs (thanks Jon!). It was also nice knowing that the majority of the route was off the roads – as an unconfident road cyclist, I much prefer sticking to trails so our route was perfect.
I love the pictures we took – it was such a fun day and the perfect way to build up and appetite for what was to come!
The Mill at Gordleton
After handing back the bikes shortly after the sun went down, we headed off to our final hotel stay, The Mill at Gordleton. After hearing from a few friends this was the place to go in the New Forest, it’s fair to say I was pretty excited!
The Mill is beautifully situated next to a river (hence its name as an ex-mill), with ‘secret’ gardens and lovely interiors with ‘country-house’ charm. Our room was the perfect mix of the original 17th-century cosiness and a totally modern bathroom (the one place you maybe don’t want 17th-century vibes!).
We were luck enough to be able to experience a suite in the main building, which had a bedroom, ensuite bathroom and a living room, complete with a smart TV (we spent our time after dinner enjoying some Netflix in front of the fire).
We moved our dinner earlier simply to be able to enjoy more of it, after experiencing the delights at The Mayflower. We were not disappointed!
Sadly the fresh bread on the menu was not vegan, but we were instead offered fresh focaccia and butternut squash ‘bread’ – more like a cake, but who’s complaining. I could have just eaten the bread all evening, but we moved onto starters and mains after devouring the contents of the bread basket.
In contrast to The Mayflower, the food at The Mill did not feel ‘healthy’ as such – it was a great recreation of British pub-food made vegan. We were pleased with the number of options available, and once again got one portion of everything. As someone who prefers some ‘lighter’ options, the meal was a little more fried than I’m used to, but my boyfriend loved it a lot! Regardless of the level of frying, the food was delicious, which is what I’ve come to expect of hotels in The Epicurean Collection! I have to make a special note here to please try (and devour) the vegan ice-cream. It is without a doubt the best I have ever had.
Our stay in the New Forest was the perfect getaway from city life, and I truly feel like i could return again and again across all the seasons and explore something new each time. Next time I would go horse riding and perhaps head back to my former stomping grounds, Salisbury Cathedral (I was a chorister there for 5 years).
Thanks again to the wonderful and helpful staff at The Mayflower, Cyclexperience, The Mill and The Epicurean Club for making this stay so perfect – I hope to be back soon!