The Epicurean Club – New Forest

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.

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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.

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Nothing like an evening stroll to relax after a long drive!

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.

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We ate dinner in front of the cosy log fire – perfect for a winter’s evening!

Experience

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!

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Am I a pro photographer now?

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.

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We were given a ‘taster’ of each of the sorbet flavours, as well as the new vegan ice cream – 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!

 

Royal Lancaster Hotel, London

I’m a massive fan of doing cute things with a partner or friend just because. No need for an anniversary or birthday – flowers/dinner/a cute homemade card can be shared any day. It’s even better when it’s unexpected! When The Royal Lancaster invited me to review their hotel bordering Hyde Park I jumped at the chance – it was the perfect opportunity for a little date night, just because.

The stay was kindly gifted but as usual, all views are my own.

 

Check-in is from 2pm at the hotel, and we arrived at 4pm to have some time to take a look at the facilities before dinner. The hotel is huge and beautifully furnished – minimalist luxury. We were shown up to our room (we were upgraded to the Park Suite) and given a little tour. The first thing that I noticed were the amazing views of Hyde Park – many of the hotel rooms give a breathtaking view of the park, and you can see various London landmarks out of the expansive windows.

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The views are SPECTACULAR

The room was beautifully decorated with minimalist (but cosy) décor – I have taken notes for my future house! Amenities include a bath, walk-in shower, fast WiFi, hairdryer and a TV with extras such as iPlayer and YouTube (through which we played music) etc. The room was perfect and I have no complaints!

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Tempting to steal decor notes for my future house!

Before dinner we headed to the gym. There is no spa at the hotel, but they do suggest visiting Hyde Park for a dip in the Serpentine, which could be nice at certain times of year. The gym is described as being ‘well equipped’ which I wouldn’t argue, so long as you have only basic equipment needs. Consistently I feedback to hotels with gyms that more and more people require more than solely cardio machines and light weights. I have seen this changing slowly, but there was room for improvement at The Royal Lancaster. The gym was not busy (only one extra person) and is open 24h a day, 7 days a week, which is great. It could have benefitted from some extra weights-setups, e.g. chest press and squat rack (I think of these being basic in a gym). Water and towels are provided.

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Making the most of the hotel gym

We booked dinner at The Island Grill, one of the hotel’s two evening restaurants, for 7:30pm. The hotel is open to non hotel-guests and was pleasingly busy – a sign of a good restaurant! We were told that the chef previously worked at The Shangri-La at The Shard, and this certainly came across in the cooking. Even without knowing much about the restaurant in advance of our dinner, it was immediately obvious that the restaurant places huge emphasis on sustainability by prioritising seasonal and local ingredients, and offering a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options. The restaurant earned 2 AA Rosettes and won the Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2015. Of course, as a vegan I would have loved a couple more vegan options (e.g. a veggie buger and some grilled options), but what we ate (pea soup, wild mushrooms on sourdough, heirloom tomato and mushroom filo) was delicious. We ended the meal with a ginger cake, which was very heavy but still delicious. If you’re a keen wine drinker, the alcohol selection is extemsive but not overwhelming, and labels all the vegan options available, which was great! We had an amazing Rosé from France, which was £32 per bottle and went down very easily.

 

I have not slept as well as I slept in our hotel room is a very long time. The bed is huge and extremely comfortable, and the room has aircon – vital for a good sleep on warmer days. Any noise from the road 16 floors down was blocked out by the thick windows, and I slept like a baby. Would thoroughly recommend for a good night’s sleep.

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The spacious (and air conned) bedroom was very much appreciated!

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Park Restaurant overlooking Hyde Park. There were options from both a buffet bar and a la carte. After the amazing vegan dinner I was disappointed to only see one vegan option on the menu. I ended up ordering the ‘crushed avocado’ without the poached egg. It could have done with more toast and more avocado (having got rid of the eggs), but it was delicious! The buffet bar was extensive and very pleasing – we ate a lot of really great food. Unlike many buffets where quality is compromised for quantity, everything we ate was great. As with most hotels, the buffet could have benefitted from vegetarian, gluten free and vegan signs on each of the food items for ease of choosing – it was not always obvious.

 

TL;DR

  • The Royal Lancaster Hotel hosted us for an AMAZING night in their Park Suite.
  • The rooms are beautifully decorated and spacious, and the beds are incredibly comfortable.
  • The gym was decent but could have done with much more equipment.
  • I was very impressed by Island Grill, one of the hotel’s restaurants, with a focus on sustainability.
  • I slept incredibly well and we weren’t disturbed by any noise from adjacent rooms or the street throughout our stay
  • The breakfast bar was great, but both the menu and bar could have done with more vegan options.
  • Would thoroughly recommend if you’re looking to stay somewhere very ‘London’ – you will not be disappointed!

 

Kurhotel Skodsborg, Copenhagen

This trip was gifted by Kurhotel Skødsbørg but as always, all views are my own!

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I first visited Denmark a year ago, tagging along to a work trip my boyfriend was on in order to see Copenhagen. At the time I had grand plans to visit other parts of Denmark, as I had heard so much about the stunning countryside and national parks, but it was not to be – there is too much to see in Copenhagen!

Thankfully, I got the chance to return this summer on a family holiday, joining family members in the beautiful countryside and coast of Denmark. After spending a week cycling and trail running my way through the local countryside, Fiann and I headed to Kurhotel Skodsborg, which I had singled out the year earlier and added to my ‘to visit’ list.

Kurhotel Skodsborg is located a quick 20 minutes from Copenhagen and is situated on the sea front, between the ocean and the forest. Its main draw for me were the spa and fitness facilities, both of which it is known for. Booking a room for the night (double rooms start at £190) includes not only breakfast but also access to the most extensive spa facilities I have ever seen. On top of this you have access to the incredibly well stocked gym (better than most gyms I’ve been to) and classes. Most other hotels that have this option charge extra for it, so it was great to see how ingrained in the hotel’s features spa and fitness are.

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Not a bad view from the hotel jetty!

Food

Our stay began with an afternoon tea, ‘Tea with Georg’, where my first thought was how healthy most of the options are – aside from the well-stocked bar, the vast majority of afternoon tea options are healthy (including the famous Danish Smørrebrød) and include plenty of options for vegan guests. The hotel has two main places to eat food – The Lobby (a centralised quasi-sitting room with sofas and a relaxed atmosphere) and The Brasserie (at the top of the hotel with a more dressy feel). We enjoyed one dinner and our lunches at The Lobby, and one dinner and our breakfasts at The Brasserie. If you go, ask for the three-course dinner with wine pairing – the food is spectacularly put together, and our waiter deserved a raise for being the most friendly and helpful waiter I’ve ever met! Fiann and I never saw the standard set menu for the wine pairing but received three perfectly formed vegan dishes with various wines to our table – I’m not sure if vegan options are standard on their menu, but they certainly deliver if you ask!

 

Accommodation

Our room was situated looking over the courtyard inside the horseshoe shaped building, catching sunlight pretty much throughout the day. Thankfully this didn’t affect my sleep thanks to the blackout blinds, and I actually had some of the best sleep of my recent life on the incredibly comfortable bed in the total silence of the area – it makes a nice change from central London where 5 sirens a night is a quiet night! Because the hotel is situated just behind a front line of small houses on the beach front I can’t imagine that many would have a clear view of the sea, but the views we saw from our balcony (a mix of hotel, forest and sea) were perfect. The bathroom was huge, consisting of a free-standing bath-tub, large shower/wet room area and two sinks. It also had underfloor heating which I can imagine in the Danish winter is much appreciated!

Spa

Kurhotel Skødsbørg is known for its spa facilities, which are extensive and comprehensive. Not only can you lounge by the pool or sit in a sauna, the hotel also provides a ‘spa concierge’ service called Skodsborg Flow. This is what the press release has to say: ”Designed for both seasoned spa-goers and first-timers, this new bespoke service guides you through Kurhotel Skodsborg’s eight best hot and cold experiences: maximising each treatment so that – when practiced in sequence – their combined benefits are even more powerful and effective. Think: Nordic stretching, ancient breathing exercises in the salt cave, body scrubs in the steam bath and Kurhotel Skodsborg’s signature SaunaGus led by your very own ‘Mist Master’.” Sound a bit wishy-washy? The sessions are in fact designed to strengthen the immune system, stimulate blood circulation and improve sleep, and many have been used for millennia for these functions – all I know is that they were very enjoyable and relaxing. My favourite was the SaunaGus, which I can only describe as a mix between a sauna, aromatherapy and interpretive dance. After entering a sauna, the ‘Gusmester’ (the leader) infuses the air with essential oils, circulating the heat using a towel (the interpretive dance part of the treatment), before leading the attendees down the the hotel jetty for a dip in the Baltic Sea. It certainly felt Baltic at 11 degrees, but I’m told that in winter the whole area is covered in ice! Thoroughly chilled by the sea, you head back into the sauna for the second instalment of aromatherapy. Not surprisingly the sauna feels much nicer second time round! Even if you just visit the hotel for a day, make sure a couple of hours are spent in the spa – you absolutely won’t regret it.

 

Fitness

Another of Kurhotel Skodsborg’s specialties is its fitness facilities. With two gyms, a trainer who is the world number 24 in Crossfit and a local national park, Skodsborg is perfect for active people. With the fantastic facilities it’s hard to believe they’d need much more, but Skodsborg also provides a weekly regime of fitness classes open to all abilities. With 1800 members, it’s perhaps not surprising that each fitness class we saw/attended was full, but it’s also testament to the incredible teaching that every class was booked out. Our favourite was the TRX class, done in a crossfit style – both Fiann and I had huge DOMS the next day!

For those more interested in a low impact fitness regime, the hotel also provides Aqua Fitness classes (aquarobics) in their cooler ‘sports pool’ and Nordic stretching, a yoga-like stretching class aiding concentration and, of course, flexibility.

Sustainability

One think I have started to pick up on when visiting hotels are the sustainability aspects of each. As we become more and more aware of the impact we have on the world, I think it’s important for the hospitality world to keep up. In general, especially thanks to the fact that plastic bottles are obsolete in Denmark because you can drink the water, Skodsborg seemed quite sustainability-focussed. Many of the dishes were vegetable based, with plenty of plant-based options available. However, I would make some suggestions about housekeeping, e.g. not changing towels everyday, our soaps were taken each day and replaced with a new one wrapped in plastic, providing reusable rather than disposable slippers etc. Many of these changes would be easy to make, and would have a large positive impact on both the energy consumption of the hotel and other sustainability aspects.

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Spot the swift photo bombing me!

Local area

Skodsborg is situated in North Zealand, the wealthiest part of Copenhagen. Not only is the area peaceful and beautiful, it is also home to Dyrehaven, the most beautiful park and UNESCO Heritage nature reserve. If you’re in the area, make sure to walk around the forest – keep an eye out of any one of the three types of deer that live there. The forest was breathtaking and I feel like I could have spent another week wandering through!

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TL;DR

Would you recommend Kurhotel Skodsborg? Absolutely, especially for those fitness-obsessed or who appreciate a really good spa.

Cost: A double room starts at £190 including breakfast and full access to spa and fitness facilities. You can book here.

Highlights: The incredible gym (a rarity), excellent vegan food (also a rarity) and the local forest.

What I’d improve: I would prefer a larger focus on sustainability.

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We had a great time at the hotel and are so grateful for our stay!

Dormy House

Fiann and I stayed at Dormy House as part of our UK staycation. The hotel is part of the Farncombe Estate, a group of hotels within a short drive of one another, each with their own defining rustic charms, but a definite connecting thread between them.

I previously stayed at The Fish Hotel, another of the hotels on the estate. I loved it so much that I decided Dormy House would have to be next on my list. I was not disappointed! Foxhill Manor will have to be next – watch this space!

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The front of Dormy House, in full Christmas attire

Dormy House is another breed of hotel. Modern but rustic, with beautiful decor and everything you could possibly need – it is the perfect place to relax for a long weekend or staycation. We stayed in the Courtyard Suite, a little quasi-apartment with a room, living room and bathroom, complete with all the necessary amenities. Whilst I didn’t see the other rooms, the suite was the perfect size and I would definitely recommend it for a little extra room compared to your bog-standard hotel!

Of course we immediately visited the spa on arrival – having run a 10k race earlier that day, we were dying for something to ease our weary legs, and the spa hit just the spot. First stop was the outdoor hot tub next to the fire. We had the place to ourselves and it was the ultimate relaxing experience. The spa also has a huge variety of different rooms with various purposes, from a beautiful sauna overlooking to pool, to an ice bucket for some swift cooling. We spent a good 40 minutes in the spa before heading to dinner.

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The beautiful pool at Dormy House

Dinner at The Potting Shed was great – there was a specialist vegan menu, and although it had only two options for each course, everything we ate was of top quality. I especially enjoyed the dessert!

We didn’t get to explore much more of the estate in the short time I had, but I would love to be able to return sometime for longer. Fiann and I felt there was so much more to do by the time we left (not least just enjoying the hotel sitting room and fire with a good book)! Other than potentially getting more vegan options on the menu for breakfast and dinner, I would give this hotel a full 10/10 for having everything we could possibly want and more. See below for some more pics by the incredibly talented Caylee Hankins who you can find here or on her Instagram.

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The front sitting room was beautifully decked out for Christmas!

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It’s never wrong to order another coffee when they’re that good

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We never wanted to leave our perfect little sitting room in our suite!

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Enough space to swing a cat (or dance like nobody’s watching)