Clouds advanced over a ripple of green hills, the horizon flecked with silhouettes of barren trees. We made our way through Hampshire, home to boundless parks, quaint villages and the New Forest, surrounded by postcard views of British countryside in winter; bleak and beautiful all at once.
In the distance, a redbrick Georgian manor rose from the mist, lit by milky sunlight. The sight marked our regal approach to Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, one frosty morning in December when we fled London in search of country comforts, just under an hour away from the city.
Swapping our boots for loaned Hunter wellies at the suitably grand entrance, we ducked into the lobby; a welcome cliché of formal country living. The interiors of this stately retreat combine classic design – flush with marble floors, wood panelled walls, elegant coved archways and roaring fireplaces – with a dash of contemporary style.
The Four Seasons brand is synonymous with exceptional service and, more often than not, the crème-de-la-crème of locations. We found the Hampshire outpost to be no exception. Set in 500 acres of countryside, the Georgian manor is an imposing façade within which an army of capable staff caters to every whim.
A total of 133 rooms and suites are spread throughout the wings, from Mews Rooms overlooking the 18th century stable block right up to the lavish Belvedere, Daneshill and Park Suites (pictured), with views over the grounds as far as the eye can see.
We checked into a Grand Manor Room, which sits somewhere between the two. Set in the heart of the house, these luxurious rooms recall the grandiose of the Georgian era, with a neutral colour palette, traditional furnishings and a king-size bed. A writing desk looks out over the front lawn, so we spent ample time spying on approaching guests (or rather, on their parade of exceptional cars), while pretending to write letters on our headed stationary. The en-suite bathroom, decked in marble, featured a striking claw-foot tub that had us aching for a soak to soothe the winter chills away.
The main restaurant, Seasons, is shut on Sundays and wasn’t open when we visited, but we took a peek at the menu – fine French dining – served in airy, neutrally furnished surrounds with more window than wall for making the most of the country vistas.
Instead, we hotfooted it over to The Bistro – the more laidback dining option – and settled into the casual vibe. It was here that we met our favourite staff member of all; in fact, the most delightful waiter we’ve ever come across (and not just because he was feeding us). From choosing our wine to showering us in fresh bread and chatting easily all the while, he epitomised excellent service.
Our two-person locally sourced Surrey Farm rib steak was served alongside vegetables fresh from the hotel’s estate, and it proved delectable. On request, our charming waiter wished us on our way and sent a chocolate tart topped with caramelized banana and homemade banana ice cream straight to our room, which vanished more quickly than we care to admit.
Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire is well suited to families, but that certainly didn’t mean that their presence was overbearing. With this much space, we barely noticed, but then perhaps we were simply too wrapped up in trialing the extensive activities list. A plethora of country bumpkin pursuits includes cycling – complimentary bikes provided – clay pigeon shooting, horse riding, tennis, canal boating, falconry, croquet and fishing at Belvedere Pond.
We ambled down towards the pond to put our fly-fishing skills to the test and predictably caught nothing (more ego than talent), but spent an amiable couple of hours devouring a Ploughman’s picnic lunch and playing King of the Manor at the water’s edge.
Cold to the bone and covered in mud, we relinquished our outdoor quests in favour of a visit to the hotel’s sprawling spa, set in an 18th century stable block. Treatments are varied, with ESPA and Sodashi products making up much of the menu and a dedicated section for men featuring purifying facials, body exfoliations and massages.
A great maze of soothing, oak beamed halls fragrant with lavender and thyme lead us to an indoor pool encased in soaring glass, complete with a sauna and a steam room. But the real boon was back outside – a swim through from the main pool took us into an enormous alfresco Jacuzzi bath. With the spa open until 10pm, it was the perfect spot to wallow and sup champagne on a crisp, starry night – suffice to say that this time, we didn’t quite make it to the state-of-the-art gym.
In a Nutshell
Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire is one of a select few truly luxurious hotels in the region and it hits the mark in every way; seclusion, service, and above all, a captivating place to hide away from the onset of winter. Highclere Castle – Downton Abbey’s film location – might well be just down the road, but Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire is where the aspiring (and accomplished) aristocrats come to play.
Rooms cost from £275 per night.
Words by Annie Biziou – Lifestyle Editor
Photography by Peter Vidale, Jaime Ardices-Arce, Richard Waite / Four Seasons