Natalie French

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Hampshire is hot right now. Its handful of uber-sexy boutique hotels, with sumptuous spas to match, are coaxing discerning folk away from the big smoke and into the ‘green county'. Beyond the five-star luxury, you can explore elegant historic houses that inspired books and films; discover secret gardens; and foodies can feast on ultra-fresh, locally-inspired Michelin-starred menus. Just over an hour from London, you can lose yourself in 94,000 acres of ancient English Forest, dotted with 4,000 wild roaming ponies. What better place to while away a weekend?
The Spa at Chewton Glen

Unravel... Unwind Roman-goddess style at the sumptuous Chewton Glen Hotel Spa. Mixing up divine tromp d'oeil Corinthian columns with a state of the art hydrotherapy spa pool – you can expect ultimate luxury. Float in the 17-metre ozone treated pool and laze sloth-like in the aromatherapy sauna and crystal steam rooms. If you're not deeply relaxed already, the Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage will do the trick. Lie back in one of the ten treatment rooms and feel flowing strokes from the soles of your feet to the palms of your hands.

The Vyne

Marvel... King Henry VIII graced The Vyne with his regal presence on no less than three occasions. This stunning 16th century National Trust house is also home to a fearsome looking solid gold ring which wouldn't look out of place around the neck of Golum! Dating back to the 4th or 5th century, the ring is said to carry a curse after it was stolen – and it is claimed that this provided the inspiration for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. If that wasn't enough name dropping, the beautiful grounds with ornamental lake, walled garden and ancient woodland also inspired the works of Jane Austin.

Highclere Castle

Explore... Downton Abbey fans from across the globe have been flocking to Highclere Castle for a good nosey, ever since it became the set for the Edwardian upstairs/downstairs drama. Home to the Carnarvon family since 1679, if the spectacular castle doesn't set your pulse racing the Capability Brown inspired gardens should. Wander amongst roses, lavender and summer wild flowers or behind the enormous yew hedge you'll find the gate to the exquisite Secret Garden.


Excite... The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu is world renowned for a very good reason, with a collection of 250 vehicles from 1895 to today; it is also home to a few corkers from the big screen. To celebrate 50 years of Bond films, this year the museum will exhibit 007's most iconic vehicles, from cars to jets. ‘World of Top Gear' also pulls in the crowds, as does Ron Weasley's ‘Flying' Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

New Forest Wildlife Park

Hang out... Covering 25 scenic acres, the New Forest Wildlife Park is a great family day out. The park boasts 12 species of owl, a European wolf enclosure, enormous bison and many indigenous species, such as the highly endangered Scottish Wildcat - you can also pet the surprisingly chilled free-roaming deer. Four species of otter call this place home, including the largest and rarest of all, a pair of playful endangered Amazonian Giant Otters (Akuri & Simuni).

Winchester Cathedral

Soak up... Meander through the charming cobbled alleyways in Winchester and you'll find yourself face-to-face with the magnificent medieval Cathedral. Stop to see the stained-glass Fisherman's Chapel, a place of pilgrimage for all anglers across the globe and book a crypt tour to see British sculptor, Anthony Gormley's solitary life-sized man contemplating the water held cupped in his hands. If the rains have fallen, the crypt can flood, leaving the ‘Sound II' up to his knees in water.