Burley Manor sits in the New Forest, which means you'll pass plenty of New Forest ponies on your way there. They graze on common land, wander along the roads and even wait absent-mindedly at bus stops. After such an arcadian introduction to this corner of Hampshire, the historic home of the Burley family doesn't disappoint. A “royal manor” or crown property from 1388 until 1551, the Burley estate passed through many subsequent families down the centuries before being bought by Colonel William Eisdale in 1852. Eisdale, a local JP, pulled down the old ramshackle manor house and built his own neo-Elizabethan pile to replace it. Eighty years later in 1932 this new Burley Manor became a hotel but a lot of William Eisdale's personality can still be found in the building. His family motto, “Courage is my protection and my glory”, is emblazoned on a coat of arms at the top of the main staircase while over the lobby fireplace is carved a more personal motto: “When Friends Meet, Hearts Warm”. These days the hotel's civil ceremony room is named after Colonel Eisdale and it sports the family coat of arms on its stained glass windows.
When Burley Manor was turned into a hotel in the 1930s a new wing was added with bedrooms over a new oak-panelled dining room. More recently this room has had a conservatory tacked on, making a bright and welcoming venue for lunch and dinner.
Ben Johnson, Head Chef at Burley Manor is an advocate of slow food. “The beauty of running a kitchen in the New Forest,” he says, “is the ability to source produce from forest to coast.” Suppliers include Lyburn Cheese (actually based in the Forest), Wild Island, a supplier of dressings and oils from the Isle of Wight, and Dan Tanner whose deer herd can be seen grazing just beyond the hotel's lawns.
The menu mixes a range of enjoyable influences. Burley venison comes with pistachio dukkah, an Egyptian condiment. Local lamb can be enjoyed either as a Moroccan lamb and lentil stew or finely ground as lamb kibbeh, a Levantine dish with bulgur and minced onions.
For more private dining the hotel also offers a Butler's Pantry where guests can choose from a range of menus including Spanish, Lebanese, Turkish, French, Italian, Moroccan and Greek food.
Bedrooms at Burley Manor are either in the main house or around the main lawn in a series of brick-built garden suites that look out across the grassland to those grazing deer. The suites have a feel of South African safari lodges and on warm days you'll see guests sitting out with the binoculars gazing at the wild life – and maybe wondering how tasty it will prove to be.