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England: discovering the New Forest

A fantastic yet underrated ancient forest where animals roam free, an exceptional automobile museum, English country gardens, one of the most famous pubs in the country, delicious local produce and charming hotels. Where can you find all this? Answer: the New Forest.

It is almost 1000 years since William the Conqueror planted the New Forest as a hunting area  near to his castle at Winchester. In spite of its name this National Park covering 571 km² is one of the oldest (and most beautiful forests) in England. Four thousand ponies roam freely here in such a laid back state that at times you find them taking a nap, unperturbed, in the middle of the road!

Before you leave to explore the wonders of Southern England (which include the Cornwall coast, Stourhead gardens and the town of Bath), spend a few days in the New Forest, which in recent years has transformed into a residential area with beautiful houses and gardens.

Places of interest in the local area

To begin your tour of the New Forest, start by visiting the charming village of Beaulieu located along the river, south-east of the forest. Beaulieu is known nationwide for its National Motor Museum founded in 1890 by the Baron John Montagu of Beaulieu. Its collection of cars is so large and lavish that you can easily spend half a day there. Hundreds of models are on display including a 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver, a 1912 Hispano Suiza, a 1962 Jaguar E-Type Roadster as well as several racing cars from the 1960s that broke the world road speed record. A monorail four metres high enables you to take a tour of the park, where you will discover Lord Montagu’s splendid Victorian castle which is still very much full of life.

Near Beaulieu, Exbury Gardens is a magical place that you absolutely must visit. It consists of a collection of beautiful English gardens created in the 1920s that can be visited on foot but also by train. The Rothschild collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias is world famous (note that rhododendrons are not in bloom before the month of May.)

North of the pretty town of Lyndhurst, famous for its Victorian red-brick church, is the village of Fritham and its famous pub The Royal Oak which is regularly praised by the specialist press. You don’t see a soul for miles here and then all of a sudden there are dozens of cars parked along the road! All the locals go to The Royal Oak for its home brewed beer and also for its delicious local produce (cold meats and cheeses in particular) that you can enjoy in the pub’s garden.

Continuing northwards, you come across a part of the New Forest called Nomansland, a dream spot for students looking for thrills (the ‘Nomansland’ signs are stolen regularly!) Besides a deer sanctuary located in Boldenwood, this coniferous zone is greatly appreciated for its unusual restaurant Les Mirabelles. As its name suggests, this establishment is the work of a Frenchman Claude Laage, from the Lorraine region. His rich and tasty cuisine is worth a detour, particularly his Rossini beef fillet which alone must contain around 10,000 calories! A friendly and humorous man, Claude has given free rein to his passion for wine by creating an exceptional wine menu that attracts enthusiasts from all over the UK. The menu includes Chateau Latour’s last 20 vintages, not forgetting the Romanée-Conti, all at unbeatable prices. Places like this are hard to come by!

Thirty miles east of the New Forest is the ancient cathedral city of Winchester, which was also the capital of England from the 9th to the 12th century. This is a gem that you shouldn’t miss. Winchester is first and foremost famous for its cathedral, whose foundation stones (from the Isle of Wight) were laid in 1079 under the initiative of William Walkelyn, a bishop appointed  by William the Conqueror. This majestic cathedral has a very sober Romanesque style. The lawns surrounding it, with a few tombs emerging here and there, are a place where the city’s students come to relax. The tomb of Jane Austen (1775-1817), the author of Pride and Prejudice is also here in all its simplicity. Jane lived twenty miles from Winchester at Chatow in a little red brick house which is still open to the public.

Practical information

The New Forest’s Official website
www.newforestnpa.gov.uk

Les Mirabelles Restaurant
www.lesmirabelles.co.uk

Jane Austen’s House
www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk

The tourist attractions mentioned

New Forest National Park New Forest National Park
New Forest National Park
Ashurst
4:00
Stourhead Stourhead
Stourhead
Mere
2:00
Cathedral Cathedral
Cathedral
Winchester
1:00