Hampshire – ‘Beautiful’ Beaulieu conquers rain

It is said Hampshire’s New Forest has not changed since it was used as his ‘hunting forest’ by William the Conqueror, shortly after he took control of England in 1066 – and I bet it rained then as well.
For as I arrive in this picturesque part of the world the rain is falling in buckets and showing little sign of stopping.
That does not put off the many waterproof clad walkers ‘enjoying’ the somewhat wet and wild rolling hills that dominate this part of England’s green and pleasant land.
Not being a well protected ramblers, I decide to indulge in a more pleasant form of liquid; a quick pint in Montys, the compact but cosy pub which forms part of Beaulieu’s New Montagu Arms, my home for the weekend.
Situated in the heart of the New Forest, Beaulieu is one of South England’s most popular attractions.
Aside from its quintessentially English location, this small village boasts, to coin a favourite tourism phrase, ‘something for everyone.’ The world famous National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Abbey and the spectacular Montagu family home, Palace House, are all crammed within the ancestral family estate.
But exploring these sites is postponed – rain stopped play – so it is time to enjoy the luxury of the Montagu Arms.
The hotel provides beautifully tended gardens, a spa and magnificently furnished rooms, complete with a four-poster bed.
And The Terrace Restaurant is well worth a visit.
Voted Hampshire Restaurant of the Year 2007 by Which? Good Food Guide, The Terrace combines delicious fresh ingredients with fine wines.
Ignorant diners such as myself can also count on the faultless knowledge of the waiting staff, one of whom kindly explained to us the properties and uses of the salsify which accompanied my main course. For those as uneducated in these matters as me, salsify is a root vegetable, which our waiter tells us is generally tasteless, but takes on the style of whatever it is cooked with, in this case red wine.
From a drink while studying the menus beforehand, to the delights of the meal itself to the decadence of tea and cakes in the lounge afterwards, The Terrace provides the complete dining experience.
After that its all you can do to drag yourself up to four-poster heaven for a complete night’s sleep – and a prayer for sun in the morning.
The new day dawns, and after a bleary eyed shower to remove the effects of yesterday’s second large glass of red wine my prayers our answered. Beaulieu in the sun is a pretty, tourist village and the hotel is only a short walk from the area’s attractions.
The Montagu estate is perhaps most famous for the National Motor Museum, which contains more than 250 vehicles. This eclectic collection includes gems such as Del and Rodney Trotters’ Reliant Robin, a display of huge cars in which daredevil drivers broke numerous land speed records and the James Bond collection of the super spies sexy cars.
For anyone with a real interest in cars and motorbikes this is an all day show, but for me that would have meant missing out on the chance to sample the fabulous Beaulieu Abbey.
Founded in 1204 by Cistercian monks on land given to them by King John, the Abbey suffered at the hands of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries which saw England become a Protestant country. Despite Henry’s charges destroying much of the Abbey, visitors can still walk through serene Cloisters which were later used by Second World War resistance fighters to train in and reflect on the beauty of life before they were sent to Europe to fight Hitler.
The close at hand Secret Army Exhibition tells more of the harrowing adventures of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which used Beaulieu as a finishing school for its sabotage and subterfuge plans against Nazi Germany.
The 13th century Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey overlooks the whole estate. It has been home to the Montagu family since 1538 and still houses them today. Kept in a Victorian style, the Palace House gives an insight into the lives of those people who presided over the estate at that time.
No wonder this place was called Beaulieu – beautiful place ‘enFrancais.’

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