As a family, we've only been to the New Forest once before and really enjoyed it, so we knew it wouldn't be long before we returned. After all, it's not too far from London, there are lovely places to eat and it's a beautiful part of the world for walking and cycling - there's so much to do, which makes it an ideal location for everyone even families with young children.
The last time we visited, we chose to stay in a hotel which meant there was no need to worry about cooking and most facilities were all on site. However, this time round, we opted for a self-catering property in the area which we'd heard good things about. Whiteshoot Farm is a stunning converted barn located on the edge of the New Forest National Park around twenty minutes from Salisbury and thirty minutes from Southampton. The whole place feels cosy and secluded, but if that's not your thing, civilisation is close by, with a village just up the road and a supermarket a short drive away. The farm itself has lots of facilities including a swimming pool, a lake, a truffle orchard, a zip line and its own vineyard too, all set in six acres. This makes it stand out from other holiday cottages in the area, especially if you're there during the spring/summer season as you can fully exploit what it has to offer. That being said, the outside pool is heated, so for the more adventurous, you could still indulge in a winter dip.
When we arrived, we were met by the housekeeper, Maria, who lives in the property directly opposite the farm. She made sure we settled in comfortably, showed us how everything worked and gave us advice on where to visit in the area. Another lovely touch was a homemade apple and blackberry crumble she had made for us using fruit grown on the farm. It was delicious!
As soon as you walk in the front door you turn right to see the large open plan front room, complete with giant fish tank at one end and a modern wood burning fire at the other. The whole place feels welcoming and you immediately want to lounge on the sofas and relax; exactly what you need from a holiday. If you find it impossible to disconnect from the outside world, there is Wi-Fi throughout the property which is essential, as there is no real phone signal available. Just above the main room, there's a mezzanine level which has a master bedroom and ensuite. The three remaining bedrooms (a double and two singles) are at the other end of the building. The open plan theme continues into the kitchen which is well stocked and has all the modern conveniences you'd expect, as well as French doors which open out onto the swimming pool area in the back garden.
As part of our trip, the owner had arranged for an expert truffle hunter, James Feaver, of The English Truffle Company and his truffle hunting dog to take us around the orchard to see what we could find (something that can be done between September and the end of January and costs £300 for 4 people). We'd never done anything like it before, and we were really looking forward to it. Not only that, it had also been arranged for chef Sam Pearson from the Balmer Lawn Hotel to come over to the farm to cook us a three-course meal using any truffles we may have found. It's always great to have someone cook for you, and Angellica appreciated it after her recent intense cooking experience winning Celebrity MasterChef.
Well there was some good news and bad news about our truffle hunting experience. The good news; we had the best time listening to the truffle hunter give us top tips of finding the rare fungi, our children chasing the dog around the orchard…and the dog chasing them. The bad news; we didn't find any truffles. Fortunately, James (truffle hunter) had already dug a few up from an undisclosed location nearby, so we went back to the farm for a lovely truffle based lunch.
About ten minutes' drive from Whiteshoot Farm, our children spotted a huge pumpkin field and as Halloween was just around the corner we decided to stop off at the 'pick-your-own' farm and see if there were any decent looking pumpkins to bring home and carve. What was a completely unplanned activity turned into a brilliant afternoon of sloshing around muddy fields picking a selection of vegetables including three massive pumpkins. Even though it was cold and wet, we still had a great time and the children loved the fact we could go back to the cottage and prepare the food we’ve just picked.
We were at the farm for five days and the time just flew by. We managed to do so much, including: a trip to Salisbury Cathedral to see Magna Carta and we even got to hear the choir rehearsing evening song which sounded incredible. The requisite visit to Paultons Park and the delights of Peppa Pig World, plus an afternoon at Beaulieu Car Museum to see the Top Gear exhibition. What was especially good is that these places were no more than a thirty-five-minute drive from Whiteshoot Farm.
One thing's for sure; it won't be long before we're back to experience more of what the New Forest has to offer.
TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go: All year round. The forest landscapes and wildlife change with every season.
Where to stay: Whiteshoot Barn has its own heated pool, lake with row boat and six acres of private land explore - perfect for walks with your dog and kids love the zip wire and treehouse.
Don't miss: Truffle hunting in the private orchard or book on a hunt to nearby woodlands or foraging tours with the English Truffle Company.
Top tips: If you can bear to leave Whiteshoot Farm, there great days out at historic Beaulieu to see the world-famous motor museum, palace and abbey. Salisbury for boutique, independent shops, farmers market and its amazing cathedral is just 6 miles away and Stonehenge is a half hour drive.
What to avoid: Petting or feeding the 5000 free roaming ponies - they are semi- feral animals and could bite!
See the latest travel features here.