October always marks a dramatic change in season, when it's time to bring out the coats and warmer clothing and find pubs with cosy fireplaces. For many, the summer holidays will feel like a distant memory as the temperature drops, the leaves turn bright orange and red, and thoughts sway to winter and even the Christmas holidays.
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For those planning a post-summer getaway, autumn is a beautiful time to explore the countryside and there isn't a better place to visit than the New Forest. Ancient woodland, open moors, cliff tops and heathland make up this stunning part of southern England, which is a real paradise for cyclists, walkers, and nature-lovers.
The new courtyard rooms and suites have just opened at The Montagu Arms
Livestock and wildlife roam free between the forest and the Hampshire towns, so don't be surprised to see donkeys and cows holding up traffic on country lanes or walking through village centres. It's a real escape from city life, yet only 90 minutes by train from London. If you're travelling by public transport, chances are you'll be aiming for Brockenhurst, the largest village in the New Forest by population.
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Located just a 15-minute drive away is the quaint village of Beaulieu, which houses the famed four-star hotel, The Montagu Arms. There's never been a better time to visit this Grade II-listed bolthole, which just opened five new suites in August and has four more to come later this month. Previously the chauffeur garages and refurbished to impeccable taste, the courtyard studios and deluxe rooms make for the perfect countryside escape.
The rooms have countryside chic décor and striking features
The rooms, which each have their own patio and sit around a central courtyard garden, are incredibly spacious and comfortable. Outside and inside flow harmoniously, with seating areas facing out to the terrace and high windows allowing a breadth of natural light to pour in. A conscious effort has been made to maintain some of the garages' original striking features, such as the grand vaulted ceilings and exposed wooden beams. Meanwhile, the décor is 100 per cent countryside chic, from the imposing four-poster beds to the artwork of wildlife, flora and fauna that reflects the national park, to the contemporary and sophisticated choice of wall paint.
Every detail has been thought of to make guests feel totally at home and ready for a restful stay. Calming classical music and low lighting welcome guests into their room, while unexpected treats include a small decanter of gin and a box of local chocolates to be devoured at your leisure. As you'd expect from a four-star hotel, the amenities are in abundance from a well-stocked minibar to a Nespresso coffee machine and a box of tea, as well as a 52" TV and Bluetooth digital radio. Guests will also find a bottle of pillow spray left on their bed as part of the turn-down service.
The bathrooms have free-standing baths and vanity marble sinks
One of the many charms of our suite was the sunken bathroom, accessed via a couple of carpeted stairs, with its double vanity sinks, marble countertops, walk-in rainfall shower, and free-standing bath complete with bath caddy. Guests are also invited to take home the full-size SenSpa toiletries post-stay.
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The Terrace restaurant boasts three AA Rosettes
While the communal lounge, bar and conservatory in the main hotel are peaceful areas to relax in with other guests, the new courtyard rooms really are showstoppers, so you may find yourself spending more time there on your private patio. They're also dog-friendly which means your four-legged friend can run around freely. The hotel has also partnered with sustainable pet brand Beco Pets to offer pups an ethically sourced hamper of luxury treats and pet products.
A real highlight of a stay at The Montagu Arms, however, is dining at the hotel's main restaurant The Terrace, which boasts three AA Rosettes and is run by New Forest-born head chef Matthew Whitfield. Gourmands will delight in Matthew's fine dining dishes, which are completely produce and flavour-driven and made from the best local, seasonal ingredients from the hotel's own kitchen garden, the New Forest and the neighbouring county of Dorset.
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New Forest-born head chef Matthew Whitfield has created a seven-course tasting menu
The seven-course tasting menu must be tried at least once during your stay, preferably with the wine pairing. Each course features a hero ingredient and takes you on a tour of the south of England's culinary finest. The squash and gnocchi starter may sound understated but was one of the best courses of the evening, as was the meaty monkfish, and the mallard. The cheeseboard featured a selection of local cheese including a Somerset brie and a subtle English blue, which went beautifully with our port. Diners can also expect not one but two desserts, with the stand-out being the affectionately named 'My Dad and Me' dessert – a salt caramel and malt tart served with Dad's beer – which staff like to call a "family reunion in the mouth".
The tasting menu, which starts from £85 per person without wine, really is a must-try and a special treat. Hands down it'll be one of the best meals you have in the New Forest and is worth travelling for, even if you aren't staying as a guest at the hotel.
The spa in sister hotel Careys Manor in Brockenhurst is accessible to guests
A stay at The Montagu Arms also wouldn't be complete without a visit to the five-star Thai spa and leisure club, SenSpa. It's located six miles away at sister hotel Careys Manor in Brockenhurst, but don't let the short drive put you off. Guests at The Montagu Arms can enjoy complimentary access to SenSpa including the indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and gym. While the main facilities are pleasant, it's worth paying the additional cost to access the premium spa area, which has a large hydrotherapy pool with bubble jets targeting different body areas, a wider choice of sauna, steam and laconicum rooms, two relaxation rooms including one with heated marble loungers, tropical rainfall shower rooms and, for the most daring, an ice bucket shower room.
There are a range of spa treatments to choose from too, from facials and beautifying body polishes to every kind of massage you could think of under the sun. Classic Western massage techniques are combined with an Eastern influence and delivered by expert and friendly therapists, while the oils used are made of the finest organic ingredients and wild essential extracts. It's the cherry on the top of a relaxing New Forest stay.
The new courtyard rooms each have a private patio
A Courtyard Deluxe room at The Montagu Arms starts from £371 per night. For more information and to book a room, visit montaguarmshotel.co.uk.