Last night I dreamt I went to Dogmersfield Park again. It seemed to me that I swept up the drive and was welcomed by smiling, polite people who all knew me by name. I dreamt of country pursuits, surrounded by rolling hills, in the spring sunshine. I dreamt of relaxation and roaring fires. When I woke, I could not wait to dream again.
Leaving the city and arriving at the picturesque Four Seasons Hampshire less than an hour later is certainly a dream-like experience. Instantly, your lungs are filled with fresh, clean air as you gaze open mouthed at the unspoilt countryside. The imposing red brick manor house dates from the Georgian period and stands on a hill overlooking its estate of around 500 acres; the estate is even mentioned in the Domesday Book, to which the 1086 bar owes its name. The whole hotel is steeped in the traditions of the English stately home and the welcome was warm; additionally, throughout the two days I spent there with Charlotte, the staff demonstrated an uncanny ability to know what we wanted before we knew ourselves.
We stayed in the Park Suite in the East Wing, which leant itself wonderfully to delicious and plentiful Four Seasons breakfasts at our dining table, overlooking the formal gardens in the brightness of a pristine morning. This suite is in the extended section of the hotel, a sympathetic evolution of the property that makes itself known only when the floorboards stop creaking as you pass into the new building.
The suite has little touches you might find in a private (and immaculately maintained) home, such as sketched pictures of the local area on the wall, but still has all the hotel features that you might need and that Four Seasons regulars will have come to expect.
You might think that a break in the country has a ‘slower pace’, that there are not a lot of things to occupy you, that you might, heaven forbid, relax a little. It is true that the spa, housed in the old stable block, contains relaxation rooms, heat experiences such as the Clear Crystal Quartz sauna and the Amethyst Steam room, an indoor and outdoor “Vitality” pool, and has a variety of treatments which soothe you into a state of complete and blissful peace. We both chose 60 minute Facial Perfection treatments, with ESPA aromatherapy products, pressure point and lymph drainage massage. The products I chose were Oil Balancing and I also chose a balancing green light; evidently, my body was trying to tell me I need a more zen approach… The facial was very professional and thorough and left me feeling pleasantly buoyant for hours afterwards.
However, Charlotte and I are not very good at doing nothing and, fortunately, Four Seasons Hampshire has a wealth of activities available to those for whom relaxation means having a lot of fun. The list includes clay pigeon shooting, falconry, canal boating and croquet, amongst others. After a fabulous first night dinner of local produce (food and drink review to come) and a luxurious night’s sleep, we were most tempted by the horse riding and made the most of the weather with a hack across the fields. It was great fun to canter around the meadows; Charlotte rode Toby, a piebald gelding, while my horse, a dark bay called Charlie, was solid, reliable and showed few of the wild tendencies of his namesake!
Minutes after dismounting, we were back in the saddle, this time on mountain bikes borrowed from the hotel, to explore some more of the grounds. At the bottom of the valley, there is a lovely lake where we spotted all manner of water birds, including moorhens and a heron, and which would be an ideal spot to enjoy one of the hotel’s prepared picnics. There is a fishing lodge here too, perfect for idling away a couple of hours surrounded by the whispering voices of nature. The weather was perfect but, even if it had not been, we would have thrown on our waterproofs – Charlotte in her Barbour – and ventured out; barrelling across the wide open spaces around the hotel would too good an opportunity to pass up.
There is a real sense of a working landscape here too; livestock roam the hillsides, guests can fetch their own eggs from the newly acquired chickens and the chef can often be found foraging for mushrooms for the daily changing, locally sourced restaurant menus. The weather was so amazing that we enjoyed our first Pimm’s of the year on the terrace, overlooking more greenery dotted with geese. It seemed that our departure was horribly imminent but we distracted ourselves with a further jaunt, the hotel’s resident dog, Oliver, bounding along.
Finally, we returned to the terrace, where the ever attentive staff waited with blankets as the evening chill came down. In the clear air, the burning orange sunset seemed more vivid, the creeping fingers of that last night’s darkness more pervasive because they signalled the extinguishment of our little sojourn. The Four Seasons Hampshire offers impeccable hospitality in a beautiful house and an enchanting landscape, where you can do as much or as little as you wish, where you truly can forget about all your worries and escape the rat race. Back in the real world, with the sun obscured by towers of concrete and paper, I cannot help but wonder – was it all a dream?
Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire
Hampshire RG27 8TD