The Bell Inn: a cosy New Forest coaching inn perfect for country walks

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There’s a warm glow which comes when reading a newspaper article called ‘Cosiest pubs to stay in this winter’ and realising  you are heading off to stay in one of those featured that very day. This happened to me recently when about to head off to The Bell Inn in the New Forest; reading The Times over my morning coffee I found that it had been singled out as the perfect place from which to enjoy bracing country walks (and to return to for post-walk drinks by its log fire).

bell inn new forest review
The Bell Inn is an 18th-century former coaching inn in the New Forest national park

Expectations were high therefore as I took to the road and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed – The Bell Inn is a charming place and I was fortunate enough to stay for two extremely cosy nights.

Having previously spent a considerable amount of time driving through the New Forest itself to get to various hotels I was surprised at how handy The Bell Inn is to get to – it was literally just a few minutes off the M27 so you don’t waste a moment snarled up in Lyndhurst traffic before getting stuck into some serious relaxing.

bell inn new forest review
Local food and drinks are served in the light and airy bar as well as the adjoining restaurant

The Bell Inn has been in the Crosthwaite Eyre family for hundreds of years (since 1782 to be precise). Much of the food served in the restaurant has either been grown or raised on the family’s New Forest estate  – some also comes from the family’s estate in Scotland – so the pub is very much a local enterprise and during my stay was preparing to host a dozen local suppliers in its annual Christmas fair.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: The Bell Inn website
To check prices click on: HotelsCombined – Expedia  Hotels.com
To get the latest prices and read more reviews go to The Bell Inn on TripAdvisor


While the building might be old, inside it has the look and feel of a more modern establishment, with immaculate carpets, newly-painted walls, cream wood cladding around the bar and much smarter than the  uneven flooring, low ceilings and generally rickety feel that I was expecting, given its age. Continue reading The Bell Inn: a cosy New Forest coaching inn perfect for country walks

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A Cape Verde holiday – winter sun on the island of Sal

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Feeling my car’s clutch cable snap while driving to the airport was not the greatest of starts to our Cape Verde holiday, but after a several hours on the hard shoulder of the M1, a succession of train journeys and an impromptu overnight hotel stay, we were finally on our way – if from Bristol airport with Thomas Cook rather than Manchester airport with TUI as originally planned.

Cape Verde holiday Sal
Not the best ever start to a beach holiday…

Small wonder that when we finally arrived at our resort, 24 hours later than planned, we dumped our bags in our rooms and headed straight to the bar to throw ourselves around on the dance floor to the music. We were wearing jeans in 27-degree heat but hey, our holiday had finally started! It was only a minute or so later that we realised we were the only people dancing. The bar was packed with people wearing cool floaty dresses and drinking colourful cocktails but it seemed that dancing was just for us. Thankfully after a while some brave souls – all women – followed our example. ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ one said to us. ‘This is the liveliest it’s been all week.’

Cape Verde holiday Sal
The Melia Llana resort on the island of Sal, Cape Verde

If you are looking for Ibiza-style parties and all-night danceathons then the hotels of Sal, Cape Verde are probably not what you’re looking for. However if you’re after a relaxing week by the pool, soaking up the rays and enjoying almost constant food and all-inclusive cocktails then this will suit you perfectly.  There are some interesting places to visit outside the resorts but as the island is just 20 miles from head to toe they can be seen in less than a day leaving you more time to just relax and indulge yourself.

cape verde holiday sal
The Melia Llana resort at night (hotel’s own pic)

I’d first heard about Cape Verde, or Cabo Verde, the archipelago of islands off the north-west coast of Africa, when I wrote a piece about how British holidaymakers were turning their backs on Turkey and Egypt in favour of Cape Verde, seeing it as safer spot for their summer holidays. Continue reading A Cape Verde holiday – winter sun on the island of Sal

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An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol

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With every cloud there comes a silver lining and the missing of our flight to Cape Verde meant an unexpected overnight stay in Bristol and my first experience of Hotel du Vin.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol is sited in an former 18th century sugar house where sugar was refined

I’d long been aware of the hotel chain founded by Gerard Basset and Robin Hutson back in 1994 (they had met while working for the excellent Chewton Glen, one of my first reviews for ALadyofLeisure.com and still a firm favourite).  Hutson has since gone on to found the Pig hotel chain (see my review The Pig near Bath: Impossible not to love it here) so frankly I should have got round checking out Hotel du Vin much sooner! However I had my doubts, as the chain was sold, first to Malmaison and then to private equity outfit Frasier Hospitality, so I had thought it might be a touch corporate and soulless now.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol has an impressive restaurant and takes its food and wine very seriously

Thankfully judging by my experience at Hotel du Vin Bristol at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A ten minute taxi ride from the station and we were dropped at its pretty courtyard entrance which declared itself to be the site of Bristol’s last remaining sugar house, a legacy of the city’s years as a trade centre and Britain’s second city, when instead of the current view of the road there would have a river crowded with boats unloading their goods for refinement and distribution.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Hotel du Vin Bristol
To compare the latest prices for Hotel du Vin Bristol  on: HotelsCombined – Expedia – Hotels.com
To read more reviews click here to go to Hotel du Vin on TripAdvisor


This sugar refinery was built in 1728 and operated until 1831, becoming a warehouse and then lying derelict for years until being sympathetically restored, opening as a Hotel du Vin in the now Grade 2-listed building in 1999. The inside of the hotel is like a cosy rabbit-warren due to being made up of several buildings knocked together over the years, and in keeping with the wine theme, each room is called after a different type of wine, with a little glass case containing a bottle outside each door. Continue reading An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol

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Park House hotel and spa: a West Sussex secret (but not for much longer)

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It’s been receiving guests for more than 60 years but Park House hotel and spa is only now making the transition from well-kept local secret to firm fixture on the British country house hotel scene. With a new general manager – Mark Yates, formerly of Harbour Hotels and Careys Manor – and its spa PH2O being shortlisted for the ‘Best Boutique Spa’ category in this year’s prestigious Good Spa Guide awards, Park House hotel is making a name for itself and, judging by my recent stay there, seems more than up to the task.

park house hotel west sussex
Park House hotel has two good-sized swimming pools; one outside and the other in the main spa building which also contains a gym and treatment rooms

Hidden deep in the West Sussex countryside – if you drive up from nearby Goodwood then the journey takes in single-track roads with high hedges and invariably a tractor coming the other way, the easier route is down from Midhurst – Park Hotel hotel isn’t vast but manages to pack a lot into the space it has.

park house hotel west sussex
At the back of the hotel is a golf course, a bowling lawn, two tennis courts and a croquet lawn

The grounds behind the hotel are surrounded by lush green Sussex countryside and offers two lawn tennis courts, a bowling green, a small but perfectly-formed six-hole golf course, two helipads, and a croquet lawn. The spa has both an indoor and an outdoor pool – the weather was warm enough at the beginning of October for me to swim in the outdoor pool – as well as a jacuzzi, a steam room and sauna and a gym and fitness studio. Continue reading Park House hotel and spa: a West Sussex secret (but not for much longer)

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Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

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There is always a worry when it comes to revisiting a hotel which you totally adored on the first visit – what if it’s not going to be as good as you remembered it? I know people who won’t go to the same place twice for that very reason, and others who, having found the perfect place, refuse to go anywhere else.

Thankfully Cotwolds luxury hotel Whatley Manor was every bit as good as I remembered it to be from my first visit. Whatley Manor is certainly not a budget option, but there are few hotels who can offer a luxury spa, private cinema, Michelin-starred restaurant and acres of beautiful gardens, which means a stay here is more than worth it.

Whatley Manor review
The entrance to Whatley Manor is in a beautiful courtyard

The drive into the courtyard at Whatley Manor sets the scene for a memorable stay; the large wooden gates sweep open for you as you approach, as if welcoming you in to a secret world. This time I even looked the part, as Vauxhall had kindly lent me a brand new Astra for my jaunt (more details below) which looked much smarter than my bright yellow Fiat.

Staff miraculously appeared out of nowhere to welcome us, take our bags and valet-park our car, and a very indulgent stay had begun.  General manager Sue Williams has now been at Whatley Manor for just over a year, having previously run the equally grand Cliveden House hotel, and has thankfully resisted any drastic obvious changes (although much work has been going on behind the scenes).

whatley manor review
Touches such as bright yellow wellies and beautiful artwork makes Whatley Manor a lovely place to visit

There is still a lovely country house feel to the hotel, with its stone floors, mullioned windows, sprawling grounds and little touches here and there, from chess boards set up ready to play, wellies to borrow and cosy sofas dotted all around.

Built in the 19th century, Whatley Manor became a hotel in 1987 and is now owned by hotelier and keen equestrian Christian Landolt, but still has the feeling of a grand home – although the private cinema and a high-end spa make it a cut above your usual manor house. Continue reading Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

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News, reviews and opinions on everything to do with leisure, from hotels and holidays to food and fitness, by national newspaper journalist and author Sarah Bridge

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