When I first stepped off the train platform in Brockenhurst, it was the smell that caught my attention. What was it? Something green, grassy, the smell of trees and leaves and fresh air. ? F R E S H A I R ?
I spend so much time jumping from city to city, subway to subway, sometimes I forget that there’s a world of green things out there. But a few days in the New Forest—just 90 minutes outside of London—reinvigorated my zest for nature.
The New Forest is a region of southwestern England, easily accessible by car or train and a cosy and comfortable escape from the urban sprawl. The area includes a number of small towns set amongst the forest where wildlife roams free. It was cleared as a hunting ground for William the Conqueror nearly 1,000 years ago and designated as royal hunting grounds.
It’s perfect for those looking for a taste of the outdoors with a range of activities from cycling to trekking. But the real attraction in the New Forest region is the national park—home to iconic local ponies who roam the streets freely (you can’t miss them!). It’s a growing culinary destination, too, with local forested foods available in many of the restaurants and small New Forest pubs.
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My weekend in the New Forest was spent mostly in Brockenhurst. It’s pretty much at the center of the region and a quaint English town. My hotel, the Thatched Cottage Hotel, doubled as a the town’s only gin bar (win!) and a cute and friendly staff there was able to make a lot of the recommendations on what to see and do in the New Forest—including bike paths and walking trails. (And of course plenty of recommendations on the best pubs!)
With just two nights in Brockenhurst, I was able to fit in plenty of physical activity. A walk through the town, a visit to the nearby town of Lyndhurst and some of the trails over there, and a bike ride through the national park. And after all that walking and cycling, there was always a pub at the end of the road (and oftentimes, even along the route!).
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Evenings in the New Forest are quiet. The stars are bright and there’s a simple stillness. At Careys Manor in Brockenhurst, I spent one quiet evening reading by the pool at their spa, dipping my feet occasionally into the jacuzzi. (No better way to cure a tired body after cycling all day!)
The New Forest is a relaxing and peaceful break—the chance to explore a bit of the countryside with all those big city amenities (and at small town prices!). Ultimately, it’s the kind of place you can visit to escape to a different time, a comfortable retreat out into nature.
New Forest Travel Essentials
Tips & tricks to make the most of a weekend trip
Getting there: Brockenhurst is centrally located and easy to reach via direct train from London. Check routes on the South Western Railway website.
Top things to do: (1) Cycle the trails! Start in Brockenhurst with a rental from Cycle Experience; (2) Visit the spa at Careys Manor to unwind; (3) Don’t mind the ponies, take photos of them but also respect their right to the land; (4) Visit the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst to learn more about the local environment. More recommended New Forest things to do here.
Where to stay: Thatched Cottage Hotel—Walking distance to the Brockenhurst train station and located in a historic property (over 400 years old!), the small boutique hotel offers both modern and historic rooms—all with a loving attention to detail and care. The modern apartment-style rooms in the back offer a more luxurious escape than the traditional rooms under the picturesque thatched roof in the main building. A large, spacious outdoor garden and a gin bar with over 300 different gins make it a stand-out place to stay.
More travel tips and information available on the official tourism website, thenewforest.co.uk.