New Year, New Forest...

January 16, 2013

Article courtesy of Jenny Crombie, Salisbury Life

Perhaps you’ve resolved in 2013 to follow Tom and Barbara, and embrace The Good Life with a spot of self sufficiency. If so, there’s a country hotel in the New Forest that offers a glimpse of a remarkable kitchen garden that’s sure to help inspire your plans. And if self-sufficiency isn’t on your agenda this year? Well, this country hotel – The Pig in Brockenhurst, FYI – is still well worth a look. Travellers who favour boutiquery and fine dining when they travel will find themselves very much at home here.

The New Forest itself is very much a gourmet destination and punches well above its weight in terms of Michelin starred and other accoladed – eateries. In fact, the area is so proud of its produce that it has introduced The New Forest Marque – a guarantee of a food’s local provenance, and testament that it has met certain stringent standards.

So this is how a foodie husband and I find ourselves driving our way around the New Forest for a get-away-from-it-all weekend of gluttony, scenery and sleep. And as part of this weekend of heavy eating and elasticated waistbands, we make sure The Pig in the Forest is well and truly on our agenda, having been intrigued by talk of its magnificent kitchen garden and the way the kitchen is run. The menu changes minute by minute, depending on what has been foraged and which produce the gardener deems to be in perfect condition on any given day.

The 25-mile menu

Arriving at The Pig it’s immediately clear that this foray into ‘home-grown’ is a sight more luxurious than Tom and Barbara’s back garden. The lounges and bar boast chic décor, eminently comfy chairs and warming fireplaces, while the bedrooms – 26 in all – are individually styled with understated luxury. Ours is in the stable yard, with artfully rustic furnishings, an enormous bed and inviting rainfall shower and free-standing bath. Boutique bedroom aside, it’s the food
we’ve really come for and, sitting in the library perusing the ‘25-mile menu’ (what can’t be taken from the garden is sourced locally), we are not disappointed. Starting with a selection of ‘Piggy Bits’, including sophisticated takes on devils on horseback and Scotch eggs, we are soon ready to enjoy the main event in the Victorian greenhouse dining room, which is buzzing with tantalising scents and happy chatter. Chef James Golding has put together a superb – and very regularly changing – menu, which we are happy to explore; a pork belly salad and a New Forest pigeon and roasted beetroot salad make exemplary starters, while hearty mains of Pollock and cockles and a portion of rich cottage pie provide our flavoursome mains. A caramelised rice pudding (shared) sends us back to our room to sleep it all off before we’re back in the dining room for a similarly slap-up breakfast. For me, home-made muesli, pastries, cake and fruit; for D, an eye-popping full English of local meats, and eggs laid by the chickens that we’ve watched from our bedroom window.

En route back to our room we stop off at the Kitchen Gardens to see where our food’s been coming from. Good Life aspirers shouldn’t miss this aspect of the hotel – arguably its most important element and astounding in its sheer scale and in the range of produce that’s on offer.

Getting active

One of the things that makes the New Forest even better as a foodie destination is its unrivalled range of outdoor activities to help you work off all those calories. From horse riding to cycling (and even a host of watersports), there are plenty of chances to enjoy the scenery from an active perspective. The area also enjoys a wide range of tourist attractions (including historic buildings like Beaulieu Abbey, animal parks like the New Forest Wildlife Park and myriad museums and open gardens) to help you fill the time between feeds.

After our mammoth dinner and hearty breakfast, we decide our metabolisms
will thank us for a bit of activity and, not wanting to go too mad, we decide walking is the option for us. The Pig makes a great base from which to walk from (they’ll even supply wellies!), and there’s a multitude of great hiking options just a short car drive away (dependent on the notoriously bad traffic around some New Forest towns). The New Forest National Park Authority offers some good downloadable walking routes on its website (newforestnpa.gov.uk) of all lengths and levels, and more useful walking info can be found at the New Forest Official Visitor Site (thenewforest.co.uk). We opt for an amble around Brockenhurst to enjoy the immediate vicinity’s stunning scenery – and the odd sighting of the Forest’s famous horses.

Having acknowledged the area’s bad traffic, it must be said that if you’re not on a tight schedule and have nowhere in particular to get to – as in the case of our meandering weekend – then the roads can really be quite enjoyable… horses, cows and donkeys by turns litter our path (and represent a more interesting hold-up than the traffic through Lyndhurst). Our next day takes us further afield as we meander through picture-perfect villages such as Burley and North Gorley, stopping off for tea, cakes and the odd photo opportunity or lazy amble along the way. There are so many ways to enjoy this area, which sits so tantalisingly on our doorstep – whether you want to indulge your active side, embrace the tourist trail or simply enjoy fine food and drink to your heart’s content. In our case, we return from our New Forest jaunt feeling about two stone heavier, but utterly revived and ready to face the rest of winter with a smile (and a hefty set of tracksuit bottoms!).