I’ve just returned from a relaxing weekend with my oldest friend, a rare event indeed.

The last time we were away together without partners or kids was in 1990, when we spent a week with a group of Mormon lads in Turkey. The Mormon bit was utterly unintentional, but not inconsequential. The fact that they had no interest in alcohol or pre-marital relationships, made for a very relaxing holiday!

I left the hubster with a list of instructions for kids’ meals and homework, a dog walking schedule and washing to fold and then I skipped out of the house, shouting ‘Freedom’!

Louise and I didn’t have a timetable to stick to, no need for washing or cooking and no kids to entertain. Most exciting of all was the lure of a room at The Bell Inn near Lyndhurst, the epicentre of the New Forest – a place to unwind, eat and drink to our hearts’ content.

Lymington

The journey to Lymington, where we decided to start our weekend, took just under two hours from North London. The weather was overcast and grey, but didn’t stop us from exploring the town and quay.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

Lymington’s cobbled streets are great for window shopping. This time of year it was fairly quiet, with several of the town’s cafes and restaurants closed for Winter. During the Summer months this scene would be packed with tourists.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

We found an Italian deli, where we stopped for a light lunch and our first of many glasses of wine. And then hit the shops. Neither of us intended to spend any money, we were just window shopping. But, oh people of Lymington, you are too friendly and persuasive!

Enter a shop in Central London and, as one of dozens of other customers, you will most likely be ignored.

Enter a shop in Hampshire and prepare to be flattered and chatted into submission. I found this lovely fitted quilted jacket from Esprit. I wasn’t going to buy it, but the shop assistant was sooo friendly, I felt compelled to give her my money!

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

Our hotel, not far from Lyndhurst, was half an hour’s drive away.

The Bell Inn, Brook

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

The Bell Inn is a privately owned coaching inn, which has been in the same family since 1782. We had a warm and spacious twin room in which to relax before dinner. This was the view – note the roaming New Forest ponies.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

I can’t remember the last time I had one of those girly afternoons of nail painting, hair straightening, reading and snoozing. It was perfect.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

This is a great book by the way. Very ‘Twighlight Zone’.

We made a bit of an effort to dress up for dinner, although the hotel is informal. I can’t show you photos as our selfies came out horribly.

And so to the bar for pre-prandial drinks. A Tanqueray and tonic for me, Prosecco for Louise.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

Dinner was filling and hearty, made with local produce. If you’re looking for small, delicate dishes, you’re in the wrong place. This was home cooking, with fresh and robust ingredients in rich sauces.

I started with Lyme Bay scallops in a thermidor glaze:

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

My main course was the vegetarian option – only because I thought it would be lighter than the meats on offer. This was Halloumi, Mushroom and Spinach Wellington:

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

We were both incredibly full but Louise practically forced me to have a dessert with her, so we went for mini versions of the Chocolate Baileys Mousse and Rice Pudding.

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.

The service was friendly attentive and the dinner delicious. We crawled into bed embarrassingly early, weighed down by all the food and drink!

Eight hours later we were eating a full English breakfast.

We were only away from home for 24 hours, but the space and pace of Hampshire felt like a world away from the stress of daily life in London.

Totally restorative.

Much love, Vx

Dinner, Bed and Breakfast rates at the Bell Inn start at £109 for a single room. 

[Disclosure: I was offered dinner, bed and breakfast for two at the Bell Inn in return for my honest review, for which I’m hugely grateful.]

A restorative weekend in the New Forest. Relaxing in Hampshire, with no timetable, no chores, just eating, drinking, relaxing and a little retail therapy.