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'Three English Hotels for Walkers'

The Sunday Times selected Hotel TerraVina as one of the best three English hotels for walkers

Hotel TerraVina, New Forest

The hotel: before I’d even crossed the TerraVina’s threshold, its New Forest credentials were confirmed. A free-ranging pony blocked the entrance. He wasn’t in ranging mood, however, and greeted my attempts to move him on (slamming car doors, menacing use of the fastest windscreen-wiper setting) with an insouciant swish of his tail. It was a timely reminder that this quirky corner of Hampshire is all about putting the brakes on - and swapping the car for slow walks among bronzing oaks, on the lookout for roe deer.

As if to reinforce that sentiment, a row of designer wellies stood to attention in TerraVina’s hall. Dusk was falling, and I could see guests enjoying the reward for their outdoorsy endeavours - a cosy bar and a rather glamorous restaurant. This red-brick, white-columned Victorian mansion is really no more than a guilt-free excuse to eat - and definitely drink - far too well. Its owner, Gerard Basset, was one of the founding duo behind the Hotel du Vin chain. He opened his own place last autumn - and this time, he says, it’s personal.

The rooms: these are personal too; Basset’s wife, Nina, is in charge of the decor. Mrs B was once the AA’s youngest hotel inspector (at 21), so she knows a thing or two about what makes a room work. TerraVina’s 11 doubles are spacious (some with gardens or terraces), quietly contemporary and decorated in zingy oranges, forest greens and biscuity beiges, with thick corduroy fabrics and modern rattan furniture. Perhaps they lack an extravagant touch or two - we’re talking sensible M&S slippers rather than Christian Louboutin heels. That said, we all know which are comfier after a couple of hours, don’t we?The food: the Bassets seem much more confident among the cookware. Their restaurant is a stylish proposition, with an open kitchen (the nightly clean-down has become something of a floor show) and an inviting glass-walled wine cellar. The menu uses local ingredients, but looks to West Coast America rather than the West Country for inspiration. Expect starters such as goat’s cheese croquette with mushroom duxelle (£7.50), and mains such as sea bass with crushed black olive potato (£17.95) or pork shoulder with macaroni gratin (£15.50).

A three-time runner-up in the Best Sommelier of the World competition, Basset offers an impressive range by the glass to encourage experimentation. He also runs regular wine weekends: Barossa Valley shiraz and champagne are next up, in November.

Beyond the ponies: the New Forest has rambling heaths for soul-searching walks and mossy glens for romantic horse or cycle rides. Four-legged mounts can be hired at Forest

The forest also harbours comfy old sailing towns such as Lymington for afternoon teas, and old-fashioned beaches such as Barton-on-Sea for salty sunsets. Top Gear fans should set the satnav for the National Motor Museum, at Beaulieu.

Susan d’Arcy

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