Think of the New Forest, and you’d be right to assume it’s full of wild ponies and beautiful scenery – however, on top of that, there’s a whole world of enchantment waiting to be explored.
From trees brimming with fairies, witchcraft, and folklore to cocktails sprinkled with dragon dust, this Hampshire beauty spot is the perfect staycation destination if you’re after a good mix of traditional and transcendental.
And really, who wouldn’t?
Here’s our round up of where to go and what to see just at the end of the A31…
Fairies and the high seas
This summer’s exhibition at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst involves 19 short documentary-style films about the park’s spiritual facets.
Fairy-hunting, folklore, energy healing, mysticism, magic and witchcraft all feature (July 8 to August 27, free; here).
Further south, Lymington’s St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery has a rather more family-focused offering.
On until September 9, Pirates!
Fact And Fiction teaches its visitors about famous buccaneers from around the world.
Adults £6, children £3, here.
Just outside Linwood, a hamlet in the forest’s north-west, is somewhere that’s new and old all at once. The 17th-century High Corner Inn has been reimagined by its new owners, Butcombe Pubs & Inns.
Chandeliers and pendant lamps now illuminate botanical wallpaper, Chesterfield sofas, trunk tables and oversized rugs.
The original carved bar remains, but a terrace and children’s play area are other fresh additions. Food-wise, expect pub classics with clever twists plus Butcombe’s own ales and ciders.
Mains from £14.95, tables and rooms can be booked: here.
Magic potions in Southampton
In Southampton, just south of the forest – and barely a minute by broomstick – is Dark Arts, a new magic-themed cocktail bar.
Inspired by ‘witchcraft and magic’ its candlelit, herb-scented interior serves ‘potions’ such as Wildfyre: vodka, Midori and watermelon liqueur topped with mysterious dragon dust.
Drinks-making classes and puzzles to solve are also offered.
Table bookings for the Dark Arts Bar can be made: here.
After Bella delivers dishes and perhaps sings you happy birthday, Ola will
clean tables and return dirty plates to the kitchen.
All completely normal – well, except that both waiters are robots.
Delighting junior visitors, this pair are part of the new Beachcomber complex at Milford-on-Sea’s Shorefield Country Park, whose 750-seat restaurant abuts a bar, cabaret venue and a special Pooch Corner, where canine guests can enjoy meals.
If struggling to choose between build-your-own burgers, steaks, sandwiches and salads, human diners could ask Bella for her favourites…
Mains from £10.50, more information can be found here.
Open-top bus tours return
Back in operation until September 17, the open-top New Forest Tour has been estimated to have saved approximately 298,000 private car miles last season.
Its three routes offer views of pretty villages, ponies and heathland – all enhanced by audio commentary.
Tickets also give you discounts to attractions such as the Beaulieu National Motor Museum and New Forest Wildlife Park. Stops at cycle hire outlets encourage combined bike-and-bus days out.
Day tickets £19.50, can be booked here.
Having trained under Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay, the son of L’Enclume’s Simon Rogan has opened his own establishment in Southampton.
Meanwhile, the award-winning Max’s Brasserie — whose owner Max Romano once served George Bush Senior — has moved to new digs on nearby Commercial Road.
There you will find an outside terrace – perfect for a bit of al fresco – whilethe house’s passionate Italian food and legendary balsamic gin and tonic cocktail remain unchanged.
Mains from £14.90, more information can be found here.
Visit the spa at Chewton Glen in New Milton and you can be massaged or stretched by the reigning therapist of the year.
That’s the gong pocketed by Lucie Allen at March’s Professional Beauty Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Strictly Come Dancing judge Anton Du Beke.
The trophies recognise outstanding customer service, treatment delivery and innovation.
45-minute massages from £115, here.
If you want to venture further afield…
Delight at the Isle of Wight
Car ferries operate from Lymington to Yarmouth, taking 40 minutes, enabling day trips to admire The Needles, tour Queen Victoria’s former residence Osborne House, hunt for dinosaur fossils along Compton Bay or ride the steam railway from Smallbrook Junction to Wootton.
Families will enjoy Blackgang Chine, Britain’s oldest amusement park.
Take in Bournemouth beach
Some ten miles of sand fringes the wide bay between Hengistbury Head and Poole Harbour.
To deliver a classic seaside day out, central Bournemouth then throws in cliff-climbing funicular railways, an entertainment–packed pier, mini-golf and various fish and chip shops for good measure.
Should you need respite from the sun, then sharks and stingrays also await in an impressive aquarium.
Amid lovely gardens just outside well-preserved Wimborne Minster, a replica presents the town as it looked in the 1950s.
But it does so at a 1/10th scale, meaning that visitors feel like giants.
There are quizzes for kids to complete as well as crazy golf and a ‘Model of the Model of the Model’, now at 1/1000th scale.
£10, more information can be found: here
Roam glorious greenery
A fragrant walled garden on Mottisfont’s estate houses a substantial part of the National Plant Collection of ancestral rose species — especially good in the first part of summer.
Once you’ve sniffed your way around that, stroll alongside the River Test, gasp at the largest London plane tree in Britain and track down an ancient spring.
£18, more information can be found: here
Worship Salisbury Cathedral
Famously captured on canvas by John Constable, elegant Salisbury Cathedral possesses the country’s tallest church spire at 404ft (123m), and biggest cloister.
Other stand-outs are one of the planet’s oldest working clocks and an original copy of the Magna Carta charter.
The surrounding city is similarly enchanting, courtesy of millennia-old streets.
From £9, tickets can be found: here
Look out from Corfe Castle
Another of William the Conqueror’s achievements, this ruined fortress was one of the first English castles to be built using stone, not just earth and timber.
What makes Corfe so haunting, though, is its position: atop a small, islanded hill overlooking its eponymous village, Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck peninsula and the Jurassic Coast.
£11, more information can be found: here
In association with Macdonald Hotels & Resorts