I start my fourth stay at the posh and lovely Chewton Glen spa hotel as I always do - with an Ila biorhythms treatment in the fabulous spa. Comprising a scrub, wrap and back of the body massage using gorgeous-smelling organic Ila products, this treatment is always great after travel, even if (like us) you’ve just had a long drive rather than a flight. It soaks up all my exhaustion and gets me ready to chill.
Meanwhile, my husband Tom and four-year-old daughter Annoushka check out our family suite, Smugglers, aka room 93. They are greeted by a glass dish of marshmallow biscuits, macaroons and strawberries, with our daughter’s name spelt out beneath them, and proceed to scoff them all at once, leaving nothing for me (well, I did get the treatment). There’s a tiny pink bed with a Princess duvet (though my pc daughter would have been just as happy with superheroes). There’s some mini slippers and a little dressing gown beside the bed, and a wrapped present laid out on top of it – a cute ‘Make your own badger kit’ inside a ducky little suitcase. She explores the little adjoining courtyard, with its gentle fountain and pergola, while he unpacks.
Once we’re reunited and the badger has been made, we spend time wandering the peaceful manicured grounds, the sun creating dappled spaces between the trees. There’s a walled garden, a croquet lawn, a putting green, and – much to Annoushka’s delight – a large heated outdoor swimming pool. So excited is she on first sight of it that she proceeds to strip off quickly and jump in. My husband follows suit – in his clothes – as our daughter does not yet realise she can’t quite swim on her own. Never mind, back in the room it’s an excuse to get warm in the double shower, with her using her own children’s organic products by the brilliant Childs Farm provided by the hotel, which inspire her to wash her own hair for the first time (adults get paraben-free REN toiletries, which inspire me to wash my hair too).
The hotel is a step away from both forest and beach, so it’s perfect for young children. As well as spending a lot of time in the outdoor pool (there’s a neo-classical, ozone-treated 17-metre indoor swimming pool for chillier days), we go for a bike ride with A in a special kids seat on the back, visit the ponies in the New Forest by car and walk 20 minutes to nearby South Milton beach, which not only has a large, stone pathway by the sea that Annoushka can ride her scooter on but also a sandy beach where we spend hours watching her run in and out of the sea.
For a couple of hours one day, we let the kids club look after Annoushka (it’s beautifully staffed; she plays her first game of hop scotch) while Tom and I hang out at the spa together – oh how I would love a mini version of the hydro pool at Chewton Glen in my garden. At other times, we take it in turns to use the aromatherapy saunas and crystal steam rooms provided in each of the men’s and women’s changing rooms.
Meals are a breeze, all taken in Vetiver, the light and airy restaurant: there’s kids tea if you want it, but on one evening Annoushka dons her new pink fairy dress from Sainsburys and joins us in the grown-ups dining room, ordering tomato soup for the first time from the great little kids menu, and enjoying the kids kits they give out to keep little ones occupied. One night, we hire a rather brilliant babysitter (£10 an hour) and eat alone, gorging on impeccably prepared and seasonally sourced Modern British meals overseen by executive chef Luke Matthews. He creates things like an Emmantael cheese soufflé, lobster curry with rice, an earl grey creme brulée – all interesting and extremely scrummy.
Each evening, a little present is laid on Annoushka’s bed (we’ll save Frederick Marryat’s novel The Children of the New Forest for when she’s a little older). It’s no wonder that when the time comes, she doesn’t want to leave. Chewton Glen is a lovely place to visit at the best of times, but with a child in tow, it has a fairy tale touch.
Author and Journalist Caroline Sylger Jones travels the world checking out spas, retreats and healthy holidays for newspapers, magazines, websites and her own book, Body & Soul Escapes (Footprint).You can read more about Chewton Glen on her healthy travel website, queenofretreats.com, which features spas, wellbeing breaks and healthy holidays and has been named a Top 10 health & wellness website by the Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine.