Located one and half hours by train from London and just as easy and pleasant to get to by road, the New Forest area is renowned for its glorious New Forest National Park. Expanding across parts of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, this region has a plethora of pretty villages offering quirky gifts shops, traditional farm shops and oh-so-good New Forest ice cream parlours.
Whether you’re a family looking for adventure or a couple seeking relaxation, this is the ultimate holiday destination offering everything from rewilding respites to spa breaks. Make sure your first stop is Lyndhurst’s New Forest Centre, where you’ll get the lowdown on the area and can catch the New Forest Tour.
With its open pastures, huge heathlands and luscious woodlands, the New Forest is a haven for wildlife as well as the charming free-roaming livestock that present wonderful photo opportunities. While winding your way along New Forest roads look out for the iconic ponies, handsomely hairy Highland cattle, characterful donkeys and foraging pigs. Why not get on nature’s level and go horse-riding through fragrant heather and pine forest or take a tall trees walk? Both are ideal for experiencing the flora and fauna while surrounded by birdsong.
More natural beauty can be found at Exbury Gardens with its vibrant rhododendrons and azaleas in spring, its mists and russets in autumn and its fine steam railway that’s a fun way to see the sights year-round. Don’t miss a stop at the New Forest Wildlife Park where there are a whole host of native woodland creatures – from otters and owls to wolves and lynx – in their natural locales.
You should also schedule a visit to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary and Ornamental Drive to experience the magisterial trees and daily feedings, between April and September, of the four types of resident deer that rove the stunning undisturbed lands. What’s more, this attraction is free. Little ones will also love nearby Paulton’s Park where Peppa Pig World will have them oinking with excitement.
Known for its automotive and maritime connections too, the New Forest is home to Buckler’s Hard whose exhibitions provide a colourful view into the lives of ship builders past. Just down the river are Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum and Palace House – a day out that’s as fun for petrol-heads as it is delightful for culture-vultures.
Whether you fancy a family picnic, some traditional country pub grub or a gastro feast of foraged forest foods, there are a number of rated establishments and plenty of picturesque picnic spots dotted throughout the National Park. In the same vein, the area is abundant with holiday rentals and wild ponies couldn’t keep Love Cottages from helping you find your ideal getaway pad.