Great British Boltholes: Forest Holidays Blackwood Forest, Hampshire

Jennifer Kearns and family try an autumn break deep in the English forest

Jennifer Kearns and family try an autumn break deep in the English forest

Why go? To revive under a canopy of beech trees and unwind in your own outdoor hot tub. Forest Holidays’ newest retreat, which opened in May in Blackwood Forest, near Winchester, is set inside 270 hectares of woodland. It’s one of eight locations up and down the UK offering luxury cabins lost in the trees, so you’re likely to find one not too far away – and that’s essential if you want to avoid a long journey with two impatient toddlers, as we do.

Woodland escape: snuggle up in a Forest Holidays Golden Oak Cabin

Best for: Stressed city dwellers that yearn to be at one with nature but have no desire to pitch a tent or fret about the unpredictable British climate. Forest Holidays Blackwood Forest comprises 60 eco-friendly cabins, ranging from the pocket-friendly Copper Beech Cabins – which are the only hot tub-free cabins, but still gleaming and modern with flat-screen TVs and wet rooms – to the latest Golden Oak Hideaways. These have been designed exclusively for couples, with wood-burning stoves, outside hammocks and sunken baths for two with private views of the forest. If you’re the active sort, you can have a go at archery (£20 for an hour-long lesson), or rent a bike and explore the area’s cycle routes (adult bikes start at £18 per day; child bikes and seats, as well as tag-alongs and trailers for little ones, cost from £5 per day). Or just explore the surrounding forest on foot.

The look: Log cabin chic. Oak flooring, a muted colour palette on the walls and a sofa made for late night telly watching with a glass of wine in hand lend a ‘weekend home’ feel. Beds are ludicrously comfy, and with only the odd hoot of an owl to break the lulling sound of the leaves above you’re in for a good night’s sleep – although that’s not necessarily what everyone’s here for. We come looking for peace and solitude but not far away a party is definitely going on. Luckily, cabins are generously spaced, so we can only hear the odd burst of chatter and laughter over the mollifying hum of the hot tub.

Home from home: the lounge in a Forest Holidays Golden Oak Cabin

Our spacious Silver Birch Cabin has underfloor heating, an en-suite master bedroom, feather-soft bed linen, a private terrace and a state-of-the-art entertainment system – ideal for cosy autumn nights in. The largest cabin type, called a Golden Oak Treehouse, sleeps up to ten, so be prepared for big family and group get-togethers. Forest Holidays urges guests to keep noise to a minimum after 10.30pm, so you should be safe from raucous hens hooting it up to the wee hours. And with no bars, clubs or late-night offies on site, this is no woodland Magaluf. Instead, expect keen walkers, nature lovers, happy families and ‘well-trained’ dogs, which are welcome in a selection of pet-friendly cabins for an additional £10 per night.

I’m hungry! Then get cooking – cabins have fully-equipped modern kitchens. You can also order in a freshly prepared pizza delivered to your door, or head to The Forest Retreat. Here, in addition to a shop selling locally grown produce, freshly baked bread and larder essentials, you can get a light meal, such as a jacket potato (from £3.95) or toasted panini (from £2.95) with a glass of wine (from £3.30) in the café, which has a large deck looking out onto a meadow. Sitting out here, cappuccino in hand, it’s easy to feel the strains of city life slipping away.

Gothic beauty: take a look at Winchester Cathedral

While you’re there… Indulge in an in-cabin spa treatment. The hour-long ‘Time for Two’ package (£240 for two) is perfect for loved-up couples, while the ‘Cosy Chill Out’ package (£150 for two hours) allows you to mix and match treatments including an organic facial and deep tissue massage.

If you’re getting cabin fever, head to Winchester (visitwinchester.co.uk), which is only 20 minutes’ drive away. After visiting the 900 year-old cathedral, discover the city’s artisan bakeries and independent shops. Downton Abbey fans can visit Highclere Castle (highclerecastle.co.uk), the fictional residence of the Crawley family, which will be open on selected days in December, including for a Christmas Fair. Jane Austen-lovers can tour her final home in nearby Chawton (jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk), which now houses a museum dedicated to the author and is open at Christmas and weekends from January 2014. 

Autumn splendour: stretch your legs on St Catherine’s Hill, managed by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

For those with kids in tow, be sure to book one of the Forest Ranger activities. ‘Young Explorers’ (£8 per child; adults free) encourages toddlers to get their hands dirty on the forest floor, while older children won’t be able to resist the opportunity to head out into the woods wearing night-vision goggles (£10 per person). Is it a deer, an owl, a hedgehog? Thankfully, this being the wilds of Hampshire, it won’t be a bear… For a family walk further afield, visit one of the 48 nature reserves managed by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (hiwwt.org.uk).

Dress code: If ever there was a time to wear your Barbour jacket, this is it. Team with a good walking boot: think Berghaus, not Bottega.
 
Book now: Forest Holidays Blackwood Forest, Larkwhistle Farm Road, Micheldever, Hampshire SO21 3BG (01962 774754; forestholidays.co.uk). In October a Silver Birch cabin sleeping four costs from £551 for four nights.

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