Roger St Pierre takes to the woodsSet deep in the heart of Hampshire’s glorious New Forest, majestic Rhinefield House has the appearance of a classic Jacobean stately home.
But enter its portals and the clock winds on a couple of hundred years to the romantic ambience of the Victorian era. There has been a house on this leafy site since William the Conqueror created the New Forest as a royal hunting ground, sometime around AD1097 - and the estate’s history since then has certainly been colourful.
It was here that the ill-fated Charles I, being escorted from the Isle of Wight to face trial in London, was granted an ill-fated meeting with Oliver Cromwell in a final bid for reconciliation between King and Parliament.
The original house at Rhinefield was pulled down in the 19thC to make way for construction of the present property – a wedding gift of £250,000 (several millions in today’s money) for the only daughter of the Walkers, an ultra-wealthy Nottinghamshire-based coal mining family (on whom, incidentally, DH Lawrence is said to have based several of his novels.)
No expense was spared in realising the project. Serious attention to detail was given at every level, from the fabric of the massive main house to the exquisite works of art adorning the maze of rooms – eye-catchers that include a fabulous monumental relief of the Spanish Armada. This is said to be carved from a huge single piece of wood by the redoubtable woodwork artist Grindling Gibbons (1648-1721).
There’s a feast for the eyes in every salon of this meticulously restored baronial masterpiece.
A team of Moroccan artisans worked on-site for months to create the whimsical mosaic-tile adorned cylindrical Alhambra Room, created as a smoking room for the male guests of the proud owner and today serving as one of the hotel’s popular extra-special private dining spaces – perfect for small corporate groups.
Gothic, Tudor and later stylistic influences pervade the property, with grandeur as the by-word throughout. The new house was completed in 1887. After a century in private occupation it was death duties that eventually brought Rhinefield House onto the market, leading to its conversion into a luxurious country house hotel.
It is perfectly located amongst tall conifers and scented pines, yet within easy reach of Southampton, Bournemouth, Winchester and Salisbury.
Rhinefield today functions under the aegis of the Hand Picked Hotels group, whose ethos is totally in accord with the property’s top drawer ambience, to give guests a taste of how the other half lives. As well as the original very grand period rooms of the main house, Rhinefield offers a wing of more modern accommodations. There are 50 luxurious guestrooms in all, including three majestic suites.
Executive rooms feature spacious double and twin options, many of which look out to the New Forest, from which herds of deer often emerge in full view.
All Executive Rooms are in the garden wing with plasma screen TVs. These rooms are larger than Classic rooms, although they do vary in size and shape. Standard amenities include large bathrooms with powerful showers, plus television screens above the bath.
The hotel’s award-winning Armada Restaurant offers specially selected menus imaginatively created from fresh regional ingredients and seasonal flavours, including a superb Taste of Hampshire menu, enjoyed in ornate surroundings. There is also the less formal The Grill option.
There are eight dedicated meeting rooms, hosting up to 160 delegates each. Parking is free and, reflecting the high standards of technology made available to guests, amenities include a charging point for electric cars.
At Rhinefield House a group will never be short of things to do. In the summer, delegates can stroll through the woods or take a dip in the outdoor pool before enjoying a picnic in the grounds. Or they can pop into the new health club, which has an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and work-out area. But however your delegates spend their time, they can be sure of an outstanding experience. Rhinefield House truly is what it claims to be: ‘The Jewel of the Forest’.