Arriving Burley Manor, a New Forest restaurant with rooms, on a crisp, sunny day, you'll probably be greeted by the sight of a small herd of roe deer grazing placidly across the lawns.
Standing in front of the impressive manor house, with its Tudor chimneys and ornate Tudor brickwork, you could easily believe you'd arrived at an aristocratic estate in the middle of a royal deer park.
You'd only be partly wrong.
The New Forest, all 90,000 acres of it, was created as a royal deer park and hunting ground - more than 900 years ago - and animals still roam freely across its woodland paths, meadows, heaths, and moorlands.
But Burley Manor, the "Medieval" estate perched on a rise in the landscape, is actually a mid-Victorian creation, built by a local magistrate in 1852. That's not to say that Burley, which reopened in its current form December 2015 after extensive refurbishment, doesn't have a colorful history.
The estate dates from the 1200s when it was built by a royal favorite and Knight of the Garter, Simon de Burley. Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong horse and when his patron, King Richard II, was deposed and killed, so was poor Simon - impeached and beheaded as a traitor.
No Ghosts Here
Over the years, the estate passed through many colorful hands, including an 18th-century cricketer, a brigadier general and a lady farmer, before becoming a hotel in 1935 and a wartime military billet in 1940.
Today, this Grade II listed building is a stylish and thoroughly refreshed boutique hotel. Many original features, including original fireplaces, have been retained. Public spaces include a bright, colorful parlor filled with overstuffed antique-style chairs and sofas, where tea is served; and a comfortable, friendly lounge bar where guests can take after dinner coffee. Guestrooms in the main house feature antiques and campaign furniture judiciously selected so that they retain their spacious, contemporary feeling. Many of the luxury baths have roll top tubs.
The hotel's ambitious, Mediterranean influenced restaurant is furnished in a slightly rustic, informal French Provincial style that creates a relaxed, country house atmosphere. And an unusual private dining room, the Butler's Pantry, cries out for an informal gathering of foodie friends. In the new Garden wing, 16 dog-friendly rooms are among the best Wallace the Westie and I have ever stayed in.
Dog-Friendly Rooms in the Heart of the New Forest
Guests with pets at Burley Manor stay in one of 16 newly refurbished rooms in the Garden Wing. These rooms have small patio/terraces and open directly onto the hotel's extensive rolling lawns. A discreet, almost invisible mesh fence (which may have been electrified for animal control - I didn't ask so that's just a guess) separates the lawn from the meadow where a herd of about twenty deer come and go.
As you can see, Wallace the Westie enjoyed rolling around on the lawn in front of our room. So I was disappointed to read that I was supposed to keep him on a leash in the hotel grounds. I'm always considering what makes a hotel dog-friendly as opposed to dog-tolerant and I'm afraid this is the kind of rule that nudges Burley Manor into the dog-tolerant class. Surely dogs that are well behaved and under control should be allowed to romp in open areas at a dog-friendly hotel. It's their vacation too.
Pet-friendly But Not Child-Friendly
While dogs are welcome to accompany their owners - within the limits described above - children are not. Teenagers 13 or older can check into the hotel with their parents but younger children can not. Younger children are, however, welcome to join adults for lunch, tea or tapas in the hotel restaurant.
Inside a Dog-Friendly Room
Dog-friendly rooms in the Garden Wing are bright and spacious, decorated with antique and campaign-style furniture, very comfortable beds and a sitting area. Some have larger seating areas with sofas, coffee table and upholstered chairs,
The bathroom, decorated with Edwardian-style fittings and black and white tiles, was well equipped with lots of fluffy white towels, robe and slippers and generous amounts of toiletries. A soothing foot balm was a nice touch for a hotel in the New Forest National Park, popular for long distance walks.
As with most English hotels, tea and coffee making facilities were provided, including - unusually - packets of fresh ground coffee and a cafetiere (French press) coffee maker. There were also several irresistible soft, homemade cookies.
Wallace the Westie was not left out. A water bowl (though not a food bowl) was provided along with some very posh, handmade doggie biscuits made from local ingredients by a New Forest "doggie deli" Paws. Venison and plum dog treats? I mean - how spoiled can a Westie get?
If you are planning to bring a dog, plan for the relatively steep charge of £30 per night for spoiling Fido with a hotel stay and bring a food bowl and your pet's own bedding.
Dining at Burley Manor
Burley Manor, unlike other members of the New Forest Hotels group, bills itself as a restaurant with rooms rather than a hotel. So judging the food is relatively important. James, the Executive Chef, is not shy about his ambition to gather AA Rosettes.
Sadly, I visited too soon to judge fairly but what I did sample was full of promise. Both the hotel and restaurant had only been open for about a month. There were some staff training issues that still required attention. And while some of the dishes were transcendent (a Provencale Beef Daube - pictured here - so tender and full of flavor and fragrance that I could easily have eaten it at every meal for days), others were still at an experimental stage (some polenta "chips" were nice but didn't deliver what their name - chips - promised). But I have to say, as I keep remembering that beef dish, that the signs, in early February 2016, were very good.
Dinner in the main restaurant is Mediterranean influenced, with flavors and textures reflecting the cuisines of France, Greece, Italy as well as the Middle Eastern, North African countries that rim the sea. The menu changes seasonally and is moderately priced for this level of cuisine. (In 2016, a two-course set lunch was £18).
A separate, private dining room, The Butler's Pantry, offers six diners (who book the room for their exclusive use) a chance to watch the chefs at work and, in some cases, even join in the cooking to learn new techniques. Menus in the Butler's Pantry are derived from seven different national cuisines: Spanish, Greek, Italian, Turkish, French, Lebanese, Moroccan.
I'd been told to expect surprises at breakfast and I was not disappointed. The breakfast menu was almost as enormous as the dinner menu, if a little confusing. What was the "Honey, agave, maple" on the "Jam Table" - separate syrups or some kind of spread using all three? What could "Eggs Chalkstream Trout Royale" possibly be?
But there were also quite a few intriguing choices - Quinoa porridge with dried coconut, Spelt granola with fruit and nut, plancha style pork loin (which turned out to taste very much like lightly cured British back bacon).
Do I really want to consult the waiter to discuss various dishes that early in the day? I'm not really sure but breakfast at Burley Manor is definitely an adventure.
Burley Manor in the New Forest is a comfortable place to stop if you are following the Norman Conquest Trail to mark the 950th anniversary of William the Conqueror's defeat of the Anglo Saxons in 1066. Find out more about William's links to the New Forest and why William's New Forest Karma may have played a role in his family fortunes.
Burley Manor Essentials
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