Tucked away amidst the rolling countryside of Dogmersfield in the English borough of Hampshire, the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire is a delightful five star country manor that all the family will love.
The land here is recorded as “Doccemere feld” in the great Domesday Book of 1086, and it was here that a man by the name of Henry VIII met Catherine of Aragon. And while a country retreat may not be the first place you think of staying with kids in tow, both its location amid some of England’s historic hotspots as well as the activities on offer make this a remarkable family holiday. As we drove up the long path to the hotel, there were kids cycling, riding horses and even guests on a boat on the picturesque Basingstoke Canal, which runs through the hotel’s estate.
Decked in their finest tweeds, the staff greeted us at the front of the restored manor, showing us into the reception area. The warmth of the log fire was a welcome touch, being one of the coldest days of the year. Whether it was this, the friendliness of the staff, or a bit of both, I instantly felt very much at home.
Finding a hotel that pleases both age groups for my boys often proves a challenge. This wasn’t the case here, as the hotel offers so many activities for children, the real problem was fitting all the activities in
As we checked in, our four year old son Jake got a taste of things to come by being asked to choose a gift from a giant toy box while our teenage boys Zack and Leo ran off to explore the hotel; it’s a simple but sweet gesture to keep little ones occupied so parents can sign in undistracted.
On arrival at our room – or, more accurately, suite of rooms! – we were met by shrieks of delights from Zack and Leo (who had raced on ahead). There, in their room, they had discovered an array of chocolate goodies awaiting them. Next to the chocolates was a selection of magazines – football themed for the big two and a Peppa Pig one for Jake! Attentive details that guaranteed a smile not only on the kids’ faces, but adults too!
Adjoining the boys’ room via a huge lounge area was our own grand and sumptuous room – I could have stayed there all day. The king size bed was so comfortable I now plan to use my savings on a Four Seasons mattress! And the stunning views of rolling countryside from our windows made it difficult to believe we were only an hour’s train ride from London.
Zack and Leo were quick to try out the football pitches and play a game of tennis before heading to the dedicated teen zone in a little building attached to the hotel. While they played, my husband and I took Jake to visit the Kids for All Seasons club for kids aged 3+ that has been set up in a sweet, school-like building a short walk from the hotel. Here there are daily activities, ranging from crafts and stories to visits to the Equestrian Centre, kite flying and treasure hunts. Prior to setting out, we had readily accepted the Wellingtons and Barbour jackets given to us by the staff who assured us they would come in handy, which was certainly the case when we stopped off at a muddy playground on our way to the club.
All three boys were happily involved in their activities and it was difficult to tear them away – until we promised them a swim in the magnificent conservatory pool. We were surprised to find we had it all to ourselves, despite it being half term, but soon realised this was only because the day had flown by so quickly everyone else was at dinner. Much to their annoyance, our boys weren’t old enough to enjoy the hot outdoor vitality pool and had to suffer watching my husband and I relax in the outdoor area – a novelty considering it was winter and raining.
In hindsight, however, I wished I’d swum lengths of the pool – it would have prepared me better for the enormous dinner to follow. The kids tucked into their wonderful buffet of fish, chips, noodles, crudités and salads in The Bistro, which is the more relaxed restaurant of the hotel’s three. The dessert was a huge bonus, although the sugar fix meant the kids were soon running off to seek out the in-house pooch, friendly Labrador Oliver.
As for my husband and I, dinner was divine. Having pre-alerted the hotel to the fact we were kosher and couldn’t eat shellfish or meat, the staff had gone out of their way to provide a “kosher-style” menu for us. Our Salmon Salad Nicoise starter was generous and the Sea Bass main that followed, exquisite. Somehow we even managed to fit in a mini selection of desserts featuring four of the chef’s best.
For a techy geek like me, the only downside to the hotel was that the interconnect connection was rather slow. However, there was an upside in that my kids – who are normally attached to their laptops and computers – didn’t use them the whole time. Mind you, with the activities on offer they didn’t even really attempt using them – which is definitely saying something! With no gadgets (and even my husband forced to switch off from his work), this was a truly outstanding family break.
Design Centred around a restored Georgian manor house, the property has three adjoining wings – the East, South and West wings. Built in the early 18th century, the estate as a whole — some 500 acres of rolling parkland where wild deer still roam — dates back to the 11th century. It has variously been a family’s manor house, a school for girls and a home for Catholic priests. When Four Seasons tok over the property, they commissioned interior design company Richmond International to transform the neglected property, and rooms have all been redecorated with a nod to its Georgian origins or its English heritage. There are tapestries behind beds, prints on the walls, suites are designed to exude elegant country house style, and many of the rooms have views across the vast grounds.
Rooms All 111 bedrooms and 22 suites are a minimum of 45 square metres, while suites run from 54 square metres to the 225 square metres of the Royal Suite (sleeps up to six guests). All rooms have complimentary wi-fi, television and DVD, as well as marble bathrooms with bathtubs. Hypoallergenic pillows are available on request. The best rooms for families are the Heritage, Garden and Mews rooms, or any of the suites (apart from the Oliver King Parlour Suite, which only sleeps two). Suites feature rollaway beds and cribs in addition to the King beds and sleep between three and six guests.
Eating There are four options for dining at Four Seasons Hampshire. At dinner time, the formal restaurant Seasons welcomes families with children under eight years of age between 18.00 and 19.30 as well as all evening on Friday when the informal Fish Friday event takes place. Seasons is closed on Monday nights and only opens for lunch on Sundays when it plays host to the Farmers’ Market lunch from 13.00 to 15.30 offering the finest local produce in a roast carvery, a seafood station and the Kids’ Buffet. The Bistro is a more casual affair and is open for lunch and dinner from midday until 22.30. Café Santé is attached to the spa and offers all-day dining with an Asian influenced menu. Afternoon tea is served in The Library between 15.00 and 18.00. In-room dining is available 24 hours a day. There is also an In-room Children’s Menu and a Picnic Menu (including a Winnie The Pooh Picnic option) which can be delivered anywhere on the estate.
Facilities The gym has Technogym Excite cardiovascular and weight machines, free weights, as well as a Zen studio where yoga and Pilates classes are run. The 20 metre indoor infinity pool is available for all ages, apart from one hour in the morning (10.00-11.00) when it reserved for adults only. It is connected to a heated outdoor vitality pool, which is for guests over the age of 16 only. The Spa complex is in the old stable buildings next door, and offers an extensive range of treatments including ESPA and Sodashi therapies.
Activities A wide range of activities are available onsite including tennis (lessons available for all ages), clay pigeon shooting (ages 10+), croquet, falconry (12+ can participate in classes, under 12s can participate in group displays), fishing, running tracks, mountain bikes (children’s bikes too). There is also a canal boat available to hire for boating on the Basingstoke Canal which runs through the hotel’s estate.
OWN A PONY PROGRAM The Four Seaons Hampshire also runs a fabulous Own A Pony Experience that allows children aged 7 to 16 the opportunity to join the equestrian team for half a day, learning the A to Z of caring for their very own pony. The program runs 10.00 to 13.00 and includes a 30-minute ride. For younger (or older) riders there is also an excellent equestrian facility where guests aged four and over can have riding lessons or hire hacks for riding anywhere across the 200 hectares of the Dogmersfield Estate.