There's so much to see in the beautiful Test valley, at any time of year
Product: Lainston House Hotel, lainstonhouse.com Price: £165.00 Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Why visit the Test Valley?
Most of us hear 'Hampshire' and think Portsmouth; the south coast and the New Forest. So when we heard about the spectacular beauty of the Test Valley and all its hidden gems, just an hour from Oxford and London, and close to Highclere Castle - the home of Downton Abbey - we couldn't resist.
Where to stay
We were incredibly lucky to stay at the stately Lainston House Hotel, with its beautifully maintained, sweeping lawns, wood panelled bar and dining rooms, and fabulous guestrooms to boot. The underfloor heating in our bathroom was a lovely surprise, as well as a fab, rolltop bath. The Suites truly are things of beauty but all guestrooms meet the highest standards and the staff cannot do enough for visitors.
Dinner was in the hotel restaurant, The Avenue, which looked and tasted amazing - but we could see that other couples had wandered up to the hotel for a lighter bite in the bar area - also served impeccably and in equally impressive surroundings.
There's a fab winter offer on at Lainston for avid walkers, too. Arrive to a bottle of champagne in your guestroom, as well as a bespoke OS map to help you explore the grounds and Winchester area. You'll be sent you on your way with a delicious flask of nutmeg hot chocolate, and wellies if necessary! Warm up by the roaring fires on your return, before the very best of Hampshire bed and breakfast.
Sights to see
When we could bear to drag ourselves away from the comfort of Lainston, there was plenty to discover. Nearby Mottisfont Abbey is a National Trust property that's been through all sorts of renovations, with an interesting story attached to each. From the time of Medieval monks right through to a Twenties revival, the house is a historical gem. And the autumn walks in the grounds were also a crisp, morning must.
On to the city of Winchester, with its twisty-turny alleyways, statues of King Alfred and famous cathedral. There's a lovely mix of shops - including a pretty little haberdashery, Reads of Winchester.
Also in the city is the newly-opened River Cottage Canteen. After an excellent lunch in what really is a river cottage, with working water wheel visible through the basement windows, we'd recommend the experience to any lovers of good, organic grub.
One final treat on the way home (perfectly situated, if you're heading north) was a trip to Bombay Sapphire's new gin distillery, at Laverstoke Mill. It's really good value for money, at £15 per Adult, with a discount for Concessions. We didn't think there could be that much to say about gin, and we were glad to see that the distillery doesn't milk the experience. There's just enough to take a few hours of your time, what with the interesting Heritage room, the fabulous Glasshouses, the Botanical Dry Room (where you can spend a very enjoyable few minutes sniffing cork-stoppered bottles to see what your personal gin preferences are) and to top it all off, a complimentary bespoke cocktail in the Mill Bar.
The whole experience was fascinating - if you're in the area, we'd recommend it. Don't follow a SatNav to the postcode though - simply head for the village of Laverstoke, then carry on along the main road!
An informative, enjoyable, luxurious weekend with plenty to do. Two thumbs up from us.
Traditional Guest Rooms at Lainston House Hotel from £165 per room per night. Night Night Nutmeg offer runs until March 31, 2015, from £220 B&B or from £330 for dinner, bed and breakfast.