Sitting in a hot tub on a broad terrace jutting out across a canopy of trees, sipping a gin-tonic and listening to the wind whistle through the leaves as the sun begins its descent on the western horizon brings to mind images of a South American cloud forest or the riverine thickets of Africa. But South East England? Not so much.
Yet that is exactly where this rustic scene is unfolding. In the Hampshire countryside near the Dorset coast, the well-known country house hotel Chewton Glen has introduced a new luxury offering that is unmatched in the region: a series of tree houses tucked at the edge of the New Forest.
The Treehouses at Chewton Glen don’t look or feel anything like the hotel or its adjacent destination spa. Diametrically opposed to the brick façade and classical architecture of Chewton Glen, the tree houses are elevated versions of a childhood favorite, crafted of natural materials to harmonize with the natural surroundings.
The wood-clad, copper-roofed structures are accessible on foot (or via golf cart) from a path leading from the main house into the forest. On an autumn day, the ground is moist and covered with a layer of fallen leaves, adding to the into-the-woods experience. As the path rises above the forest and leads to a clearing, the tree houses emerge from the branches as if they’ve always been there.
A planked gangway connects terra firma with the structure. Walk across it, and you feel like you’re crossing into another realm, a secret hideaway of sorts. You half expect a rustic, Swiss-Family-Robinson-esque interior on the other side of the door. In fact, it isn’t that way at all. These tree houses are actually quite luxurious, with open spaces, floor-to-ceiling windows, soaking tubs surrounded by glass and timber terraces with all-glass railings, hot tubs and seating areas.
Because they are situated in the midst of nature—they float above the forest floor, communing with the tree canopy—the decor is appropriately rustic with a modern edge: suiting fabrics and velvets on contemporary seating, a wood log cocktail table bound by iron straps and topped with glass, wood-burning stoves next to Sonos music systems and iPod docks, and timber and heated marble floors.
The view of, and access to, the forest is perhaps the most compelling reason to put the Treehouses on the “must” list. The New Forest is a magical place where bluebells bloom in the spring and leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors in the fall, where deer roam and birds flitter among the beech and oak branches.
The Treehouses are tucked in a secluded spot within the forest but also are ideally located for exploration. There are a few trails, though adventurous guests have been known to make their own paths through the thicket. Either way, the smell of the earth after a light rain, or the cool wind sweeping across a clearing, or the song of the woodlark makes the place feel like something out of a fairy tale.
A 45-minute amble (the British don’t walk; they amble) through the woods leads to the windswept coastline of east Dorset with its pebble beaches and paved paths for pedestrians or cyclists. It’s even better to do this with a personal trainer, who may be hired through the spa at Chewton Glen. Be warned: The trainers are all about getting your heart rate up, so this is no leisurely stroll.
For leisure, stick closer to the spa, which offers a unique program for Treehouse guests: Treetox, or Detox in the Trees. The four-night health break, designed to pull guests away from their busy lives and into nature, involves holistic and detox treatments, along with light exercise and sessions with a “head therapist.” Meant to balance emotions, the latter is a mix of positive affirmations and acupressure—a mind-body connection, if you want.
Or, you can skip the detox and indulge in a little culinary therapy. Chewton Glen’s Vetiver restaurant, located in a conservatory at the main house, is a hidden gem within the Hampshire countryside. Chef Luke Matthews uses locally raised meat (Dorset veal), game (New Forest venison), fish (Cornish sea bass) and produce (from the hotel’s kitchen garden) to create classic dishes with an innovative spin, reinforcing the classic-modern tension throughout Chewton Glen.
But the best dining experience of all comes in a box. A huge hamper full of morning treats, from house-made granola to pressed juices, is delivered to each tree house in the morning. That, and the persistent birdsong from the canopy, is a beautiful way to welcome the day.
Floor-to-ceiling doors pocket back to admit views of the New Forest. Inside and out, the tree houses are crafted of natural materials, giving a sense of place.
The dreamy spa at Chewton Glen.