You might be surprised to learn that the UK south coast’s New Forest National Park has been voted No. 1 National Park in Europe (2022 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards for Destinations) and 10th top National Park in the world. The New Forest covers 219 square miles of woods; heather carpeted heathlands, rivers, ponds, and wildflower meadows to explore either on foot or bike using over 100 miles of designated cycle paths – it’s also one of the most dog-friendly destinations in the UK.
Go canoeing with the family, kayaking, horse riding, swinging through the trees on high ropes or spend a day learning bushcraft and cooking under the stars. As the National Park is on the coast, you can easily spend the morning in the forest and the afternoon on nearby soft sandy beaches swimming or enjoying a variety of watersports. If that seems too energetic, try a cookery or pottery class, go foraging with an expert or sign up for some photography lessons. There’s a huge and diverse range of adventures available, and this is what makes the New Forest such a popular destination for couples, families, friends. There is something to satisfy all ages, and the area gets top marks for its attention to accessibility.
But breaks in this National Park are best known for switching off the screens and getting back to nature. It is a wildlife hotspot with over 10,000 ponies, donkeys, cows and pigs wandering around the forest, and it’s pretty chocolate-box villages. In addition, for nature lovers, 55% of Britain’s butterflies and 74% of our dragonfly species can be found in the New Forest alongside 700 wildflower varieties and a whopping 2,700 species of fungi and mushrooms.
The New Forest is also a food lovers paradise. The culinary scene here is exciting and abundant, with producers and talented chefs pairing up to offer some exquisite taste sensations. It’s not all about fancy restaurants (although there are plenty); think farm shops, independent producers, vineyards, microbreweries and thatched gastro pubs with pretty beer gardens.
Day trips and attractions include Beaulieu National Motor Museum, Paultons Park – home of Peppa Pig World, Marwell Zoo, Monkey World, Stonehenge, Poole sandbanks, historic houses and many more.
Where to stay: New Forest Cottages have over 160 cottages, country houses, apartments and barns in and around the National Park sleeping 2 – 12 guests, suiting all tastes and budgets.
Among their luxury offering is Argentor Cottage at East Boldre, which sleeps 6. Behind the thick cobb walls of this 18th Century cottage is a gorgeous Scandi inspired interior and large bloom filled garden with lots of woodland wildlife to keep you company. Available for 3 nights from £904.
Dog-friendly properties include Piglets at Burley, sleeping 4. This little cottage wins rave reviews from past guests who love the comfort, location and enclosed garden for their pooch. Dog-friendly gastro pubs and lots of good places for supper close by. Available for 7 nights from £765.
Big homes for friends and family are also available, including Thatchby Oak which sleeps 12 in Brockenhurst. This huge, thatched cottage has a private gated swimming pool within a large garden surrounded by lofty trees. It’s a short stroll to the village centre and a posse of great eating options. Available for 3 nights from £2,012.