Where can you have a short break that includes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Peppa Pig and, er, dinosaurs?
The New Forest, that’s where.
The ancient woodland which William the Conqueror used as his private hunting ground is now home to Paulton’s Park, the theme park that plays host to Peppa Pig World. Nearby is the stunning village of Beaulieu, home of the National Motor Museum and the Top Gear Experience. And there is also a fabulous place to stay with a Michelin-starred restaurant. All in all, it makes for a fantastic family weekend.
So where to start…
Paulton’s Park and Peppa Pig World
Set in 140 acres of New Forest parkland, the Paulton’s Park theme park is well known as the home of Peppa Pig World. Since it opened in 2011, hundreds of thousands of small people have flocked to the spiritual home of TV’s much-loved piglet with a passion for jumping around in muddy puddles.
The adjoining Paulton’s Park has been going for longer and is set to become even more popular this month with the opening of the new dinosaur attraction, Lost Kingdom.
Comprising six new rides from the terrifying Pterosaur – a 395m (1,296ft) suspended rollercoaster – to the Velociraptor – a 200m (656ft) boomerang rollercoaster – it is a must for thrill-seekers.
Flight of the Pterosaur is probably the most frightening. You are hurtled along at 55kph with you feet dangling down. Velociraptor is even quicker, reaching a top speed of 60kph, though perhaps not quite as scary.
There are also gentler rollercoaster experiences like Dino Chase (a perfect introduction to younger people) and Boulder Dash, where participants can travel in a huge dinosaur egg. Careful thought has clearly been given to the £9m development which has not cramped Paulton’s Park, merely extended the offer.
There is a lot of space, here, and some lovely garden areas to enjoy between rides. Also the relaxed atmosphere is quite addictive – and the fact that there seem to be fewer queues than you normally get at theme parks.
My personal highlight was the feeding of the dinosaur: a real-life keeper feeds a (thankfully motorised) T-Rex, complete with blood stains round its chops.
The National Motor Museum
Lord Beaulieu, he of the Beaulieu estate, was a motoring enthusiast who gave over a large part of his ancestral seat to his great love – cars.
The Motor Museum is a must for petrol heads, containing as it does more than 250 cars, motorcycles and motoring-related exhibits dating from 1875 to the latest in F1 supercars.
Perhaps the biggest attraction, for children at least, is one of the handful of cars used in the classic 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. But there is more than enough to see for everyone in a chronologically-themed exhibit that takes you from the earliest days of motor transport up to land speed record-breaking beasts and the mechanical brilliance of F1 motorsport.
Where to eat…
After all that excitement there is no better place to stuff your face like Peppa than the family-owned Georgian country house hotel The Montagu Arms.
In fact its Terrace Restaurant is the only Michelin star restaurant in the New Forest and the holder of 3 AA rosettes.
Head Chef Matthew Tomkinson’s enticing modern menu mixes classic French technique with the comforting feel of home-cooked food. My favourite was the starter of Warm Salad of Alresford Wild Duck with Candied Walnuts, Beetroot Compote and Crisp Confit Leg Samosa. As for the mains, a particular highlight is Roasted Woodside Farm Lamb with Slow Cooked Breast, Black Olive Polenta Marinated Peppers and Salsa Verde. (You try and say that without your mouth watering).
But you can also take heart from the fact that the lovely kitchen garden also supplies the restaurant with variety of seasonal vegetables and herbs.
Gin lovers will also take heart from the wide array of different flavours – or infusions – of gin. I counted 26 varieties on the menu, from Beefeater to more exotic variations such as saffron, rose petals and cucumber and liquorice-flavoured liveners.
The restaurant is part of 17th century hotel and located at the heart of the idyllic Beaulieu Village (a three-minute drive from the Motor Museum). If you are staying you can use the hotel’s babysitting facilities and dine in the restaurant (which is not really appropriate for children). The sleeping accommodation combines comfort and tradition. A stunning building in a stunning location, there is a cosy feel to your stay. The 22 rooms are all large and comfortable and the staff are attentive and friendly.
Outdoor lovers will appreciate not just the easy access to the New Forest and their wide expanses and grazing wild ponies, but also the hotel’s beautifully manicured gardens. A log fire is lit even in summer months to give that extra dash of rustic sensuousness. Muddy puddles are of course, an optional extra…
The Montagu Arms is a member of Pride of Britain Hotels– a collection of 48 privately-owned independent British hotels. An overnight stay costs from £159 per room midweek (two sharing) and £229 per room at the weekend (two sharing), including Full English breakfast and complimentary access to SenSpa facilities (excludes Hydro) in nearby Brockenhurst.