A strict 40mph limit covers the roads of the New Forest, protecting wildlife and calming traffic to the rhythm of a bygone era, blending seamlessly with ancient buildings, narrow alleys and a sense of timeless history .
So what better way to explore the 219 square miles of former royal hunting grounds that encompasses pastures, moors, forests – and plenty of wildlife in the wild including donkeys, pigs, and ponies – than behind the wheel of a car. era?
A new offering from the historic Montagu Arms hotel has made available to visitors a “fleet” of venerable vintage cars that seek to revive the automotive pleasures of a bygone era. It’s the highlight of the country hotel’s luxurious “Classic Car Break”, which includes a night in a sumptuously appointed room, breakfast, a seven-course tasting menu at the award-winning Terrace restaurant, admission to the magnificent National Motor Museum, and a copy of Classic Motoring magazine.
The car’s journey back in time begins when visitors check in at the antique desk in the hotel’s 200-year-old wood-paneled atrium before their bags are transported by an elegant doorman dressed in their suite, built in the former driver’s garage of the 1920s, accessed through manicured gardens.
From here is all the luxury as, for a certain price, guests are encouraged to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, including the spa at the neighboring sister hotel, as they branch out for more remote pleasures in the New Forest, proclaimed hunting forest. royal by William the Conqueror and featured in the Domesday Book.
Three beautifully restored engines are lined up on the Classic Car Break starting grid, in partnership with New Forest Classic Car Hire, based in the traditional Beaulieu Garage, a one-minute walk from the hotel.
The range of four-wheeled beauties for sale here is so captivating that visitors sometimes stop and wander the showroom, cameras poised, believing they’ve spotted the famous auto museum. “It happens a lot: we have to tell them that the actual museum, which is considerably larger, is just around the corner,” says Adam Gorgeon, Sales Manager.
Our car for the day is the stuff of dreams: two-tone paint, spoked wheels, convertible roof, chrome embellishments and a 3-liter straight-six petrol engine that produces 148hp, good for 120mph and 0-60mph in 9.8 seconds. .. not that That kind of guide is welcome here.
“It’s more of a grand tourer than a sporty one,” explains Adam, who tours the “big Healey”, covering the lost facets for a modern generation of motorists, including the use of air and the switch of the overdrive, like fastening the hood – and a warning that it ‘spits and coughs a little while warming up.
Then off we go. You forget how direct, tactile and visceral was motoring. The large, slim, non-motorized steering wheel needs a good wrench, it takes forever to adjust the tiny exterior mirrors, spaced shifting requires a skillful touch, and – even in a straight line – steering requires a steady hand. We sit low to the ground, the ancient frame rattles and rattles on the bumps and the heat, especially on a hot day, explodes through the engine bulkhead, toast your toes.
The feeling – under clear blue New Forest skies and on gently rolling roads – is pure bliss. Engine performance is great, the exhaust pipe emits a sparkling and crackling soundtrack that is rarely heard on a modern car. There’s nowhere to plug in a smartphone or sat nav, so we rely on a dog-eared road atlas and enjoy getting lost as we search the coast in Lymington.
We could have chosen a 1966 Jaguar E-Type or a Gardner Douglas 427 Cobra, but the delicate Healey does the trick. It’s fun to drive in the open air, with the hood down, and I’m sure we’re the envy of other motorists, in their similar modern runabouts.
The charming 200-year-old family-owned Montagu Arms has won an enviable place in Beaulieu. It sits very nicely on a bend of the B3054, a stone’s throw from the placid Beaulieu River, in the heart of the New Forest.
Set in its extensive gardens, it is a 20-minute walk from the National Motor Museum, some of which along the busiest B3056. Village donkeys roam the hotel’s gravel driveway, mingling with New Forest ponies, ideal for taking pictures.
The hotel is also a 15 minute drive from lively Lymington and the coast with its views of the Isle of Wight and approximately 20 minutes from Lyndhurst, the “capital” of the New Forest.
English country hotel is the atmosphere, enhanced by the paneled reception area, sweet red brick, climbing plant facades, Gertude Jekyll-inspired gardens, croquet lawn and a sense of calm.
Discreet lounges adorn the terrace, near the pond and thundering fountain, encouraging guests to relax with a drink from the bar.
However, it’s not all Old English, with chic, fresh-looking and tastefully modernized backside accommodations, some rooms with terraces and seating areas.
Food and beverages
Montagu often sells for the strength of its culinary offerings, and the exquisite seven-course tasting menu that accompanies the Classic Car Break – with matching wines – makes it clear why.
The award-winning “Terrace Restaurant” with three AA awards, under the guidance of Executive Chef Nathan Eades, offers a true dining experience that is a great way to end a day in a vintage car.
The tasting menu includes well-rated treats like Old Winchester Cheese Tartlet with Roscoff onion, pickled nuts and yeast flakes, while the outstanding Crispy Duck Egg is accompanied by English peas, smoked bacon and Montagu chard.
Many of the ingredients come from the hotel’s garden, along with other organic produce from the surrounding Hampshire countryside. Perhaps the highlight of the tasting courses – each meticulously presented – is the Lymington Crab with Isle of Wight tomatoes, pickled cucumber and basil. Or maybe the Roasted Monkfish with Dorset Cauliflower, Nasturtium and Pink Peppercorns. The sommelier recommends the best wines to accompany each course, with an unfailing eye and nose.
Discretion and mysterious invisibility are probably the watchwords of the Montagu Arms. The staff is very attentive, but remotely, always ready to offer assistance with luggage, advice or directions, always with a smile. They emerge out of nowhere at the right time. It is not easy to find the right balance but the Montagu has it with a T.
Beaulieu’s big draw is – of course – the National Motor Museum, and after all these years (it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022) it still knows how to please the crowd.
Beautifully laid out in large grounds, they don’t just cram in rows of old cars; they showcase carefully selected beauties in enticing groups, each telling a compelling story.
Current highlights in an ever-changing rotation include “The History of Motoring in 50 Objects”. If you visit before the end of October, when it closes, you should go online with “Bond In Motion,” which celebrates No Time To Die.
With over 280 vehicles there is something for everyone, including Edwardian ‘palaces’ on wheels, motorhomes, F1 cars and other racing stars, pioneering vehicles and a mouth-watering selection of motorcycles.
After all the excitement, guests of the Montagu Arms can relax again with complimentary access to the luxurious facilities of Brockenhurst’s elegant sister hotel, Careys Manor & SenSpa, a five-star Thai spa and leisure club, also surrounded by beautiful private gardens. Amenities available to guests – with free transfer from the Montagu Arms for those without a car – include an indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and gym, with treatments and access to the hydrotherapy pool available at an additional cost.
Don’t miss Exbury Gardens, 200 acres of informal plantings in an enchanting landscape along the Beaulieu River. Nor should its great little narrow-gauge steam railway, which curves its way through a tunnel, bridge, and past exotic plants.
Guests enjoying Classic Car Break stay in a spacious, well-appointed courtyard suite that, while echoing the feel of a country house, pushes things forward with a fresh, vibrant, and modern take. The decor is cool but calm and is said to be inspired by the flora and fauna of the New Forest. There are soft wood floors, large sofas and custom “stripped” wood furniture.
The fixtures and accessories are all of the highest level, as well as carefully selected objectsnext to the “vintage” radio, the large freestanding bathtub in the sumptuous marble bathroom and, of course, a practical wooden bathroom cabinet with music stand, on which to place your vintage car magazine.
Other in-room treats include a free decanter of seasonal gin, a Nespresso coffee machine, a minibar, a 52-inch TV, and full-sized SenSpa toiletries to take home later. There are also well-kept outdoor seating areas for alfresco drinking or dining.
Celebrate a ‘special’ event, perhaps an important birthday. Even non-oilers should enjoy gliding around the New Forest in a classic convertible with the prospect of a seven-course tasting dinner at the end of the game and a treat or two at the nearby spa, while the National Motor Museum offers a superb, nostalgic journey into the memory with drawings even for those who are totally uninterested in the automotive scene.
How to get there
Driving to this quiet New Forest retreat from central London takes around two and a half hours, along the M3 or, depending on your starting point, perhaps the A3 / M27. The Montagu Arms offers free parking and the path – once you arrive in the New Forest – is magical. But remember to abide by the 40 mph speed limit, which is strictly enforced.
The Montagu Arms, Beaulieu, New Forest, SO42 7ZL
Tel: 01590 612324
The Montagu Arms luxury classic car holiday starts at £ 997 in a deluxe courtyard room.