Continuing my “pre-cruise hotel stay” theme, I decided to explore outside of Southampton this weekend, finding myself at Marwell Hotel, about 10 miles north east of Southampton, knocking on Winchester’s doorstep, a stone’s throw from Tywford, yet in a peaceful Hampshire enclave all of its own. Read on to find out how it compared to the Southampton choices I have recently made and (mostly) loved.
Location & Grounds
As a recently settled Hampshire boy, nowhere is far from cruise central, blissful countryside, a shake of history, or a twist of quaint villages. Marwell Hotel may not be located dock side for cruise departures but more than makes up for this with a unique charm of its own, ample facilities to suit business functions, weddings, or indeed adults and families alike looking for a getaway. According to the website Marwell Hotel “was built in 1989, the architect taking inspiration from Treetops in Africa to bring a colonial safari lodge to Hampshire” with which I concur. Many of the buildings (“lodges”) and walkways are slightly raised off the ground and, surrounded by lush vegetation, conjure images of a Kenyan safari and stay I never quite got around to taking (but of which I have seen many images). Whilst Marwell Hotel does not appear to offer and park and cruise packages, or a shuttle to Southampton, for those travelling some distance, and intending on parking in Southampton pre-cruise, it is far from a hardship to stop over and continue a short journey the following morning, particularly if you leave as well rested as I did.
The Lobby & Check-in
The hotel offers free and ample parking for your stay. On arrival you are greeted by swaying palms and dark wooden lodges galore, which tells you have have indeed left Basingstoke. You could be forgiven for thinking, on a sun-drenched balmy day, much like ours, that you have just pulled up to your African lodge, about to be greeted by a game keeper ready to regale stories of how giraffe and elephants frequent the hotel’s spa area (actually, they are just next door at the Zoological Park).
The lobby, with its high wooden-beam-supported ceilings and views of fountains, gently swaying trees and, erm, a bar (secretly pleased) delivered on the wow factor. There are exits to lovely gardens with benches, tables and parasols. Back in the lobby, a small spiral staircase led to a mezzanine to enjoy a drink or a spot to eat, and a lounge area with sofas and a large television. To each side of reception are conference rooms, the restaurant and walkways leading to the savanna, I mean, your room.
Check-in was as speedy as a cheetah, efficient, friendly (a warm and genuine smile goes a long way with me) and assured. I felt welcomed and informed.
Marwell Hotel offers a range of accommodation to suit your needs and numbers in your group, from Standard, Superior, Executive to Bridal rooms, each with a unique look and feel. If you follow this link you will find images of the different rooms and all the little luxuries each grade offers. http://www.marwellhotel.co.uk/accommodation
I opted for an Executive room, at £120 for a Saturday evening, including breakfast. The room was cool-grey sporting mint accents, with shabby-chic furniture, and all the mod-cons you would expect and much needed air con. A hospitality tray of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cookies was appreciated and presented lovingly. A surprise birthday treat of comforting, chewy, chocolate cookies, and a “happy **rd birthday” chocolate-engraved black slate made me simultaneously smile and gasp (I don’t remember reaching this new age, you see). The cookies lasted all of a minute or two – delicious. If you are celebrating, make sure you let staff know in advance and I imagine they would be delighted to make your stay even more special.
The bathroom was spacious, bright white, and thankfully with a dimmer switch and touch sensitive soft blue lighting accessed in the “magic” mirror. The shower would fit 4 if you tried. With the option of a shower head or rain shower, both hot and powerful, I spent a good 30 minutes alternating and feeling perfectly relaxed and cleansed. I should add, I had a good night’s sleep. 10 hours in fact – unheard of!
My only critique of the room was a scuff here and there and what I can only describe, politely I hope, as green, plastic public building door handles which are not in-keeping with the quality elsewhere. The halls could also be a little less busy, perhaps with a plain and clean carpet. I recognise these are old buildings, and the management have clearly (and quite rightly) prioritised rooms over halls.
At this time I have yet to discover how Marwell caters for accessibility – if you have any information, please do comment and I will up date this review.
One of the many attractions of Marwell Hotel has to be its large pool, hot tub and sauna, accessed directly behind reception. Included in the price of the overnight stay, it was one of the key factors in deciding to stay. The glass doors that surround the pool afford views of your very own English savanna and contributes beautifully to that feeling of serenity and seclusion. It was a winner for me – I spent at least a couple hours relaxing my little bones.
Food & Beverages
I missed the boat – the dining boat that is. The main dining room is very popular, it seems, with residents and non-residents. This might have something to do with executive chef, Phil Yeomans, having previously worked in some particularly up-market London eateries. The menu here changes regularly, focusing on fresh seasonal fare. Take a look at the sample menu here: http://www.marwellhotel.co.uk/dining.
I opted, instead, for the bar menu – soups, salads, pastas, burgers, risotto – you get the idea. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the quality, and affordability. The meal was filling as evidenced by not having room for pudding – sacrilege when there are treacle puddings and the like to savour. We did find space for a Sauvignon, of course, which was reasonably priced at £4.50 for a medium sized glass, taken in the late evening sunshine courtesy of the garden.
Breakfast is served in the main dining room, a light and airy venue, and unless you order from a supplementary menu (for example pancakes, eggs Benedict…) it’s self-serve. Coffe and tea is served at the table. Cereals, yoghurt on ice, breads, pastries and staple hot food (bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans…) and a range of juices are available and inclusive of your over night stay. In all, good value and an unhurried, calm experience.
Of note, Marwell Hotel also offers afternoon tea and Sunday roasts – I have yet to try but am hoping I get invited soon!
I found Marwell Hotel to be very good value considering all the extras, the uniqueness of the product, the facilities and what was very professional service throughout. The excellent weather made for a particularly enjoyable visit, as did the close proximity to Marwell Zoological Park (literally on the doorstep) – a lovely, spacious, caring environment for our friendly critters of all shapes and sizes. Will I stay again? Oh yes, and not just pre-cruise.
Take a look at the video I made of the experience at the hotel. Your “like” & subscription would be appreciated. Likewise, follow me on Instagram @travel_blogger_jamie and Twitter @travelblogjamie. See you there!