Kate Morfoot, leading travel writer and founder of LoveToEatToTravel.com, finds that a stay at Sandy Balls in the New Forest provides the ideal place to relax.
We struck lucky with fabulous sunny weather during our long weekend stay in our luxury Zen Cabin at Sandy Balls Holiday Village in the New Forest, Hampshire.
Bubbling away in the hot tub, basking in the sunshine surrounded by leafy oak trees, a bellowing larch and a towering Scots Pine, it was wonderful, and we didn’t have the stress of airports either as it was only a three-hour drive from home.
With peace of mind that we were not going to get stranded in a foreign country due to Covid-19, we had our safe ‘Zen’ cabin to keep us socially distanced with our very own outdoor hot tub too! The other bonus? Our luxe cabin at Sandy Balls was dog friendly, therefore we could enjoy our holiday and explore the miles of stunning New Forest with our pooches.
Sandy Balls owned by Away Resorts is all about safe, family holidays. This holiday village is one of six to choose from across the UK and there are a range of high-quality lodges, luxury caravans and glamping tents to choose from.
Our ultimate ‘The Zen’ chill-out cabin was new, high end, luxurious and well-appointed and is ideal for couples and families alike, sleeping up to seven people. There’s lots of space to relax and socialise with an open-plan living area and a comfortable wraparound sofa in front of the 55” TV, which makes it ideal for those cosy winter breaks.
The principal bedroom has rustic wooden furniture, treescape pictures, complemented by a sumptuous king-sized bed, a flat screen TV and an en-suite with two basins in addition to the double shower. In the second bedroom there are three single beds for children, or two of the beds can be joined to make it a double, ideal for a second couple.
There’s a spacious modern kitchen and dining area which will easily cater for seven people. The Zen cabin provides a luxury welcome pack for your self-catering essentials and particularly helpful was a large fridge-freezer and a dishwasher. It was also lovey to have a large enclosed outdoor balcony terrace to enjoy the woodland scenery and of course, the luxurious hot tub.
Our cabin was situated by one of the routes where the alpacas are walked and led by enthusiastic children this causing immense amusement to us, but not always appreciated by the protectors of the Zen, our dogs!
To do – on site
There’s plenty to do at Sandy Balls to keep families entertained. There are daily organised activities including the 30-minute alpaca walks, the forest ranger woodland survival course, disc golf, target archery, arts and crafts, cycling and adventures on a Segway through the forest.
There are also miles of forest walks around the holiday village and must-see viewing points, such as the Giant’s Grave and Good Friday Hill providing spectacular landscapes that appeared on the map during Tudor times as ‘Sandyballas’ or Sandy Balls as it is known today. The name was given by large round sand and gravel outcrops that date back to ancient England times.
We made the most of the hot weather by spending time by the picturesque and serene River Avon, known as the River Field at Sandy Balls, that delivered the perfect spot for sunbathing with a picnic, while many people were taking the opportunity to enjoy fishing.
On site you will find places to eat including Aubrey’s Forest Kitchen or the Woodside Inn. There is also a supermarket in the village square. The leisure centre has a well-equipped gym, indoor pool, a jacuzzi, as well as a beauty salon.
To do – in the area
Sandy Balls is a spectacular base to explore the New Forest countryside within just 90 minutes from London, you will find ancient woodland, idyllic glades, open moors, heathland and cliff top walks. Cycle rides and walks are wonderful as you will meet native wild ponies, donkeys, mules and cows grazing roaming the countryside!
In the autumn, it is common to see hundreds of piglets which are let loose to roam into the forests to eat fallen nuts and acorns, of which the green acorns are poisonous to the New Forest ponies and cattle.
There’s plenty to do in the area including day visits to Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park, Hurst Castle, Marwell Zoo and Bournemouth Oceanarium. It is worth taking a trip to the historic town of Ringwood or to the lovely sandy beaches at Avon Beach.
The New Forest has an abundance of great places to eat with some of the best restaurants and pubs you can find in the area. We enjoyed The Goat at Downton for great food and local ales with a lovely outdoor garden, the Rockingham Arms at West Wallow for the best Sunday roast and the Horse and Groom at Woodgreen also for tasty traditional pub food.
Highly recommended for top nosh and a great atmosphere, a must visit on our list was THE PIG in Brockenhurst, a buzzy restaurant within a luxury hotel that prides itself on a 25-mile menu and most of the food is grown in its own kitchen garden. They have an impressive smoke house where they smoke their own salmon blended with Brockenhurst honey.
The varied menu has something delicious to suit all tastes including their home-produced pork, quail and hens’ eggs. We enjoyed the speciality saddleback crackling, quails’ eggs, cucumber carpaccio, Brixham scallops and Poole Bay plaice. There’s so much to try on the menu it’s going to need a return visit which means there’s my perfect excuse for a quick return back to the New Forest!
Since Covid-19, lockdown the Great British public has embraced staycation holidays with gusto. Camping and caravanning sites, holiday cottages and holiday parks have enjoyed a bonanza sell-out as people have scrambled to book their holidays here at home rather than their usual overseas vacation.
I don’t think I’m alone, the thought of flying (unless you have a private plane, of course) for an overseas holiday fills me with gloom rather than excitement by having to endure endless queues and wearing a constant face covering at the airport and on the flight.
Let’s face it, you can only string out eating a sandwich and drinking a cuppa for so long to have a mask break and don’t get me started on a possible last-minute cancellation or being stranded abroad – it would just be too disappointing to contemplate! That, together with a possible two-week quarantine when you get home.
So, for me, the UK it is, and where better when the sun is shining and where better than when it’s not? Well, a cosy cabin at Sandy Balls isn’t a bad place to zen!
From Friday to Monday prices start from £443.25 in a Zen lodge and for one week from £571.50 in November.
Address: Sandy Balls Holiday Village, Southampton Road, Fordingbridge, The New Forest, Hampshire SP6 2JZ
Phone: 01442 508850
Follow Kate’s food and travel adventures on Instagram @Love2eat2Travel and Facebook @LoveToEatToTravel.