The Marwell Hotel is a lovely 3-star property set amongst Hampshire woodlands. Near the historic city of Winchester, the hotel is made up of four “lodges” which are connected by glass enclosed walkways, allowing you to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings in comfort.
We found ourselves there as guests of the hotel on an autumnal weekend in October. It’s a real gem for kids, with lots of little touches from cute rubber ducks left in the bath to an activity packed with colouring books, crayons (even purple, my 8-year-old pointed out), dot-to-dots and puzzles. There’s a children’s outdoor play area and a creative children’s menu. You can borrow DVDs from an extensive library, but why watch DVDs when you are surrounded by such beautiful countryside?
We stayed in a family room, which had a queen bed with bunks for the girls. A floor to ceiling window opened to an expansive view of autumnal colour. The bathroom was clean and basic, with upscale Temple Spa products with a sense of humour: “Good Hair Day” shampoo, “Peace Be Still” calming face and body cream and a “Keep Calm” cleansing bar.
The Marwell has a welcoming spirit, with a shared “pantry” in each lodge which is stocked with a variety of homemade cookies (we had oatmeal and raisin) and fresh milk. The girls raided it several times!
There were little touches for mum and dad too. The tea and coffee station had a cafetière (yes!) and we ordered our favourite Sunday papers (I’m not telling which ones but I bet you could guess). And of course free wi-fi (and parking) always go over well with us.
After settling in, we borrowed towels from reception and visited the leisure centre, which has a large heated swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and small fitness room. I sat in a lounge chair and read Wolf Hall while the girls played Marco Polo in the swimming pool.
I think many guests visit the Marwell Zoo, which is literally right across the car park, but we opted for a living history lesson and decided to spend our time in the medieval city of Winchester. Though just an hour from our home in the Thames Valley, we had never been before. Winchester did not disappoint, from the gorgeous gothic cathedral to its Jane Austin and Harry Potter connections to King Arthur’s roundtable.
First on our list was Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in England and the longest in Europe. After purchasing our ticket (£7.50 for adults, free for kids) we joined a 1-hour guided tour. Having been immersed in Wolf Hall over the past month, I was fascinated by the Tudor and Reformation connections and the girls occupied themselves with the four-page treasure map of the Cathedral, ticking off the main sites as we visited.
The library houses the 12th century Winchester Bible, a national treasure (the girls were intrigued to learn that the red ink used was make from crushed beetles). King Henry VIII made Stephen Gardiner Bishop of Winchester, and Gardiner later performed the marriage of Mary Tudor in the Cathedral. All signs of St Swithunl — best known for his miracle working, it’s said the weather on his feast day will continue for 40 days — disappeared after the Reformation. Jane Austin spent her last days in Winchester to be near her physician, and is buried in the cathedral. Then there was the diver, William Walker, who saved the Cathedral by shoring up it’s foundation by laying 25,000 bags of concrete. The history lessons go on and on…
Our oldest is reading Michael Morpurgo’s Arthur High King of Britain, so we had to visit The Great Hall and see King Arthur’s Round Table. Legend says this is the original table used by King Arthur and his Knights, though modern theory and scientific dating suggest 13th or early 14th century.
Almost as famous is the prestigious boy school Winchester College, England’s longest continually running school, dating back from the 1300s. Harry Potter fans may recognize it, as two building were used in the films. That was enough to take away any hint of boredom for my 9-year-old.
After visiting the college, we took a walk along the Itchen river, which inspired Keats to write Ode to Autumn (the river, not our walk!)
After all that history, we needed a little retail therapy! Back in the city centre, independents and high street favourites flourish together. Don’t miss P & G Wells Booksellers, a proper old-fashioned indy book store with a large children’s area, and the Old Fashioned Sweetie Shop, which carries Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans – tasty jelly beans with weird names like vomit, soap and rotten eggs! And of course there’s M&S, Debenhams, White Stuff, Laura Ashley, Jack Wills, Joules, Hollister, Waterstones and much more.
Net? The Marwell Hotel is a nice, economic base for exploring Winchester and its surrounding areas. The kids will have fun too.
If you go:
Marwell Hotel Thompson’s Ln, Colden Common, Hampshire SO21 1JY +44 01962 777681 www.marwellhotel.co.uk
Marwell Wildlife Thompson’s Ln, Colden Common, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 1JH +44 01962 777407 www.marwell.org.uk We didn’t go, so I can’t recommend it, but it is literally on the hotel’s doorstep.
Winchester Cathedral 9 The Close Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9LS 01962 857200 winchester-cathedral.org.uk One of the largest cathedrals in England and more than 1,000 years old, Winchester Cathedral has links with King Alfred, the Tudors and Jane Austin! Adults £7.50, kids go FREE and if you gift aid you can use the ticket for an entire year.
Winchester College, College St, Winchester SO23 9NA +44 01962 621100 www.winchestercollege.org. Prestigious independent boys school that was featured in the Harry Potter films. Check the schedule for the guided tours.
The Great Hall Castle Ave, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8PJ +44 01962 846476 www3.hants.gov.uk Medieval building founded in 1067. Only the Great Hall still stands; it houses a museum of the history of Winchester, including Arthur’s roundtable. FREE
Maison Blanc 154 High St, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9BA +44 01962 877563 www.maisonblanc.co.uk Fab for coffee, cakes and people watching.
Loch Fyne 18 Jewry St, Winchester SO23 8RZ +44 01962 872930 www.lochfyneseafoodandgrill.co.uk Reasonably priced seafood and modern decor.
P & G Wells Booksellers 11 College St, Winchester SO23 9LZ +44 01962 852016 www.bookwells.co.uk Proper old-fashioned indy book store with a large children’s area.
Old Fashioned Sweetie Shop 62 High Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9BX +44 01962 861978 www.oldfashionedsweetieshop.co.uk Quirky sweet shop with items like Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans – tasty jelly beans with weird names like vomit, soap and rotten eggs! Kids will love this place.
Joules 51 High St, Hampshire SO23 9BX +44 01962 84921 www.joules.com My new favourite British country clothing shop. Tom Joule brightens up classics and always brings out something eccentric, like his bright pink welllies and “Crown Joules” boxers.
Note: Our accommodation was provided by the Marwell Hotel for the purposes of this review. All opinions are mine and my family’s.