Phew, with a week’s work over in Bristol I whizz down the motorway to the picturesque Hampshire town of Winchester to meet my sister for a spot of shopping, sightseeing and walking. We rendezvous from different directions in separate cars at The Winchester Hotel where we’ll be staying for two nights while we explore the area.
The hotel is a modern brick and glass fronted building with parking for guests at the back and a public car park immediately in front, which doesn’t add to the kerb appeal. However, things improve once you enter through the glass-fronted sliding doors into a stylish, modern reception area. To the right is the Gershwin bar with lots of dark wood, leather chairs and attractive coloured glass with a grand piano which I imagine will be tinkling away for drinks that evening.
The hotel is on the edge of town but only a 10 minute walk to the historic centre of Winchester and also a short walk from the station, with London only an hour’s train ride away. The free car park is a real bonus in Winchester, as parking is in short supply in the town centre that was never built for cars.
On checking in, we are directed to our second floor room, which we can either reach the long way via the lift or the short way via the stairs. Up two flights and at the end of the corridor we find our twin room, under the sloping roof and facing the car park. It’s not huge and is a little dark with only one small window but is nicely decorated with plenty of storage space and everything we need to use as a base for the weekend.
The bathroom is also very attractive with clean, modern fittings, a large mirror and Taylors of London toiletries. There’s an efficient shower above the deep bath in which we enjoy a long hot soak after we’ve walked part of the South Downs Way. We appreciate the full length mirror, spacious wardrobe, ironing board and hairdryer tucked away in its own compartment in the desk area – a girl always likes to look her best. There’s a kettle with everything you need to make that essential early morning cup of tea and a fridge to store our snacks with a couple of bottles of complimentary water. For the bloggers among us there’s a safe to leave my laptop and free wifi too – it’s the kind of hotel where I’d happily stay for business as well as for a weekend break in Winchester.
We only stop long enough to leave our bags and then we’re off into town, where we’re booked in for dinner at The Old Vine, near the Cathedral. This 18th century inn has bags of character, with a restaurant full of old beams and old fashioned charm which has been given a bit of designer treatment. They pride themselves on using local ingredients and I go for the smoked salmon mousse with salad which is both pretty and delicious, followed by a pan-fried confit of duck salad scattered with pomegranate seeds – very Nigella. It’s all very convivial with plenty of real ales to try and the menu is reasonably priced too.
After a good night’s sleep back at The Winchester Hotel, we allow ourselves a bit of a lie-in before going down to breakfast in the restaurant area that’s just beyond the bar. There are two seating areas to choose from, and we sit in the one that’s light and airy with glass windows along one side facing out to the car-park although the lipstick pink blinds and frosted tree motifs cleverly disguise the view. The other area is separated by a dark wood dividing wall and is more cosy with shimmering wall-paper and cream leather banquettes as well as more of that coloured glass on display.
Once seated we are immediately offered coffee or tea which is brought to our table and really enjoy the buffet selection of cereals with nuts, seed and dried fruit, pastries, bread and a range of cooked breakfast dishes. The staff are all extremely helpful and we are impressed with the attentive service where everything we ask for is brought to us very quickly.
After breakfast we pop downstairs to investigate the pool and spa – although we don’t have time for a dip, it looks very inviting with a small shaped pool and some loungers, more a place for relaxing after a treatment than for a proper swim, but if you want exercise you can always use the gym.
Fortified by our excellent breakfast we walk into Winchester’s historic centre and head for the cathedral where we find a farmer’s market in full swing. There are plenty of tempting cakes, cheeses and pies to choose from so we decide to buy our lunch of chicken pie and lardy cake to have as a picnic later. The cathedral is one of Winchester’s main attractions – there’s a charge to go in except at times of worship but there’s a lot to see inside and guided tours run every half hour or so. Although the guide’s talk is fascinating, we decide to hire an audio-guide so that we can go at our own speed, learning all about the Cathedral’s history, visiting the grave of Jane Austin and the flooded crypt with a surreal Antony Gormley sculpture ankle deep in water. There’s a pleasant glass café in the courtyard opposite, but we skirt around to the cathedral close and admire the flowers in the small Dean Garnier garden, then through the Medieval city gate where we find the house where Jane Austin spent her last weeks before she died.
Past the Winchester College we find Wolvesey Castle, the former Bishop’s palace that’s now in ruins and run by National Heritage. Further on we follow the pretty river walk towards the Winchester City Mill which is run by the National Trust, where we see grain being ground into flour by the millers and find out about the otters that live under the mill race. By now it’s around lunch time but after our hotel breakfast we’re not yet ready to eat our farmer’s market goodies, so we head back to The Winchester Hotel to pick up our cars and drive a little way out of town for the start of the walk we’ve planned on part of the South Downs Way. Having two cars means that we can do it the lazy way and park a car at each end of the walk which takes us the rest of the afternoon, walking along wooded lanes with views of the bright yellow rapeseed fields and a the odd hare and startled pheasant scuttling away. We end the day with a shandy and a lamb hot-pot at The Flowerpots Inn that’s got a brewery attached and has won numerous awards for its real ale.
Then it’s back to the hotel for a long soak in the bath to recover from our walk and another comfortable night. It’s Sunday morning and after an excellent breakfast we walk back into town again to see a couple more things that we don’t want to miss. There’s The Great Hall with the 13th Century painted King Arthur table hanging on the wall and then we walk a little further up the hill into the Peinsula Barracks that was built as a palace for Charles II and then turned into a military barracks. Now these beautiful buildings are private apartments but there are several military museums housed in the grounds. Mid-morning and it’s time to check out of The Winchester Hotel and so we decide to drive out of Winchester though the Hampshire countryside.
Our first stop is the National Trust property of Hinton Ampner we find a country house that was built at the end of the 18th Century but with interiors remodelled in elegant Georgian style after a fire that devastated the house in 1960. The gardens are beautiful too with herbaceous borders overlooking the landscaped parkland, wildflowers enclosed by clipped hedges and a pretty All Saints church. After a late lunch in the tea rooms in the stables my sister heads for home but my curiosity has been aroused by the Winchester connections with Jane Austen and I continue to the village of Chawton at the former home of Jane Austen which is now open to the public as a Jane Austen House Museum. This was the house where Jane Austen wrote many of her most popular novels and it gave me a fascinating insight into her family life.
I hope you’re not out of breath after our whistle-stop tour of Winchester and the surrounding area, although there’s far more to see than you could pack into just one weekend. The Winchester hotel provided an attractive and comfortable base for all our explorations and I’d happily stay there again. I’d recommend the hotel for couples and groups of friends who want a high quality and modern hotel that is well located if you’re arriving by car or train for a visit to Winchester and the Hampshire countryside.
The Winchester Hotel, Worthy Lane, Winchester, SO23 7AB, Tel: 01962 709988
Rooms at The Winchester Hotel start at around £125 per night for a classic twin or double and we were kindly hosted by The Winchester Hotel and Tourism South-East. Check for the best hotel prices in Winchester and book here.
What we liked about The Winchester Hotel
- Stylish décor in the reception, bar and restaurant areas
- Comfortable, well designed modern style bedrooms and bathrooms with all the amenities you could wish for
- Excellent buffet breakfast, nicely presented with a wide selection to choose from
- High levels of service and friendly, helpful staff
- A good location if driving or arriving by train with a free car park and walking distance to Winchester town centre
- Attractive spa and pool area if you like to relax
But not so keen on
- There are no gardens and its probably not a place you’d want to spend much time in the day
- Our room was a little dark and on the small side for 2 people
- With a public car park in front of the hotel, the hotel is lacking in kerb appeal
(But these are minor quibbles – the hotel is one of the most popular in Winchester and we could see why)
More things to see in Winchester
Visitor information for Winchester
For more information on things to do in Winchester and the surrounding area you will find the following websites useful;
Visit South East England – Your guide for fun things to do and places to visit in south-east England covering Kent, East and West Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey