Chalk downlands, fecund valleys, swathes of rolling hills and a coastline resplendent with maritime history: ignore Hampshire at your peril. It is one of England's loveliest yet least known counties. Jane Austen was born and died here; she lived at Chawton and was buried in magnificent Winchester Cathedral. Elsewhere, there’s the New Forest and numerous chocolate box villages, plus seaside towns packed with ice cream parlours and boutique shops. And along the coast, bustling harbours brim with glittering craft and visitors coming to unearth the secrets of this beautiful part of the world.
For a wholesome escape to some good old British countryside, the New Forest is your spot. It covers the majority of Hampshire’s southeast corner, blending heathland, forest trails, ancient woodlands and peaceful brooks. Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Beaulieu are the main towns – think pretty gift shops, cosy pubs and cute cafes serving cream teas. Surrounding these, walks of all shapes and sizes weave through unspoilt forest, home to an array of wildlife – including hundreds of friendly wild horses.
Hampshire's 20-mile Solent coastline has been a major shipping lane throughout history. The Titanic famously set sail from Southampton (discover more at the SeaCity Museum), and the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, was (and still is) based in Portsmouth. Further west along the coast is the pretty town of Lymington, which boasts a busy harbour full of flashy yachts, and a quaint cobbled street lined with gift shops and cafes serving New Forest Ice Cream. There are daily ferry services running from Southampton, Portsmouth and Lymington to the Isle of Wight.
Hampshire is heaven for families. The New Forest is a playground for adventure activities, such as cycling, horse riding or kayaking. In Beaulieu there’s a fascinating Motor Museum that houses a brilliant collection of vintage cars and memorabilia from the early days of motoring. From Beaulieu, there’s a nice walk along the river to Buckler’s Hard, an 18th-century shipbuilding village featuring a maritime museum. Elsewhere, Exbury Gardens is a great place for a walk and a picnic, and it has a steam railway running around the park that the kids will love.