Things to see and do in Alresford
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Fashionistas, foodies and festival goers will find Alresford is all they need for a break away
Let’s shop! The gorgeous, gasp-worthy old market town of New Alresford with its colour-washed Georgian townhouses is a top-notch shopping destination. For a start it has a selection of chic boutiques for every clothing need. Latest fitness-wear for your spin or yoga class? Visit Fitique with everything from Asics trainers to Tribe tees and running tights. Wedding coming up? Definitely Moda Rosa for glam, head-turning pieces from Fee G, Goat and Libelula. Stylish, every day clothes to update your wardrobe? Delilah is a find – inspired by Scandi chic with labels including Mos Mosh patterned jeans and Soaked in Luxury relaxed tops. Finish the look with new shoes - Hêtre is irresistible with totally covetable pale pink Chelsea boots by Penelope Chilvers among names not usually found outside London. At the other end of the style spectrum, If you want country comfort, there’s recently refurbed Roxton’s with fleeces, tweeds and waterproofs.
Looking to update your home rather than your wardrobe? Alresford’s collection of homeware stores are inspirational. More By Design is an impressive Georgian showroom displaying lighting and cushions designed in-house as well as handmade rugs and kelims from India and Nepal, perfect for adding colour and texture to schemes. Interior Style has accessories such as side tables, mirrors and contemporary ornaments to provide finishing touches. Then there’s Design Realities for classic country style.
Refresh your look with a restyle at Hair Art or a Clarins facial at Alresford Beauty. Buy the kids the cutest boots and shoes at Billy Goat. Enjoy a browse at old-fashioned Laurence Oxley bookshop with new and second-hand books including rare editions. Finally, pick up a souvenir of your stay from Alresford Gift Shop, Long Barn, growers and distillers of lavender, creating lavender soaps, lavender candles and lavender face creams among other delights, or The Naked Grape, independent wine merchant stocking local ale, cider and fizz.
Explore the local countryside. This can be done by steam train on the Watercress Line, a heritage railway run as a charity with most engines skilfully restored by volunteers from ones scrapped by British Rail in the sixties. Steam trains are timetabled over Easter and at weekends in April and then most days until the end of September. ‘Standard Travel’ days allow unlimited travel along the 10 miles of track so you can hop on and off at all four stations: Alresford, Ropley (the line’s engineering hub where you can see restoration in action from the viewing galleries), Medstead & Four Marks (with new Goods Shed exhibition) and Alton. Upcoming event days over Easter include Meet Tomas the Tank Engine and his Friends with magic tricks and vintage fairground rides at Ropley.
Otherwise take a stroll. This is walking country with miles of footpaths of varying length and difficulty. An easy one that’s accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs is the Millennium Trail, about a mile in length and running alongside the River Arle, past the Memorial Gardens, Fulling Mill and Eel House. Alre Valley Trail is a further walk looping off the Millennium Trail. There is also Alresford Watercress Trail, along farm tracks to Old Alresford and back.
Long distance footpaths running through Alresford include the Itchen Way, from the Itchen’s source through Winchester to Southampton. There’s the Wayfarer’s Way, a 70-mile path finishing at Emsworth Harbour. Plus Three Castles Path, from Winchester’s Great Hall to Windsor Castle. These and others criss-cross and bypass Abbotstone Down, beyond Old Alresford, a scenic retreat of grassland and woodland with the remnants of an Iron Age fort.
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Evening and sleeping
You need to have worked up an appetite as Alresford is good at food. There’s everything from popular Indian restaurants, such as Alresford Indian & Bangladeshi Restaurant, to Good Food Guide recommended Pulpo Negro with authentic tapas dishes served in a stylish pared back restaurant with plain wooden tables and Mediterranean-style tiled bar.
But Alresford excels at proper cosy country pubs. These include The Horse & Groom on Broad Street, a snug 17th century inn that’s all exposed beams and brickwork, comfy armchairs and open fires plus good, tasty menu. Or there’s The Globe, a pretty pub with charming views over Old Alresford Pond serving good pub classics such as wild boar stew with sage and thyme dumplings or steak and mushroom pie with mash. Its sister pub is The Alresford Cricketers on Jacklyns Lane, another homely pub with dishes to suit all tastes – from fish and chips to boeuf bourguignon. Both these pubs also have regular live music evenings.
You can eat and stay over at The Bell Inn, an old coaching inn painted a striking shade of deep green, with a delicious menu including light and fluffy twice-baked watercress and spinach soufflé and confit of Hampshire pork belly and crackling. Nearly opposite is The Swan Hotel – dating from the 18th century although records indicate there has been a hostelry on the site since 1552. Today this friendly, family-run business is owned by Angela Graham and is run with the help of her son Oliver, daughter Jessica and niece Louise. It has recently had a revamp and features panelled restaurant, bar with tables in old stable stalls, and bedrooms decorated a stylish rustic theme, including suites with four posters and freestanding tubs, and family rooms with chunky bunks and animal motif cushions.
Coffee stops and lunches
Take your pick from a temptation of traditional tea rooms such as Tiffin Tea Rooms on West Street, specialising in loose leaf teas presented in vintage china cups, along with crumpets, toasted teacakes and cheese and watercress scones. Or nearby Mange 2 Deli is recommended for very good coffee and pastries. Meanwhile on East Street Long Barn’s chic café is perfect for brunch, try the delish Long Barn fry up, and lunch, with warming bowls of thick soups and stews.
My Alresford, Mark Baring, Owner, The Grange
Take a magical walk eastwards from Northington Church, along the permissive footpath through the woods, and end up at the front door of The Grange. This important Grade 1 listed neo-classical mansion, with its origins dating back to the 17th Century, is surrounded by a stunning Arcadian landscape. The Grange is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Europe. It was transformed by architect William Wilkins in the early 19th century into a magnificent residence resembling a Greek temple, complete with resplendent Doric portico.
“The house and park have been in the ownership of my family for over 200 years. The house, although no longer occupied, is in the guardianship of English Heritage and the grounds are open free to the public seven days a week.”
This hidden gem just outside Alresford is a wonderful place for a dog walk, picnic or relaxing on the grass in the sun. Currently The Grange is home to The Grange Festival who host an annual summer opera and music festival in the adjoining 500 seat theatre in the former orangery. Throughout the rest of the year, the house and grounds are available for private functions. Last summer the Hollywood director Baz Luhrmann brought his production team to The Grange where they filmed a lavish commercial for fashion brand H&M.
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