Travel: Lainston House Hotel, Winchester

lh-hero.jpgIt's played host to American presidents in its time but you don't have to be George Bush Sr or Jimmy Carter to enjoy the tranquility of Lainston House Hotel.

Originally a 17th Century country house it's been a hotel for 30 years and is widely regarded as one of the best in the county and it's perfect for a weekend retreat from the hassles of London life.

Set in 63 acres of rolling Hampshire countryside this is a place to kick back and relax. It's just over an hour from London by car, but it could be on the other side of the world in terms of peace and quiet.

That's why the likes of Sir Michael Caine, Sting and Madonna have been regular guests.

Country sports are the name of the game here. The rivers Test and Itchen are on the doorstep, offering some of the best fly fishing water in the world, and if you haven't got the tackle to land a trout the hotel will provide it.

lh-play-shooting480.jpgThose who prefer more of a bang can try clay pigeon shooting or game shooting in season. There's also archery and air pistol shooting, while bird lovers will enjoy the chance to get up close and personal with some of our native birds of prey with falconry displays from former Hampshire cricketer Billy Taylor.

More traditional outdoor pursuits include tennis, cycling and croquet, while there's also a well-appointed gym for guests to use.

For more genteel pastimes - or if the weather's grim - there's a compendium of games available, from chess to backgammon, or if you really need a 21st Century fix you can take a games console back to your room.

But having seen your room, you might just want to stay there anyway. The quirky individuality of the bedrooms is a delight, each one individually designed and a perfect antidote to chain hotel hell.

The deluxe junior suite I had was bigger than many London flats and boasted a vast four poster bed you needed a ladder to climb into. Even the bathroom was huge.

lh-food5.jpgHampshire produces some of the best food in the country, from pork to watercress, and there is plenty of it to be found on the menu of the award winning restaurant. Fine dining in somewhat formal surroundings - lots of wood panelling and antique pictures - is a pleasure.

The kitchen is overseen by award-winning chef Andy McKenzie, and his commitment to local ingredients includes vegetables from the hotel's own garden.

There's also a very well stocked wine cellar, and if you're feeling flush there's a selection of Armagnacs and cognacs to sample, some dating back to 1811 and costing a cool £420 a double.

Lainston House is conveniently located to explore some of the other treasures of Hampshire, such as the New Forest, but sitting in its own beautiful and tranquil rural location there's not much reason to venture anywhere

lainstonsnow480.jpgAnd London? You'll almost have forgotten it by the end of a weekend.

Rooms from £245 per night. Go to lainstonhouse.com.

Places to visit and things to do in Hampshire:

Winchester

King Alfred.jpgThe ancient capital of England is a must-see for history buffs, with its walls, museums and magnificent cathedral, the burial place of Jane Austen.

It's also got plenty of bars and restaurants for those looking for a more contemporary night out.

Go to visitwinchester.co.uk.

Marwell Wildlife

Amur_Tiger.jpgBig cats and meerkats are just some of the animal attractions at this zoo and conservation centre on the edge of Winchester.

As well as seeing magnificent rhinos, giraffes and crocodiles a visit will help fund Marwell's work to reintroduce endangered species back into the wild, both in the UK and abroad.

Go to marwell.org.uk.

National Motor Museum, Beaulieu

beaulieu.jpgPetrol-heads should make tracks for the stunning collection of cars at Lord Montagu's country pile in the New Forest. An exhibition of James Bond vehicles is new for 2012.

And if all that's too much, you can always go for a stroll in the Forest afterwards.

Go to beaulieu.co.uk.

Mid-Hants Railway

watercressline .jpgTrain-spotting with a difference for steam train enthusiasts is the famous Watercress Line, which runs along 10 miles of track between Alresford and Alton.

There are often special events on the line, while on most days it's possible to visit its yard at Ropley to see the engines up close.

Go to watercressline.co.uk.

Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum

Dickens .jpgIt's his bicentenary so why not make the trip to Dickens's Portsmouth birthplace, preserved as a museum furnished in the style of 1809 when John and Elizabeth Dickens set up their first home there.

Legend has it Dickens failed to find his birthplace on his last visit to the city in 1866.

Go to charlesdickensbirthplace.co.uk.