The ever-so-slightly hipster city of Winchester in Hampshire is a fine choice if you want to be surrounded by countryside yet keep those urban comforts. A short drive from the New Forest and the south coast, this pretty city is often voted among the best places to live in the UK. Once the capital of England, the cathedral city has treats for history buffs at every turn. Add cool shops, brilliant pubs, lush rural vistas and trendy bakeries and you'll never want to leave.
Take a tour of the enormous gothic cathedral. It has a fascinating story to tell – a diver spent five years in the mud underneath it fixing the foundations. Its history stretches back to AD 642, so the building has bags of surprises, old and new, including an Antony Gormley statue in the crypt.
Wander along the River Itchen and within seconds you’ll be in lush countryside. Spy wildlife and ace views during the two-mile loop to the Hospital of St Cross, up St Catherine’s Hill and through the Water Meadows. Breathe in that fresh rural air.
Take your pick from the two best traditional boozers in town: The Black Boy or The Wykeham Arms, both of which are stuffed to the rafters with bizarre knick-knacks and taxidermy. Next, try the new and only craft beer joint in town: Overdraft Craft Ale Bar. If a cocktail is more your thing, head to Cabinet Rooms or Incognito. For ace wine from self-serve dispensers, visit The Black Bottle.
If the view from your bedroom window is a bus stop or a bin
store, your urban mind might very well be blown by the vistas from the cabins deep in Hampshire’s Blackwood Forest. The woodland near Winchester is home to 60 lodges, each with a huge picture window, framing nothing but towering beech trees. At the centre sits the Forest Retreat, a small shop, café and bar. Last orders are before 8.30pm so don’t expect any wild nightlife. Instead, settle into the hot tub on your terrace. Listen to the calming rustle of leaves and keep an eye out for a different kind of night-time wildlife. Katie Walker
From £595 for three nights.