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Published on Sunday, February 17, 2019

Hampshire hotel that's a hit with the ladies

Bev Fearis and her sister took their Mum to the Solent Hotel and Spa in Hampshire for her 75th birthday and found they weren't the only ones having a bit of quality girly time.

Location: Just off the M27 at Fareham, this four-star hotel is close to Southampton and Portsmouth cruise and ferry ports so perfect for an overnight stay before or after a cruise. With this in mind, the hotel has created a special 'cruise and stay' package which lets guests leave their car at the hotel for up to 15 nights for free. It's also just five miles from Southampton Airport, so ideal for a stay before an early flight. For leisure guests - who can drag themselves away from the spa - Whiteley Shopping Centre is a 15-minute walk, Hill Head beach is a 15-minute drive, and nearby is Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard (12 miles), Peppa Pig World (18), Goodwood (55) and the New Forest. The Solent's website doesn't lie when it says it's set in woodland and nature trails but, in fact, these are behind the hotel. In front is the car park, a roundabout, and a Lidl Supermarket.

First impressions: This is an attractive, red brick lodge-style hotel, with a deep sloping roof and porte cochère and reminded me of a plush North American ski or golf resort, especially when it was lit up at night. Once through the door you're in a rather grand, double-heighted, hexagonal-shaped, wood-panelled reception area dominated by a giant candelabra. A newer hotel - the Lodge at Solent - has been built next door and its country pub restaurant, the Parson's Collar, looked cosy and busy when we peaked through the windows.

Spa and fitness: Our stay was on a Saturday night three weeks into January and I had expected to have the spa pretty much all to ourselves. How wrong I was. There were dozens of ladies in fluffy robes chatting in the cafe, gossiping in the hot tub, lounging around the pool, and flicking through magazines in the spa waiting room. Making conversation in the sauna later we established there were two hen parties and a 40th birthday group staying that night. There were a few couples, too, and a family with two young boys splashing around in the shallow end. The spa has are eight treatment rooms, one of which is where my dear mother had her first ever full body massage (£70 for an hour, cheaper on weekdays). She loved it, and came out all glowing and smelling of essential oils. Meanwhile my sister and I did some lengths in the pool, sweated it out in the sauna and made the most of the tester bottles of wonderful Caudalie facial oils and creams in the spa reception. On Sunday morning I joined an intimate spin class - just me and four locals - in the fitness studio, next to the well-equipped gym. Hotel guests can join in the classes for free. It meant I could eat more of the fantastic 'homemade' granola at breakfast. 

Wining and dining: Like the spa, my fears of being the only ones in the hotel restaurant that night were unfounded. It was in full swing by 8pm, with one of the hen parties and the 40th birthday crew - now all glammed up - and a merry bunch at a post-Christmas office Christmas party in an adjoining private room, complete with crackers and decorations. According to our waitress it was the last one of the season. The main dining room is on two levels with large columns and alcoves which provide privacy. The menu covers all bases. It's mainly Mediterranean, with Spanish tapas starters such as salted peppers and seared chorizo. We opted for the buffet starter - a wedding-style feast of salads, seafood, cheeses and charcuterie - with a delicious basket of artisan breads with a rapeseed oil and balsamic dip. For mains there are steaks from local farms for around £30, fish dishes for around £27, lobster (£31.50) and cheaper options like pasta and roast chicken. Deserts were just under £7. I can highly recommend the sticky toffee pudding and ice cream and the warm chocolate tart (we shared!). Service was excellent and with a smile.

Rooms: Our family room - The Grange - was spacious and comfortable, with a king size bed and a large squishy sofa which doubled as a camp bed. Nice extra touches, much appreciated by Mum, were the Cafissimo coffee maker and the little carton of fresh semi-skimmed milk in the mini-bar fridge (much better than the usual UHT). There was also a pillow menu, although we were quite happy with the luxurious ones already on our super comfy beds, and even a little tray for hair straighteners.

Highs: I'm not generally a fan of hotel restaurants but this one had a nice buzz and the food was excellent value. Our in-bath shower was the best I've ever used in a hotel - simple to use and super powerful.

Lows: The spa area could have been kept a little tidier - there were used bath towels on many of the sunbeds and scattered around the changing area which, I felt, could have been cleared away by the staff, but in their defence it was a very busy afternoon. Ssdly the steam room wasn't working and apparently hadn't been for a week or so.

Verdict: Great for affordable spa breaks, conferences and somewhere to get a cruise holiday off to a good start. The hotel's conference rooms also host gin tastings, old skool discos and tribute nights - Robbie Williams is coming in May and Adele in June. Mum might go back and take Dad along.

Price: The lead-in rate for the stay & cruise package is from £99.50 per person and the lead-in B&B rate is £67.50 per person. Spa breaks from £79.

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