YOUR LIFE: TRAVEL : Heaven Is a Place on Earth; GRANIA McFADDEN SAMPLES FIVE-STAR LIVING Chewton Glen Is in a League of Its Own When It Comes to Luxury
Byline: GRANIA McFADDEN
SOMETIMES - just sometimes - everything falls into place and you realise that life's not so bad, after all.
There's even the occasional moment when you think that if it all ended right here, right now, that would be fine.
Chewton Glen Country Club in New Milton, Hampshire, offers many moments like this.
Nestled into the side of the New Forest, this glorious hotel offers a luxury that other hotels just can't touch. It's no surprise that Chewton, owned by Martin and Brigitte Skan, regularly features on lists of the world's best hotel, best spa and best resort.
Fly with British European into Southampton airport, and heaven waits just 20 minutes down the road. On this very special trip, I was collected by my driver John (I know, what can I say?) in his gleaming navy Jaguar.
He took me on a short tour through the New Forest, and told me all about special corner of England.
Although the New Forest is (obviously) awash with trees, there are no great oaks to be seen - they were all cut down to build Nelson's fleet.
The New Forest was bequeathed to England's monarchs by William the Conquerer, and its soil is rich with history. William Rufus used to gallop through it - before he was shot dead by bowman.
We drive through some of the dozens of little villages scattered through the New Forest ("millionaires retire here," says John ).
But this is the domain of the New Forest ponies, which have right of way down the little high streets, and which attract thousands of tourists (or 'grockles' as we're known to the locals) every year.
And as we drive along, we pass groups of ponies standing on street corners, like insolent teenagers daring us to look.
Then we approach New Milton.
"Welcome to Chewton," says John, as his car slides into the driveway.
And there it is - a beautiful Georgian house with rolling croquet lawn, adjacent golf course, and - if you listen carefully - the sound of the sea just 20 minutes away.
Chewton Glen House dates back to 1732. Owned by George Marryat, it was visited by his brother, Capt Frederick Marryat, who gathered material for his novel The Children of the New Forest, there.
Recently voted the best country hotel in the world, with the finest spa facilities in Europe, Chewton is now creating its own legacy.
Arriving there is like turning up for a rather fabulous house party hosted by a very rich uncle. You're welcomed as an old friend, and discreetly shown around the latest improvements.
Owner Brigitte Skan, whose husband Martin bought the hotel in 1966, takes a personal interest in the elegant decor at Chewton, and everything, from the great bowl of shiny red apples on the hall table, to the line of green wellington boots by the door, creates an atmosphere of quiet sophistication.
Fortune favours the travel writer, and I was shown to the hotel's Marrayat Suite - a sumptuous living room with terrace overlooking the clipped lawn, bedroom with king-sized bed and movie-star bathroom. …