Dorset Travel Guide
Our luxury experts have compiled a guide to some of the top locations to visit, sights to see and local cuisine to sample during your luxury cottage holiday in Dorset.
For a luxury cottage holiday beside the beautiful beaches of England’s south east coast, Dorset is a superb choice. Golden sands vie for attention with fossil-rich coves along the Jurassic Coast. Warm summers and relatively mild winters are another reason why Dorset is popular with holidaymakers who want to breathe in the sea air and catch some rays. However, with over half of the county being designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and much of it being rural, there is a wealth of beautiful countryside too – popular with walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. Meanwhile, large resorts like Bournemouth will cure that craving for non-stop entertainment. And, if you’re a foodie, the climate and environment are the perfect recipe for great local produce, including game and seafood.
Cranborne Chase is one of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Dorset and is renowned for its pretty villages including Cranborne which lies right at its heart. The village was the inspiration for Chaseborough in Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Today, you can follow in Hardy’s footsteps at the local Inn at Cranborne, which he visited often in the 19th and 20th centuries, and enjoy a pub lunch before a stroll along the banks of the River Crane. You’ll soon stumble upon a beautiful manor house, the historic gardens of which are opened to the public in the summer.
"Cranborne Chase offers varied countryside which is perfect for walkers and cyclists, whether you’re looking for a challenge or a gentle circular loop."
The panoramic, open landscapes here are a haven for flora and fauna including rare orchids and a wide range of butterflies in the summer months. Meanwhile, history buffs will be intrigued by sites such as Knowlton Church and Rings, known for its ruined Norman church, as well as the Neolithic Dorset Cursus which stretches across the Chase’s chalk downland. And, when it comes to dining, the venison and pheasant from the Chase features on many a restaurant’s menu.
Whilst in Dorset, you should pop over to the New Forest National Park in Hampshire, if you enjoy walks, cycling and horse-riding. Set aside as a hunting ground by William the Conqueror and following centuries of grazing by the famous New Forest ponies, deer and cattle, the area is known for some of the south east of England’s prettiest countryside. Many visitors come here to walk through the shaded woods, mossy groves and heathland, while families in particular enjoy cycling along the off-road routes. And, each season brings with it its own beauty from the springtime flowers to the rich colours of autumn.
“Within the New Forest there are lots of charming towns and cobblestone villages to discover with plenty of country pubs serving up delicious lunches.”
Attractions include Paultons Park adventure theme park and Peppa Pig World, the New Forest open top tour bus from Lyndhurst and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. On the River Beaulieu there are opportunities for canoeing and kayaking, whilst the New Forest also stretches down to the coastline, which is rarely crowded. Local produce is very tasty and there are farmers markets where you can pick goodies like local cider, sausages, honey, mushrooms and fresh crabs.
For a quintessential English seaside town, Bournemouth is one of the best, and with good reason as it boasts seven miles of award-winning, sandy beaches. It’s the largest resort in Dorset and to really experience beach life in this part of the south east, why not hire a traditional beach hut for the day, or even for the week? They’re a great place to keep your beach gear, make a cup of tea and relax. Meanwhile, there is plenty to see and do around the town, for families, couples, friends, or whoever you are travelling with.
“Bournemouth has it all. Beautiful parks and gardens, a fantastic range of shops – including the Victorian arcades, restaurants, cinemas and a casino, as well as vibrant nightlife from the bars and clubs, to concerts and shows at the Bournemouth International Centre and the Pavilion Theatre.”
Around and about, highlights include beautiful cliff top walks, Hengistbury Nature Reserve and the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum which is located in a wonderful historic house. For a bit of fun take the mini train to Boscombe Pier for a game of mini golf where balls are eco-friendly and turn into fish food when they hit the sea.
Lulworth Cove is a must when in Dorset. It is a stunning slice of unspoilt paradise: secluded, sheltered and with waters of the most beautiful blue colour. As part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast, Lulworth Cove is world famous for its unique geology. Families with small children will love dipping fishing nets into the rock pools at low tide, paddling and enjoying an ice-cream. There are a few shops at Lulworth Cove where you can buy snacks and beach accessories, whilst the Fossil Shop is a good place for gifts from pocket money trinkets to investment pieces.
“Walkers should join the South West Coast Path for walks with stunning views over the cliffs, caves, coves and sea.”
Do also visit the geological formations of Worbarrow Bay and the abandoned village of Tyneham, the iconic Durdle Door rock arch that sticks out of the sea, and the incredible Fossil Forest. Coasteering and kayaking are also available in the area, but for something a little more unusual you can book an experience day at the nearby Tank Museum. For something more sedate visit Lulworth Castle over in East Lulworth.
The Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers nearly half of Dorset’s countryside from Lyme Regis in the west, stretching inland to cover much of West Dorset and over to the border with Cranborne Chase, and down to Poole Harbour in the east. There’s breathtaking scenery at every turn and every landscape has a story to tell through its history, wildlife and thriving communities. The Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty incorporates heathlands around Wareham and Swanage, as well as the clay vales of West Dorset, and is a paradise for wildlife including birds, butterflies and reptiles.
"For incredible views, set out for a hike on the South Dorset Ridgeway, an ancient landscape between Dorchester and Weymouth that has over 1,000 archaeological sites from hillforts to stone circles."
Meanwhile, the Poole Harbour area is a must if only to see the beautiful beach of prestigious Sandbanks, but from here you can also take a boat trip to the nature reserve of Brownsea Island which is one of the few places in the south of England that red squirrels can be found.