Thatched roof homes, cozy country pubs, tiny towns, and beautiful vistas that stretch for miles close to the English Channel: this is The New Forest in Hampshire, England. Just 2 hours from London, the area is now a National Park but was first used as a royal hunting area for William the Conqueror in 1079. Think Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, part of which was filmed here. More than anywhere else, this is the England where fairies seem to hide in trees and where lifting up a rock might reveal magic dust.
The best part of The New Forest is how many of its traditions live on - New Forest ponies are allowed to roam free, and I had to stop my car often to let them pass. In the fall, a historic custom continues as hundreds of pigs are let loose to eat fallen acorns and other nuts that are poisonous to the ponies and cattle, typically for 6-8 weeks. The pigs must be marked by their owners and from this ritual, known as pannage, comes delicious acorn-fed pork sold in the late fall.
Besides the great hotels in the area (Chewton Glen, The Pig, and Lime Wood are the best), I also loved afternoon tea at The Stanwell House in Lymington, an adorable little town on the water.