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Contemporary city centre hotels and sporting facilities meet the Solent and the New Forest to make Southampton an ideal destination for corporate events with an active approach
Southampton doesn’t attract the tourist hoards like Brighton and Portsmouth, so it’s a more business-focused city than many of its coastal cohorts. But a backwater this isn’t – the city has its own airport, with flights from Europe and the UK, and the train from London Waterloo reaches Southampton Central in just over an hour. It’s also perfectly placed for the Solent, the New Forest and the Hamble Valley, meaning that, while the city’s venues offer functionality and volume rather than originality, there’s plenty in the vicinity to occupy attendees.
The beginning of the new millennium brought new homes for the city’s two favourite sporting teams: Southampton Football Club and Hampshire County Cricket Club. It’s been a boon for event organisers, who have been gifted with two sizeable modern venues with a vast range of spaces. The city’s football team may be showing some poor form of late, but St Mary’s Stadium (tel: 0845 688 9448) remains a popular venue for corporate events. A total of 59 spaces includes the 47 executive boxes, seating 10 for boardroom meetings, plus 12 event suites, the largest of which can accommodate 500 guests. The events team at St Mary’s is eager to please, and there’s full technical support on site.
Meanwhile, conveniently close to the M27, the Rose Bowl (tel: 02380 472002), home of Hampshire CCC, offers a purpose-built conference centre and suites inside its smart Pavilion, with a maximum capacity of 350. Organisers can combine a morning meeting with an afternoon of cricket here. The venue currently hosts county cricket and one-day internationals, with the first Test Match scheduled for 2010, by which time a four-star resort hotel and 18-hole golf course will have been added to the complex.
Large hotels are a strong suit for Southampton, and there are plenty of options for organisers looking for competitively priced event spaces and accommodation. The city now offers more than 2,000 hotel bedrooms following the recent opening of the huge three-star Jury’s Inn (tel: 02380 371111) in the centre, plus at least another 1,500 rooms within a 20-mile radius in the Hamble Valley and the New Forest. Expect to find the big names represented, albeit with few surprises. The De Vere Grand Harbour (tel: 0845 375 2808) remains the only five-star city hotel in the area, and, although the aggressively contemporary façade might not be to everyone’s taste, it has 173 bedrooms and eight well-appointed meeting rooms ranging from boardrooms to the 500-capacity Mayflower Suite. Meanwhile, the recently refurbished Novotel (tel: 02380 330550) has launched new bedrooms and re-designed conference facilities. The public areas are bright and modern, and the restaurant offers booths so that lone business diners can watch television over breakfast.
Privately owned boutique properties in Southampton are a rarity, but the White Star Tavern (tel: 02380 821990) on trendy Oxford Street is a real find, with 13 neat, stylish rooms. Think Egyptian bed linen, roll-top baths, fluffy towels and flat-screen televisions. The venue is available for exclusive use, and there’s a 16-capacity function room and an attractive restaurant and bar. It was used by the crew of the Titanic before its final voyage, but don’t let that put you off.
Out of Town
As it’s still early days for the independent hotel scene in Southampton, organisers looking for quirkier or more luxurious venues in the area would be well advised to explore options in the New Forest, a 1,000-acre national park on the city’s doorstep. Hotel Terravina (tel: 02380 293784) near Lyndhurst is an absolute gem. Essentially an urban boutique hotel in a serene, leafy setting, the property is owned and managed by the co-founder of Hotel du Vin, Gérard Basset and his wife Nina. Guests are in safe hands here. With 11 homely but impeccably styled individual bedrooms, a smart 36-capacity function room with a pretty rambling terrace, and an exceptional destination restaurant, the venue can be hired on an exclusive-use basis as well as room by room. The ‘vina’ aspect of the title is significant – Basset is currently one of the world’s most qualified wine experts, and can share his vinous wisdom with corporate groups in the purpose-built wine cellar before dinner.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to accommodate VIPs and have the sky-high budgets required, the most sumptuous lodging in the area is undoubtedly found at the privately owned Chewton Glen (tel: 01425 275341), a hotel, spa and country club 40 minutes from Southampton city centre. It’s a stunning venue: 130 acres of grounds, inviting lounges, full leisure facilities and 58 lavish rooms and suites. Even by five-star standards, service is absolutely impeccable, and the location surprisingly close to the coast – only ten minutes’ on foot, in a pair of the hotel’s welly selection. The level of comfort also extends throughout the event spaces, with private dining and meeting capacity for up to 140 guests, and plenty of country pursuits available onsite. V&E
For more information about holding events here, contact Destination Southampton on 023 8023 5211.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Summer 2008.