My boyfriend Charlie and I escaped to the flat as a pancake Norfolk country for a weekend of r’n’r, crisp country fresh air, green surroundings and wholesome food. Having left the organisation to the last minute, I scoured Mr and Mrs Smith which came up trumps and I booked a room at Strattons, recommended as ‘Not just a pretty face’ but also highly commended for its ‘restaurant and eco-policies’.
We travelled 1hr 35 minutes by train from Kings Cross to Norfolk, and then 20 minutes by taxi to Strattons Hotel in Swaffam. The short narrow sand-coloured gravel drive is situated discreetly off the main high street, and you instantly see the welcoming grade II listed red brick Queen Anne Palladian villa. There’s a scrap yard stag made of metal on the lawn, which is far removed from the more traditional fountain or stone statue, and gives a hint of the kitsch contemporary art interior. Originally designed to offer ‘relaxation from city responsibilities’ the hotel feels remarkably private, as if you are house-sitting for a friend only you have staff to wait on you hand and foot and then there’s the added bonus of not having to cook. Cats skulk about the place and homemade lavender shower gels and a menu of organic freshly grown produce from the garden outside, which all in all complete the homely vibe.
The corridors of the hotel are draughty with all the heat confined within the walls of each of the 14 bedrooms, so take some warm woolies. The floors are also not heated which is particularly noticeable when stepping out of the shower onto the cold, bare bathroom floors. My tip is to take some snug slippers. The bedrooms are brightly coloured and convey a chirppy character with eye-catching furniture.
Food meets a high standard but the menu with inventive combinations including pigs cheek and liver pate. It’s worth mentioning that the menu is not always clear. Charlie ordered the ‘leek sausage’ and mash for supper one night only to find that it was, in fact, all leak and no meat. Perfect for a veggie but for his carnivorous appetite it was wildly insufficient. Breakfast was a bit of a disappointment since, although a cooked breakfast is available to order – it’s otherwise slim pickings as far as the buffet goes, which only offers a few cereals, yoghurt and ‘unadulterated blueberries’ meaning no sugar is added.
When all is said and done, we were somewhat disheartened by the hotel. While the rooms are fun and comfortable and the staff friendly and helpful, certain fundamental elements are missing – considering the rate of 155 GBP per night – such as the non existence of a hotel bar or spa/gym facilities and the slightly uninspiring town of Swaffam itself. You really require a car, too, since there is much more to see and do outside of Swaffam. Indeed, we found ourselves lusting after the Hotse Arms (30 minute drive from Swaffam) which is situated in the beautiful and quaint Burnham Market, and just 10 minutes from the coast where you can walk for miles and miles along the golden sandy and secluded beaches beside a magnificent pine forest. If we were to visit Norfolk again, the Vine House at the Hoste Arms would be the place to stay.