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The Swan Hotel, Lavenham

Sowerby & Luff write…

Located in the centre of England’s most perfectly preserved medieval town, The Swan at Lavenham is one of the UK’s finest examples of a 15th century coaching inn, and we eagerly looked forward to staying there.

Local tourist information doesn’t seem to be able to decide if this is Constable Country or Gainsborough Country, but whichever Old Master lays claim to it, Suffolk has a wealth of delicious eye candy to offer its visitors.

Amid the tall, oak framed halls, huge fireplaces, and long, creaking corridors, The Swan Hotel takes you on a romantic journey though 600 years of English history. It’s like being catapulted into a lavish costume drama about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. You don’t often get the chance to actually eat and sleep in a building with so much history, so its something of a privilage. But The Swan at Lavenham is not just about the past – it’s about unashamed modern luxury and fine dining.

Click here to listen to exclusive interviews with the General Manager and the Head Chef of The Swan

Extensive refurbishment of the lounge and bar areas has taken over two years, and is virtually complete. It’s not easy to blend ancient architectural features with contemporary decor and design, but the hotel appears to be achieving this balancing act with flair – adding modern touches and convenience throughout, while at the same time maintaining the hotel’s very traditional Tudor flavour.

The original oak beams in our en-suite room were made even more atmospheric by clever use of soft uplighting, and the furniture in the room was plush and comfortable – incorporating wool carpets and upholstery in order to reflect Lavenham’s proud past as a centre of the wool industry.

The bar at The Swan was once frequented by bomber crews from the USAF, and many of their messages and signatures are still lovingly preserved on the walls, along with a fascinating collection of WWII memorabilia from nearby air bases. There’s a good selection of traditional ales on offer, many of them brewed at the nearby brewery in Bury St. Edmunds.

Guests can choose between two restaurants – a stylish new Brasserie, or the more traditional Gallery Restaurant – which focusses on British cuisine, and features a stunning vaulted, oak-beamed ceiling.

We plumped for the more atmospheric and candlelit Gallery Restaurant, and enjoyed a starter of cured boar, soft boiled quails eggs and asparagus.

Our chosen mains were rack of lamb with a carrot puree, and beef with a Choron sauce – both served with a selection of locally produced summer vegetables. The dishes were cooked to perfection and artfully presented. We finished with a miraculously light apple crumble, cleverly served with cider jelly.

At breakfast time we had an opportunity to sample one or two of the excellent speciality breads, baked fresh every day in The Swan’s own bakery. It’s little touches like this that make this hotel such a very special place to stay.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short time at The Swan. I only wish we could have stayed for longer.

Official web site: http://www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk/

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The Lygon Arms, Broadway – Review

welliesEDSowerby & Luff write…

The Lygon Arms in Broadway is a beautiful coaching inn built from golden Cotswold stone and is rich in history and charm. The hotel has an international reputation for good cuisine and unashamed luxury. There are old beams, neatly trimmed hedges and a sumptuous indoor swimming pool and spa. They even have posh Hunters wellies and a Barbour raincoat hanging in every room – just in case the weather is bad.

However, there is nothing quite as disappointing as second rate service in a first rate hotel. We can’t speak for other guests, but personally we encountered rather amateurish and unprofessional service during our stay. When we arrived in late afternoon we asked for an evening menu and they apologised that they didn’t have one prepared yet. On returning to reception a couple of hours later the porter dismissively told us that if we wanted to see a menu we should “go outside and look at the one on the wall”. As a result we did go outside, and in the event were so annoyed that we decided to go and have dinner at the restaurant next door. Which was excellent, by the way.

When we arrived for breakfast the following morning Georgina and I were greeted by a rather senior-looking waiter who, after preparing a table for us, said “follow me ladies!” Being a large middle-aged man with a beard I was slightly taken aback at being addressed like this but passed it off as an amusing incident. We asked the same waiter for some glasses for the fruit juice. We waited patiently but he didn’t bring any, leaving us to use our own initiative to forage for some tumblers for ourselves.

When the same waiter took our breakfast order, he asked us to repeat almost every item twice, then read back many of the items incorrectly. When he bought our coffee he didn’t seem to know which was the decaff and which was the caff, forcing us to perform an impromptu coffee tasting before we could pour our beverages. He also forgot to put any milk on the table and we had to ask for some. When our hot breakfasts arrived, both orders were incorrect in some way. Missing fried items. Wrong type of eggs. We have never in our lives heard a waiter apologise so many times during the course of a single meal.

My plate was so hot that there were probably Health and Safety issues involved in putting it on the table in the first place. But despite the scorching heat rising from the plate, the scrambled eggs were somehow both cold and overcooked – something I would challenge even Heston Blumenthal to achieve under laboratory conditions. Meanwhile, the bacon was fatty and undercooked.

We have experienced poor service many times during our travels, but never in a 2 AA Rosette restaurant in a four star hotel with nightly room tariffs of around £225.

 

 

 

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Sherwood Hideaway at Thoresby – Review

Sowerby & Luff write:

If you’ve ever fancied staying in a log cabin in the forest, Sherwood Hideaway might well be the place for you. But, hey, these are no ordinary log cabins. These are chic, luxurious, designer lodges with a touch of the boutique hotel about them. Sherwood Hideaway is just off the A614, about 5 miles from the A1 in Nottinghamshire (Take a road map with you – the site’s so new it doesn’t show up on Sat Navs).

There are currently about a dozen luxury lodges at Sherwood Hideaway, all with their own parking space and outside area. To the rear of our lodge was a decking patio with a steaming hot tub and a barbeque, which overlooked a clearing in the forest inhabited by a friendly herd of rare breed cattle.

Our lodge was spotlessly clean, and had three bedrooms of modest proportions – one of them en-suite – and a good size family bathroom. The large living room and kitchen were open plan and fantastically well equipped, with a big flat-screen TV and digital tuner. We even had a dish washer – a very nice addition when you’re taking a break.

Of course, if you like your interior design at the very cutting edge you may need to sacrifice a little comfort from time to time. Square loo seats, for example, while no doubt the height of sophistication, are quite the most uncomfortable thing you are ever likely to sit on. The patio furniture too, was as awkwardly uncomfortable as it was beautifully styled and easy on the eye. Despite the state-of-the-art decor, we were a little surprised to discover that the lodge did not have internet access – even while on a romantic retreat, very few visitors would not want to get online from time to time.

Sherwood Hideaway has no leisure facilities of its own, but about a mile away to the north is the magnificent Thoresby Hall. This luxury hotel has a gym, spa and swimming pool and residents of Sherwood Hideaway are eligible for a discount when booking these. Also at Thoresby Hall you’ll find a stable courtyard with an art gallery, fine-dining restaurant, local arts and crafts, and a plant nursery. We’d recommend walking or cycling up to this complex one afternoon and talking a look around. While we were there a couple of local craftsmen were giving a fascinating demonstration of glass blowing.

Of course, this is the heart of Robin Hood country, so there’s a local heritage centre nearby where the kids can learn a little medieval history, dress up as Robin Hood, and chase each other around in the forest with big plastic swords. The local village of Edwinstowe is supposedly where Robin Hood and Maid Marion got married. This little hamlet is worth a quick visit, as is Wellow, which has a real-ale pub and its very own May Pole on the village green. In contrast, the nearby town of Ollerton is far from quaint, and probably best left out of your tour of the area.

Sherwood Hideaway is very much a work in progress. However, the owners have big plans for it. As well as building many more luxury lodges, they’ll soon be adding their own shop and children’s play area. In the meantime, there’s a comprehensive programme of tree-planting taking place, which should help to make the site feel more cosy and secluded and add a little much needed character. We enjoyed our stay at Sherwood Hideaway. It was laidback, peaceful, and let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like having a hot tub in the middle of a forest.

Official Website Sherwood Hideaway

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Titchwell Manor Hotel – Review

When Margaret and Ian Snaith bought an old Victorian farmhouse in Norfolk, I doubt they imagined that 23 years later Titchwell Manor would become an elegant, award-winning restaurant with 27 designer bedrooms and a local reputation that is second to none.

Their son Eric, who grew up at the hotel, is now Head Chef, and he has already earned two AA Rosettes for his delicious and individual cuisine.

Titchwell Manor underwent a complete refurbishment last year and the hotel is now styled in a very contemporary and avant-garde manner. The custom-printed wallpaper is bold and striking, and everything in the design department makes a big, big statement.

The bar is bright and friendly, and decorated with a very “seaside” feel. There’s a good choice of local beers, and outside decking where you can sit and take in the sea view to the north. The nautical theme continues into the Conservatory Restaurant, where the roof is bedecked by triangular white sails, and there’s a good choice of seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes.

We started with delicious dressed Cromer crab in Miso mayonnaise, and scallops with white beans and fennel. Eric sources produce from local farmers and fishermen in Brancaster, and his menu is brimming over with dishes featuring locally farmed vegetables or locally caught mussels, oysters and lobster.

Our mains were a confit of duck and lamb with peas, beans and dauphinoise – both dishes cooked to absolute perfection and served with fresh, seasonal vegetables. We finished with chocolate and banana served three ways – a mouth-watering dish that could only be improved if the chocolate and banana were served four ways. Or maybe five or six.

We stayed overnight in the Potting Shed. Don’t be fooled by the rustic name. This is more than just a simple outhouse – it’s actually a very spacious, luxurious cabin in the gardens of Titchwell Manor. Furnished in a Scandinavian style, the room features a daring open plan bathroom, a super-sized bed, and a very sexy walk-in shower room.

The Potting Shed is one of 19 newly designed or converted en-suite bedrooms built around the hotel’s rear courtyard and herb garden. Each has its own distinct style, and some have views of the sweeping meadow to the rear.

It’s increasingly difficult to find family run hotels, and when you do find one you immediately notice the difference. The owners and management team at Titchwell Manor so clearly love the place, and this communicates itself to the guests in everything they do – from the service in the bar right down to the teddy bears sitting on the beds.

We cannot recommend this hotel highly enough. Treat yourself to a naughty night in the Potting Shed at Titchwell Manor. 9/10

Official web site: http://www.titchwellmanor.com/

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Fayrer Garden Hotel, Lake District

The Fayrer Garden Hotel nestles in a beautiful part of the Lake District, about half way between the town of Kendal and the small lakeside resort of Windermere.

The lounge and bar areas of the Fayrer Garden are furnished with plush sofas and deep, comfy armchairs and the overall impression is one of unashamed luxury and comfort, with a touch of history. An ideal place for a quiet weekend, or mid-week break away from it all.

The hotel staff are smart, friendly and helpful – if a little overstretched at times – and you always get the feeling you’re being well looked after.

Our room was a decent size, quite cosy, comfortable and well-equipped, with a giant double bed – worthy of the set of Dallas. The wi-fi, however, only worked in the lounge and it might be a good idea to upgrade that facility, if only for the business travellers, of which there appeared to be quite a few.

But the Fayrer Garden isn’t just for golf-jumpered company execs on awaydays. All kinds of people stay there – from retired couples on second honeymoons to young newlyweds having a crack at it the first time around. From daughters treating their mums, to parents escaping their kids.

If you’re lucky with the weather, as we were, the rooms to the rear of the hotel boast spectacular views. In the near-distance, the hotel’s huge and well kept gardens – and as a breathtaking backdrop, Lake Windermere, dotted with sailing craft and pleasure boats and surrounded by towering tree-topped hills.

We enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks in the lounge, even though the canapés were a little uninspiring. We were then ushered into Fayrer Garden’s “smart but casual” restaurant, where we quickly learned that jeans and T-shirts are frowned upon. Luckily I had packed a suit.

We were serenaded by both Swan Lake and the Greatest Hits of Doris Day, while being served a delicious starter of pigeon with parsnip puree. Our chosen main course was local lamb served on a bed of braised red cabbage, which I personally found a little overpowering. We finished with Crème brûlée, which was perfect.

After dinner we retired to the peaceful hotel garden and drank our coffee as the sun went down over Lake Windermere.

In the morning, we weren’t quite so lucky with the weather, and watched from the restaurant as monsoon-like rain swept across the landscape. However, the Full Lakeside Breakfast did not disappoint – the stars of that show being a brace of sizzling Cumberland Sausages.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at the Fayrer Garden, and we’d highly recommend a visit to this part of the world for anyone looking to get away from it all for a few days. 6/10

Official Fayrer Garden Web Site