Martello, with its moat and drawbridge / Landmark Trust

Pull down the drawbridge to Aldeburgh's Martello Tower to discover a truly unconventional escape, says Alice Jones

You cannot miss the Martello Tower. It stands on the edge of the Aldeburgh shingle, between the River Alde and the sea, like a golden giant. Made of more than a million bricks, it was built between 1808 and 1812 to keep Napoleon out. In 1931, the Ministry of Defence sold it off and the Mitford family were among those who spent holidays here.

Over time it fell into disrepair, until in 1971 it was acquired by the Landmark Trust, which restored it and made it into one of its extraordinary historic holiday lets.

With a drawbridge, moat, cellar, and rooftop to explore, it is already a unique place to spend a weekend, and next month it will be one of 25 Landmarks to open to the public for the Trust's Golden Weekend (16-17 May). Anyone who stays in it after that will find it comes with an extra guest for a year; as part of the Trust's 50th anniversary project, "Land", Antony Gormley is preparing to put one of his famous figures on the roof, somewhere near the flagpole. It will make the tower even harder to miss.

The rooms

As expected, Martello is far from conventional. Beyond the front door, two steep staircases run directly up to the roof and its unparalleled views, so keep a tight hold on children and dogs, once they've made it over the rickety drawbridge (well-behaved dogs are welcome, if booked in advance).

Through another door there is a small, well-stocked kitchen, with a compact shower room and toilet off it. The main event is the lofty central room, which is taken up with a giant oak square table and benches, and a dresser filled with blue-and-white Cornish ware.

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A bedroom

The two twin bedrooms, with their lovely arched windows and teak floors, are partitioned off from it. To maximise the light, the partitions don't go all the way up, so it is not exactly private, but it all adds to the tower's character, which is solidly practical and comfortable, without being heritage-twee.

You are right in the elements here; the wind and waves whip at the walls. The notes describe it as a "Landmark for hardier visitors", but when I visited last month, big, school-style radiators kept it surprisingly warm. There is a wood-burning stove in the cosy sitting room, but no television or wi-fi. This is a 19th-century tower, after all.

Visitors are advised to keep the gate and door bolted at all times; curious tourists wandering up the drawbridge are one of the nice hazards of staying in such an irresistible place.

Out and about

Martello Tower is a 10-minute walk from Aldeburgh and its shingly beach, fish shacks, and shops. Benjamin Britten lived in the Red House on Golf Lane; you can visit the studio where he composed his War Requiem and other masterpieces (01728 451700; brittenpears.org).

Drive a few minutes out of town and park for free at the start of the Sailor's Path for an hour-and-a-half walk inland to Snape, and its famous Maltings – shops, galleries and cafés have sprung up around the concert hall – spotting birds along the way. Or walk further down the beach, past Maggi Hambling's giant Scallop sculpture and you come to Thorpeness, an eccentric Victorian holiday village with a Peter Pan-themed boating lake and The Dolphin (01728 454994; thorpenessdolphin.com), which has a giant beer garden. Further day trips can be made to Orford Castle, or along the coast to Southwold and Walberswick.

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The living area

The Food and Drink

Aldeburgh High Street is lined with independent food shops. Try Lawson's Deli (01728 454052; lawsonsdelicatessen.co.uk) for pasties and fresh juice, Choppings Hill bakery (01728 452105) and Salter's craft butchers (01728 452758; salterandking.co.uk). Last summer, Southwold brewery Adnams opened an outpost in Aldeburgh (01728 454520; adnams.co.uk) selling crates of Ghost Ship, and there is a high-class Co-op at the end of the street for basics.

The beach is the place to buy seafood. Fish Shack (07900 98330) sells freshly caught cod, potted shrimp, dressed crab, the works. If you're feeling lazy (or even if you're not), Aldeburgh Fish and Chips (01728 454685; aldeburghfishandchips.co.uk) at the near end of the High Street (No 226) is a must, and worth the queue. If you buy a drink at The White Hart next door, they'll let you eat them in their beer garden. But if you can bear the wait, run them back to the tower and eat on the roof in a deckchair, with a side serving of the best view in town.

The Essentials

Martello Tower, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, IP15 5NA. Bookings via the Landmark Trust (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk). Stays start at £511 for four people for four nights (minimum stay) in low season. There are two parking spaces; Saxmundham railway station is seven miles away.

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