Staying in this attractive Georgian house, set in extensive landscaped grounds, is like having your very own modest mansion for the weekend. The square, pale-brick house, fronted by a huge lawn (with resident bouncing bunnies and deer), brings Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to mind. I almost expect to see Lizzie Bennet waving from the door.
But the Bennets wouldn't have got to splash around in a heated outdoor pool – one of the many facilities that make the Old Vicarage at Great Hockham, Norfolk, a rather special holiday home from April until October. Nor would they have had access to a hard tennis court, table tennis and bicycles, as well as badminton and boules. Don't expect to come here for a rest.
This historic house is an ideal base for 21st-century families and groups of friends. Its spacious interiors have been completely redecorated and refurbished to create a light and airy, comfortable home-from-home. Contemporary country-chic decor continues throughout the formal drawing room, snug family sitting room (with 40in plasma-screen TV, DVD and PS3) and dining room. (I liked the delicate peacock motif on the wallpaper here, and the butterflies in my daughter's bedroom.) The large kitchen-breakfast room has a slightly more modern feel and is well equipped for sociable cooking and eating. And, if the weather's kind, it leads straight out on to a terrace – one of three wrapped around the house – for al fresco dining.
Strangely, for such a large house, it has only five bedrooms, keeping more or less to its original design – but this means it never feels overcrowded and there are plenty of cosy corners in which to take a quiet moment after all that activity.
The owners have avoided the temptation to create extra rooms out of the original first-floor layout, which means the bedrooms are luxuriously spacious. The sleeping accommodation is flexible, too, making it ideal for different combinations of guests – from families, to couples, to groups of friends. The master bedroom (with six-foot double) connects via an en-suite bathroom to another double with six-foot zip-and-link beds. A further en-suite double also has beds that can be separated, while the last zip-and-link double and a single bedroom share a family bathroom. All rooms are bright and simply decorated in pastels, with classic country-style soft furnishings and antique furniture. And all have views – either across the front lawn, formal gardens or of the surrounding countryside. Bathrooms are roomy – though I think a walk-in or over-bath shower, rather than hand-held, would have make things easier.
The food and drink
The generous welcome pack includes treats – ours included a pile of delicious home-baked brownies – as well as the basics. Make a beeline for Wyken Vineyards (wyken vineyards.co.uk), near Stanton, where you can stock up for your stay in one stop. The Saturday farmers' market, from 9am to 1pm, showcases Norfolk produce and also sells tasty artisanal bread. The vineyard produces an award-winning Bacchus and a sparkler, Moonshine, as well as brewing its own beer, Good Dog Ale. For special occasions, local cook Sarah Beckett Reid (01953 454398; beckett reid.co.uk) can prepare meals – focusing on the best seasonal, local ingredients – with a team of butlers and staff to serve larger groups.
With so much to occupy you here, there's no real need to leave the property. But you'll be missing out if you don't explore a little. The owners positively encourage guests to get out and about, providing six adult bikes and kids' models, as well as printed cycling routes. On the doorstep is Thetford Forest Park (forestry.gov .uk/thetfordForestpark), which offers 50,000 acres of safe, prime cycling territory. Alternatively, walkers can explore the nearby Peddar's Way (nationaltrail.co.uk/peddarsway), while families will enjoy a sunny day on the beach at Brancaster. After all that action, it's lucky that Tracey Mathison's Balance Therapies (07748 213397) offers a range of beauty and therapeutic treatments at the house.
Babies and children are welcome. (Baby equipment is provided.) No pets allowed. There are no ground-floor bedrooms, so the house is not suitable for guests with mobility problems.
Three nights at the Old Vicarage costs from £936, seven nights from £1,497 from 1 April.
The Old Vicarage, Vicarage Road, Great Hockham, Norfolk IP24 1PE (01386 701177; ruralretreats.co.uk).Reuse content