Most Saturdays from 1788 to 1793, Nelson would ride from neighbouring Burnham Thorpe to lunch here and pick up his dispatches. Over the following two centuries The Hoste Arms served as an auction house, assizes and even a brothel, before a 20th-century decline that reached its gruesome nadir in the 1980s as a "fun pub". The inn's unlikely saviour is a former potato merchant, Paul Whittome who, within a decade of buying The Hoste Arms in 1989, had seen it voted the second favourite hotel in England (and 27th in the world) by one national newspaper.

Part of his secret is that Whittome is a jackdaw with an eye for what makes hotels work. The result is a blend of stylish country hotel, cosy pub (complete with blazing fires and slumbering dogs, but, importantly, no diners), member's club (a conservatory with leather armchairs in which, like Nelson, one can read one's dispatches), and restaurant. The kitchen does magical things with local ingredients such as Holkham pigeon, Norfolk crab and Burnham Creek oysters. The knowledgeably chosen wine is topped by a 1983 Chateau Petrus at £546. Cheap at the price, too - Whittham's low mark-ups on classic wines and champagnes is reason alone to visit.

LOCATION

Burnham Market, Norfolk (01328 738777; www.hostearms.co.uk). The Hoste Arms has become the real hub of lucky old Burnham Market, a village so ridiculously lovely it's slightly sinister, boasting more than 50 independently owned shops whose customers emerge from Range Rovers in pristine Barbour jackets and Wellingtons unbesmirched by mud. It lies just off the A149 coastal road that runs from Great Yarmouth to King's Lynn, where you'll find the nearest mainline train station.

COMFORTABLE?

If comfort is a state of mind brought on by crackling log fires, deep armchairs, friendly service, good food and happily chatting patrons, then The Hoste Arms must be unsurpassable. On a more conventional note, most of its 36 rooms are decorated with pine furniture and the sort of rustic striped bedspreads and assorted festoons you might expect of a good country hotel in Norfolk. More of a surprise is the Zulu Wing, again decorated by owner Paul Whittome's wife, Jeanne, who has taken tasteful inspiration from the tribal lands of her native South Africa.

KEEPING IN TOUCH

There is free wireless internet all around the hotel and, if your communication needs are more ambitious, video conferencing in the boardroom.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Doubles start at £160 at weekends, which includes breakfast. Top-of-the-range "The Penthouse" costs £248 per night on Saturday night or £396 for a two-night weekend break.

I'm not paying that: The Ostrich Inn at nearby South Creake (01328 823320;. www.ostrichinn.co.uk) has doubles from £55 B&B. It boasts extensive menus and a large range of real ales.

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