A bed for the night in Essex
Where is it?
Where is it?
Essex, just. Milsoms' position in the lush greenery of the Stour Valley - which marks Essex's northern border with Suffolk - means it's a whisker away from a whole other postcode, and it shows. Here, there's an air of rural tranquillity that sits at odds with Essex's brash reputation.
Describe the setting
This is Constable Country. The pale brick façade of Milsoms sits above a rolling vale, and the short walk to the nearby village of Dedham (where the great man went to school) immediately paints a picture of bucolic bliss that erases all memory of your journey down the A12. Cows chomp greedily, ducks quack and there's a smell of wood smoke in the air. Perfect.
Does it have a USP?
Milsoms is determined not to be cast as a traditional country house hotel, a role its owners feel is amply filled by its sister establishments, the nearby Maison Talbooth and highly regarded Le Talbooth restaurant. So instead of fine dining and a grown-up ambience, Milsoms caters for a younger, funkier set. Trendy lower-case lettering adorns the walls; the kitchen is called "the engine room", and the décor is a tasteful amalgam of minimalist modern and comfortably bohemian. "Eat, drink, stay" is the hotel's mantra and, come evening, the bar and restaurant are heaving with bright young things out to enjoy themselves.
Just lie back and think of Milsoms. Escapism shouldn't be high on your agenda. The hotel received its makeover only in 2001, so its 14 en suite rooms haven't had the chance to fade. The beds are firm yet voluptuous and the fabrics bright and colourful, with a heraldic motif that goes well with the twisted ironwork of the lamp stands.
What's in the bathroom?
Nothing too surprising, thankfully. No Jacuzzis here, just shiny white porcelain, clean chrome and fresh, fluffy white towels. Lots of them.
That's probably because you're glancing down the mouthwatering menu. Divided into "ample" and "generous" portions, this is serious bistro food, with starters including a cerviche of swordfish "with pacific flavours" (£4.95) and an assortment of main courses encompassing marinated tiger prawns with avocado and turtle bean salad (£11) and lamb shank on grain mustard mash (£10.50). You can't reserve a table (although residents are guaranteed their rightful place) and orders are placed by filling in your requirements on a pad of paper, which you then hand to your waiter.
What are the people like?
The staff are cheerful and efficient; the clientele lively. Indeed, it's the people that make Milsoms the success it is. During the summer months, the crowds spill out on to the terrace, where dinner and drinks can be taken under warming braziers in the shade of the giant sequoia that stands in the grounds.
Colchester is 15 minutes away, and the village of Dedham itself is beautiful, with an ancient church tower and rambling old streets, plus a crafts centre. The Milsoms empire stretches as far as Harwich on the Essex coast, where its Pier hotel has a fantastic fish restaurant with views across the harbour.
Access for all?
One room is fitted out for disabled guests, and there are a total of four rooms on the ground floor. Indicate your requirements when you book a room. Children are welcome, with travel cots and high chairs available, and there's an excellent children's menu.
What's the damage?
A standard single costs £72.50 per night, rising to £92.50 for a deluxe single. Doubles start at £90 for a standard, with deluxe doubles costing £130 per night.
Stratford Road, Dedham, Colchester, Essex CO7 6HW (01206 322795; www.talbooth.com).
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