A bed for the night in Norfolk
Sunday 12 September 2004
This classical Queen Anne Palladian villa is tucked away down a side street behind the market place in Swaffham, just north of Thetford Forest and about 35 minutes' drive from the north Norfolk coast. It has four double rooms and four suites, all luxuriously different. Two of the suites, Opium and The Stalls, are away from the main house in the old stables - good for privacy.
Green and pleasant living. Strattons is eco-friendly and has won numerous environmental awards but you probably wouldn't spot it unless you knew. The eggs come from the chickens which run around the front lawn (below), restaurant orders are taken on home-made recycled notepads and the Gilchrist & Soames smellies in the bathroom come in refillable bottles. But this is not a "knit your own yoghurt" type of establishment as the Audi's and VW Beetles parked around the place testify.
The comfort factor
The owners say they want you to feel as if you are walking into a friend's house. If I had friends with a house like this they'd never get rid of me. All the rooms have huge comfortable beds and space for lounging around. In the four suites you get TVs with DVD players, mini fridges, tea and coffee-making facilities and decanters of Madeira. You can also relax in the sumptuous drawing rooms where there is an eclectic mix of original art and an honesty bar for late-night drinks. On a cold day you can lounge on a sofa in front of a log fire, if one of the many resident cats hasn't got there first.
Worth spending time in. If you're in Tuscany you will share the large bath with a huge shell mosaic of a mermaid (above). If you are in Venetian there's a Botticelli-style mural of Venus rising from the waves. If you're in the Opium suite the enormous double bath is at the foot of your four-poster bed, although there's also a wet-room downstairs if you prefer to conduct your ablutions in private.
The food and drink
Pre-dinner drinks are served in the upstairs drawing rooms. The downstairs restaurant with its Italianate murals is intimate to say the least - just nine tables - so probably not the best place for having conversations you don't want others to hear. Strattons is run by husband and wife Les and Vanessa Scott. Vanessa is in charge of the kitchen while Les does front of house. They take great pride in using only the best local ingredients and Les will tell you, in some detail, the provenance of everything on your plate, particularly the cheese.
Thirty- and forty-year old couples on weekends away, with the occasional baby monitor.
Get up early on a Saturday and you can plunder Swaffham market for antiques. Otherwise, head for the great outdoors. The Brecks, with its forests, lines of twisted Scots pines, heathlands and wetlands, is one of the great natural areas of Britain, so there's plenty of cycling, walking and horse-riding on offer. If it's history you are after, there's Oxburgh Hall, a 15th-century moated National Trust house, and just up the A1065 there's the picture-book village of Castle Acre.
It's a listed building with lots of staircases, so disabled access is restricted, although there is one ground floor suite. Strattons is no-smoking throughout. Children welcome.
Double rooms from £50 per person per night for bed and breakfast. Suites cost up to £100 per person.
The restaurant, which is also open to non-residents, serves dinner from 7pm to 9pm, Monday to Saturday. A four-course meal including a cheese course, coffee and chocolates costs £37.50 per person.
Strattons, 4 Ash Close, Swaffham, Norfolk PE37 7NH (01760 723845; www.strattonshotel.com)
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