Summer in the UK: The wonders of the East

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Our weekly regional round-up takes Jo Fernandez into Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridge and East Anglia

Known more for its traditional attractions than high-end hotels, the Essex seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea is enjoying a makeover.

One of the highlights is the 137-room Park Inn (, just opened in the former Edwardian Palace Hotel on the seafront. The look is Ikea style with bold colours – rooms have canvas prints of fairground rides, referencing the Adventure Island theme park opposite – although original features can still be seen in the façade, fireplaces and mouldings in the public spaces. A blue plaque in reception honours Laurel and Hardy, who stayed here nearly 60 years ago.

Green-minded glampers should head to Alde Garden ( .uk) in Sweffling in Suffolk's pretty Alde Valley. The latest addition to the outdoor accommodation here is a large dome-shaped yurt, sleeping five, based on the original Mongolian bentwood design. It has solid wooden floors, soft sofas and rugs, but no electricity – at night the yurt glows with candlelight or solar-powered fairy lights. For colder nights and cooking there is a log-burning stove and solar-powered showers. Free bikes are laid on (Aldeburgh is an invigorating 11-mile cycle ride) and holistic therapies are available for weary limbs.

The Varsity Hotel & Spa (thevarsity in Cambridge opens this month with 48 suites suitably themed on the town's academic heritage – Masters, Graduates – offering views across the city spires. Most un-studenty touches include Nespresso coffee machines, iPod docks and monsoon showers.

The previously unseen stables at the Jacobean stately home Audley End House and Gardens (english- in Saffron Walden, Essex, open to the public for the first time this summer. Built in the 17th century, the Grade I-listed buildings host a new exhibition highlighting the importance of horses to the property, including some fine live equine specimens to admire.

Lottery winner Sheringham Museum ( in Norfolk has had a £1.1m facelift. It celebrates the town's development from small 19th-century fishing village to fashionable holiday resort in the early 20th century. Exhibits focus on the fishing harbour and lifeboats dating from the 1800s. Extra activities include book signings, art exhibitions and guided walks.

Check out the world's largest biodome, filled with more than 10,000 tropical butterflies, at Butterfly World (butterflyworld in St Albans, Hertfordshire. It's got Mayan-style ruins and waterfalls, too – a living rainforest that you can explore via its convenient walkways. "Phase 1" of the project is now open, featuring a butterfly breeding house, gardens and a chrysalis-shaped lake. There's a programme of summer holiday activities for children, too.

For a fragrant day out, visit Norfolk Lavender ( at Caley Mill, Heacham, near Hunstanton, where fields of glorious lavender are turned into oil. New for this year, more than 50 varieties of bamboo have been grown in the gardens and there's a rare breeds animal centre, featuring wallabies, alpacas and prairie dogs.

Get out and about in the Bedford River Valley Park (bedfordriver, near the Great River Ouse. This regeneration project is aimed at creating a vast new country park for Bedfordshire. And, although it's still a work in progress – the aim is to create a harmonious mix of leisure spaces and wildlife habitats – most of this flood plain is open to the public, with a series of cycling and walking routes to follow.

Suffolk is fast gaining attention for its local produce. One place to sample it is at the recently refurbished Bildeston Crown (thebildeston in the village of the same name. The Grade-II listed former coaching inn is the only restaurant in the county to have three AA rosettes and it is aiming for a Michelin star with award-winning dishes including mutton hotpot and cabbage (£16) as well as an eight-course tasting menu (£70).

Head for the village of Navestock Side near Brentwood, Essex, where Alec Smith gives a nod to his father and grandfather – both former fish porters at Billingsgate Market – with the seafood-laden menu at Alec's Bar and Restaurant ( .uk), which opened last month in the former Green Man pub. Fresh fish is brought in each day from across the British Isles and rustled up into dishes such as pan-seared Scottish king scallops, with rocket and shaved Parmesan (£8.50) and grilled Guernsey skate with brown butter and capers (£17.50).

For further information, go to

Jo Fernandez is travel editor of the London Evening Standard.

A poster by Durham Constabulary
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine