Tucked away in a fairytale-like courtyard, Strattons Hotel of Swaffham is an enchanting place to spend a night, writes ROWAN MANTELL
Dream time at Strattons Hotel in Swaffham
THERE IS something dreamlike about Strattons. Hidden at the heart of bustling Swaffham, the hotel sits in a serene garden. Tall tapering trees and topiary surround the mellow building, a stag has paused on a sunken lawn, a double staircase lead up to an arched entrance.
Across the garden from the main hotel is a fairytale flint and brick cottage, more plants and topiary surround its courtyard and the front door opens into a charming whitewashed sitting room.
Our home for the night is called the Opium Suite and there is something mindaltering about its small but perfectly-formed proportions. The sitting room has a soft rug laid over old polished tiles, a wooden staircase leads up to a mezzanine bedroom which has a luxurious double-ended bath, a window framed with ornate panels, huge decorative pillars, a chandelier and stepped bedside tables made up of many diminutive wooden drawers.
Who needs a hotel safe when you have tiny drawers, tucked away upstairs in a quaint cottage, through a courtyard, off a garden, down an alley, beside a historic market cross in a pretty Breckland town?
Strattons is a hotel unlike any other. Instead of beige décor and generic inoffensive prints it has walls painted with cherubs, or glowing metallics or animal prints. The art is thrilling and vibrant. In the restaurant a classical-shaped bust is made of glowing pink plastic, upstairs in the lounge a huge postagestamp portrait of the Queen shimmers alongside traditional Norfolk landscapes.
The chandeliers, ornate mirrors, fourposter beds and exotic furniture make Strattons seem part gallery, part hotel and restaurant. And the food is another aspect of the art. This autumn the afternoon tea at Strattons was voted the best in Norfolk at the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards.
We were keen to see, and taste, this marvel. It did not disappoint.
Served in three tiers, the glass plates were buried beneath confections of cream and chocolate, cakes, scones and sandwiches.
Unusually, the bottom tier held not just sandwiches (egg, on perhaps the best bread I’ve ever tasted) but also a bite of smoked salmon and horseradish on sourdough and a magnificent sausage roll (renowned as Al Murray’s favourite sausage roll in the world and I can confirm the Pub Landlord must know his sausage rolls).
The middle tier is scones – one fruit and one plain per person, served with jam and cream. And then the cakes. Oh the cakes. There were four. The Mont Blancs were whisked peaks of chestnut puree and cream, then there were layers of hazelnut puree and delicate melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a cake made of lemon macarons topped with a flame of meringue.
Defeated by the final pair, sumptuous toffee and apple sponges, we took them back to our room, where they joined the cat-shaped chocolate shortbread biscuits, left in a heart of rose-buds on our bed. Yes, Strattons is a romantic place too.
And despite all the luxury, the family-run hotel prides itself on its green credentials. There are the usual notices about not washing towels unnecessarily, but there are also assurances that the lovely lavender toiletries in the bedroom and glass-blocked wet room are easy on the environment. There are undertakings to reduce water use, carbon emissions and landfill, and a truly impressive commitment to sourcing food locally.
The restaurant at Strattons is a finedining destination. Its menu during our stay included starters of baked celeriac and chicken and courgette cakes, main courses of meat raised on nearby farms, vegetables grown in the hotel’s own gardens.
Breakfast was served in the restaurant too, and alongside splendid platefuls of full English fabulousness, and cornucopia of cereals and fruit, there were locally produced juices, fruit and seed breakfast muffins, fruit compote steeped in Earl Grey tea.
Strattons also has a café and delicatessen, self-catering apartments and 14 gloriously quirky bedrooms.
We slept exactly as well as we should have done in such an enchanted dreamlike land of luxury and loveliness, and woke ready to explore the heart of Norfolk.
The lounge area in the Opium Suite at Strattons
Hearts and flowers at Strattons
The bedroom in the Opium Suite
A sculpture at Strattons
Top tier cakes at afternoon tea