DRIVING to Suffolk only takes a couple of hours from the City, but it feels much further away than that. As you roll off the concrete curve of the Orwell bridge and head past Ipswich and Woodbridge, you enter a great flat expanse of countryside, pocked with pretty villages, overarched by wide, dramatic skies and marked to the east by the spectacular heritage coast.
Suffolk doesn’t have the same glamour as north Norfolk’s Chelsea-on-sea enclave around Burnham Market, but it’s easier to reach and still combines away-from-it-all charm with great food and beer (Adnams and St Peter’s are both brewed in the county). What’s more, if you know where to stay, you don’t have to forgo urban standards of design.
My wife and I drove to the Workshop at Badingham, a self-catering hideaway for two and a showpiece for Best of Suffolk, which specialises in stylish holiday rentals. A million miles from the usual over-chintzed, undersized holiday cottage, this was a farm building converted into a spacious, loft-style pad complete with Eero Saarinen side table and Arne Jacobsen dining chairs. You could be in some minimalist Shoreditch warehouse – until you look out the folding glass doors onto the gleaming dew pond outside, and settle down with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.
We went at the end of January, which meant it was cold enough to enjoy one of the Workshop’s other design treats – a swivelling fireplace that hangs like a black teardrop from its own chimney. A starter amount of firelighters and wood was provided – although the absence of tongs (perhaps not stylish enough to leave lying around) sometimes challenged our efforts to coax it along.
The Workshop is cosy enough that you may not want to go far once you settle in, but this is an excellent base for seeing more of the county, especially in the year of Benjamin Britten’s centenary, with the Snape Maltings concert hall and Aldeburgh just half an hour away by car. Those more into their traditional food than modern classical music should head down the road to Peasenhall, where Emmett’s sells the best ham in Suffolk (at eye-watering prices).
Best of Suffolk clearly knows what it is doing. The Workshop had a well-equipped kitchen, luxurious linens and towels and a bottle of wine and a packet of biscuits to welcome us when we arrived. There were a couple of irritations – the luxurious tub had a plug that proved almost impossible to raise, and the promise of weak wifi effectively meant no wifi at all. It also doesn’t seem all that isolated when you drive in – the Workshop sits on the drive of the Best of Suffolk offices at Lime Tree Farm – but it faces away, looking out over the dew pond and hedges, so once you have moved in, it feels quite private. It must be lovely in the summer with the glass doors folded back, sitting out on the decking. All the best parts of owning a country retreat, with none of the cleaning up. Everything you need for a relaxing weekend.
Short breaks at The Workshop at Lime Tree Farm Badingham cost from £300. www.bestofsuffolk.co.uk; 01728 638962
Here are some alternative places to stay
For those who prefer their country retreats a bit more traditional, other options include the Landmark Trust, which preserves buildings of historical and architectural interest by letting them out. Nearby Peasenhall offers the mediaeval splendours of New Inn, with several sub-cottages around a central dining hall built in 1478. Or further west in Suffolk is the Ancient House at Clare, with fine pargetting and timber-framing, also dating to the 1470s.
www.landmarktrust.org.uk; 01628 825925