We all need something to look forward to right now, and with foreign travel likely to be a risky business for the foreseeable future, staycations should be at the forefront of your plans. Here’s a perfect country retreat just a couple of hours from London.
If you’re looking for a getaway just outside the city, the Norfolk town of Kings Lynn might not seem an obvious choice. But a direct train is waiting to transport weary Londoners to the oasis of tranquility that is Congham Hall, a spa hotel located in the heart of the countryside that promises a weekend of pure peacefulness — and to send you back refreshed and rejuvenated.
This elegant Georgian manor has been converted to house 26 en-suite rooms, set in 30 acres of country gardens, complete with tennis court and orchard. At the centre of the herb garden sits the delightfully appointed spa. The vibe is one of calm, quiet luxury, from the scent of essential oils that permeates the rooms, to the light-filled dining room offering exquisite views on three sides of the surrounding parkland.
The award-winning restaurant says it prides itself on simplicity and local produce, and it shows, but this is in no way tempered by a let-up in standards. Local smoked mackerel is layered with sharp, sweet beetroot, whilst a trio of salmon — smoked, cured and cooked — is an excellent showcase for versatility of both fish and chef. A fishcake paired with a lightly curried coconut sauce is a reminder that even modern classics are still classic. The hake, lightened by rhubarb, but given heft by a savoury, umami-filled risotto, is proportioned to a fault; you might want more, but it would defeat you.
Venison comes from nearby Holkham and is a treat — young, gamey and perfectly cooked — and delicately sauced when it would be so easy to swamp. The duck shows similar restraint, with the finesse reserved for the accompaniments (a bonbon seems mandatory now, but who would complain when done well?) and the meat the star of the show.
The puddings range from elaborate, tangy, fruit-and-ice creations to cleanse the palate, to a robust selection of heritage farmhouse cheeses with a round-Britain tour of flavours. The wine list ranges from the inexpensive to a splash-out treat, and with a few surprises from North Africa and the Lebanon to amuse the adventurous.
What to do
You are there primarily to relax, so the Secret Garden Spa is top of the list. Complete with saunas, steam room, and a pool that looks out into the hotel’s private grounds through floor-to-ceiling windows, the bustle and busyness of London quickly melts away. If you need some help unwinding, the spa offers an extensive treatment menu.
A full-body 5 element aroma massage, with essential oils selected for your specific needs (whether that’s a good night’s sleep or to soothe aching muscles), will leave you stress-free and revitalised, while a renew and refresh facial is a 45 minutes of utter serenity.
You can also watch the sun set (or, indeed, rise) over the trees from the outdoor hot-tub – with no houses in sight, it’s easy to forget that anyone else in the world exists.
And after that
The hotel is located on the edge of the Sandringham Estate, where Her Majesty goes to relax. The royal retreat boasts not only a palace and gardens, but over 240 hectares of forested parkland.
A longer drive will take you to the Norfolk coast, the stately home Holkham Hall, or a scattering of picturesque seaside towns. But if you don’t have a car or would rather stay closer to home, the hotel has guides for a variety of day walks that begin right on its doorstep, ranging from a half-hour dog walk, to an eight-mile round trip that takes you cross-country, into woodland, past the ruins of a 12th century church, and through the wild heather of Roydon Common. The scenery is breathtaking whatever time of year. Boots are available on request.
For a cosy evening in, check out the hotel library’s impressive collection of board games. A pre-dinner Scrabble match and aperitif in front of the roaring fire will whet your appetite after a hard day of exploring and unwinding.
Need to know
Congham Hall offers rooms from £235 per night including breakfast and dinner. The hotel is a 15-minute drive from Kings Lynn station. Direct trains from London Kings Cross take approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.