The ultimate guide to a luxury winter weekend in Essex

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle - Credit: Visit Colchester

We’ve teamed up with leading tourism organisation Visit Essex to reveal the best places to visit, stay and eat in the county. So, wrap up warm and enjoy the delights of a staycation in Essex this season 

Things to do 


Colchester Castle is one of England's most important heritage sites and is the largest Norman keep in Europe. Built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, today it houses the Castle Museum, which is home to archaeological collections of international quality covering 2,500 years of history, including some of the most important Roman finds in Britain.  

The castle is a must-see for all the family with interactive displays, a large-scale son et lumière light projection, an exhilarating film dramatisation of Boudicca’s revolt, have-a-go chariot racing and fascinating Roman finds. Visitors can also download the Ancient Colchester App to explore the history of Colchester Castle on a self-guided walking tour. Tickets are priced £10.95 adults and £5.95 for children. 

First Site, Colchester, Essex.

The award-winning Firstsite - Credit: Richard Bryant


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If you love the arts, you’ll adore Colchester’s Firstsite gallery. Winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021 award, the international gallery and creative community space offers exceptional artistic and cultural activities. The gallery provides a programme that celebrates the diverse and radical people of East Anglia and invites everyone to be part of its creative community. 

The gallery is a sight to behold too. The unique and curved building was designed by award-winning architect Rafael Viñoly and creates an environment like no other. Its dramatic frontage leads through to stunning gallery and studio spaces and has been nicknamed locally as ‘the golden banana’. Firstsite is open all year round, entry is free. 

The Dry Garden in Winter at RHS Garden Hyde Hall.

The Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall - Credit: RHS / Lee Beel


It’s a surprise to many, but gardens take on a different charm during the winter months, and there’s much to see at RHS Hyde Hall throughout the year. The family-friendly garden is set in the heart of rural Essex, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and it has been named one of the finest gardens in the East of England.  

The site encompasses a diverse mix of garden styles from traditional to modern. Highlights include the Dry Garden with its range of drought-resistant plants, the Global Growth Vegetable Garden in the Winter Garden and the stunning Courtyard Gardens showing traditional and modern-design layouts. 

Places to stay 

Maison Talbooth in Dedham

Maison Talbooth is beautiful in winter - Credit: Visit Essex


Relax in style and luxury at Maison Talbooth on the Essex/Suffolk borders in Dedham. The standout country house hotel has been awarded ‘one of the top 200 hotels in the UK’ by the AA. Situated overlooking Constable Country and the Dedham Vale, pick from 12 luxurious rooms all individually designed and decorated. The hotel has a day spa, so enjoy treatments such as relaxing massages, facials or manicures.  

Visitors can also take a short stroll to Maison Talbooth’s sister restaurant, Le Talbooth, which is set on the banks of the River Stour, or take advantage of the hotel’s courtesy car. The restaurant has been awarded 3 AA rosettes and offers exceptional seasonal dining. Suites are priced from £285 for bed and breakfast per night (two nights at weekends) and sleep up to four people. 

Outside Greenwoods Hotel & Spa

The spa at Greenwoods is a tranquil haven - Credit: Visit Essex


Fancy a spa break? Greenwoods Hotel & Spa in Stock offers guests the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of life and relax in refined elegance. Set in the beautiful English countryside, the hotel is a Grade II-listed 17th-century manor house, which has been lovingly restored. The hotel offers 39 elegant and individually designed bedrooms combining opulent furnishings with modern and traditional textiles. 

The hotel boasts spa facilities, including a 20-metre lap indoor pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, relaxation areas and fitness suite, as well as a wide range of relaxing and pampering treatments. Greenwoods also offers an AA-rosette awarded restaurant, seating 60 guests for delicious locally sourced produce. Rooms are priced from £135 per night. 

The Warren Estate lodges

The Warren Estate lodges - Credit: Visit Essex


The Warren Estate enjoys a reputation as one of the highest quality and most picturesque holiday destinations in Essex. With two golf courses, a charming 18th-century clubhouse, gym and swimming pool, the estate has everything you need for a staycation or golfing break. The local area offers idyllic landscapes, lush rolling hills and picture-postcard villages as well as sandy beaches and marinas to explore. 

Treat yourself to a stylish getaway at Warren Lodges, which sleep between four and six people. These fabulous lodges are set in 325 acres of beautiful Essex countryside. Each lodge is contemporary and individually designed with its own hot tub – the perfect place to spend precious leisure time with family and friends. Alternatively, opt for a stay at the Warren House Retreat, a recently refurbished four-bedroom cottage sleeping up to ten people. 

Where to eat 

The Mistley Thorn

The Mistley Thorn - Credit: Visit Essex


The Mistley Thorn is situated in the historic coastal village of Mistley and is a two-minute walk from Mistley station. Built as a coaching inn circa 1723, The Mistley Thorn offers award-winning dining and accommodation in tastefully designed surroundings opposite the River Stour. 

American-born executive chef Sherri Singleton has developed a menu using the best of the area’s seasonal produce. Seafood is a speciality, with Mersea oysters available year-round. Fresh seafood is locally landed or sourced from local suppliers. Another highlight on the menu includes an all-day Sunday lunch, with locally reared, roasted meats and inspiring vegetarian and vegan offerings. A two-course daily specials menu is priced at £20.95. 

Alec's Restaurant Brentwood

Alec's Restaurant is perfect for a get-together - Credit: Visit Essex


Alec’s Restaurant Bar & Grill, Brentwood, opened in 2010 and has established itself as one of Essex’s leading fish restaurants. The eatery prides itself on using only the finest ingredients and provides exceptional service. Although predominantly a seafood restaurant serving the finest fish and shellfish, mouth-watering meat dishes have also been added to the menu. Produce is purchased daily from Billingsgate and Spitalfields markets and specials reflect seasonal availability.  

Dine in contemporary glamour in Alec’s for your get-togethers, family birthdays, date nights, or for a Sunday lunch treat. A two-course specials menu is priced at £29.50. 

Pig & Whistle is a charming country restaurant

Pig & Whistle is a charming country restaurant - Credit: Visit Essex


Everyone needs warm and hearty food during the winter months, so step inside Pig & Whistle Restaurant in Chelmsford and enjoy award-winning hospitality, plus locally sourced fresh food and drinks. The restaurant has recently undergone a refurbishment, which has given the walls a splash of colour, dressed the tables with linen and lit the candles to reveal a beautiful cosy restaurant in the countryside. 

The owners are foodies at heart and provide a seasonal menu with a mix of freshly prepared, classic British dishes, complemented by a few exotic influences here and there. Wine is also a top priority with more than 20 choices by the glass or bottle! A three-course set menu is priced at £25.00.