Hotel stay: Hintlesham Hall, Ipswich

Hintlesham Hall

Hintlesham Hall - Credit: Archant

In the heart of Suffolk, Hintlesham Hall is a luxury hideaway hotel with a fairytale feel

Hintlesham Hall

Hintlesham Hall - Credit: Archant

The shiny red apples in the bowl at reception were grown in the orchard behind Hintlesham Hall. They were like fairytale apples – only perfect all the way round, much like Hintlesham Hall itself.

An avenue of ancient trees leads the way from real-life into the estate grounds; at its end an elegant 18th century frontage reaches out welcoming arms. The hall is now a luxury hotel, but was once home to the aristocracy and super-rich of successive centuries. Generations of landed gentry loved this place and lavished their money on making it ever more beautiful. Even when it languished in bad times, with owners in disgrace or debt, it accumulated stories which now add to its appeal.

It has also accumulated beautiful rooms, grand staircases, linking newer (only several centuries old) sections of the hall with the original Tudor house. We were shown to our room through a pretty drawing room where afternoon tea was being served on tiered stands, on into a lounge, up a glorious staircase carved with flowers and fruit, and up again to the second floor where the beautiful bones of the building showed through as ancient beams supporting the sloping ceiling of a huge bedroom. At one end, on marble tiles continuing out from the bathroom, stood a bath, roll-top with gilded claw feet and a view of the gardens and woods beyond. At the other were armchairs, coffee tables, another window on to the garden, and between them the bed. Once this room, high in the old hall, might have housed a whole dormitory of servants, but for now we were playing at being the lord and lady of the manor. Our domain stretched back down the staircase and out into a picture-studded gallery which runs along the front of the hall.

The atmosphere is calm and peaceful, but never uncomfortably hushed, with doors to galleries and stately salons left ajar so that we could admire ornate fireplaces, stone-flagged floors, paintings and fine furnishings. In the lounge of an empty suite we glimpsed an astonishingly ornate plaster ceiling. Below the gallery is a covered arcade, leading into two dining rooms – one hugely opulent with marble and mirrors and chandeliers, the other smaller, pretty, wood-panelled. Everywhere there are oil paintings, of finely dressed ladies holding flowers or babies or jewellery, and men of action in dashing uniforms. One generation of owners was painted by Gainsborough, who lived nearby, although these pictures are safely in museum collections in Britain and the United States.

These dining and dancing and ceremony rooms (Hintlesham is hugely popular for weddings, as befits a fairytale hall) lead out into the gardens, with lawns and a pond, and borders of stately flowers and topiary. We discovered tennis courts in one direction, a kitchen garden in the other named in honour of the celebrity and television chef, Robert Carrier, who ran Hintlesham as a hotel, restaurant and cookery school in the 1970s and 80s. This is where the beautifully sweet and shiny apples came from – as, I imagine, did part of our very fine dinner.

We ate in the peaceful panelled parlour, where the table d’hote menu was £27 for two courses, £35 for three and excellent all the way from the amuse bouche through to the petits fours. The menu was enticing and the cooking assured. I had delicate and delicious cream of courgette soup with chive yoghurt, followed by rosti potato tart with goat’s cheese, tomatoes, spinach and a herb infusion, my husband had pressed smoked chicken with spring onions and tarragon and ‘textures of cauliflower’ which turned out to be delicious tastes of cauliflower, smoked, pickled and foamed.

Most Read

Coconut panacotta with saffron, ginger and crème fraiche sorbet was a pudding fit for the princess I was becoming. That night owls lulled us to sleep, helped by the lavish bed of our lovely room and the deep peace of the hall.

Breakfast was a delight of juice and fruit and buffet treats, plus a menu of full English, kippers, eggs Benedict with salmon. Large dark and succulent mushrooms were a particular treat.

Check-out time is an unrushed midday and as we left we were offered another apple. (The staff were all lovely, smiley, friendly and helpful, throughout.) We rejoined real life, hoping biting into the pink-tinged flesh of the tree-fresh apples would keep the fairytale atmosphere alive a little longer.

Need to know

Hintlesham Hall is a Grade 1 listed manor house set in acres of peaceful gardens and grounds, in countryside just five miles from Ipswich. It has its own spa and an adjoining golf course and nearby attractions include a wealth of pretty villages, Constable Country to the south, the estuaries of the Orwell and Stour to the east and the historic market towns of Long Melford and Sudbury to the west.

Rowan Mantell was a guest of Hintlesham Hall, which has 32 individually designed bedrooms and suites.

Dinner, bed and breakfast breaks for two cost from around £163 (to more than £400 for the stunning principal suite.)

Hintlesham Hall, Hintlesham, Ipswich, IP8 3NS. 01473 652334.