Bag a room at the front of the Angel Hotel, in Bury St Edmunds, and you will be looking out over a huge cobbled square that has changed little for many centuries, certainly since the arrival of the railways in 1846 ended its role as one of the key coaching inns between London and East Anglia.
With real coffees in hand from the bedroom cafetiere (such a change from hotel instant sachets), we savoured the comforting drink as well as one of those classic views of historic England through the ivy-fringed sash windows.
The 77-bedroom Georgian pile has reinvented itself many times and remains a bustling and dynamic place where history meets plenty of modern design and furnishing twists (think contemporary art, celebrity portraits, copper baths and subtle lighting) that complement the lively human buzz of locals and foreign visitors.
Those rooms and suites vary widely in style, from homely classic and cosy original to seductively romantic and ivy view suites with sumptuous fabrics and styling.
Apart from Charles Dickens and Angelina Jolie (said to have survived on a room service diet of boiled chicken and popcorn), celebrities galore have stayed as well as countless repeat guests (requesting their ‘usual’ room) drawn to the fabulous central location and sybaritic delights.
Outside is a town which has it all for history and culture buffs as well as foodies and families: the huge Abbey Gardens are across the square, along with the mysterious tale of St Edmund (the country’s patron saint till George replaced him), the Greene King brewery tour, the last working Regency Theatre in the UK, one of the country’s top ten restaurants (Maison Bleue), cobbled Georgian and Medieval streets and ‘horrible history’ museums aplenty.
As a base for exploration, the Angel is as central as it gets, having been Bury’s main stopover inn for over 500 years. It is now very much the vision of the local Gough family who has run it for half a century and stamped it with their individual style, including unusual and sometimes amusing furnishing and art from their foreign travels.
Service is efficient yet friendly as black-clad staff swish around between the reception and the moodily-lighted rear lounge area, which is large enough to accommodate several groups in intimate privacy on the comfy sofas. Outside, thankfully for a town centre hotel, there is convenient guest parking at the front (concierge controlled) and in a rear area.
Our room is spacious and well equipped with a huge Freeview flat screen, two Queen Anne-style, padded armchairs for admiring that cathedral and Abbey Gardens view, together with a spacious bathroom complete with that copper bath and a walk-in power shower. The array of plug sockets is another bonus at the desk as they are often hard to find in even the best of hotels.
Our dinner is in one of the two dining rooms that are divided by the entrance area, which adds more of that obvious life and buzz to the ambience. We are joined on a large nearby table by an excited group of Dutch visitors who add to the conviviality (no stuffiness here!).
Our young waitress, who hails from our last city-break place, Lisbon, is immediately laughing at our attempts to describe, in broken Portuguese, some of the delights we had witnessed there. She speaks perfect English and is an absolute hoot, typical of several staff we met during our 24-hour stay.
The food is an interesting mix of locally sourced English classics with Continental twists. I opt for a scrummy flat iron steak, cooked pink, and served with triple cooked chips and baked shallots, with a tasty accompaniment of roasted bone marrow, watercress and shallot cream.
My partner Sue Mountjoy opens with a decent-sized gin-cured sea trout and chooses for her main an exquisitely cooked local Denham Castle lamb rack, combined with sweetbreads, belly and beer pickled onion. A mixed plate of tangy and subtle cheeses and biscuits follows, the whole meal accompanied by a spicy red Italian favourite, a 2013 Salice Salentino Riserva from Puglia.
With its central position, the Angel is perfect for a post-prandial stroll through the cobbled streets and we make it to the Masons Arms (on the advice of our waitress) a genuine pub, with an impressive selection of real ales (and a great Sunday roast apparently).
That night, we sleep soundly and rise to breakfast in the opposite dining room which had hosted one of the hotel’s regular events, a wine tasting, the previous evening. I choose the Full English, known here as The Suffolk Grill, which includes local sausage and back bacon, black pudding, fried bread, grilled tomato, mushrooms and a choice of eggs. Sue goes for a fruit salad followed by grilled mushrooms and scrambled eggs on toast, all served at the table.
It’s a heartening end to an unhurried stay at one of the East of England’s classical jewels, which has the life of an ancient coaching inn but the facilities of a contemporary urban sanctuary. A clever Bury cocktail indeed.
Tell Me More About The Angel Hotel, Bury St Edmunds
The Angel does lots of deals including packages for Spring with free child places, as well as spa specials, decadent getaways and dining stays. A standard weekday bed and breakfast stay for two is £137, including Wi-Fi, VAT and car parking. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01284 714000.