It’s rare to find a country idyll which offers the metropolitan buzz and sophistication of an urban boutique hotel, but The Norfolk Mead Hotel is that very hybrid.
Credit owners James Holliday and Anna Duttson, Londoners who called on friends from the capital for design help when they bought an imposing red-brick mansion on the edge of the Norfolk Broads in 2013.
The handsome 1740’s merchant’s house in the pretty small market town of Coltishall had already been converted into a hotel. Then very rundown, after much TLC as well as hefty investment, it has evolved into a 4-star staycation destination which makes a fine base for Norfolk’s many delights, from messing about on boats to viewing world-class art at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre.
Rooms are handsome and often quirky, given the need to utilise attics and eaves, eclectic wallpaper one of the most interesting and unusual pleasures introduced interior designer Alice Walsh. London artist Jo Barrett has made the minimalist dining room something really special with her huge still lifes featuring monumental fruit, and there is a stylish living room for afternoon tea, which like pre-prandial can also be enjoyed in an atmospheric brick-walled garden.
The larger garden surrounding the house is where we stayed in a dog-friendly cottage more charming than chic, its own fenced garden a secure place to let a pet out on its own early or late. But the greater delight was to slip out of Crab Apple Cottage with dog at heel and cross a bridge to Norfolk Mead’s own little Broad – a stretch of water with mooring for its own boat, which can be hired for excursions when conditions are right.
James and Anna, who have worked with the McLaren Formula One team all over the world, have catering backgrounds but employ a dinner chef. Although his menus made our hearts faintly sink, fielding an endless list of ingredients for every dish, in practice the food was delicious and much less fussy than it was made to sound. Breakfasts, cooked by Anna, are even better, more straightforward but no less ambitious – it’s a pleasure to be offered the choice of perfectly-poached eggs florentine on a bed of fresh spinach alongside the more usual Benedict, and local kippers too.
Wroxham, up the road, is a buzzy Broads town with a tea-room where fresh Cromer crab sandwiches can be had for lunch, and between this boatyard town and the hotel is a more tranquil stretch of the River Bure known as The Commons, a good place to walk by the water and talk to boat people getting ready to barbecue their supper. Norwich is less than half an hour away and makes a good day trip – stroll the cathedral and its cloisters, wander quirky Norwich Lanes and allow a good couple of hours for the Sainsbury Centre, with its blockbuster art exhibitions, sculpture garden and river walk.
Many Londoners have second homes in Norfolk, but James and Anna, who occupy a wing of the Georgian house, must surely be unique among working Brits in maintaining a second home in London. With all the activity they now supervise here in an elegant Garden Room which hosts weddings and other celebrations, they must hardly have a minute to enjoy it.
Tell me more about The Norfolk Mead Hotel
Rooms from £135 double including breakfast.
The Norfolk Mead Hotel, Church Loke, Coltishall, Norfolk NR12 7DN
T: 01603 737 531