People are always asking me about the best places to visit when they go to the UK. Aside from the obvious city attractions, many visitors want a complete break from the hustle of London – they want to get into the bucolic British countryside, eat cream teas and hike across pastures green.
“So, where should we go to do that?” they ask. Well, it’s a tough call because most of the most beautiful countryside towns and villages are a good 5-hour drive from London (Cornwall, Lake District, Scotland etc), however, when I was in the UK last summer I rediscovered Suffolk – and I’m so very glad that I did!
Suffolk is roughly a two and a half hour drive (north east) from London. Once in the heart of the county of Suffolk, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a Thomas Hardy book: rolling green hills studded with clusters of deep green oaks, hedgerows bordering tiny lanes, old stone walls and a plethora of charming villages and castles dating back to the thirteenth century. The eastern border of Suffolk takes you to the glorious coast – the quintessential British seaside, complete with bathing huts, and cream teas served on china.
Our destination for the week (my BFF, her 2 young daughters, and my daughter), was Partridge Lodge, a cluster of self-catering converted barns in the heart of the countryside, but just 5 minutes drive from the quaint market town of Woodbridge. The owners, Aaran and Sarah Henry, have beautifully converted the old farm into 3 self-catering residences. We booked ourselves in “The Granary” for a week, which couldn’t have been more perfect – a renovated old barn, complete with exposed beams, white-washed stone walls, and a scrubbed kitchen table, but what is genius is that every modern convenience is carefully hidden: washer/dryer, dishwasher, power shower, heated towel rail etc – everything that makes a high maintenance, trying-to-be-eco girl like me, happy. Partridge Lodge is very eco-friendly. I did have a peek inside the largest of the buildings, The Dairy, and WOW! It’s sleeps 8 and is a magnificent barn.
On arrival, Sarah showed us how to handle all of our recycling (every single thing is recycled here), where to compost, and even how to gather still-warm eggs from the chicken coop every morning. Sarah also left us a few goodies on the kitchen table: a pot of homemade raspberry jelly, artisan brownies, and speckled eggs. I couldn’t wait to get the kettle on for a nice cuppa to wash down those insanely delicious brownies. Both Aaron and Sarah are the perfect hosts: Unlike a B&B where one can feel a little overwhelmed by the innkeepers, Sarah and Aaran are so friendly and warm – offering all the detailed advice you need, and yet they keep to themselves as they live in one of the central barns, and are extremely busy raising four strapping boys!
There is an awful lot to do for the hearty, which I am not! But if you are, you can hike, horseback ride, canoe, sail, knock a ball around the tennis court, and much more. If you are of a more delicate institution, and my girly group fell into the latter category, you can spend the day village-hopping, browsing artisan bread & cheese shops, antique hunting, or my favorite:boutique shopping. You’ll find fresh fish (caught that morning) on the beach in every seaside town, and in the wonderful selection of restaurants in and around Woodbridge. Actually, the restaurants were stunning: every menu we peeked at offered mouthwatering local, seasonal, and organic food. If shellfish is your thing, you’ll find the best lobster, oysters and crab you’ve ever tasted in most of the local restaurants.
Partridge Lodge is a kid’s paradise: They can roam around unsupervised, so much so, that Last Child In The Woods author, Richard Louv, would give Partridge Lodge top marks for creating a safe but unrestrained environment for kids to get down and dirty (and I mean grass, earth, sand and water.) Even the youngest in our party, Holly (5 yrs) was able to take the little rowing boat out by herself in the pond in front of our deck – obviously we were watching, but she felt she was taking the biggest risk imaginable.
If mooching around the farm and taking long, glorious walks around isn’t enough, get in your car and just a few minutes away, you’ll find yourself in tiny country villages or market towns. We went to the seaside every day: My two favorite places are the old towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold. Aldeburgh is a shingled beach covered in old wooden fishing boats. Southwold is like something out of an Enid Blighton novel: Sand dunes for miles, stripey windbreaks, buckets & spades and a freezing ocean in which dozen of brazenly white Brits immerse themselves.
So, if you are looking for a perfect getaway that is pretty close to London in the quintessential English countryside, Partridge Farm is the place to go. Book early to avoid disappointment because they’ve had one too many great write-ups of late, and guests book for next year before they’ve driven off!