Travel: The rural riches of East Anglia

Belle Grove - the 'Dragon House' near Southwold in Suffolk. Picture: Contributed
Belle Grove - the 'Dragon House' near Southwold in Suffolk. Picture: Contributed
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HOME COMFORTS in the East Anglian countryside set the scene for a relaxing family holiday, writes Charlotte Ross

Evening had fallen by the time I unlocked the gate of the Granary at Belle Grove in rural Suffolk. Entering through the balmy stillness of the enclosed garden, I opened the kitchen door to find the place aglow with gold and scarlet and burnished wood. It was like walking into a jewellery box, each room painted blood red or jade green and filled with intricately decorated curios.

Belle Grove. Picture: Contributed

Belle Grove. Picture: Contributed

There were antique chairs, richly embroidered fabrics and perilously high beds with painted headboards, and little wooden stools to help you climb up. Outside was a prettily lit summerhouse packed with books and a dressing-up box. The heavy beams, exposed timber doorframes and uneven plasterwork spoke of a medieval renovation, while the decor – a magpie collection of chinoiserie – was straight from the Orient.

The mix of eras and continents transported me further from weekday worries, as did the wine left as a gift on the long kitchen table. Cooking dinner, I was grateful for quality oils, sea salt and other store cupboard basics such as washing-up liquid, tinfoil and biscuits dotted around. This is the modern, civilised self-catering set-up that is thankfully starting to emerge, where you pay a little more upfront to avoid the stress of a bare larder and an 
empty toilet-roll holder when you arrive at night just after the local store has shut. As I sank into the dreamily soft bed, I gave thanks for a holiday rental that delivered the comforts of home but a lot more conveniently.

The next morning we explored 
the grounds, discovering a charmingly landscaped farm with a duck pond, an old caravan converted into an “observatory” for stargazing, and random pieces of sculpture emerging from pretty hedgerows.

It’s an idyllic spot: the summerhouse proved a hit with my young daughter, and her dad soaked up the sun while reading in the garden. But the deep-country feel at Belle Grove is deceptive. After only half an hour pootling along the hedge-fringed roads we found ourselves in bright and breezy Southwold, eating ice-cream on the trendily restored pier and rambling round the old town in search of Adnams beer and artisan butchers. Along with beach huts, cobbled lanes and lighthouses, Southwold has the whole middle-class seaside package.

Also perfect for an easy family day out are the pretty coastal villages of Walberswick and Orford, both of which are within easy striking distance. Here you’ll find oysters for sale on the shore plus well-marked walks for all abilities.

Back in the Granary we cooked family meals and baked proper puds, then watched films washed down with decent wine. We slept deeply in the country silence and woke up late, amazed to find our normally frantic four-year-old having a lie-in too. As frazzled working parents, this was more than we’d dared hope for.

It wasn’t until our last day that we discovered the bizarre truth about Belle Grove. I knew the slightly bonkers main residence, the Dragon House, where owners Jo and Nick live (guests can’t stay there), was a rebuild of the family farmhouse – Nick grew up in it. What else could explain this five-storey fantasy home with its round front, spiral staircase and curious central turret?

I’d assumed the outbuildings were converted from the original ancient barns, coach houses and granaries, but over a cup of tea in her dream kitchen Jo explained that the buildings were actually Victorian brick stables bombed in the Second World War then badly patched up. When Nick and Jo, keen travellers with backgrounds in business, took over the running of the farm they gutted the lot and created this idyll. They embarked on a grand tour of the Far East, buying up antiques and artefacts and shipping them back to furnish the new rooms. The couple settled back at the farm, bringing with them all the riches of their experiences.

We packed up and left feeling that we had visited a special place. Belle Grove is not just a holiday home – it’s a labour of love.

Belle Grove, Low Common, Westhall, Halesworth IP19 8QU. The Granary costs from £710 per week or from £570 for three nights,