Category Archives: Travel articles

Disco lights, friendly staff and great location at Point A hotel, Kings Cross, London

It might possibly be the first hotel room I’ve stayed in which had a ‘disco lighting’ option but it was typical of this Point A hotel, which was full of quirky, thoughtful and useful touches.  While I usually review hotels at the more luxury end of the scale for ALadyofLeisure.com, this more affordable option showed that value for money doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the sense of being ‘looked after’ which the top hotels do so well.

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Point A Kings Cross St Pancras is just a few minutes away from Kings Cross and St Pancras tube and railway stations as well as the Eurostar terminal

Point A hotel chain was started in 2017 and so far has six hotels in central London and one in Glasgow. While the company says it’s looking to offer ‘great value, comfort and design in convenient locations’, it also prides itself on its friendly service and personal touches which was apparent the moment I walked into my hotel room.

While it wasn’t large – and indeed the single bedrooms are smaller, and not all have windows – some well thought out design touches meant the room made the most of the available space without leaving it feeling cramped or crowded.

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My hotel bedroom – in the subdued lighting mode – had a Hypnos double bed, window, smart TV and lots of useful touches

Thus there were foldaway tables built into the wall, an information board as part of the room decor showing everything from a local map to how to work the free wifi, a place to store the remote control and several more storage wall-mounted alcoves for your stuff, plus lots of storage space under the bed, a folding stool and hanging hooks for bags. Continue reading Disco lights, friendly staff and great location at Point A hotel, Kings Cross, London

The Crown and Castle Orford – it’s a Suffolk spot of food heaven

The Suffolk village of Orford might be tiny but it packs in pretty much everything you’d expect from a classic English location. It’s got a medieval church – the massive 14th century St Bartholomew’s – a handful of shops (including an honesty box newsagents), a couple of pubs, a restaurant, a cafe and even its very own castle.

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The impressive 14th-century church of St Bartholomew’s in the Suffolk village of Orford

Visitors can  wander down the road past the church to the quayside, head along the River Ore past the National Trust site of Orford Ness before circling back for a walk around the castle. They could fit in a drink at the Kings Head before dinner and B&B at the Crown and Castle and consider themselves to have seen pretty much all the sights of Orford.

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The 12th-century Orford Castle – it’s free to wander around the outside but you have to pay to look inside

However this brief summary doesn’t really do justice to the charm of this historic village. It might be small but there’s a lot going on – the Village Voice newsletter I read over a pint of Adnams in the Kings Head was full of concerts, quizzes, sporting events and club notices – and the unassuming Crown and Castle is actually known as one of the best dining pubs for miles.

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The Crown and Castle at Orford has an acclaimed restaurant and 21 bedrooms

It was at the Crown and Castle I stayed, having come straight from its sister (but very different) hotel The Brudenell at Aldeburgh (and before heading onto another in the group, The Swan at Lavenham). The Crown and Castle used to be owned by Ruth Watson, the original ‘Hotel Inspector’ in the TV series of that name, but she sold it a couple of years ago to Suffolk-based hotel group The TA Hotel Collection (recently renamed The Hotel Folk).

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The Crown and Castle is just a few yards away from the impressive Orford Castle

While the other two are sizeable hotels, the Crown and Castle instead bills itself as a restaurant with rooms and the star of a stay here is indeed the award-winning food, given two AA rosettes and featured in the likes of Sawdays and the Good Hotel Guide.

However as a place to stay and explore the area it also ticks all the right boxes, with charming, well-designed rooms both in the main building and in various cottages.

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Inside the decor is stylish but low-key

We stayed in a Garden Room of which there are six, just a few steps from the restaurant and with its own terrace and garden which will be great in the summertime. The room was spacious, with an immaculate bathroom, large TV, kettle, wardrobe and everything you could expect from a hotel room, and a fun plus point were the entertaining and quirky film reviews written by a staff member (all the DVDs were free to borrow).

To book directly with the hotel, click on: The Crown and Castle
To compare prices for The Crown and Castle click on: Trivago HotelsCombined.com –  Booking.com
To read more reviews and get the latest prices click here to go to The Crown and Castle on TripAdvisor

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Our Garden Room – there’s a private terrace and garden to the rear of the room
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The quirky DVD reviews gave the Crown and Castle a fun personal touch

There are 21 rooms in total, ranging from suites and terrace rooms and Good, Better and Best room in the main house, and most enjoy a great view of Orford Castle, just a few yards away. Only ten minutes from the front door and you’re at the River Ore quayside which not only has a lovely farm shop and smokehouse called Pinney’s but has great walking trails and views across to Orford Ness nature reserve.

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You can look across the river to the shingle spit of Orford Ness, nature reserve and former military outpost

After all that walking, the highly-anticipated evening meal back at the Crown and Castle did not disappoint. There is a bar area for the exclusive use of hotel guests were we could enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail (there was an extensive cocktail and sherry list) but we chose to go straight through to the restaurant, which was elevated from the usual pub restaurant with its interesting artwork and use of colour. The staff were attentive, the service was prompt and the head chef Rob Walpole was clearly someone who not only knew a lot about food but really enjoyed his work.

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The colourful and quirky restaurant at The Crown and Castle
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There was a full but interesting menu of local food

The menu was a delight to read, with a strong emphasis on seafood and shellfish – lots of salmon, rock oysters, skate, crabs prawns and even Felixstowe sprats – but other treats such as Italian-style aperitivo ‘cicheti’ to share, roast pheasant, breast of Suffolk lamb, slow-roast pork belly and wild halibut.

We started with casarecce – Sicilian, short twisted pasta – with duck ragu (also available as a main) and a plate of rock oysters, followed by the breast of lamb and an absolutely massive shortcrust steak and kidney pie which was the stand-out dish of the evening in a an excellent dinner.

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An indulgent local starter of half a dozen rock oysters
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The ample starter portion of casarecce pasta and duck ragu
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Our chocolate Nemesis

Amazingly we managed to fit in a chocolate Nememis (accurately described on the menu as squidgy mousse-cake) which was delicious but there was also a huge list of teas, dessert wines, chocolates and Neal’s Yard seasonal cheeses on offer as well.

Breakfast was equally first-class with a friendly menu stating that ‘we serve tea and toast straightaway – please just say if you would like more later on’ and a full list of suppliers of the English breakfast including Dingley Dell bacon, Revett’s of Wickham Market sausages, Pump Street Bakery bread and High House farm loganberry jam – ‘probably the best jam you’ll ever eat.’ The sheer enthusiasm for good food, locally-sourced really shone through at the Crown and Castle and made for a really memorable, foodie-friendly stay.

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A cheerful morning boiled egg and soldiers
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The naerby Pump Street cafe and bakery

The Crown and Castle, Market Hill, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2LJ
01394 450 205

DB&B to include a two-course a la Carte dinner is from £220 for a Good House room, £310 for a  Best House and £360 for the Suite.

For B&B only then a Good House is £160, Best House £250 and £310 for the Suite. DB&B on Fridays and Saturdays is a two night minimum stay.

To book directly with the hotel, click on: The Crown and Castle
To compare prices for The Crown and Castle click on: Trivago HotelsCombined.com –  Booking.com
To read more reviews and get the latest prices click here to go to The Crown and Castle on TripAdvisor

 

Good taste in every sense at Adnams excellent Swan hotel in Southwold

It does great food and excellent cocktails, it’s got beautiful bedrooms, friendly staff and even has a brewery and distillery on site (it’s owned by 147-year-old Suffolk brewer Adnams). Added to that, it’s right in the heart of Southwold, one of Britain’s loveliest seaside towns, so there’s a lot going for the Swan hotel in Southwold and I would wholeheartedly recommend a stay at this most charming of places.

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My rather lovely bedroom in the Swan hotel in Southwold

The moment I walked into the room at the Swan I knew I wanted my bedroom at home to look exactly the same. The use of colour and light – a bright rug here, some lovely pictures there – was quirky and fun, and there was the shabby chic charm of colourful chairs, uplit pictures and a wooden dresser packed with essentials such as Nespresso coffee, Tyrells crisps and a complimentary bottle of Adams own Longshore vodka.

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The Fabulous class room (the Swan has Excellent, Fabulous and Outstanding rooms) came with a complimentary bottle of Adnams Longshore vodka

The bathroom had full-sized Temple Spa toiletries, a luxurious fast-filling and very deep bath and there was lots of information to read about the hotel so you could fully immerse yourself in its history. The Swan itself dates back hundreds of years, with records of ale being brewed here as far back as 1345 – by determined ‘ale wife’ Johanna de Corby who kept on appearing in court thanks to the crime of selling ale in unmarked measures – and has been owned by Adnams ever since the brewery was founded in 1872. Continue reading Good taste in every sense at Adnams excellent Swan hotel in Southwold

Curry, bagels, fish and chips and bacon butties on a food tour of London’s East End

In just four hours I ate curry, fish and chips, stilton cheese, salt beef bagels, bread and butter pudding, salted caramel cheesecake and a bacon sandwich. With ketchup. Why? You might well ask. It was because I had decided to be a tourist in London for the day. And my day was all the better for it.  There is a certain delight in being in a tourist in your home town. It’s such an unusual thing to do that it feels slightly illicit, that you have no right to be there, this is an experience for visitors, not locals. And how much are you going to discover, given that you know the area so well?

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Our excellent guide Flic with a happy tour participant and a handful of portions of fish and chips – one of our many food stops!

The answer is – a lot. I have lived and worked in London for most of my adult life and yet I found the four-hour Eating Europe food tour of London truly fascinating. Some of the places we visited I was familiar with, others not at all, and yet even the familiar places were given a new light as I discovered there is a big difference between walking through an area and actually getting to know it by hearing its history and eating its food.

That was another unexpected element about the tour: I thought it would just be about the food but our fabulously enthusiastic and well-informed guide Flic told us all about the history of each area so I came away much fuller in both food and local knowledge.

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The entrance to London’s historic Spitalfields Market

We started off near Liverpool Street station in Spitalfields market which began began trading back in the 13th century. The market operated for more than 700 years until the 1990s when it moved to larger premises in Leyton, east London and the building itself became a rather run-down collection of shops and sporting facilities (I used to play five-a-side football here!) Reopening in 2005 after a regeneration programme, Spitalfields is now a rather smart shopping and food area which still retains a hint of its original function.

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Our enthusiastic and informative guide Flic in full flow

Passing by the Ten Bells pub where Flic informed us ‘Jack the Ripper drank here and scouted for his future victims’ we headed up Commercial Street to notable chef Fergus Henderson’s restaurant St John Bread and Wine. Continue reading Curry, bagels, fish and chips and bacon butties on a food tour of London’s East End

Relaxing in the slow lane at Brandshatch Place hotel and spa

As befits a hotel which shares its name with famous motor racing circuit, guests to the Brandshatch Place hotel and spa are greeted with the hum of traffic when they park at the front of the hotel. Rather than superbikes and touring cars on the racing circuit however, the sound is actually coming from the nearby M20 but don’t worry – not a sound or squeak from the motorway actually penetrates the hotel or adjacent spa at all and a night in Brandshatch Place will see you securely insulated from the outside world.

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Brandshatch Place hotel and spa is situated in 12 acres of Kent countryside

The hotel itself predates the motor age by almost a century, being  built by the Duke of Norfolk in 1806 and it remained a private home until 1977 when it was transformed into a hotel and country club. Now owned by Hand Picked Hotels, the 19-strong hotel company owned by Julia and Guy Hands, Brandshatch Place has 38 bedrooms and a restaurant plus a spa with a gym, indoor pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna and treatment rooms. Continue reading Relaxing in the slow lane at Brandshatch Place hotel and spa