The Swan at Lavenham is located in one of those villages where you catch yourself thinking; ‘Is this actually real?’
The chocolate-box gorgeousness of some Cotswold villages for example: Bampton (the real-life Downton Village) and nearby Burford can look exactly as if imagined by an American director making a film about quintessential England, or Clovelly in North Devon which ticks all the boxes of a beautiful fishing village.
Lavenham in Suffolk is much the same. After a perfectly fine if mundane journey along the A1141 or whatever road has taken you there, you suddenly find yourself in a village so packed with crooked cottages and half-timbered buildings that you feel as if you have been suddenly transported back to medieval England. (Or magical England – some of the Harry Potter films were shot here).
A short walk down the High Street – in which you expect to see horse-drawn carts and straw everywhere – turns into a succession of picture-taking and marvelling at ‘Why have I never been to this place before?’
What finally brought me here was the Swan Hotel, part of the Pride of Britain hotel group which includes such notable establishments as Lucknam Park hotel and spa near Bath, the Goring in London and Ockenden Manor in West Sussex.
What the Swan lacked in terms of grandeur when compared to Lucknam Park for example, it more than made up for in sheer history: the building is more that 400 years old and looked it, not in the sense of being run down and dated, but by way of being positively festooned in beams. There were wooden beams everywhere – all over the outside of the building, in my room, in the hotel’s restaurant and bar, and where there weren’t beams there were ancient flagstones. The whole hotel building was impressively, seriously old.
Thankfully the food and the service were extremely modern. On arrival, someone rushed out to help me with my bags and direct me to the car park across the road; the bathroom in my suite was immaculate and newly refurbished, and the bar served a far-from-dated selection of decent ales and wines. I dropped my bags in my room and dashed downstairs to get a pint of Adnams Broadside and sit sipping it in the courtyard before the sun set for the day.
Dinner in the restaurant (lots more beams) was a very pleasant – a friendly, well-written menu (it had a lot of wines by the glass and said things like ‘very food-friendly’ and ‘for everyday drinking’ which always sounds quite cheerful) and had a choice of a la carte or the house menu.
I went for the house menu and started with the breaded brie with plum sauce – not something I would usually have and there was a touch of chain restaurant about it.
But I’d been given a pre-starter amuse-bouche of cauliflower soup and some little toasted treats which were very nice, and the slow roast shoulder of lamb with mustard mash, wilted greens, cauliflower puree and port jus which followed was top quality, accompanied by a glass of Chilean pinot noir.
After the long drive and with the prospect of an early start and the trek back to London the next day, I decided against a desert but they did look rather tasty, including a decent British cheese selection, tiramisu and various cheesecakes.
Breakfast the following morning was again a very pleasant meal – good coffee, a perfectly poached egg and the lady who served me and the only other diner there (it was 7am after all) was friendly, efficient and as charming as the village itself.
The Swan at Lavenham is a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels group of luxury hotels. Rooms start at £185 for bed and breakfast.