Staycation Special: Norwich

Summer 2020, for many of us, means a staycation. With uncertainty looming over travel abroad and the question of whether your holiday destination will be one of those added to the list, which sees you isolate for 14 days upon your return, holidaying closer to home is holding much more appeal. Norwich has a very rich history, a boutique town centre, gorgeous flat countryside surrounding it as well as a beautiful coastline and a solid reputation for its beer, so for my own staycation this summer, it was a no brainer.

Where to stay

For family friendly:

Arrandale Lodge is a 4-star guesthouse conveniently located in between Norwich town centre and the university. Its location is prime actually for things to do, such as the Plantation Garden and Sainsbury Centre (more on that below). They have five individually decorated rooms, which reflect the wonderful hosts, a couple of British and South African origin. The quirky boutique’s options include The Blue Room, The Green Room, The Red Room, The African Room and The Zebra Room. The Blue Room, where I stayed on my visit, is the largest and perfect for families. It features a super-king (super-comfy) bed, with a single bed opposite, which is great for children. There’s also a seating area in front of a 40″ flat screen TV, making it feel more homely, and a walk-in shower in the bathroom. Full breakfast is included, with good choices available in both continental and cooked breakfasts; the Full English is a must, the hosts use high quality ingredients and it’s cooked perfectly. Compliments to the chef! The best thing about Arrandale Lodge by a mile though is its hosts. They’re warm, friendly, superbly hospitable people that made our stay even more comfortable and relaxing. We loved having a good old natter with them whenever we saw them and would love to stay again in future.

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For the luxe appeal:

Norfolk Mead is just a 25 minute drive from Norwich town centre and is located in the river town of Coltishall. Norfolk Mead backs onto the River Bure and has its own boat for hire, which is a perfect opportunity to explore the Norfolk Broads – a wonderful mixture of open water, woodland, fen and marsh. I’d highly recommend taking out a picnic, which the hotel can provide you, and hiring out the boat. It’s a lovely, calming way to while away the morning or afternoon. As well as priding themselves on these unique experiences, the Norfolk Mead also prides itself on its dining; their restaurant is one of the best in the county and has been awarded two AA Rosettes. Executive Chef Damien Woollard is a huge talent and offers a daily changing, inventive menu that’s exciting, fresh and seasonal. On the menu upon my visit there was the a Whipped Honey Feta starter, with Heritage Tomatoes, Smoked Beetroot, Gazpacho, Rosemary Emulsion and Puffed Wild Rice. It was a clever dish full of contrast, in flavour and in texture. For mains, the Lemon & Thyme Chicken Breast, with Broccoli & Almond Puree, Feves, Pomme Anna, Braised Shallot, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Roasted Garlic Kiev, Pancetta and Wholegrain Mustard Sauce, was outstanding. The ingredients are top notch, since Damien and his team pride themselves on using only the freshest produce, all of which is sourced locally where possible. All round, Norfolk Mead is a perfect luxurious break, putting guests instantly at ease in their fabulous company.

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For the location and history:

The Maids Head Hotel is the oldest hotel in Britain, dating back to the 12th century. The car park used to be stables where the horses and carriages pulled in, and the kitchen area at the back of the hotel is where guests would enter. And they’ve had their share of famous guests in the past: The Black Prince (eldest son of King Edward III), Catherine of Aragon, Queen Elizabeth I and Admiral Lord Nelson to name a few! The hotel can trace its origins to a guest house established by the early Norman Bishops of Norwich for visitors to the Cathedral, which is right opposite so there are cracking views on offer here. In fact, the cathedral is well worth visiting because it’s situated in a 44 acre site, it’s close to the river Wensum, it boasts the largest cloisters in England, has the second tallest spire in the country and an amazing 1,200 carved stone roof bosses – one of the greatest art treasures of medieval Europe. The Maids Head Hotel in 1287 was a tavern and relied on horses carrying their guests. Today the hotel has a high-spec garage, which is home to two incredible vehicles: A rare 1950 Bentley Mark 6, left hand drive convertible, with a Park Ward body. Only four of this particular model were made and only two survive. The Mark 6 was Bentley’s first post-war luxury car and was manufactured between 1947 and 1952. The second vehicle is a 1963 Bentley S3, which has proved very popular, taking hotel guests on chauffeur driven explorations of the city. The bride and groom at weddings hosted by the hotel are also able to take a spin in the Bentley, with resident chauffeur Dave Currums. The garage is part of a recently completed multi-million pound major refurbishment of the hotel, so if the cathedral’s collection of carved stone roof bosses is one of the treasures of medieval Europe, The Maids Head Hotel is one of the treasures of Norwich for sure.

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What to see and do

For culture:

The Sainsbury Centre is just a short journey away from Arrandale Lodge and is located on the premises of the university. They’ve currently got two must-see exhibitions – Art Noveau: The Nature of Dreams, is a fantastic insight into the history of Art Noveau, covering different parts of the world, from England and Belgium to Paris and Catalonia. The Anderson Collection was donated to the Sainsbury Centre in 1978 (the year it opened) and every year since there’s been exhibitions showcasing this nationally important collection. Art Deco By The Sea is a major new exhibition that explores how the Art Deco style shaped the modern British seaside during the 1920s and 30s, between the First and Second World Wars. It’s beautifully illustrated and colourful, juxtaposing the otherwise gloomy period of this era.

I’d strongly recommend visiting Houghton Hall where Anish Kapoor is currently showcasing the largest UK exhibition of outdoor sculptures. Seminal works by this celebrated British sculptor feature 21 pieces as well as a selection of drawings and smaller works representative of Kapoor’s groundbreaking body of work from the past 40 years. The Sky Mirror is the biggest draw. Houghton Hall in itself is a must visit. The grand building was built by Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, in around 1722. It was designed by prominent Georgian architects, Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, and is one of the country’s finest examples of Palladian architecture.

For food:

Norwich boasts so many great pubs and restaurants with excellent dining options, so you’ll be spoilt for choice, but really when you’re so close to the coast and for the sake of tradition, you can never go wrong with classic fish and chips! Grosvenor Fish Bar is right in the heart of the town centre and is hugely popular with locals. It’s been around for almost 100 years and serves up superb old-age favourites, as well as modernised quirkier options. These include B.B.L.T (treacle and beer cured battered bacon), Clamity Jane (homemade clam burger) and Loony Toony (battered tuna steak). Ultimately, for me though, you can’t beat the classic cod and chips with a bit of mushy peas. Take your order to one of the benches on the square to eat your meal and you’ll find yourself in the perfect spot for some people watching.

For outdoor space:

The Plantation Garden is a wonderfully restored, idiosyncratic, late Victorian town garden in the heart of Norwich, just a short walk from Arrandale Lodge. It’s on a main road but you wouldn’t know it, because it’s so calm and tranquil, and very pleasing on the eye. It’s one of Norwich’s great hidden treasures – a 3 acre Grade II English Heritage registered outdoor space, established over 100 years ago, in an abandoned chalk quarry. It’s an ideal spot for some reflective time in solitude, some quiet reading or simply for a browse with a coffee and a conversation.

For shopping:

Norwich offers the market, which last year was the winner of the ‘Best Large Outdoor Market’ by Great British Market Awards, and the lanes, which is a miscellany of narrow streets, imaginative local architecture, centuries of design and intricate brickwork including a beautiful flint knapped Guildhall dating back to 1407. Norwich also has the Jarrold department store, which has been trading since 1823 and is still remarkably owned by the Jarrold family, making it Norwich’s only independent department store and an institution in my eyes. You’ll find all the designer labels and brands, as well as beauty treatments here, but the gem for me is the lovely book department in the basement. There’s a section lovingly dedicated to local books, which I found very charming.

For more information on Norwich, The City of Stories go to