Where in the United Kingdom (UK) can you go for the ideal city escape, to find the scent of the sea, explore slices of medieval history and enjoy a unique combination of art and luxury? We found an unlikely but surprisingly fitting answer in Ipswich on the estuary of the River Orwell, and just over an hour’s travel from London. We also share our experience at The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, Ipswich.
A British Winter Staycation
When the opportunity arose for a winter weekend staycation in Suffolk, we were intrigued. Apart from hearing about its impressive coastline and countryside, we knew very little about Suffolk’s history and culture.
Although the prospect of visiting the medieval town of Ipswich appealed to us, we were more excited by the opportunity to check out The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, a boutique luxury hotel located along the town’s harbour.
A train journey from London Liverpool Street would have gotten us there in half the time but we decided to make a road trip out of it and set off from London for the two-hour drive to Ipswich via the A12.
Away from the more tired parts of Ipswich, we arrived at the iconic Waterfront where we easily found parking next to the hotel. A blanket of fog enveloped the quiet marina, covering the tethered boats in thick whiteness and creating an air of mystery.
Art and Luxury at The Salthouse Harbour Hotel
The port of Ipswich dates back to Saxon times and played a significant role in regional trade and economic activity through the centuries. Amidst a backdrop of quayside Victorian buildings and luxury apartments, we approached The Salthouse. The beautifully restored red-brick warehouse clearly paid homage to the port’s illustrious past.
Stepping into the lobby of the building, we were at once transported into a world of thoughtful interior décor. The combination of bold and warm colours, art, sculpture and soft furnishings had the effect of immediately arousing our curiosity and seducing us into an appreciation of the unique space.
A stunning abstract portrait by Anthony Francis, a graduate from the Royal Academy of Art complemented an inviting lime green sofa with imprinted cushions. Other seating areas featured a selection of classic furniture with hints of Moorish and East Asian design influence.
Rather than feeling like we were in a busy curio shop, the engaging interplay of objects in the hotel’s public spaces, an old Russian space helmet here and a suspended tattooed female torso there, delighted the senses and sparked our curiosity about their origins and the stories behind them.
Check-in procedures completed quickly, we made our way to a third-floor bedroom. The theme of decadent chic continued from the reception, through the stairwells and into the room. In the expansive room, a super king sized bed welcomed us, surrounded by carefully considered furniture. Shorter days and winter weather conditions create a natural inclination to hibernate. This place seemed to be perfect for that purpose.
The room’s ‘piece de resistance’ was the large copper bathtub which sat in a corner. Deliberately positioned to provide a panoramic view of the marina, we imagined waking up to spectacular sunrises and the sounds of the Ipswich waterfront.
The tall windows guaranteed maximum use of natural light while the internal room lighting, although impractical for reading, cast soft tones as the sunlight disappeared.
A personalised welcome note added a nice touch and hinted of more pleasant surprises ahead.
A Cultural Walk Through Ipswich
Our Suffolk education began at Dance East, one of the UK’s advanced training dance centres located a brisk ten-minute walk from The Salthouse. There we were thrilled by a hypnotic and physically demanding winter production of the classic fairy tale Pinocchio by the Jasmin Vardimon Company. This alternative to the typical Christmas pantomime showcased the impressive quality of modern dance theatre in the region.
For a rudimentary insight into the history of Ipswich, we joined Mike Garland, an educator-turned-volunteer tour guide with The Ipswich Society for a walking tour of the medieval town. We began outside the Old Custom House where our guide expertly summarised centuries of maritime activity in the area around the River Orwell.
Leaving the harbour behind, we ventured into the town centre itself and wandered around the Butter Market area. In addition to several listed buildings, there were pointers to the legacies of historical and contemporary figures including Thomas Wolsey, Charles Dickens and Sir Norman Foster.
In Britain, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate one town from the next due to the monotony of their high streets. Somehow, Ipswich appears to have preserved elements of its unique character with its contemporary use of historical buildings. An example is the aptly named 15th century ‘Ancient House’, a remarkably restored Grade-I listed property which maintains its distinct Tudor architecture despite having a kitchenware chain as its current tenant.
Experiencing Suffolk Food Culture
The diversity of Suffolk’s landscape ensures an equally diverse range of local food produce. Curious about Suffolk cuisine, we learned that a few miles from Ipswich, we could explore Jimmy’s Farm, a local business owned by Jimmy Doherty, childhood friend of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. However, with our prime location on the marina, an Ipswich foodie hotspot, we opted to stay local.
On our first night, we visited the Salthouse Eaterie, the waterside restaurant at The Salthouse. We sparked a conversation with the restaurant manager who explained the provenance of the food and wine on the menu. Of particular interest was the fresh Whitebait fish which is sourced locally from an independent fisherman in Felixstowe, a few miles north along the coast. Combined with tartare sauce and roasted garlic bruschetta, it made a tasty starter.
The following afternoon, we drove for ten minutes to have a late lunch at The Cookhouse, part of the acclaimed Suffolk Food Hall located by the remarkable Orwell Bridge. We were welcomed by the comforting aromas of freshly baked bread and fresh coffee to this artisan food heaven.
Before lunch, we took a quick tour of the food marketplace section. Director Oliver Paul explained how the farm, the restaurant, a cookery school and the Suffolk Food Hall’s main hubs (bakery, butcher, fishmonger, delicatessen and greengrocer) form an ecosystem. This ensures maximum use of local produce and minimises food waste. Dinner was a simple but wholesome combination of seasonal Suffolk ingredients.
A Pledge to Return
From the Juliette balcony of our room at The Salthouse, we observed the marina at night. The fog had since cleared and lights from the University of Suffolk building cast a soft flow on the water as boats bobbed gently in its stillness.
Waking up in a different country often fuels wanderlust. However, for reasons that perhaps border on familiarity, it is sometimes difficult to replicate those feelings when vacationing closer to home. However, from our visit to Suffolk and our stay at The Salthouse, we are learning that local travel presents a unique opportunity to unearth quality experiences.
We are also constantly reminded not to take for granted the beauty that exists right on our ‘doorstep’ here in Britain.
As we drove back to London after a satisfying weekend escape, we pledged to return to explore Suffolk in the summer. We hope to tread the medieval streets of Bury St. Edmonds, explore the seaside town of Aldeburgh and perhaps enjoy once again, the warm hospitality of The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, Ipswich.
Details of The Salthouse Harbour Hotel Ipswich, Suffolk
For suggestions of day trips from Ipswich and other activities around Suffolk, contact Visit Suffolk.
Disclaimer: We visited Ipswich, Suffolk on a press trip. Transfers, accommodation, meals and experiences were organised by Gough Hotels. However, all views and opinions remain ours. Our sincere thanks go to The Salthouse Harbour Hotel management, staff and PR for sharing their unique art and warm Suffolk hospitality with us.
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