Friday, 11 October 2013

Secret Stays: Congham Hall Spa Hotel

I always think Norfolk as a million miles away when it comes to driving out in that direction thanks to many a childhood family visit or caravan holiday to Norwich or Great Yarmouth growing up, but in reality the drive is a relaxing start to a break through the mix of country and coastal scenery.  And we've found the perfect hotel to head to for a much needed mini break for the start of this chilly autumn to keep the old mood levels high.  The sandy beaches of the North Norfolk coast, bustling market towns, nature reserves and the Queen's beloved Sandringham Estate (where I'm proud to say that I indulged in some of my finest geekery whilst visiting said Royal home), are all within easy reach. Setting The Scene:  We spent two days at Congham Hall Hotel, which is in fact a luxury spa hotel and a recent winner of the "Best UK Small Hotel" at the International Hotel Awards. There truly is no wonder that this is a prize winning venue, as a stunning Georgian country house, turned hotel, it's the perfect place to come alone or as a couple to enjoy everything it has on offer. Congham Hall boasts a stunning restaurant & spa, its very own herb garden, set within 30 acres of lawns, secret gardens & orchards as well as parkland that allows you to really explore the outdoors and enjoy this inspiring location - you are even provided with a wealth of different sized Dubarry boots by the fireside so that you don't ruin the shoes you arrive in - now that's a little touch I was not expecting to be greeted with as I walked through the grand entrance. The gardens play an important role in the life of Congham Hall, providing homegrown produce for the restaurant tables and vases. The hotel's restaurant aims to locally source the majority of its ingredients from within a 20-mile radius with the kitchen garden providing a variety vegetables as well as herbs. You can even buy their potted herbs and plants throughout the year in their own nursery within the orchards to enable you to take home some of your favourite finds. We were greeted with a friendly and smiling receptionist on arrival and she promptly gave us the grand tour, took down our newspaper and wake up call preferences should we desire them and showed us around at speed, allowing us to return later for a good old nosey to find our feet. She mentioned to us that the spa opened at 8am each day, apart from Tuesdays where it opened at 11am... checkout time for our room on our stay. So she kindly offered to let us have our room until midday on departure so that we could make use of the spa and pool before we left, now that was service we liked. The Bedroom: There are 26 individual bedrooms, 15 of which are in the house itself and a further 11 nestled between the house and spa, each with a private terrace overlooking the stunning gardens and countryside. I loved that each room had a view to be proud of, as is not always the case with some hotels. I stayed in the secluded "Mallow" garden room within the house itself, complete with its very own private patio to enjoy the small enclosed sun trap if you feel like leaving the huge and very comfortable king sized bed, it's a tough decision to make truly! Our bed even had 6 different levels of thickness when it came to the pillows, this was refreshing as it actually gave us a choice of pillow, something I've never seen in a hotel bed previously. This room had all the usual facilities you would expect, including a stunning bath and double rainforest shower which was fantastic to use after a swim before dinner. There were sweets and even a bowl of freshly picked apples and a potted plant from the gardens to add a very personal touch to the room. The only thing missing was tea making equipment, which was unusual, but actually it was nice not to have an unsightly kettle and pack of biscuits sat on the side, instead all you needed to do was ask at reception for a tea or coffee call and it would be arranged for you - I really liked this. As well as being a dog friendly venue, there's access to free wifi throughout the hotel, laundry & dry cleaning service, shoe cleaning, a dvd library and study with access to hundreds of books and games and access to a recently refurbished tennis court (and private tuition to boot), croquet and golf as well as a trampoline for children in the orchards. Even the guest information book held little extras such as writing paper with matching envelopes and a pre-stamped postcard to send off to somebody special to rub it in! The Spa: The secret garden spa is in the courtyard (an old stable block once belonging to the house when it was a home) and offers a 12m swimming pool with various bells and whistles to allow you to both exercise AND unwind with features such as fountains and jacuzzi-inspired pressure jets at the press of a button. It also plays host to two different saunas (a Finnish style and a bio-sauna), a steam room, duo foot baths for couples to sit and enjoy a foot jacuzzi together, an "experience" shower with rainforest inspired rain and even an outdoor heated hot tub of which we thoroughly enjoyed chilling out in whilst watching the sunset of an evening, it offered us one of the best views and experiences whilst here. I also persuaded myself (oh, go on then...!) to enjoy an "Express Hand Ritual" manicure & mini massage at £25, picked from the extensive menu of offerings incorporating seasonal herbs and fresh flowers to create some truly unique treatments such as an elemental herbal facial and a rosemary muscle melt massage. Shannon, the lovely therapist who treated me to this was fantastic - professional and inspiring at such a young age to have the experience and ambition that she has, I loved chatting to her as she carried out my treatment. I came away with a gorgeous set of manicured nails and had to have the mister open doors and carry bags for me as we left, such a shame... The Bar & Restaurant:  After all our pampering, we were invited to enjoy a drink in the relaxed & informal atmosphere of the hotel bar, which was in keeping with the rest of the hotel with the addition of some modern artwork on the walls to admire. As a guest, you are also invited to stretch out in the library, lounge or outside on the terrace before sitting down to enjoy their new & seasonal menu in the restaurant. I went for a glass or two of Argentinean white wine on the recommendation of the knowledgeable barman on duty and my dining partner went for a refreshing pint of IPA to kick the evening off. Whilst nibbling on the freshly baked bread basket, we chose our first courses of which I went for the pan roasted scallops with "Matthew's black pudding", cauliflower foam and sea vegetables at £9.95 as a starter (or £18.95 as a main). I had no idea what sea vegetables were, but they included samphire and caperberries and both were very enjoyable and new to me personally, I even enjoyed the black pudding after being unsure if I would, it's one thing I've never eaten before until now. The mister went for the vegetarian option as it sounded so delicious, the "Bircham Windmill" feta, leek & artichoke tart served warm with a tomato, rocket & toasted pine nit salad. It was a lot larger than expected and great value for money at just £6.50. For mains, between us we went for "Howard's Sandringham" sirloin steak, with smoked garlic mash, sautĂ© greens, bacon & wild mushrooms, crispy onions and red wine jus (£24.95 and superb value for this perfectly cooked & locally sourced steak) and the rare roasted "Breckland" duck with an unusual (but deliciously unique) vanilla & lime mash, roasted parsnips, sprouting broccoli, gooseberries and blackcurrant jelly (£17.95 as a main). We couldn't resist eating every mouthful, they were both remarkable dishes and we enjoyed every single bite, with a lot going on within each dish, every mouthful was really exciting. My readers will know me by now, dessert was of course ordered and consumed, opting for two different sweet treats to share and nibble to finish off a gorgeous evening. We picked the sticky toffee carrot cake pudding with cream cheese ice cream & candied walnuts as well as the apple panna cotta, served with garden blackberry sorbet & elderflower meringue. Both were works of art and at just £6.50 each, weren't eye watering in price, in fact we would go back again just for a meal if visiting the area. Room Service:  If all this talk of food hasn't made you feel full just reading about it, then I will go on to tell you that we treated ourselves to room service for breakfast the next morning (we did go to sleep worried that this was a bad idea, but we were surprisingly hungry the next day) and we were greeted with a friendly service and our pre-ordered breakfast to keep us going before the VERY last treat we had in store... oh dear god this makes me realise how much we indulged, but we loved every minute! The cooked breakfast was quality of quantity, with delicious locally sourced meat and fresh fruit and perfectly poached and scrambled eggs. We had a choice of Taylor's of Harrogate English Breakfast tea and freshly roasted Drury filter coffee to go with our lazy morning and we enjoyed it with a dose of sun shining through the garden windows and watching trashy TV from our cosy bed, it was bliss. Afternoon Tea:  After a last swim and dip into all of the various saunas, we checked out and took up a sofa in the library for the last few hours of our visit (we literally didn't want to leave), where we enjoyed a very traditional afternoon tea, with a few added modern twists. We were served perfectly formed finger sandwiches with fillings such as ham & tomato, cucumber & cream cheese, egg mayonnaise & cress and salmon - every single one was demolished, they were lovely. We were served a choice of fruit AND plain scone which was a nice touch, however the only downfall was that they weren't served warm, otherwise they were faultless and passed the "fuzzy tongue" test, they were very nice indeed. There was also enough strawberry jam and clotted cream provided to sink a ship, much more than was needed, where as some venues don't provide enough so I am most definitely not complaining! The cakes, ooh the cakes... an almond tart with raspberry jam inside and a crisp, buttery pastry casing.. dark chocolate eclairs filled with fresh cream...banana & pecan loaf cake with a little cream cheese frosting on the top... miniature Victoria Sponges with a delicious crisp sugar coating on the top of the sponge... and to add to the mix there was also a deep, dark and very moist chocolate brownie which added a delicious richness to proceedings. Just when I thought we were all set to go, our waitress brought out a set of chilled lemon possets with blackberry gel to tip us over the edge, they were very light and refreshing next to the cake selection. Everything was served on a mix of white china and also some blue & white floral cake stands which really stood out on the table, it was elegant and stylish touch on the afternoon tea tradition and I really couldn't fault it.  The library worked very well for us as we sat and enjoyed flicking through a book or two whilst we ate in peace with nobody else around us it felt very personal and we loved this, as a few venues we've visited lately have been "afternoon tea factories" with everybody on top of one another, this most certainly wasn't like this at all. The Little Extras:  We noted throughout our entire stay was just how peaceful Congham Hall is, we didn't hear other guests moving or banging around as you do in some hotels and the staff were equally as quiet and discreet, we couldn't fault the relaxation that this break offered us. In fact, we didn't realise until we left that we had been offered a unique and unexpected window cleaning service on our car with a little calling card left under the wipers that simply said " Happiness is a Clean Windscreen - You found it at Congham Hall" - A fantastic little extra that put a smile on our faces. Cambridge is only a 45 minute drive from Congham Hall, so it's perfect for a short break away and if you are looking for an autumn break to head off to relax and unwind, then you would be hardpressed to find somewhere more peaceful then Congham Hall Spa Hotel. Final Thoughts:  If you are going for afternoon tea, then you have a great choice of menu options: Cream Tea - £8.75 Tea or Coffee with scones, cakes & biscuits - £13.50 Full Afternoon Tea - £20 Champagne Afternoon Tea with Pol Roger Champagne - £31 All must be pre-booked before arrival to avoid disappointment   The "Mallow" room, of which we stayed in was a garden room, starting from £215 per room per night.   Congham Hall have a mid week 2 night autumn break available Sunday to Thursday (from 1st October to 19th December 2013) as follows: Better and Best Main House Rooms including breakfast are available at £399 including dinner on both nights (with a £35 per person allowance for dinner). OR All Garden Rooms including breakfast are available at £499 including dinner on both nights (with a £35 per person allowance for dinner).   Miss Sue Flay   You can view my full photo album for this stay by clicking here.   Please note - This stay was complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions, please do email:

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