Suffolk – The Perfect English Countryside Retreat!
When visiting the UK, which bit of England is worth leaving London for? A popular choice for tourists would be the Cotswolds. With London under your belt, maybe you’re looking for a few days away from the city? Or perhaps you’re just wondering where to go on your next weekend break in England? If your specification sounds like ‘Where can we see the best of the English countryside and where can we find the prettiest English villages?’, then let me introduce you to Suffolk.
I mean, the Cotswolds is all well and pretty but you’re going to have to share it with a million other tourists and risk a Disney World experience where you have to queue for a good photo and pay exorbitant prices for hotels and food. Yet the county of Suffolk seems to remain a somewhat ‘quintessentially British’ secret where the crowds haven’t followed yet. You should definitely consider it for your next short break as it’s one of the most beautiful areas you could ever drive through with plenty of magical towns and definitely, in my opinion, home to the prettiest village here in the UK – Lavenham!
Closer than the Cotswolds, only a short trip from the centre of London (1.5 hours by car) and you are surrounded by tiny timbered cottages of rainbow proportions and more quaint little seaside towns than you can shake a stick of rock at. Villages that give ‘The Slaughters‘ (Cotswolds) a run for their money and more pleasantly without the crowds of tourists to compete against. But let’s say you only have a day or two to explore Suffolk, I’ll keep it brief and throw you some of my best recommendations to make the most of your short trip…
Where To Stay In Suffolk
Situated right in the middle of all the places worth seeing in Suffolk, coastal and rural, is a cute little town called Woodbridge on the edge of the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It’s about the spot where beautiful rolling fields of arable and pastoral farms turn into flat expanses of marshes, estuary’s and the odd ancient forest. But the town itself is a polished array of neat streets filled with on trend coffee bars, gastro-pubs and gift shops, even the hardware store smells of scented candles. As you will note about Suffolk – the locals only do quality and Woodbridge stocks the perfect little high street with perfectly assembled establishments, the kind of town you’ve probably already imagined in your travel fantasies. You’re also a stones throw from some attractive walks along the estuary. It would be a great choice for a base to explore the rest of Suffolk from.
My accommodation choices would be two Bed & Breakfast’s; Hill House Hall and The Crown Hotel, for quality rooms in cosy surroundings. Or if you’re looking for something a bit special, try Seckford Hall – a grand stately home with spa facilities and a swimming pool. They’re all reasonably priced and perfectly located for a Suffolk short break.
Reasons To Visit Suffolk
The ideal spot for a little road trip, Suffolk has an endless supply of cute little villages just begging to be photographed. And, every now and then the open expanse of countryside becomes all secretive with high stone walls or a veil of pine trees and you realise you’re about to pass huge wrought iron gates to yet another grand old stately home or castle. National Trust properties are commonplace in Suffolk and there are plenty of historical aristocratic stories of absurdity to go with these magnificent buildings too.
Plenty of History…
Speaking of history, the ancient city of Colchester was the first Roman settlement in England, officially the capital before London, and was the first place Queen Boudicca led a revolt to claim back the country from Rome : the castle still stands today. However, the geographical location and landscape of the area also impacted on historical events and made it a settlement for many Dutch families. The Flemish influence is still visible in the styles of architecture and trades.
The area of Dedham Vale to the south of Suffolk is also known as ‘Constable Country‘, named after the artist John Constable, who affectionately recorded the beauty of this picturesque corner of the UK in his landscape paintings, circa 1810. If Suffolk was Constable’s muse then hitting upon prime landscape-artists territory means you’re in for some epic scenery!
England’s Prettiest Coastline…
The Suffolk coastline has to be one of the prettiest in the UK and surprisingly hasn’t been swamped with betting shops or amusement arcades yet. Instead, you get rainbow coloured beach huts, lovely piers and a handful of places selling fresh local fish. Honestly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic English seaside than Suffolk’s, and not a Butlin’s Holiday Park in sight! England suffers greatly from the blight of the mobility scooter and track suit brigade and when the sun comes out, they all make their way to the coast to paddle in the North Sea and hitch a ride back to their caravan on a donkey. It seems that donkey’s are fortunately not native to Suffolk and therefore the plebs have given towns like Aldeburgh and Southwold a wide berth. Hurrah.
A Foodie’s Heaven…
The final and most important reason Suffolk would be the perfect spot for a short break however, is for the food and drink. The bustling twice-weekly farmers market of Bury-St-Edmonds should give you a clue as to the level of importance these locals place on good produce. So, if you’re a foodie then you should definitely make your way to Suffolk to sample some top nosh and fine local beer – local breweries like Adnams and Green King supply many a local pub and there are so many favoured eating establishments you’ll find it hard to choose!
Top Towns To Visit In Suffolk
Aside from the aforementioned Woodbridge, with its quaint ‘buy-local’ High Street and historical Shire Hall, there are several other picture-perfect towns like Halesworth and Framlingham that really showcase the Suffolk lifestyle. Framlingham is full of history and its 12th century castle has ties to Royalty of bygone days – a real must visit tourist attraction. Halesworth is a great shopping experience, as not only is most of it pedestrianized, it’s a hive of antique shops and attractive independent boutiques – perfect for a weekend break of retail therapy.
However, I may have implied earlier that Suffolk is hiding a secret that absolutely has to be the prettiest village in all of England. Back in the 2nd World War the picturesque little place called Lavenham was very close to a U.S. Army Base and in 1944 stationed many American soldiers who probably laughed a little to themselves when they were first dropped in this most beautiful Tudor town. It’s just so incredibly breathtaking and they likely thought it was some kind of film set. Honestly, if you make it to only one place in Suffolk then let it be Lavenham and whilst you move from one tudor tea-room to another, be sure to soak up this amazing 600 year old, fully intact, village! The area is dotted with Medieval Wool Towns, like Lavenham, that time forgot. The wool trade brought a lot of wealth to this area in the 1400’s and was once one of the richest neighbourhoods in England – that wealth payed for beautiful homes and amazing churches which can still be gawped at today. This includes the quaint nearby village of Kersey, built at a similar time in history and sporting a mildly exciting little ford for those who like to live on the wild side. On your short break to Suffolk you really must see this little section of pretty rural villages.
As for the rest of Suffolk, save some of your road trip for the coast. There’s so much of it too, with its many estuaries and inlets. Particularly the section between Felixstowe and Southwold, here you will fall in love with some of the nicest seaside resorts that the UK has to offer.
Seaside Towns Of Suffolk
Felixstowe is the largest container port in England and being such you wouldn’t really expect much more than a load of industry and truckers cafe’s but this really isn’t so. The Victorians decided it was to be a fashionable seaside resort and remarkably it still hangs on to its old fashioned charm and picture-postcard beach scenes thanks to its cute little beach huts and Edwardian pleasure pier. Nearby are Butley Priory and Orford Castle if you’re interested in beautiful old architecture and English royal history.
Further up the coast is my favourite seaside town – Aldeburgh. About a third of the houses in this tiny Tudor borough are second-homes and it’s easy to see why : filling weekends and holidays with lazy meanderings around book shops and a bag of fish and chips after a half of Adnams at The White Hart on the High Street, there can’t be a better way to rejuvenate those city bones!
You have to wonder if our ancestors were a bunch of stunted Lilliputians though when you wander the Aldeburgh promenade and take in the local architecture : houses so small all the appliances reach one socket. The worst place to have an argument, you’d be like ‘I’m done with this fight, I need some space to think’… Oh, I’ll just take this seat over here, next to you, and the dog, and the shopping bags we just had a fight about! Definitely cute and quaint, more than likely a pain in the ass to live in!
Nearby to Aldeburgh, only a half hour stroll up the coast, is a marvelous little spot called Thorpeness. On first glance it’s easy to recognise a certain fairytale charm about the place and you won’t be surprised to learn that a well known Railway tycoon from the early twentieth century, Stuart Ogilvie, bought up the area and had Thorpeness turned into a type of fantasy holiday village to entertain his friends and family at. Mock tudor holiday homes, a golf course (which eventually witnessed Mr Ogilvie’s last breath!), a man-made boating lake taking it’s inspiration from Stuart’s pal J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame, and of course the infamous House In The Clouds seen on any good Suffolk postcard. If you wanted a coastal retreat short break, Thorpeness would be my choice – it would be rude not to spend a little while in this gorgeous old hamlet!
Built in 1923 as a watertower to receive water from the local Thorpeness Windmill, the architect sympathetically kept it in the Mock-Tudor style of the town which makes it look like a floating home. Nowadays it’s a 5 bedroomed house whose owners must have calves of steel with the entrance of 85 steps!
Last but not least of our recommendations of towns to visit on the Suffolk coastline is Southwold. A little busier than Aldeburgh and Felixstowe, Southwold definitely pulls in those visiting Suffolk for the weekend from London. Maybe it’s the award winning pier? Or the painted beach huts? Or maybe the many options available for top quality places to eat and drink. When visiting Suffolk you really must at some point have a bag of fish and chips and The Little Fish And Chip Shop on East Street has been winning awards for a while, well worth saving a bit of room for.
Have a wander around the town, sample some of the best icecream on the coast from Harris and James and finish your perfect weekend break with the sand between your toes on the Walberswick Beach.
So there you have it – all the places and all the reasons to make Suffolk your next little getaway. Whether you are only in the UK for a few days and want to see the great English countryside and seaside, or you’re a native and want a beauty spot without the crowds for a weekend, Suffolk won’t disappoint and is perfect for a short break!
If you have a few more days on hand to explore, you may consider driving a little further north to explore neighbouring Norfolk too – check out my post about one of the best coastal roadtrips in that area.
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