It is always a pleasant surprise and refreshing to find an hotel that exceeds your expectations. The opening photograph on the Congham Hall website is, even if I am being a bit mean, rather reminiscent of a prep school. However, as we happily discovered, it hides the many charms and friendly experiences both within the hotel and around the gardens.
You do not see in that photograph is the intimacy of the gardens in which, amongst many other features, is a large and notable collection of herbs in the Potager garden. There are other niche elements within some 30 acres overall, so getting the lawns in the wider context, it all works well.
In opening the hotel’s front door you are transported into a welcoming long hall; it is light and bright with comfortable chairs around a crackling open fire in winter. A cheerful lady at a discreet desk greeted us; the whole scene was a real, warm welcoming hug. This set the scene and style for the whole of our visit.
Spas play an important role in relaxing country house hotels. Congham Hall is certainly up to the mark with their modern facilities; starting the inviting warm indoor pool long enough to swim your quota of lengths. Fun options with the showers include tropical rain and all the lighting effects. Step outside and there is a hot tub that seemed even more popular than the pool. Upstairs are the treatment rooms; I had booked a facial massage which wandered off into some massaging of my feet but it was none the worse for that little diversion. In the sheltered courtyard outside, there is the smaller of the herb gardens with seats for relaxation after your treatments.
I love the honest descriptions of the room categories in the main house; ‘Good’, ‘Better’ and ‘Best’. These bedrooms are all individual and those we saw followed the original layout of this former rather grand private residence. The essential comfort was very evidently present; they were also comfortable to the eye. The choice of the pictures was again individual and had obviously been considered carefully and successfully. They had introduced a bit of fun in our bathroom with a very modern bath. However, the element that I would love to have in our own home was the staircase, a very individual artwork in its own right, as it climbed its way like a vine to the first floor.
The ‘Garden Rooms’ – ‘Better’ and ‘Best’ categories feature but there are two suites as well, they are built around the spa herb garden having their own style. A different approach has been taken here as they make no apology for being in a contemporary style. No constraints with the layout so they have their own terraces and inside they have incorporated freestanding baths with waterfall showers in the bathrooms. As they say “these rooms are dog friendly”.
The dining room is also light and airy with expansive windows opening up an uninterrupted view of the lawns and trees. A big plus was very accomplished food nudging on Michelin star quality over virtually all dishes. The wine list showed that this was no corporate decision using a standard offering for convenience. There were interesting wines from a range of countries; our choices were very enjoyable and not expensive. As is now the norm with accomplished kitchens, they successfully delve into their vegetable and herb gardens to produce food which exceeds the standard normally found in many country house hotels.
The north west of Norfolk is well known for it’s following as one of the most popular holiday making areas of the country. That sounds rather busy but you can find quiet villages that seem undisturbed and carry on rural pursuits without distraction. Nearby the hotel is Kings Lynn which is totally captivating with its eclectic mix of historic buildings reflecting the great wealth that was generated by the port with its great bread basket of the fertile Fens. Each building has its own character and the rightly much publicised gem of the late 17th century Custom House, originally the merchants’ exchange. How things have changed, the importance and volume of business handled for the busy port only required a relatively very small floor of the Custom House. In other words, they could not have had today’s overburdening of bureaucracy and paperwork.
Following that historic theme, the National Trust has some real treasures in the area. For us Blickling and Felbigg Hall, the attractions were largely outdoors. The photographs of Blickling rarely show the wings of the house which frame this splendid house; there is interesting, modern planting in the gardens that works really well blending in with the historic surroundings. Whilst Felbrigg has a massive walled garden containing a great variety of plants and trees, there were no records of the layout, etc. so the freedom to design and plant was a challenge that has worked brilliantly.
Of course, there is the Sandringham estate not so far away which now has increased opportunities to view royal estate.
Further accommodation is planned to be added shortly, I am sure that they will have had some innovations to take the hotel forwards and upwards. So, if you are looking for a lovely hotel for either a relaxing weekend or even longer, you would be hard pressed to find a friendlier and more welcoming ‘country house hotel’ in which to stay at any time of year.