Set within the historic village of Lavenham, Suffolk, The Swan Hotel and Spa is a beautiful 15th century building, boasting elegant period charm. The medieval hotel stands proudly in the heart of the village, in between quaint boutique shops and delis. Once inside the heavy oak entrance door, a large reception room greets you with high ceilings and traditional low hanging black beams. Off to the right is a wood burning fire surrounded by a mix of vintage furniture – it’s just begging for a good book and a glass of wine, especially on a cold winter’s evening. To the left, is the hotel’s main bar, which serves snacks and drinks throughout the day as well as a traditional afternoon tea. The hotel fuses the period charm of the building with modern yet elegant style, beautifully decorated with soft pastel colours and dark oak.
A few years ago, The Swan Hotel decided to take luxury a little further, with the addition of Weavers House Spa. Adjoining the hotel, the modern spa has a steam room, hot stone sauna, two relaxation rooms and an outdoor vitality pool, which is open all throughout the year. Guests can also relax with an array of different treatments, from massages to manicures.
There are 45 bedrooms and suites at The Swan Hotel, each one named after local villages and artists. Our room opened onto a cosy lounge area, with a vintage sofa, large TV and two arm chairs. Ahead, through a little alcove was the bedroom: an incredibly comfortable queen size bed, dressing table and armchair. As expected, the room still had all the traditional timber beams, leaded windows and classic finishings – there were even wonderful medieval hangings on the walls.
It’s the type of room you want to spend time in, whether that’s reading a book, playing a game of cards or simply relaxing. We had a couple of hours to spare before dinner and on a dark November evening we fully gave ourselves over to the sweet slumber, enjoying a pre dinner drink, which the bar kindly brought to our room.
While our room was plenty spacious enough for two, The Gainsborough Bedrooms are ideal for families, with their generous spaced bedrooms and lounge areas.
The swan has two restaurants: The Gallery, which offers a more fine dining experience, and The Brasserie 487, which serves more traditional, heartfelt dishes. We dined in The Gallery Restaurant, from their 4-course set menu. To begin, our wonderful waiter brought us over some water and fresh, warm bread with a whipped chilli butter – it was so good, we ordered seconds.
We then turned our attention to the menu, which has four different dishes available for each course. To start, we shared the cod cheeks, which were coated in a light tempura batter, with a watercress puree and fresh horseradish, as well as the Pigeon, which came with a sweetcorn puree, roasted beetroots, figs and popcorn. Both dishes were very fresh and had wonderful contrasting textures and flavours. For our, ‘In Between’, we tucked into sea trout with Fishers Gin, cucumber, orange and samphire, followed by cured mackerel with gooseberry compote and pickled vegetables. The mackerel was incredibly meaty and beautifully cured, one of our favourite dishes of the evening.
While it sounds like quite a lot of food, the portions were quite small, so we had plenty of room for our next course of lamb with braised rib, roast rump, peas, broad beans and jersey royals, and guinea fowl with stuffed breast, crispy terrine, summer cabbage and cauliflower. The lamb was beautifully cooked, and though it came with a lovely rich sauce, it really needed a lot more to bring the dish together. The guinea fowl too was incredibly succulent, but I can’t help that the dishes lacked a little bit of ‘oomph’. All the same, we washed them down with a wonderful bottle of red wine from France.
To finish, we chose the chocolate fondant with caramel and banana – it was perfectly baked, oozing molten chocolate from the middle as I tucked into the warm cake. Meanwhile. my partner had the cremeux, with white chocolate and blackberries.
Come morning, both of the restaurants are set for breakfast, with many of the same options available across the two. Usually, the hotel would offer a buffet experience but given the new regulations around Covid-19, waiters brought everything to our table. The usual coffee and tea came with some fresh toast, followed by fruit, yoghurt and granola. We also had the option to order hot food and I went for poached eggs and smoked salmon, and my partner had the eggs royale. While his breakfast came out looking rather impressive, with two poached eggs, a toasted muffin and generous amounts of sauce I was a little disappointed with my rather humble looking singular poached egg, few pieces of smoked salmon.
Out and about
There’s plenty to do and see in this medieval village, from visiting the historic buildings and art galleries to simply wandering the narrow streets – lined with timbered cottages, charming coffee shops, tearooms and independent shops, it’s easy to while away the hours.
For those who enjoy a bit of adventure, Suffolk is surrounded by wonderful country walks. Nearby, you’ll also find Dedham Vale – an area of outstanding natural beauty, made famous by the masterpieces of artist John Constable. And a little further afield, are the charming seaside towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold.
There is also plenty to do at The Swan itself, from curling up in one of the large armchairs to visiting Weavers’ House Spa – we chose to do the latter. Dressed in our gowns, we headed to the spa for an afternoon of relaxation. Due to new COVID-19 restrictions, we had to book our sessions at the spa ahead of our visit, including the sauna, steam room and outdoor plunge pool – the silver lining of this was that it meant we had each area to ourselves for our 30-minute slot. We visited on a rather cool weekend in November but the chill in the air only made the steaming plunge pool that more inviting.
The spa also offers treatments to guests, from manicures and pedicures to a range of massages. I had the ‘knotted-up’, a deep tissue massage, which was a wonderfully relaxing experience. The therapist used just the right pressure and the room was delicately perfumed with menthol, which helped to open up my airways during the massage. Afterwards, I was taken to a relaxation room, given a herbal tea and a sharp lemon sorbet – I could have fallen into a deep slumber right there in my almost trance-like meditative state.
The hotel was mostly full of couples on weekend getaways – generally from across the UK rather than abroad. Though come the afternoon, locals often gather around tables in the main bar, catching up over a pint of local ale or celebrating a special occasion over an afternoon tea. Set in such a beautiful location, many who stay at The Swan are big into their hiking and exploring and as the hotel also welcomes pets, it isn’t uncommon to see a few dogs too!
The worst thing
As someone who very much enjoys their food, for me, our experience in the restaurant didn’t quite match the grandeur of the rest of the hotel. While it was very nice, I felt it still needed a little more refining.
The best thing
I love a good mix of relaxation and adventure – The Swan offered it all. Trails starting right from the grounds of the hotel and of course Weavers’ Spa. The staff too were particularly accommodating and the cleanliness of the hotel was of a very high standard.
Rooms start from around £145 per night, for two, including a full Suffolk breakfast, dinner is an additional cost of £40 per person for a three course meal from the a la carte menu. Weavers’ House Spa is fully open to guests staying overnight, who can pre-book a complimentary 30-minute session in the outdoor vitality pool, sauna or steam room. Treatments must also be pre-booked with 90 minute massages starting at £100 per person.