GreyFriars hit the ground running when it opened in 2015. A welcome boutique addition to the hotel scene in Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town, it occupies a slickly converted, redbrick Georgian mansion.
Built by the Rev John Halls in 1755 on the site of a 13th century Franciscan Friary, it previously housed a convent and school, but the history of the site reaches as far back as Roman times. The town’s history can still be unravelled nearby: the hotel backs onto the leafy slopes of Castle Park, where Europe’s largest Norman keep stands proud and the remains of Roman walls are still visible. In stark contrast is the angular Firstsite Gallery opposite. Sheathed in gold metal, the contemporary art gallery bears the hallmark of celebrated Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly.
At first glance, the hotel reveals a light, modern aesthetic that merges with period features like exposed redbrick walls and grand arched windows. Pale marble lends lustre to the glass-clad, open-plan reception area. We are warmly welcomed and ushered up to the Viñoly Suite, through corridors tastefully strewn with bespoke artworks and ceramics, including an eye-catching installation of origami flowers scattered in a stairwell.
Spread across the three original buildings that form GreyFriars, each of the 26 rooms is individually designed. All are luxurious, dressed with richly coloured carpets from Louis de Poortere in Belgium, bespoke furniture hand crafted in Stockport, and sumptuous Voyage Indian Silk curtains and blinds. The marble bathrooms feature underfloor heating, L’Occitane toiletries. Other luxurious little touches include Nespresso coffee makers and complimentary minibars.
Bearing the imprint of its namesake architect, the signature Viñoly suite is, in fact, more of a private apartment, with a separate living room, dining area and bedroom. Shades of pearl and gold contrast with teal-hued velvet sofas and chairs, and the heavy curtains are embellished with a peacock feather motif. The Emperor bed is huge and incredibly comfortable, but it is the astounding bathroom that steals the show. Decked out in white-and-grey marble and sporting a pair of freestanding nickel bathtubs, twin walk-in showers and a sound system, it is more of a mini spa.
Later in the afternoon, complimentary canapés from the kitchen are brought to our room, which pique the appetite nicely for dinner in Cloisters Restaurant. Here monochrome hues, wave-shaped black banquettes, a backlit bar and distressed mirrors create an Art Deco-style backdrop for modern European cuisine prepared with regional produce. Mersea native oysters are sweet and plump, and my Blackwater sea bass ceviche with chilli, lime, ginger and red onion bursts with freshness and zingy flavours. It’s a light prelude to a main of pan-fried halibut, with avocado purée, nasturtium, citrus salad, tomato and clams. Light, fruity desserts like strawberry and mascarpone cannelloni with basil ice cream are a nod to the Mediterranean.
Breakfast is equally impressive – fresh juices, breads, pastries and seasonal fruit feature, and the à la carte menu reveals more local sourcing. My smoked haddock with poached eggs is spot on. It’s substantial enough to fuel a morning’s exploration of Colchester, returning, perhaps for afternoon tea in the refined setting of The Rose Room, lit by Murano chandeliers. A fire crackles here in winter, while the garden-facing terrace beckons when the sun’s out. Indeed, GreyFriars is a class act – and such style comes at a fraction of what it would in London, just an hour distant by train.
GreyFriars Colchester, High Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1UG
Tel: +44 (0)1206 575913
Colchester is located off the A12 (exit at Junction 29). Then take the 2nd exit at the next roundabout on to the A1232 towards the town centre. GreyFriars is situated at the top of East Hill, at the Eastern end of Colchester’s High Street. There is ample complimentary parking is available. Colchester also has excellent rail connections, with the journey from London Liverpool Street to Colchester taking just 50 minutes on the fast train.
Type of Hotel: Luxury Boutique Hotel
Number of Rooms: 26 rooms and suites
With open fires, solid woods, velvet and granite, the Baroque Bar, Venetian Lounge and Library Lounge are an elegant setting for pre- or post-dinner cocktails.
Price Band: High
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Kerry Christiani is an award-winning freelance travel writer, author and MA-qualified translator
Photographs courtesy of GreyFriars