Were Constable alive today, he might well gather up his brushes and oils and head up to Maison Talbooth to capture the view on canvas. From this handsome Victorian country manor, you can take in the full sweep of the gently wooded Stour Valley that the Romantic artist loved so dearly – its water meadows, church steeples and stands of proud oaks are like a landscape painting come to life.
Today, Maison Talbooth bears the boutique-chic hallmark of owner Geraldine Milsom and has an air of relaxed luxury, respectful privacy and intimacy about it. The reception is small and discreet, the welcome personal.
As you enter you come into the Garden Room, where an open fire crackles during the chillier months. In this nouveau-elegant salon, plush armchairs and covered chandeliers add decadent edge to a subtle palette of monochrome hues. Charcoal sketches of farm animals are a rural reminder of where we are, less you forget, which is unlikely as the windows frame the Dedham Vale view perfectly.
The Garden Room is a nicely chilled setting for lunch, and a glass of the crisp house white pairs well with the likes of crispy calamari with chilli jam, tiger prawn Caesar salad and sourdough sandwiches. Afternoon tea is served here, too: an indulgent spread of leaf teas, sandwiches, dainty macaroons, strawberry profiteroles and still-warm scones with clotted cream and Tiptree jam. When the sun’s out, there’s an appealing garden terrace for surveying the view.
And so to the rooms. Named after British poets, these are spacious, individually designed and luxurious, with incredibly comfy king-size beds draped in Egyptian cotton and goose-feather duvets that encourage lazy lie-ins. I love the little but all-important details: the Bose radios, the complimentary soft drinks in the mini bar, the fluffy robes and slippers, the array of books and magazines, and the luscious Aromatherapy Associates products.
I’m staying in the Masefield, richly done out in a palette of taupe, greys, caramel and black, with chequered wallpaper, a contemporary glass chandelier and a luxurious feel to the fabrics. The room opens onto a small terrace, perfect for sipping a freshly made espresso or Novus leaf tea. The generously sized marble bathroom comes with a large tub for leisurely soaks and a walk-in shower.
I take a peek in the other rooms, too, which swing from the brighter, more old-fashioned, flock-wallpapered Shelley to my favourite, the Shakespeare, with a leather sofa to stretch out on and tinkling capiz shell lamps casting a soft glow over shades of cream, chocolate and caramel. The vast, beautifully tiled bathroom has a step-up double bath and walk-in massage jet shower, and there’s a private hot tub on the terrace. It’s honeymoon stuff.
For a hotel of its size, Maison Talbooth offers excellent facilities, with tennis courts should you so wish, and a Pool House, with a heated pool, whirlpool, and lounge and deck area where a log fire burns. There’s a bijou spa, too, where therapists carry out a range of treatments, from circulation-boosting yogatox facials to anti-ageing Dermalogica peels, Oxyjet microdermabrasion and Aromatherapy Associates immune recovery massages.
After a rest and change, a courtesy car arrives to whisk me to nearby Le Talbooth, one of the best-regarded restaurants in Essex, serving modern British food in a gorgeous timber-framed Tudor house on the banks of the River Stour. This summer evening is barbecue night. A jazz band is playing, and the terrace is humming with chatter and clinking glasses in the fading light. On most nights, however, dining is à la carte in the restaurant, where subtly modern décor and white linen-draped tables blend in with the timber-beamed interior.
The sophisticated, season-driven menu plays up carefully sourced regional ingredients with flair in well-executed dishes like pan-roasted hand-dived scallops with pork cheek bon-bon, candied pecan and apple and shallot purée, and dry-aged Dedham Vale Beef Rossini with rosti potato, spinach and Madeira jus. The wine list is extensive (let the sommelier talk you through it).
Breakfast is often a worthy judge of a hotel and back at Maison Talbooth it is bang on the money, with fresh fruit, berry-yoghurt-granola pots, patisserie with Tiptree preserves, Suffolk apple juice and proper coffee. À la carte hot options go way beyond the full English, featuring the likes of smoked salmon with truffle scrambled eggs on sourdough, and smoked haddock with gruyere cheese, tomato and a poached egg-topped muffin.
It’s a fitting end to what has been a wonderful stay, and a great kick-start to a morning ramble along the River Stour, where I aim to get a better feel for the soothingly pretty landscapes that were close to Constable’s heart.
Maison Talbooth Hotel, Stratford Road, Dedham, Colchester, Essex, CO7 6HN, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1206 322367
If driving from London, turn off the M25 at Brentwood onto the A12. Continue on A12 towards Ipswich, bypassing Colchester. Take the left exit signposted Stratford St Mary, Dedham and Higham and turn right at bottom of hill to Dedham, go over the bridge, and the hotel is approx. 300yds along on the right-hand side.
Type of Hotel: Boutique Country Hotel
Number of Rooms: 12 rooms and suites (Deluxe, Standard, Principal and Superior); Wi-Fi is complimentary.
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: Check the special offers page on the website for deals such as cut-price spa breaks. Many of the ground-floor suites have terraces with private hot tubs, whilst the rooms on the first floor have fine views of the Dedham Vale.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Kerry Walker is an award-winning freelance travel writer, author and MA-qualified translator.
Photographs courtesy of Maison Talbooth Hotel