Constable and Gainsborough loved to whip out their oils to commit the gentle beauty of the Dedham Vale to canvas, and Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa sits right at its heart, straddling the Suffolk-Essex border. Spread across 300 acres of countryside, spattered with lakes and fringed by woodland, it’s as an appealing a location as you could hope to find in these parts.
Indeed, Bill and Devora Peake thought the same. The couple purchased a 120-acre apple farm back in 1938. After launching the Copella brand of fruit juices some thirty years later in 1969, the Peakes, spotting a gap in the market, went on to develop two championship golf courses in the 1970s, then finally embraced the land’s full potential by building a hotel in 1999.
Now the next generation of the family has seized the reins, filled with the same passion. Fruit (apples and soft fruits) is still grown on Boxford Farm, and this heritage is subtly reflected in the décor – look out for tree patterns in fabrics, wall coverings and carpets – and restaurant menus. The swish eco-friendly lodges are named after traditional apple varieties. And it is one of the latter that I have the pleasure of staying.
Tucked away among the wooded landscape, the lodges are a short hop from the main hotel by porter-driven car. Suitable for two to 12 guests, they are light, glass-walled and spacious, opening up the pretty surrounds and almost Nordic in look and feel, with lots of natural, sustainable wood and decked terraces that afford privacy.
Contemporary and bold, the lodges are done out in monochromes and muted colours, with nods to the 1940s, courtesy of interior designers Rendall & Wright, in their Art Deco-inspired geometric prints, strong lines, oversized mirrors, walnut wood furnishings, vintage artworks and floor-standing tripods resembling Hollywood spotlights. As well as being extremely stylish, they have impeccable eco credentials: roofs are tiled with red-cedar shingles and each lodge has solar photovoltaic and thermal panels.
While rooms in the hotel itself are less fancy overall, they are modern and comfortable nonetheless. Upping the ante to deluxe or a junior suite buys you more space and more luxurious trappings such as robes and slippers and better toiletries.
Many guests are here for the two championship golf courses for which the hotel is renowned, and it’s certainly an attractive backdrop to tee off. There’s a whole range of tailor-made golf days, breaks and packages to choose from, as well as a driving range, golf simulator and clubhouse.
Not being a golfer, I head instead for the Peake Spa, with its indoor pool, steam room, sanarium, hot tub and gym fitted out with Technogym equipment. While the pool and changing area could benefit from a makeover, the treatments were bang on the money. Here they offer everything from aromatherapy-rich Decléor facials to NEOM Organics wellbeing treatments, said to energise, improve sleep and relieve stress through shiatsu, Thai massage, meditation and reflexology.
My mother-to-be body massage and mask was deeply relaxing, and just one of a long line of treatments that swing from lava shell and Turkish soap massages to detoxifying seaweed wraps. They also have a dedicated clinic for physio and sports injuries.
Food-wise, Stoke by Nayland spans a broad spectrum: the spa café keep things healthyish with smoothies and sharing platters, while the sports bar dishes up snacks like wraps and burgers. The floor-to-ceiling windows and terrace at the upstairs Gallery Restaurant open up views of Constable Country, making it a scenic spot for lunch (try local charcuterie and fish platters) or afternoon tea.
With a log fire in colder months, the lounge bar is a relaxed space for a G&T, followed by dinner in the Lakes Restaurant. Here the season-driven menu keeps things nice and local. You might begin, say, with pâté of locally shot pigeon, golden sultana and apricot jam and toasted brioche, moving on to braised shin of Suffolk beef with mash, red wine salsify, button mushrooms and onion gravy, and rounding out with a Boxford Farm lemon and blueberry posset.
After a full English breakfast and reluctantly leaving my lodge the next morning, there is one last thing I have to see. During WWII, the Peake farm was also tended by the Women’s Land Army, who played a crucial role in keeping the country fed. An original water tower from their hostel is still intact and now shelters a small museum paying a touching tribute to these ladies, whose portraits grace the walls. I climb to the very top for far-reaching views out over the grounds to the surrounding fruit farms and the oft-painted landscape beyond.
Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa, Keepers Lane, Leavenheath, Colchester, Essex, CO6 4PZ, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1206 262836
Trains from London Liverpool Street to Colchester have a fastest journey time of 46 minutes, from there it’s a short 15-minute taxi ride or if making your own way by car, there is ample free onsite parking available.
Type of Hotel: Family Owned Country Golf and Spa Hotel
Number of Rooms: 80 rooms, including complimentary Wi-Fi.
Price Band: Medium to high with rooms starting from around £90 per night for two sharing including a full English breakfast and use of the Peake Spa facilities: 18.3m heated indoor pool, sanarium, steam room, Jacuzzi and concept shower.
Insider Tip: Check out the golf, spa and wedding packages on the hotel website – there are some excellent deals. A new addition are the Tipi weddings, which include fairy lights, firepit and glamping pods.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Kerry Walker is an award-winning freelance travel writer, author and MA-qualified translator.
Photographs courtesy of Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa