We all need some time out of London. It’s a city I’m head over heels for, but like anything, a place I need a break from. Sometimes you become so wrapped up in work, drinks at the weekend, more shopping, gym, that you forget what it’s like to be outside of London.
A couple of weekends ago, one of my best friends and I decided to take the plunge and have a weekend outside London. We’re little busy bodies, always wanting to do something, filling our weekends with more and more stuff, so a trip to the countryside with a lack of wifi and a general lack of busyness sounded pretty damn good.
Staying at The Swan in Lavenham was such a different experience than what I ever thought. I knew it would be a small village, I knew it would be quiet. But not this quiet. I loved it.
On arrival (after a short taxi ride from Sudbury Suffolk train station – not too difficult from London Liverpool Street), we checked into a cute country cottage style room, with the heating cranked right up. Perfect after a chilly journey that felt a little mad when we reached the final leg and boarded a 20 minute single carriage train with just a few other people around. So different to crazy tubes but nice to see places like this in the UK that were completely untouched from manic city life.
GLUTEN FREE FOOD
One of the reasons we were invited to stay at The Swan was of course for the food. For a place tucked away, these guys had done their research. They not only understood gluten free and coeliac, but they had developed adapted dishes to their main menus, offered a complete gluten free afternoon tea, as well as GF toast at breakfast. It was impressive.
For breakfast each day, we went for cooked brunches, once a eggs benny with hollandaise and GF toast, and for the Sunday, a full Suffolk – it would be silly not too. I loved the hollandaise so much, I asked for a side to pour over my eggs of the full English. Simply removing the sausage made this gluten free, and I swapped in for some grilled sweet potato. I would suggest investing in some gluten free cereal, as this was the only thing the breakfast menu lacked.
A three course meal was extremely exciting by the time evening came around. There was a slight delay in receiving our first course – I think the restaurant was particularly busy that night, but it took quite a while until we received our starters. One of the waiters had spotted we’d been waiting quite a while and soon came over with some gluten free canapés to keep us going. Gluten free bread was also added to our table, which was much appreciated. Little things like that go a long way.
When the starters arrived, the portions were quite small but ingredients and flavour so interesting. I enjoyed Steam Mussels with Pork Belly and Apple Gel; something I’d never tried before, whilst Emma went for the Goat’s Cheese Bon Bons with Beetroot Sorbet and Baked Beets. We were both pretty chuffed, but tried a bit of each other’s for good measure.
For mains, we both fancied the Venison with Honey, Blackberries and Celeriac. The ingredients were so flavoursome and by the end of our dinner we were complete stuffed. I’d so rather eat mindfully, with the best ingredients and smaller portions than fill up on mountains. Exploring flavours we’d never tried before was great – it’s occasions like this that it’s worth exploring dishes you’d never usually try. Especially with complete gluten free understanding in the kitchen. I’m definitely looking out for celeriac to cook with at home.
For dessert, I chose the Caramelized Pineapple with Coconut, Malibu and White Chocolate. A lovely light way to finish.
After a giggly few hours – thanks to the red wine (and prosecco we’d had before dinner) – we returned to the room to watch a film on the iPad. I was so tried – from not doing much(!) – I passed out ten minutes in.
Afternoon tea was the food highlight for the Sunday and one of the stand outs for gluten free that I’d spotted on the website. The Swan offer two afternoon teas – a standard tea and a Tea Tox for a healthier option. Both could be made gluten free. We enjoyed the standard afternoon tea in the hotel restaurant, whilst the wonderful Carrie O’Donnell played the piano. She’d spotted a tweet that we were on our way for afternoon tea, to let us know she’d be playing. I got a bit too excited when some of my favourite songs were played, in particular – a rendition from my favourite pianist Einaudi, and Tale as Old As Time for Beauty and the Beast.
I actually can’t remember the last afternoon tea I had before this one. It’s one of those things you take for granted when you can eat gluten, so properly filling my boots with all the cake was a great feeling.
Starting with teas, we were severed a selection of sandwiches served on GF bread. Next came a huge triple tiered presentation of gluten free scones with clotted cream and jam, a light fruity eton mess and a selection of lemon cake and sweet potato brownies.
We couldn’t move by the end, managing everything but the second scone each! The eton mess was a perfect break in between the richness of cake, but my favourite had to be the scones. They were huge. Very sweet, but like a proper solid scone, not one that crumbles into a thousand pieces.
WEAVERS’ HOUSE SPA
As well as great food, Weavers’ House spa sits alongside The Swan as a spa for guests to visit. This spa really is beautiful. We visited on two occasions, once to use the plunge pool, sauna and steam room, and a second time for a treatment.
I enjoyed the Drift Away full body massage and oh my god was it good. I was slightly worried when I first arrived, as stupidly had forgotten the time of my treatment, stuffed a load for breakfast and then realised I had to lay on a belly of food! Luckily the masseuse adapted the massage and I started laying on my back. Much better.
The massage was on a warm water bed, that adapted to the temperature of your body. She explained water beds are a far nicer experience and help masseuses to not injure hands and wrists. When they press down, instead it uses our body weight.
I was basically completely out of it. I really didn’t want it to end, enjoying it so much I spoke to reception to see if there were any slots for the next day! Sadly there wasn’t, but I’ll always remember it as one of the best massages, and will 100% have to visit again.
After our treatments, I met Emma in the quiet room, who’d opted for the back scrub, I’ll Be Back, where we were both reading and enjoying herbal teas. On arrival you’re given a pink smoothie to enjoy, and afterwards a lemon sorbet. A lovely touch that I’ve not seen too often at spas. If you’re booking treatments, which I highly recommend you do, definitely book them in early as it’s super popular.
WHAT ELSE TO DO
The beauty of a weekend away like this is that there isn’t much to do. I would highly recommend not booking much in to your days. Lounging around in such a beautiful place is not something you can do too often. You treasure the peace and quiet. We’re all guilty of packing so much into our days that we never really take the time to do nothing and see where the day goes. Having said that, Bury St Edmond’s is just a 30min bus ride away with lots of high street shops should you fancy a wander, and lots of local little cafes for endless teas and coffees.
On a Sunday there’s a farmer’s market in the local hall, not to mention all the fascinating architecture around the town. If you speak to reception they can give you a map for local walks.
Don’t forget to visit the place where Godric’s Hollow was filmed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1. There was definitely someone inside when we were taking photos, so we were as quick as we could about it! You’ll find this unusual house the next road to the side of The Swan.
We also ate at The Cock Horse pub and restaurant just up the road who had a FULL gluten free menu. More on that in a separate review post.
What was so stand out from this relaxing weekend away was that I stopped checking my phone, taking in the village around us. It was a place where people stop and say hi, where locals are real friends. The food was excellent, staff friendly and the spa a place I could literally live in. We all deserve a little time out and The Swan is the perfect place for that.
*Thanks again to the team at The Swan and Weavers’ House Spa for having us to stay. All opinions as always are my own.
Some key details from my stay:
Rooms start from £185 per night for two sharing including a full Suffolk breakfast; dinner from the a la carte menu is from £39 per person for three courses. The Tea-Tox gluten free, healthier afternoon tea is £19.50 per person. Overnight guests have a complimentary two-hour session with use of the spa facilities including the sauna, steam room, outdoor vitality pool and relaxation lounge. The Drift Away Mediterranean massage is priced at £70 for 60 minutes and I’ll be Back at £52 for 45 minutes.