Dine and stay at Hintlesham Hall
PUBLISHED: 17:24 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 March 2017
Sarah Lucy Brown
Hintlesham Hall is a much loved Suffolk icon and has been many things in its 600 years history. Now, in the 21st century, it's enjoying a resurgence in the popularity of country house hotels
The elegant pastel pink Georgian facade of Hintlesham Hall has been a familiar Suffolk landmark for generations. The beautiful grade one listed building has a history dating back to the 1400s. For centuries it was a moated manor house and family home, but in the modern age most people know it as an upmarket hotel and restaurant, a place for very special occasions. Those of a certain age will also remember that Hintlesham Hall was once the home and business of Robert Carrier, a 1970s pioneer of celebrity chefs who filmed his TV show from there, set up a cookery school and earned a Michelin star for his restaurant. Heady days.
Carrier sold the hall to hoteliers Ruth and David Watson, who made lots of improvements, turning it into a very successful four star luxury hotel. But after they moved on, the hall’s fortunes fluctuated as it struggled to find its place in a market dominated by more relaxed dining in less formal surroundings. What future was there for the grand country house hotel?
A very bright one, it seems. Country house hotels are undergoing something of a renaissance. As destinations in their own right they are a way to escape the city and experience the country without sacrificing luxury and comfort. What more do you need when you have an enormous suite to sprawl in, delicious fresh, seasonal food whenever you want it, acres of grounds to roam in, country walks on your doorstep, and a spa to spoil you? Under the sole ownership of entrepreneur Has Modi, Hintlesham Hall and Spa is part of that resurgence, says Graham McGregor, who has been general manager since May last year.
Work on updating and upgrading the hotel’s 32 individually decorated rooms and bathrooms has been ongoing. Now Has Modi is investing in a programme of further improvements that will see the public areas refurbished. Lounges, corridors and reception areas will have new carpets, paint and reupholstered furniture.
The Orangerie will be refurbished and replanted with fig and orange trees, to offer a Parisian style setting for afternoon tea. While the 2 AA Rosette resturant will see little change – it’s popular the way it is, says Graham, although guests might see a gradual relaxation in formality – menus in the lounge and bar areas are being modernised to provide more options for informal all-day eating. And there are longer term plans to extend the spa, adding a hydrotherapy pool and additional spa treatments.
The gardens will also be overhauled – the herb garden replanted, the kitchen garden extended so that it can supply more flowers and produce for the hotel. Beehives will follow when Graham can track down a local beekeeping group to advise and help.
But it’s behind the scenes where much change is also taking place. Graham, whose background includes running hotels such as the County Hotel in Chelmsford, the Swan at Lavenham and consulting to Seckford Hall, is modernising the hotel’s technology systems so that it can better understand its clientele, reward them for their loyalty and anticipate their future needs.
He’s also working to increase the number of local suppliers – Suffolk based Temple Spa products in the spa, Hadleigh Maid chocolates, carpets laid by Suffolk Weavers, upholstery and soft furnishings by Barry Kay in Sudbury.
The hotel’s green credentials will be boosted - it already has a biomass boiler supplying 100% of its hot water and heating – with leftover toiletries being recycled by the Whitechapel Mission, and leftover food composted for use on the hotel’s own gardens. Keen for the hotel to be an active member of its Suffolk community, Graham will support local charities, and has given Hintlesham Primary School a patch of land to set up its own garden, with seeds donated by Thompson and Morgan.
He also wants to remind the corporate and business world about Hintlesham Hall’s extensive Monday-Thursday conference facilities. It might come as a surprise to discover there are five conference rooms of varying sizes that can accommodate meetings, workshops and seminars. The hotel is equipped with superfast broadband and there are 30 acres of grounds in which to stage teambuilding exercises.
The hall will always be on any bride’s list of preferred venues for weddings great and small. It’s a stunning setting, with beautiful gardens for photography and romantic interiors when the weather’s not behaving itself. Up to 135 guests can be entertained inside, and 200 in a marquee that has direct access to the Salon. Menus are prepared to 2 AA Rosette standard and guests staying over can enjoy all the hotel’s facilities.
With so much going for it no wonder Graham talks about Hintlesham as if it were his own. He’s already achieved a lot in his first year – bed nights are dramatically up and he’s attracting the affluent London set. But he’s a man on a mission to put Hintlesham Hall up where it belongs and he’s looking at Bath’s Royal Crescent Hotel and Babbington House as his models.
It’s a delicate balance. Hintlesham Hall is a much loved Suffolk icon with a loyal, if diminished, following. He doesn’t want to alienate those who have supported it for so long with an uncomfortable amount of change. Yet change it must if it is to thrive in the modern age. Relevance is everything and there’s a lot of competition. Most of all he wants to change Hintlesham’s image, to show people that it can appeal to a younger crowd, that it’s affordable, relaxed and welcoming.
So, watch this space. The lovely old pink lady in the trees is out to prove she’s definitely not a stuffy old aunt, but a rather glamorous gran who enjoys a cocktail or two, some thoroughly modern British cuisine and a bit of 21st century luxury. Time to pay a visit.