We’re going to Strattons Hotel in Norfolk for our weekend away,’ trills my beloved, teasing a cascading curl. ‘It’s an eco-hotel,’ she adds chirpily. There is an awkward silence. ‘What?’ I bellow, tearing another leg of pork from my suckling pig – I always have suckling pig by the bed – ‘Do I look like a Prius-driving, recycling, hessian wearer? In a word: certainlynot.’ Obviously this isn’t exactly the scene; in fact, we have a Prius. And we compost. But I confess to some trepidation on hearing ‘eco-hotel’. Scratchy towels? Toilets flushed by buckets? Vegetarian broths? Family-run Strattons couldn’t be further from my presumptions.
Set like a precious stone in the market town of Swaffham, Strattons is an eccentric hideaway guaranteed to confound such lazy preconceptions. Trundling down the tiny close off an unremarkable high street into the hotel courtyard, a vista of Narnian proportions greets us. A striking Palladian villa lit like a Gothic church and set off brilliantly by a circular courtyard of pleached hornbeam trees, Strattons takes my breath away. Although that might have been wrestling my wife’s ridiculously large case out of the car.
Initial fears of having to stifle any luxury-desiring sensibilities are immediately assuaged. This eco-friendly escape is less Norfolk, more Southfork, thanks to an opulent carved sign, a proliferation of original artwork and some seriously extravagant chandeliers. I brace myself at the reception for a tongue-lashing about the egregious carbon emissions a journey from London may have belched; instead we’re met by staff who are the personification of breezy helpfulness. But will the room be sumptuous enough for these would-be sybarites?
I say ‘room’, but garish, erotic artworks, huge driftwood-hewn furniture and a glass-bricked bathroom/wet room make it feel more ‘Picasso’s holiday cottage’. There are two widescreen TVs and DVD players and a deep antique bath, perfect for a sexy soak or a movie-watching marathon. There’s even a tiny patio; sadly it’s four degrees outside. (Where’s global warming when you need it?) By the bed are two units comprising approximately 20 tiny drawers each. Sock festishists travelling with their full collections will find this room a gift.
This so-called eco-hotel may be greener than a pensioner on a roller coaster, but apart from the locally produced chemical-free refillable soap dispensed in the bathroom, it gives very few clues to its environmental persuasion. I take this subtlety to be a good thing. It’s only as we sit down to dinner in the Rustic that Strattons nails its green colours to the mast. In this intimate low-ceilinged candlellit restaurant, we glean from the Modern British menu that just about everything (from the milk and butter to the herbs and meats) is locally sourced from trusted quality farms. All of the fruit and veg are even grown right here in Strattons’ soil.
Pigeon pastrami proves earthy and stargazey pie with rabbit and crayfish under pastry is delicious. My personal fave? The shepherd’s pie (yes, these Smiths like pie): slices of crisp potato atop a cauldron of melt-in-the-mouth steak and gravy. The wine list is perfectly proportioned, but what impresses me are the organic and evocatively named local beers and ciders, such as Swaffham Gold and Fine Soft Day from Norfolk’s Iceni Brewery. By the time we polish off a chocolate cheesecake – ‘Two spoons please, the elastic in my trousers does have a limit’ – both my heavily expectant wife and I are a similar shape. Eschewing a late-night walk due to a combination of heavy fog and inertia, we decamp to our boudoir for an extravagant soak and an early night.
If your question is ‘How happy can egg and toast make a man?’ then my answer is ‘elated’. For breakfast I order them boiled with Marmitey soldiers. A simple meal, but honestly the most enjoyable I’ve had all year. If happy hens lay tasty eggs, the ones clucking about in the garden here must be Buddhists that have attained nirvana.
Another trencherman sitting later, and we plump for a walk/waddle. We borrow one of the hotel’s laminated walking guides: lovely idea but after 20 minutes we abandon the map, and freestyle it. Bric-a-brac from the slightly bonkers Saturday market picked over and it’s time for elevenses at Strattons’ deli and café, CoCoes. (Well, it has been two hours since our last meal.) Shelves here groan under the weight of pornographically calorific confections, so I order a piece of blueberry cake. ‘What I love about Strattons is how it wears its green principles lightly,’ I say to Mrs Smith. She smiles as I take another mouthful. ‘You, on the other hand, will be leaving wearing its other values somewhat heavily.’