The expression “hidden gem” is bandied about far too often and should really be saved for the collection of customised hideaways that is Belle Grove Barns.
Hidden deep in the East Anglian countryside this cluster of magical dwellings is awash with little secrets and treats. Each abode has a theme influenced by the owner’s travels and lovingly filled with curios from the bazaars of Istanbul to the Gobi Desert. In fact, the converted cottages and barns of Belle Grove have been likened to “walking into a jewellery box”.
The lodgings range from cosy one-bedroom hidey-holes to the Upper Barn that sleeps six. Our home for four nights, for our “mini-moon”, was The Gate House.
By the time we arrived, the day after our wedding, it was nightfall. Belle Grove Barns is located about 20 minutes from the seaside town of Southwold in Suffolk, in a little pocket of big-skied wilderness. The winding drive sparkled with fairy lights and the Gate Lodge was a beacon of welcome loveliness.
The first thing that greeted us when we walked in was the splendid smell; fresh lilies mixed with jasmine, eucalyptus and bergamot. The living area was dominated by a huge stone fireplace (with a working wood burner) and in every nook and cranny was an Eastern-inspired delight. From wall tapestries and Aladdin’s slippers to authentic Moroccan furniture. The kitchen was a charming blend of knick-knacks, quirky glassware and top-of-the-range kit so we could not wait to play house and cook a proper grown-up meal from scratch. Our host Jo had left a bottle of bubbly for us in the fridge and the kitchen was also stocked with Turkish coffee, high-grade olive oil and chocolates.
Upstairs we found a scarlet-walled boudoir, resplendent with an antique four- poster bed and vintage lamps. The bathroom boasted a double bath with digital shower and fragrant organic toiletries so we really did have everything we needed.
Belle Grove is the ultimate in luxury self-catering, stock up enough and there’s no reason to leave your little enclave for the week. The grounds are full of whimsy too if you fancy a wander. There are enchanted toadstools, a dreamy pond and even an outdoor pinhole camera to try. There is a certain Beetlejuice vibe to the farm too, giving it a tiny sinister thrill.
We were happy to spend the evenings tucked away in Gate Lodge armed with plenty of wine and a fridge full of food but during the day the area has plenty to explore. Southwold is a short drive away and its retro pier and seriously bonkers attractions are worth a visit. The Little Fish and Chip Shop on the main street serve some of the best Scampi in the county and Harris and James is a great spot for Italy-worthy gelato. We also loved the Sole Bay Inn where we sampled many of the local brew, Adnams gin and cider. An outing to nearby Thorpeness was another day’s adventure where we rowed on the boating lake and lunched at The Dolphin Pub. There’s a Village Store there too full of vintage bits as well as locally produced cheese, hams and jams.
After lots of fresh sea air and walking, returning to Gate Lodge was heaven. We had a glass of wine with the owner, a wonderfully colourful character called Jo Jordan, who told us all about the labour of love that is Belle Grove and how it came to be.
Extensively damaged in WWII, due to a bureaucratic quirk most of the Victorian outbuildings of this working farm had to be rebuilt in kind. Jo’s husband Nick, whose family owned the farm, has extensive experience of building restorations so with his knowledge of recycling materials and their shared love of global travel, their vision came to life in 2008.
We would certainly recommend Belle Grove Barns for a romantic getaway, each property is designed for maximum privacy and ours had an enchanted courtyard bedecked with lights and a dear little table and chairs. This is not the place for rowdy parties but groups wanting to cook big suppers or enjoy BBQs in the summer will love it here too.
It is a truly unique place and the thought poured into it is obvious everywhere. You will fall down the Rabbit Hole here and not want to leave.
Tip: Jo’s Emporium is worth a visit before you leave. She has goodies, clothes, jewels and furniture from their travels for sale and you can easily put off leaving for a good hour by rooting through the treasures.
Premier Cottages collection features almost 1,000 four and five-star self-catering cottages across the UK. Properties range from small, romantic boltholes to large family-friendly country estates. The collection includes pet-friendly accommodation. It also offers the widest range of accessible properties in the UK and many properties have onsite facilities like swimming pools, gyms, spas, indoor games rooms and children’s play areas.
A week’s stay in Belle Grove Barns property the Gatehouse for two starts from £610 and a three night weekend from £470. To book, go to www.premiercottages.co.uk or call the owner on 01986 873 124. Guests can also enjoy use of the beach hut in Southwold for free.