The bucolic fields, ancient churches, chocolate-box villages, painterly fields and an unspoilt coastline of the Suffolk countryside is a perfect retreat for Londoners seeking respite from busy city life. Sounds good right? We went along to check out one of the UK’s most unique rural projects of recent years for two nights of luxury barn life, open fields and to detox from our digital world for a hot minute.
A short car or train journey out to Ipswich paves the way to a landscape surrounded by natural beauty where you can find Retreat East, a former dairy 16th-century farmhouse that has been lovingly restored and reimagined with sustainability at the heart of their concept. Occupying 35 acres of pristine countryside that includes a luxury organic produce spa, a farm-to-table restaurant and an array of family-friendly accommodation complete with self-catering facilities.
The long stretch of dirt road leading to Retreat East is surrounded with fields, a horse and its young foal almost nod as we slowly pass and make our way to the designated parking area, which is a simple stretch, yawn and a step away from the checking-in area. This also triples up as a coffee shop full of supplies in case you’ve forgotten something useful, like in our case, baking powder, for a certain Thai fishcake recipe can’t cope without it.
Once we’ve been given the lay of the land, the key is handed over and our two-night stay inside the very impressive ‘The Roost’ barn can commence. The upside down, two bedroom former dairy barn is pretty special, a cute mix of old-worldly and new. The open-plan kitchen with central island is as immersive as any cookery show set, though the original brickwork and beams give this barn plenty of it authentic character. There’s a living room decked out with a vintage contemporary feel, two double bedrooms both with huge wet room showers, with a shared bathroom and ample space outside on the private terrace overlooking the hills. Here we see a dog rapidly making its way across the horizon who disappears into the foliage while their owner continues to call its name struggling to keep up. They lose their footing, we hide our laughs, and then we pop the champs.
At the heart of the site is the all impressive triple-height Great Barn that is the centrepiece for social, culinary and wellness needs. It’s where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served as well as a place to relax with their lounge sofas next to the fireplace, and the all-important bar serving up local brews and cocktails with ingredients from the surrounds. It also has a full-size pool table to keep things interesting.
Breakfast is continental style, impressively laid out across a centre table with cereals, fruits, toast, and pastries, with more substantial dishes like English muffins, things on toast and fry-ups also available to order. The man in the kitchen is head chef Adam Spicer, who was Cambridge Chef of the Year in 2017, one of the final 16 on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2019 and got awarded two rosettes by the AA food guide whilst at All Saints Hotel – so it’s no wonder the Sunday roast is spectacular.
Downtime at Retreat East is encouraged, and it’s easy to recharge being among the calming surrounds of nature. With ample walks in all directions, exploring the grounds that stretch out far into the horizon can lead you out to trips to Suffolk’s distinctive pink-plaster traditional thatched houses, archaeology landmark Sutton Hoo – which you might have seen in Netflix film The Dig – to the open play areas of Easton Farm Park, Framlingham Castle and Helmingham Hall Gardens.
Those needing a helping hand to relax can pop into the Spa where an array of treatments focusing on the Five Elements of traditional Chinese Medicine can be found. The Five Element Aroma Massage is 60-minute treatment we sunk right into, which began by picking one of five pre-blended aromatherapy oils before being restored to total relaxation and calm. So often treatments don’t manage to get everything right, the temperature of the room, the lighting, music, how the therapist chats to you, these guys made it so comfortable and easy.
After the treatment, there’s the spa facilities to get involved in, including a steam room, sauna, showers and cold plunge for those feeling brave, we do recommend pulling that cord. There is also the outdoor jacuzzi, which you get private use of when booking a time slot, just keep an eye on the clouds.
There is also no shortage of things to get involved in as Retreat East run their own events, from creative arts and craft workshops to yoga, archery, axe throwing, bike rides, clay pigeon shooting, group walks and even personal training.
An easy accessible luxury break that is a welcome distraction all year round. We were very impressed with the roast and having the facilities to cooking inside the barns means you have the option to dine when you’d like to. Would recommend.
Prices at Retreat East start from approximately £130 per night.
Retreat East, Brick Kiln Farm, Sandy Lane, Hemingstone, IP6 9QE