Travel bites: a few days in Lavenham, Suffolk
*** updated 2019 ***
It is no secret to those who know me well that recently London has become a little unbearable for me. As much as I love the opportunities, the events, the culture and the friends I have, I hate the traffic, the noise, the dirt, the chicken bones on the floor (it should be an offence to litter with those!) and so forth.
I was longing to spend a few days away, but somewhere we could take Amber too, somewhere driveable and not requiring a plane journey.
After some deliberation, we picked Suffolk, specifically the village of Lavenham. Not only we have friends there but also it is a historic and medieval location and I needed a bit of a fix of the Middle Ages…
Needless to say, our stay was fantastic, relaxing and just what we needed as a family, dog friendly break.
Lavenham is located in the heart of Suffolk and one of England’s best preserved medieval wool towns. Less than 2 hours by car or train from London, Lavenham boasts over 30 High Street businesses including a wide array of hotels, restaurants and friendly local pubs.
The centre of Lavenham is of a good size, with loads of picture perfect streets full of characterful listed houses and cottages, a huge number of these dating back to the XIV century, heaven for me of course.
We spent pretty much most of our time walking around, discovering new views and sights as well as going all the way to the edges of the village towards the river and towards the church where Amber could find more green areas to have fun and sniff loads.
Yet even in town there were plenty of furry friends, some very friendly and it was so refreshing to see people and be greeted in the morning even if you don’t know them… doesn’t happen in London for sure!
A lot of these historic properties are available to rent… so one has really plenty of choice. There are also a couple of hotels in town, including the upmarket and beautiful The Swan (which has a spa and, a brasserie and bar and a restaurant), located right on the high street.
Market Keepers Cottage
With a baby and a dog we preferred a cottage and after much deliberation, opted for Market Keepers cottage, a Grade listed quaint building right in the middle of the Guildhall square. I mean, it doesn’t get much more ‘central’ than that.
We absolutely loved it and could not recommend it more. It looks small from the outside, but these master builders of centuries gone knew how to make use of the space much better than their modern counterparts!
Downstairs there is a fully fitted kitchen (very bright and spacious), a cute dining room and a cosy lounge with plenty of space and a log burner, as well as a guest loo. Upstairs, two spacious double bedrooms (the main one is actually huge by London standards!) with comfy beds and loads of storage space and natural light and a bathroom.
The cottage is surrounded by beautiful buildings (the XVI century Guildhall, the medieval Little Hall, the Great House french restaurant, the Angel Hotel) and also facilities such a really lovely village shop (open until 10pm weekdays, really convenient) and a cute, old fashion proper bakery).
Walking around Lavenham some incredible treasures come to light. I couldn’t get enough of the medieval architecture (massively envying, I admit, those who own a piece of those!). The most photographed building in Britain is here actually and is De Vere House, a timber framed stunning house used in movies like Harry Potter, currently for sale (I am so tempted).
In the square, is the Guildhall, managed by the National Trust, one of the finest timber-framed buildings in England. The building dates from around 1530 built on the back of the boom of the cloth industry in the early 16th Century. It is very interesting, due to its various uses through history and worth a visit, including its tea room housed in one of the rooms with beautifully timber framed ceiling; it is open Thursdays to Sundays from 11am.
Next to it, the yellow painted Little Hall, a XIV century weavers’ home. We did not get a chance to visit on our first trip, as it is staffed by volunteers and only opened April-October, but we did visit in May 2018 and 2019 when it was even free as it was hosting a craft fair.
The building is really beautiful inside as well as the outside. There is a good sized garden on the inner court with pretty flowers and shrubs and the upstairs is laid out as the family home that it was in the XIX century. The history of the building is fascinating and it’s great to chat to the volunteers to find out more about it. The shop sells a lot of items, all with the same theme: the Little Hall.
Eating, of course
Lavenham offers enough places to eat or drink, although coming from central London it took a bit to get used to everything opening at 10am and closing around 5pm! We tried a few places and these are our favourites:
Munnings Tea Room at the Crooked House
On the ground floor of a gorgeously wonky medieval building, the interior is warm and welcoming and a little crammed. Loads of cakes and afternoon teas as well as light lunches, friendly service and strong aromatherapy smells as they sell perfumes and the likes in the team room(!). Dog friendly, which is brilliant. We pretty much visited only dog friendly places.
Coffee is ok, as pretty much most of Lavenham (I am now so used to London’s variety and high standards!). I enjoyed a lovely jam biscuit with my coffee while baby O napped in his pram, a brief moment of quiet during my morning walk. Dog friendly in the front area, tables outside too.
Lavenham Blue Vintage Tearoom
By the Guildhall square, this was probably our favourite tea room. Spacious, garden area, massive choice of cakes and fantastic home baked scones. I loved my Spiced Plum scone, and @bmcboy enjoyed a humongous slice of chocolate cake. Good choice of Fentimans soft drinks and teas of course. Coffee was also ok, as above. Super friendly staff and of course, dog friendly!
Hadleys – ice cream parlour
We bought take away ice cream and it was really good. They make some special, Christmas pudding looking ice cream pots: we bought the cherry and chocolate and it was delicious! We’d have loved to enjoy a hot chocolate or a coffee (they sell Monmouth coffee) the next day but they are not dog friendly so we left, obviously. What a shame.
We came back in 2019 and, while we did not attempt to enter with Amber, I picked up some take away ice cream and coffee and had a chat with a lovely lady who was behind the counter.
A gastro pub right on the high street, they used pretty decent coffees, cakes and had a good menu too, with many dishes using local produce and fresh fish from the coast. Dogs are allowed in the lounge area and the outdoor terrace which is lovely in the summer sunset sun. The children’s menu used great with options such as scrambled eggs on toast perfect for the smaller babies. In April 2019 it closed down and was immediately taken over bu new owners, and the menu turned into Spanish tapas. We did not have a chance to try it.
This hotel and restaurant is also in the Market Square and has a large garden at the back which is perfect in the summer. Their food is good and the service really friendly too. Love their steak and ale pies and the fish and chips. The baby menu is also valid. In 2019 we tried their pizzas and they are pretty awful so that is one thing not to order!
Lavenham’s indian restaurant we ordered a take away one evening, and while the restaurant was empty when I picked it up (it was sunday night), and they are not dog friendly, the food we had was pretty good, with some original dishes too although the menu is far too extensive for it to be fresh, I fear.
The Swan Brasserie
During our 2019 weekend, we enjoyed a good lunch here, as their bar and lounge area are dog friendly. The hotel itself is stunning, with medieval features still very evident. I loved my celeriac and ham hock risotto, little Oliver, no longer a baby, polished off the mac & cheese and Veloboy had a steak sandwich, washed down with good beers and ciders.
The serice could do with a bit of a lift, but nevermind.
We managed a dinner at Number 10. Another historic building, which bears many original features and is laid out in different dining rooms. We had a smaller one because we had the dog and it was really beautiful, with wooden tables, candles, old Lavenham pictures on the walls. I loved my pork and burnt onion dish, but Veloboy said his lamb was not up to scratch and the risotto that came with it was badly cooked and had way too many spring onions.
Perhaps they try too hard, but I loved the venue so much I was pretty happy we came!
Where to stay
As mentioned, there are loads of cottages for hire, mostly grade listed and well located, plus a couple of hotels and BnB. With a baby and a dog, renting a self catering was the best option, however if I was treating myself to a romantic weekend, the Swan hotel would probably be my pick. Here is our top 3 choices of self catering:
This small, cute cottage is within minutes from the main square and the high street and has plenty of facilities as well as two bedrooms, a bathroom with a bath (great if you have little ones) and a garden, and it is dog friendly too. This offers a great value for money and is a good option for a small family. The owners are very friendly. It is available through Air Bnb.
Around £80 per night
Market Keepers Cottage: this was the beautiful cottage which we called home for 6 days and I was so sad to leave. Homely, super comfortable, spacious, very well located and with all amenities (including a dish washer), it is just perfect. Dog friendly too, and has a courtyard at the back and a manicured garden at the front as well as a private parking space by the windows so you can always keep an eye on your car (even though this isnt london and one should probably not worry).
Right across the property are some of Lavenham’s landmarks like the Guildhall, Little Hall and the Great House. Waking up early in the morning, I loved looking out of the windows into the dark and quiet square, seeing the lights come on in the Angel hotel, as well as the morning sky lit up from the main bedroom windows, which looks out onto the garden. I could not recommend this place more, and I really hope to come back and stay again!
(We indeed came back in 2018 and 2019)
From £150 per night
Only a few metres away from de Vere House is Lavenham Priory, a beautiful white washed structure which currently is available to stay at as a luxury accommodation. It is simply beautiful and full of quirks including a medieval mummified rat!
The owners are very friendly and the accommodation allows well behaved small dogs too. We did not stay here because the suite for 4 people was booked, and the double bedroom suite was too small for us while the three bedroom wing too big. While it is pricy, it is simply incredible and full of history and charm.
From £180 per night
I must admit, we were lazy, we had man flu and baby cold and generally mainly relaxed in Lavenham however we did some short trips and can recommend the below things to do:
Lamarsh & Bures
Small villages about half hour drive from Lavenham, great for dog walking bythe river with a couple of good country pubs (such as the Henry Swann).
Really pretty small village about 20m drive away; cute pink cottages, village green, antique shops and a great gastro pub (the George).
Another nice and small village nearby with some interesting medieval architecture and village green.
Hollow Tree Farm
One of the many ‘petting zoo’ in the area, this has a great farm shop with good prices and products, a nice restaurant, unfortunately it is dog UNfriendly. We had to leave Amber in the car while we had lunch and I was way too stressed to relax!
We truly had a good short break and hope to return soon; sometimes there is no need to go far far away because beauty and history are close by.