The Swan at Lavenham
If you love quirky, higgledy piggledy historical properties you’ll be swanning with joy over The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa.
A study in beams, this medieval 15th century gem is everything you’d wish for in a period property. The hotel is comprised of three houses from which the hotel was later developed. It's not fully known when the conversion from houses into an inn took place, but it was well established in 1667. During its heyday in times bygone, it served as a public and posting house, with stabling for 50 horses.
So many beams!
Today, the 4-star hotel has 45 bedrooms, all of which are unique. We stayed in Room 34, The Newton Room, which had a very low ceiling and original timber-beamed walls. Although the room was on the small side, we had enough room for a cosy double bed, a desk, two arm chairs and an en-suite bathroom with chequered tiles and country-chic wooden panelling.
Our cosy bedroom - The Newton Room
Within the hotel there are two on-site restaurants – the Brasserie, a relaxed restaurant with original stone floors and contemporary décor serving casual fare, and the award-winning two rosette The Gallery restaurant. On a warm summer’s day, guests can also enjoy afternoon tea in the garden.
The back entrance of the property adjacent to the garden
The chef at the helm is Head Chef Justin Kett, who is passionate about classic British cuisine featuring quality, local ingredients. Wine lovers will be pleased to know that the restaurant also has a sommelier, Head Sommelier Francois Belin (previously of the Goring Hotel in London), who is on hand to help guests navigate the extensive wine menu to find a wine that beautifully matches their chosen dishes.
Dining at The Gallery has a real sense of occasion to it, with its stunning minstrel's gallery where a pianist plays popular medleys on the grand piano while diners enjoy their meals. We opted for three courses, all of which were delightful and served with a smile by our friendly server.
After a restful night's sleep, guests can tuck into the complimentary breakfast, which includes a selection of breads, porridge, yogurts and a cooked breakfast featuring favourites such as smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or Eggs Benedict.
Weavers' House Spa located within the hotel is a serene space with a soothing colour palette of sage green and white, making it the perfect place to chill out after a hectic week. The spa uses Temple Spa products, all of which are available for purchase.
Weavers' House Spa at The Swan at Lavenham
The on-site spa facilities include a sauna, steam room and an outdoor terrace with a small whirlpool - a great place to relax if the weather is cooperating! Guests can choose from more than 30 treatments from hot stone massages to a unique brush massage or more traditional facials, manicures and pedicures.
Upon arrival guests are given an exceptionally fluffy robe and slippers and are then asked to fill out a questionnaire, which arrives on a cute tray with an olive branch decoration and a hot towel and a fresh fruit smoothie to help you ease into your visit.
During my visit, I experienced the New Beginnings mummy-to-be massage (£70), an extra-gentle 60-minute massage tailored for pregnant women. Instead of a traditional massage where you lie on your back, you rest on your side on top of a special water bed as the therapist gives you a head-to-toe massage. Although the massage was relaxing, I found myself wishing for a bit more pressure, but to ensure safety, the therapists have to be as careful as possible, which is why they use such a light touch throughout the treatment.
Exploring further afield
As the hotel is located right in the heart of town, taking a stroll is a must. Lavenham is considered one of England’s best medieval villages with more than 340 listed buildings, so it’s worth checking it out. One of the key things to see in Lavenham is its gorgeous church - the church of St Peter and St Paul - which boasts a striking 141ft-high tower.
If you’re into shopping, head to Snape Maltings with its seven acres of Victorian buildings with shops, galleries and restaurants. If you’re a foodie, head for the Suffolk Food hall, near Ipswich, which boasts more than 8,000sq ft of space filled with some of the best food from Suffolk.
To book a stay at the Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa visit www.theswanatlavenham.co.uk.
Rooms start from £185 per night for two sharing including a full Suffolk breakfast; dinner from the a la carte menu is from £39 per person for three courses. Overnight guests have a complimentary two-hour session with use of the facilities in Weavers’ House Spa including the sauna, steam room, outdoor vitality pool and relaxation lounge.
The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa
I arrived in Sherborne late on Friday evening after a long, post-work train journey. Eager to head straight to my wellness retreat at Middle Piccadilly, I was disappointed to learn that I’d have to wait 30 mins for a local taxi – Beaver Taxis, to be exact, to fetch me. Yes Beaver Taxis actually exists and yes, you really do have to wait ages for a taxi in this part of the country - the first indication that I was definitely not in London anymore and I’d have to learn a bit of patience – no easy feat when one’s accustomed to permanently rushing about like a headless chicken!
Once settled in the taxi, I was able to take in the peaceful surroundings – all rolling hills and quiet country lanes, but just when I was starting to get comfortable, the taxi driver slammed on his brakes to avoid a large tractor that was also vying for the small sliver of country lane. Who says country life isn’t exciting?!
After we’d arrived at my final destination of Middle Piccadilly I was slightly frazzled, but pleased to see the quaint, thatched roof cottage where I’d be staying -just the tonic I needed after a hectic, deadline-filled week in London.
Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by the owner, Dominic, who quickly showed me around the property which consisted of two communal lounges, a communal kitchen, a shared bathroom and multiple treatment rooms.
If you’re the type that doesn’t like sharing your facilities or mingling with your fellow lodgers, then this probably isn’t the place for you, but if you enjoy meeting new people and relaxing, then it would be right up your alley!
Time to unwind....
Middle Piccadilly's aim is to offer its guests an informal and peaceful atmosphere and a unique range of treatments to help people address whatever their ailment is - be it physical or spiritual.
The copies of Kindred Spirit magazine that can be found in the communal lounge allude to the spiritual nature of the retreat and the mindset of Middle Piccadilly's founders - originally Dominic's parents, who've since passed the baton to him to oversee the running of the business.
Seek solace in simplicity....
My lodging for the weekend consisted of a small room with a twin bed, a small writing desk and a wash basin. My immediate thought was that it felt a bit like being back in college in my dorm room or in a private hospital room. Luckily, I wasn’t having to face the unpleasantness of studying or an operation, but rather a weekend of relaxation - the truest indulgence once can have these days.
With so much peace to be had, I thought 'this must be how monks feel when left with no distractions and only their thoughts for company'...
Perhaps my time here would unleash untapped creative genius? If nothing else, I simply hoped to catch up on some much-needed sleep, although my husband would probably argue that I sleep more than anyone he knows. I reckon I must have been a cat in a previous life! That being said, I found good company in the resident cat who was just as lazy!
A place to unplug and unwind…
It’s a bit weird what happens to one when they being to unwind after being continually connected and accustomed to a more frantic pace of life. For the first hour or so, I felt the need to fill my time with distractions. I felt relieved that I had plenty of writing to do as I felt it was a way to keep my mind active given that I wouldn’t be watching TV or catching up with friends.
As I perused the treatment menu, many of the items such as shamanic healing seemed a bit ‘hippy dippy’, but I decided that I was going to quiet my inner cynic and embrace all of the experiences on offer. After all, the greatest transformations often happen when one learns to let go.
My fellow retreat goers
During the time of my stay, four other women (all of whom were lovely), were also staying at the retreat. After several communal meals (and lots of laughter), I later learned that one lady was a socially worker for the mentally ill, another had escaped a religious cult and the other two were disgruntled flight attendants. Throw in the mix a frazzled PR / writer (e.g. me) and I guess you could say we were a real motley crew! The common thread that united us all was that we made a conscious effort to retreat to the country to seek a bit of solace – an act that feels really indulgent in a society where people feel guilty for taking time out.
Food and drink
Dominic is a dab hand in the kitchen and whips up fresh lunch and dinner for the guests during their stay. Meal times are set (7am-9:30am for breakfast, 1pm for lunch and 7:30pm for dinner), which I'd imagine has been done as it's just Dominic who does the prep, cooking and clean up, so he'd be pretty knackered if he was catering to everyone's individual schedules! Dishes on offer include a raw food option or a vegetarian meal, either of which you can't go wrong with.
Eat simply. Eat healthily.
The treatments are what people really come here for and they didn’t disappoint. My first treatment was the Therapeutic Massage, a traditional full-body massage that made me feel exceptionally relaxed. The therapist was lovely and really put me at ease.
For my second treatment, I was booked in for the Shamanic Healing, which is meant to clear bad energies. As I heard the sound of the drums in the treatment room (a practice done to ‘clear the craggy spirits’, apparently), I felt a bit apprehensive about the experience I was about to have.
Before the treatment, I had asked my fellow retreat goers if they could describe their experience, and they all said that it was an individual experience, with each person’s experience being as unique as the individual, so it couldn’t be easily conveyed. Some people scream, some people cry and others just feel relaxed – it just depends on what happens on the day.
My experience of the Shamanic Healing
Upon entering the treatment room, I was warmly greeted by Sandy, a former midwife who had spent more than 20 years working for the NHS before training as a shamanic healer. Before we started, she talked through her tools of the trade, which included a drum (to help generate energy), a rattle, (a peacock feather to brush away negative energy – no eagle feathers to come by in these parts), pebbles, crystals, sage (which was burning throughout the treatment and smells a bit like a campfire). For the less hippy inclined, it seems a bit hokey pokey, but I decided I’d go with the flow.
I started the process lying on a massage table, while Sandy held her hands over different areas of my body. She also placed her hands over different chakras and then placed her hands on my lower back and held them there, which she said was referred to as ‘bringing the jaguar down from the trees’. Next, she started banging her drum repeatedly and asked me to step back through time, recalling memories from different ages in my childhood. She assured me that I could relax as I had a spiritual guide next to me who would ensure that I was safe.
She asked me to visualise what my spiritual guide looked like and I had visualised an older man with a wide smile and longish grey hair, who was wearing a white linen shirt and trousers. In hindsight, he looked a bit like Richard Branson – weird!
Finally, she asked me to do ‘dragon breathing’ (a succession of quick, forceful breathing) to get rid of any negative energy. Once she was happy that the negative energy had been cleared, she blew air over my stomach to ‘fill it with positive purple light’. After the treatment, I oddly felt a bit emotional and tearful, as the whole process was quite intense. It was definitely one to chalk up as an experience!
After my weekend at Middle Piccadilly, I felt unique combination of being both relaxed and highly introspective, which I believe can only be a good thing.
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