Let's staycation in...Eye

A bedroom at The Auberge in Yaxley near Eye

A bedroom at The Auberge in Yaxley near Eye - Credit: Contributed

It’s surrounded by glorious countryside, with myriad routes for walking, cycling, even pony trekking, the beautiful church of St Peter and St Paul towering over its red brick and beamed properties. 

But did you know Eye, in north Suffolk, used to be surrounded by water, with access only by boat? Today the only ripples you’ll experience are of the market town’s rich history – from the remains of Eye’s Norman castle, to its Italianate town hall, and more listed buildings than tourist hotspots such as Lavenham. 

Small, but perfectly formed, this area’s an excellent base for a short break or longer holiday, with easy access to the Suffolk coast, some of the area’s top attractions, lovely towns and villages, some excellent restaurants and pubs, and UNESCO City of Literature, Norwich. 

The restaurant at The Auberge, Yaxley

The restaurant at The Auberge - Credit: Contributed

The Auberge, Yaxley

The Auberge - Credit: Contributed

Where to stay near Eye 

A very good choice is The Auberge, easily accessed just off the A140, and carefully and thoughtfully run by the Stenhouse family (John, Dee and son Jon) for over 25 years. 

The restaurant with rooms has a strong local customer base of regulars who adore chef patron John’s fine, classical British and French cooking, and Dee and front of house manager Jon’s genuine warmth and hospitality. 

Rooms have all the creature comforts you need, and are finished to a high standard, with free Wifi, soft linens, flat screen TVs and air conditioning. 

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You know you’ll eat well during your stay, from breakfast through to dinner, as the restaurant has maintained its AA Rosettes (currently two) for many years. Jon maintains the kitchen garden which informs his dad’s menu throughout the seasons, ensuring freshness and flavour. 

Typical dishes have included celeriac, hazelnut and white truffle soup, Norfolk rib eye steak with crispy onions, bearnaise sauce, peas and chunky chips, monkfish, prawns and mussels in a saffron broth with courgette, pea and mint risotto, and chocolate caramel tart with pistachio cream. 

There’s currently a special winter offer of dinner, bed and breakfast for two at £175 for one night or £300 for two. Find out more at the-auberge.co.uk 

The remains of a bridge believed to be 800 years old have been discovered near Eye Castle

Eye Castle - Credit: John Rushbrook/citizenside.com

What to do in Eye 

Eye Castle: You can’t stay in or around Eye without paying a visit to what is one of the very few surviving motte and bailey castles of the Norman era. It’s open from 9am until dusk (or 7pm) daily from Easter, or at weekends only in the off-season. Ramble around the remains of the fortification, which was built shortly after the Norman conquest, and destroyed two centuries later. There are unmissable views from the platform at the top. 

The Bank: A vital community space where there’s always something going on - and where you’ll be welcomed in whether you’re local or visiting. The programme of arts, music and drama for 2022 isn’t available yet, but you can stop in for yummy cake and hot or cold drinks in the coffee shop. And there are drop-in sessions for creatives, including an art group and ‘knit and natter’ group, both on Wednesdays. For current opening hours and information on events go to thebankeye.org 

Dessert at the fox and goose fressingfield

Chocolate fondant with cherry gel, cherry sorbet and toasted marshmallows at The Fox and Goose in Fressingfield - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Where to eat in and around Eye 

There are takeaways – fish and chips, Chinese and pizza – and the local deli and chocolate shop have dining options too. 

The Queen’s Head: It’s incredible to think Eye used to have 20 pubs – and that today this is the last watering hole standing...although that description doesn’t do it justice. This is a truly historic inn, rated by CAMRA for its excellent real ales, sourced from near and far, and serving hearty homemade food created with as much local produce as possible. From smoked ham hock and pea soup, to their own burgers made with meat from Eye’s Laurel Farm butchers, and Adnams beer battered haddock with trimmings. There’s a large garden with a play area for children, and dogs are welcome.  

The Four Horseshoes, Thornham: A former winner in our food and drink awards for family dining, this is a stunning building, dressed in Suffolk Pink paint, crowned with thatching, and with roses and shrubbery growing around the windows. Inside are nooks and niches (plus an indoor well) and proper pub food is served, from a cracking Sunday roast with lunch and evening sittings, to homemade pies. There’s a large beer garden and it’s family-friendly. 

The Fox and Goose, Fressingfield: This pub is a short drive from Eye and is well worth seeking out. It looks rustic and rural from the outside (as befits the village it’s found in) but inside it’s another matter, with some of the finest food in the area being served. There are pub and restaurant menus so you can decide if you want to be fancy, or stick to the classics. The mixed grill from the pub classics in particular is exceptional, and at £18.50 for pork belly, fillet steak, local lamb sausage, apple boudin, salad, mushrooms and chunky chips, very good value. 

Eye Castle. Picture: JOHN RUSHBROOK

Eye's church - Credit: citizenside.com

Where to shop in Eye 

This isn’t a large town by any means, but it has real charm, and the wherewithal to be ‘self-sufficient’ if you’re self-catering, with a Co-op store, two butchers, a deli and bakery within walking distance of one another. There’s a traditional DIY shop, haberdashers and several antiques shops to explore too. 

Cocoa Mama: Former journalist Helen’s chocolaterie is a must-visit and a real haven for chocoholics. In store you can buy fresh truffles, ganaches, hot chocolate flakes, chocolate bars and novelties at the counter. Or stop in for homemade cake, scones, milkshakes....and, of course, gorgeous hot chocolate! 

Tliting Sky Gift Shop: Next to Cocoa Mama and also owned by Helen, this is an equally delightful confection of ‘lovely things’ to keep and to give away. Whether you’re in the market for a new handbag, designer jewellery, stationery, toys, candles, clocks or toiletries, you’ll find something to catch your eye in every corner. 

Dream-on: A ladies’ fashion boutique with a difference – where personal service is part and parcel of everything they do. The shop is known for its special days (like colour day and wardrobe clear), and for its makeover sessions. Pre-bookable only, and taking just a handful of ladies each time, this is a top-to-toe experience including having your hair, nails and make-up done, styling advice and lunch and refreshments. 

Days out near Eye 

Recommendations include: 

Walks at thornhamestate.co.uk 

Steam trains and gardens at bressingham.co.uk 

Animal adventures at banhamzoo.co.uk 

Historic gardens and afternoon teas at helmingham.com