Travel: Luxury is...this East Anglian retreat with a floating sauna
- Credit: Edvinas Bruzas
The word luxury is rather loaded isn’t it? It’s entirely...subjective. For some, luxury is soft white sand kissed by the ocean, infinity pools, silver service, sunset yacht cruises. For others, it could be something as simple as a little packet of biscuits on a hospitality tray. A fluffy robe hanging in the wardrobe.
My own vision is quite boring. Give me a squishy bed, good food, and somewhere nice to curl up with a good book, and I’m the cat that got the cream.
Last weekend, I found a new kind of luxury on the Suffolk/Norfolk border. Somewhere that blurs the lines. Fritton Lake, a private members’ holiday retreat, with guest accommodation for ‘outsiders’ across its Clubhouse, lodges and cottages, isn’t all manicured lawns and homogeny. It has a slice of something for everyone.
A kooky restaurant/bar/lounge/hotel. Shaggy-edged wild woodlands and fields of knee-high grass. Lake swimming and paddle boarding. A San Tropez-esque swimming deck.
A country retreat that’s wild around the edges. A relaxed mi casa su casa kinda place where guests are free (within reason!) to roam and make up their own adventures.
And an adventure we did have. Beginning with a hilarious (and really very informative) boat safari on Fritton’s 2.5-mile-long serpentine lake with the head honcho of all things outdoors on the 5,000-acre estate – Matthew.
A human encyclopaedia of nature and plants, Matthew jetted us to the farthest reaches of Fritton’s watery heart, revealing it was dug out in medieval times, that the water from Fritton is the very same drunk by locals living in the area, and, delightfully, that in Viking times the site was known as Lovingland. This point in itself is incredibly fitting. Loving...land. Because that’s exactly what Lord Hugh Somerleyton has dedicated the last 20 years to, giving over 1,000 acres of the estate over to his ambitious rewilding programme, which seeks to create a sustainable environment supporting local birds, insects, mammals and plants.
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Matthew told us Large Black pigs, Highland cattle, Exmoor ponies, Welsh Black sheep...even water buffalo, have been brought into the Somerleyton fold as part of the ongoing project. And that the estate is absolutely flourishing.
Neither my friend or I were sure whether he was just being all romantic with his tales of bird and beast gathering at the water to drink by the lake, in what sounded like a paradisical dream. But we definitely got a flavour of the harmony and balance of nature at Fritton – the only sound beyond the outboard motor of our boat the sweet melody of birdsong.
Matthew pointed out Egyptian geese and the last flush of bluebells in the woodlands. Egrets fresh from their mating dance. He spoke fervently about Somerleyton’s resident songbirds – nightingales, firecrests, wrens. And of plans to create a habitat for turtle doves.
It’s a shame the boat got stuck in an unseen hidden tree. But, I’m not going to lie, my friend Rach and I did think it was hilarious that we needed rescuing. “Things like this always happen to us,” she mused. And she’s not wrong either!
Perhaps it was best the trip was cut a little short, as we needed time to explore the grounds anyway.
We embarked on our own tour, discovering fragrant walled gardens, wild water swimming, the ‘fancy pants’ pool, gym, and new shop. There was grass and clay court tennis. A floating sauna. Volleyball. Two play areas for children. A 5k walk. A manmade beach. Even a bird hide tucked amongst the trees.
Accommodation takes the form of lodges (many are privately owned, with more being added), cottages, or rooms within the Clubhouse building itself, once The Fritton Arms pub – which is where we bedded down for the night.
Scented by firewood, and looking like it’s been peeled out of Country Living mag, or the pages of a Designer’s Guild catalogue, the Clubhouse is an eclectic series of intertwining informal rooms on the ground floor. We liked the vibe of the multifunctional lounging/dining spaces, and the bonkers ‘den’ with its games tables and mounted taxidermy fish.
Something that caught both our ears was the soundtrack of the hotel...of the whole site actually. Music floods almost every space, and appears to have been curated for its locale. The front lounges are a bit jazzy. It gets livelier in the bar, restaurant and terrace, which is split into a series of outdoor ‘rooms’ separated by potted plants. By the pool, the soundtrack is Ibiza chillout meets Sunday brunch. And the bio gym pumps out tracks to get you...pumping.
There was even music in our room, Billy Ward, when we arrived, adding another layer of texture to the pretty patterned suite, as sounds of the 80s boomed from a Roberts radio.
The room had a cool, chintzy vibe, with floral prints galore, bouncy beds, plump pillows aplenty, ethical toiletries (and loo roll) a TV, a chest of Teapigs and Paddy and Scott coffee (get your milk flask from the bar) and a capacious shower, big enough to share. Be sure to bring your phone charger plug as there are no USB sockets.
After getting acquainted with our sleeping quarters, we had a drink on the terrace, before grabbing towels from the outdoor rack, and heading down to the pool area, which is magnificent. Buffered by a red brick wall, the deck manages to avoid most of the wind blowing off the lake, and really is a suntrap, with padded loungers, and log burners set into the changing rooms, for toasty post-swimming get togethers. At around 30C, you won’t get frostbite if you go for a swim.
Talking of frostbite, a must for any visitor to Fritton Lake is a session in the sauna, which floats on its own pontoon over the water. It's free for guests to use, but must be booked in advance at reception. Hang up your towel, and step into the heat, adding citrus-scented steam from the bucket within, and admiring the view from the enormous picture window.
You’re invited, should you dare, to dip, Wim Hof-style, in the lake to get that circulation going. My friend Rachel, a fully-fledged member of the outdoor swimming brigade, didn’t need to be told twice. She was straight in, and told me it was “refreshing”. I was quite happy, thankyou, dipping my toes in at the water’s edge.
There was just time after for a bit of reading by one of the pool deck fireplaces, before getting changed for dinner.
The menu at the Clubhouse is seasonal, and as sustainable as possible, using local ingredients, and beef reared on the estate. It is also, I think reasonably priced.
Highlights from our stay included fresh spider crab in an intense wild garlic broth with sweet black garlic ketchup, and a dainty pigeon and mushroom pie, baked to order, and encased in crumbly, buttery pastry. Served with braised greens and truffled mash, it was pure culinary joy.
A ganache of Pump Street chocolate and olive oil over crushed cocoa nibs and hazelnuts was sublime, and not too sweet. And we both thought the spiced vegan panna cotta, with poached rhubarb and pink peppercorn and strawberry dust, was surprisingly good. It had the perfect wibbly wobbly texture, and the heat of the peppercorns was enough to tingle the tastebuds, rather than being ferocious and overpowering.
We finished with a nightcap of hot chocolate, and hit the hay – floating away on our pillow-topped mattresses, with their puffy pillows and snuggly duvets. I’d go as far to say it’s the comfiest bed I’ve slept on in quite a while.
While I hit the snooze button, Rachel set off on a run around the grounds (there’s really no stopping her), and we had a quick breakfast before yoga in the gym.
Yoga is Rach’s thing, not mine, I’m a devoted Pilates girl. But the friendly instructor won me over with her functional class, focussing on rooting our feet in a series of deeply invigorating movements to stretch and tone the whole body. Might I be converted?
Check out’s at 10am, but you can still enjoy the facilities for the rest of the day. And enjoy we did, rounding off the weekend with another jump in the lake (for her), sauna, and lazy poolside lounging. A lovely, wildly relaxing break. Both of us thought some of the younger staff could do with more training in service, and that the breakfast menu needs a bit of work, but on the whole, Fritton is really rather charming.