Pre-dating the EU by more than half a millennia, the Hanseatic League was a vibrant North European free trade organisation.
Membership in this powerful organisation helped make London pre-eminent. It also made the West Norfolk port of Kings Lynn into a very rich little town.
Today, Kings Lynn justifiably claims to its visitors that it is “Brim full of history”. Though the introduction of ever-larger cargo ships and serious silting of the River Great Ouse and the Wash conspired to somewhat reduce the town’s eminence as a trading centre, a rich architectural heritage has remained and smaller boats carrying cut flowers, wood and other products still set sail with the tide, across the North Sea to Holland.
Despite the arrival of large out of town shopping complexes, Kings Lynn’s now pedestrianised High Street thankfully remains vibrant, unlike so many of its ilk, while at the heart of the town and currently under massive refurbishment, the so-called Tuesday Market is one of Europe’s largest and most imposing town squares, peppered with historic buildings.
The huge windows in the exquisitely grand Sandringham Suite at the historic Legacy Duke’s Head Hotel (www.legacy-hotels.co.uk-dukeshead), which was our home for a night, loosk across that square to the magnificent Corn Exchange and just down the street stands the ornate15 Century Guildhall – the oldest surviving such building in the UK.
Georgian in origins and classical in style, the Duke’s Head edifice features an ornate portico and a grandiose main stairway plus a range of welcoming public rooms.
For years a part of the Forté Hotels portfolio, ii passed through various ownerships after that once pre-eminent chain collapsed. It is now part of Legacy Hotels, which forward thinking group has made a major financial and expertise commitment that has restored the property to its former glory.
The 81 recently refurbished guestrooms include economy doubles, de luxe rooms, feature rooms and suites, all decorated and furnished in rich contemporary style, with lavish use of hardwoods and natural tones. The décor in our room bravely and triumphantly used a silver and aubergine colourway to create a décor that was at the same time stridently masculine and soothingly feminine,
Amenities include super comfortable king-size beds, well-appointed bathrooms with spacious walk-in showers, and a neatly designed executive work area. Over-size wide-screen TVs offer more than 100 channels while climate control ensures a comfortable environment, Wi-fi is complimentary in all rooms.
Corporate business is a key component of the hotel’s success and a selection of meeting and incentives facilities is available.
A choice of buffet or full-service breakfast is served in the spacious Gryffens Café, which is also open for lunches, afternoon teas and dinner.
There’s a gourmet option too. Named after one of the properties early owners, Turners Restaurant offers a relaxing ambience and contemporary fine dining.
A comfortable setting and attentive and friendly service add value to a nicely balanced menu of contemporary British cuisine, with regular and menu of the day options.
I started with a pretty carpaccio of candy-striped beetroot with goat’s cheese bon-bons, horseradish cream, candied walnuts and micro leaves, which was followed by roasted pollack, which came set on a potato rosti and accompanied by cockle meat, Jerusalem artichoke puree, roasted beetroot, spinach, truffled pea shoots and oven-dried tomatoes.
Pollack is a not often seen fish that demands respect in its preparation. Too often in this country, fish – and pork too – are cooked to the point where they loose their juiciness and turn horribly dry – but not this time. Like the rest of the meal, it was a triumph, presented in an attractive and manageable portion – which meant there was room for a delightful pudding of vanilla pannacotta with fruit coulis.
The town has a range of nightlife, with several decent restaurants plus bars and nightclubs as well as health and leisure facilities. Norfolk is a county without any motorways but traffic is generally lighter than in other parts of the country, so distances seem to shrink. Kings Lynn has direct services to London Kings Cross while the nearest airport is Norwich, less than an hour away.
On the way between Kings Lynn and Norwich and set in 300 aces of tranquil Norfolk countryside beside the meandering River Yare, Barnham Broom (www.barnham-broom.co.uk) is already established as one of the UK’s finest leisure resorts and, with a visionary new general manager in place, is aiming to become even better.
South African born Jonathan Elise has worked at a number of internationally renowned five-star resorts around the globe and is seeking similar recognition for his new charge: “Our product and our service standards are already at five-star level, so we are now striving to gain the appropriate accolade,” he told me.
Besides a new management structure, the property has recently benefitted from a major £2-million refurbishment and plans are in place for substantial ongoing investment.
Golfing addicts will find two 18-hole PGA championship standard golf courses – a Donald Steel designed par 71 and a par 72 Frank Pennink layout. These two renowned golf course architects have fully exploited the natural contours running through woodland glades, delightful meadows and unspoilt parkland, to come up with contrasting but equally challenging solutions.
For lesser players there are putting greens and a driving range, plus the services and sage advice of a senior golf pro.
Other facilities on the property include mountain biking and hiking trails, tennis and squash courts and The Edge – a full-on leisure facility, featuring a superbly equipped gymnasium, a large pool, treatment rooms and a beauty spa.
Residents in Barnham Broom’s 36 contemporary styled guestrooms sleep in supremely comfortable over-sized beds and are soothed by rich, dark woods, luxuriant fabrics, muted colours and crisp bed linen.
Dining is a major component of the venue’s offer. The sweeping panorama from the Terrace Bar will entice you to linger as the sun goes down – Norfolk is a land of big skies – while light meals are available in the lively sports bar, but lovers of good food will soon be tempted into the stylishly contemporary award-winning restaurant, with its firm emphasis on local “Taste of Norfolk’ produce of the highest quality. The beef, for example, comes from rare breeds farmed at Swannington, just six miles away, while the other meats are all sourced from suppliers located within a 50-mile radius.