Retreat East in Suffolk is appropriately named as what it offers is exactly that – a retreat from everyday life in a space that is designed to restore and revive mind, body, and soul. Located just outside of Hemingstone in Suffolk, just off the A140 before the A14 roundabout, Retreat East offers a true escape in the country, with everything you need to nourish your soul. Samantha Mattocks reports on team nourish’s trip to this tranquil spot.
It is rare, these days, to find a place that does exactly what it sets out to do. We have all been lured in by false promises and, inevitably, disappointed. However, Retreat East is rare because it offers just that – a retreat in East Anglia. Having checked in for two nights, we were not expecting, perhaps naively, to encounter just that – a haven away from the manic lives that we find ourselves in now that the world is returning to normal.
Architect Dominic Richards founded Retreat East, a former dairy farm, and his architectural vision is evident everywhere. From the sympathetically restored barns and outbuildings to newer dwellings blending seamlessly into the landscape, Retreat East offers calm and luxury from the moment you arrive.
In winter, you can park outside the main buildings, where there are also two chargers for electric/hybrid cars. In summer, the aesthetic is all about the beauty of the place and apart from pausing to drop off your cases, the parking is a short walk away from the entrance. Straight ahead are converted barns that house not only the reception but also a shop selling essentials from milk and gin to dog treats and the Loggique Rose Otto bath products that are found both within the accommodation and restaurant. They also have a coffee and tea machine, plus slices of cake and biscuits, perfect for taking out with you should you choose to go on one of the many walks around Retreat East, or even head off on a bicycle.
The imposing Great Barn is the centrepiece of Retreat East, and it truly is the heart of the estate. The brickwork outside belies the vaulting ceilings within, and it is this space that has helped earn Retreat East the accolade of Romantic Hotel Of The Year 2023 from The Times and The Sunday Times in their annual list of Top 100 Best Places To Stay. Retreat East hosts weddings all year around, and the Great Barn with its huge open fireplace is a huge draw in the winter months.
Off one end of the Great Barn is a bar area, including a pool table, while the opposite end is home to the Wellness Centre including Spa and the Rose Room – a place perfect for workshops, corporate events, and where wedding guests can relax before or after the ceremony.
Dotted around the Great Barn is the accommodation, with The Farmhouse being the highlight. Sleeping eight, this 16th century timber-framed building sleeps eight, offering four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Full of original features, The Farmhouse is, rightly, Retreat East’s flagship property. With views over the fields, and just adjacent to the main site itself, it is easy to see why.
We stayed at The Stables, a two-bedroom barn directly opposite the Great Barn that sleeps up to four, with a double ensuite bedroom at either end of an open-plan kitchen/diner and lounge area complete with a wood burner, perfect for a late January evening. Each room also has its own huge, rolltop bathtub, with Loggique products throughout the property for you to use and enjoy. And despite being next to the Great Barn, it was incredibly quiet inside The Stables, helped by the thick curtains that shut out both light and noise and kept you cosy within.
A very nice touch was a welcome hamper, filled with local goodies including Pump Street Bakery chocolate, Tiptree shortbread, and Fairfields Farm crisps. There was a pint of milk and some soft drinks in the fridge, plus tea and coffee – complete with a snazzy Grind coffee machine. For those wanting to self-cater, there was all that you needed for a few nights away: oven, microwave, dishwasher, cutlery, including a good selection of knives, chopping boards, etc. It was all bright and clean, and also incredibly comfortable. And, of course, the Great Barn with its restaurant, headed up by Head Chef Adam Spicer, was just across the way.
Being on my own for the first night, I chose to cosy up in front of the fire with a film and a self-catering dinner. It was an incredibly relaxing space, and the bed, when I got into it, was so comfortable. Each room had its own temperature control, meaning I enjoyed a perfect night’s sleep, and I woke the next day feeling very refreshed.
With Hanneke on her way for a mid-morning brunch, I headed to the Wellness Centre, where I enjoyed a full body massage. At Retreat East, they focus on the five elements found in traditional Chinese medicine – water, earth, metal, fire, and wood, using products from elemental herbology. Before the treatment, you fill out a questionnaire to find your element; I tied for three and so when I went through to my massage, I smelled all three oils to see which resonated the most with me. It was the perfect spa experience – warm, subdued lighting, and, of course, relaxing. They have a full range of spa options, including a two-hour retreat offering a one-hour massage and then a one-hour facial that must leave you floating on air!
Also available in the Wellness Suite is complimentary use of their outdoor hot tub, gym and spa facilities – sauna, steam room, private showers, cold plunge experience and rain forest showers – available to book for one-hour time slots on each day of your stay.
Full relaxed from my massage, it was time for a late breakfast. Retreat East offers two options – a complimentary continental breakfast and hot menu, which is an extra charge. For the first morning, we opted for the hot breakfast, with Hanneke choosing English muffins topped with spinach, poached eggs, paprika hollandaise, chilli, and pine nuts, which she said was very tasty. I went for the full English; there is something immediately comparable about having a full English whenever I go out and I have to say, Retreat East’s was right up there. The homemade baked beans were fabulous, as was the homemade black pudding and as for their take on a hash brown – delicious!
With full tums, we went to explore Retreat East. There are two main walks offered from the farm, both taking in local villages, and there are also plenty of activities to engage in. As well as free bicycle hire, they offer axe-throwing, archery, yoga, and clay pigeon shooting. With it being an overcast, drizzly day, we headed out in the car and explore, going to Suffolk Barn just a few miles away where we added a variety of home and garden furnishings to our wish list as well as buying a small selection of cheeses. We then headed back to The Stables to light the fire and make the most of the opportunity to relax.
Dinner was booked in the Great Barn for the second night, and we reviewed Adam’s food in the previous edition of nourish, so we know he showcases flavour and passion in his food. Highlights from our dinner included faux gras, ginger bread, and pear; coronation crayfish, seaweed muffin, pickled fennel, and caper berries; and Suffolk chicken, potato terrine, chicken butter sauce, chestnut mushrooms, and BBQ baby leeks.
After another restful night, we chose to have the continental breakfast on the second day. We both enjoyed the homemade granola with yoghurt and mixed berry compote. Hanneke tried that day’s sweet muffin, topped with banana chips, while I had a croissant and jam. I will say that the offering was limited, especially having seen the extensive hot breakfast menu. They had a restricted choice of orange marmalade, strawberry jam, and honey. Meanwhile, the granola aside, the other cereal offerings were mainstream Coco Pops and Cornflakes rather than anything more artisan, which surprised us. However, they had a good choice of milk alternatives and gluten-free bread, thus catering to every diet.
Overall, Retreat East is a truly special place. Dominic’s vision, to build an environmentally friendly space where people can come and pause for a moment, away from everyday life, has succeeded, and succeeded well. The place is perfect for families and couples alike, and they hold several events throughout the year, from floristry and painting workshops to yoga days and wine evenings, meaning there truly is something for everyone. Above all, Retreat East is somewhere you can book into and escape – be it for an hour, an evening, or a few nights away, restoring and reviving both body and soul.
Stays cost from £175 per night. Spa and stay packages available.
One bag of logs provided; additional bags cost £10 each
Retreat East is dog friendly throughout.
All information is correct at the time of going to print.