First Look: Inside Suffolk's latest luxury safari glamping retreat
PUBLISHED: 19:33 26 July 2019
The Lost Garden Retreat is hidden in a former 18th century pleasure garden once painted by Gainsborough.
A rugged track weaves me past Hintlesham Golf Club, alongside the tees, where golfers in pleated trousers and freshly-pressed polo shirts brace themselves for their next shot. In the fields golden crops wave their ears in the sunshine, before I hit a 'tunnel' of trees.
And I arrive somewhere quite unexpected. A little slice of paradise quite unlike anywhere else I've been in Suffolk. Gone is the rattle of the traffic on the A1071, replaced by the rustle of the wind bristling through sequoia, cedar and pine trees, stretching their limbs skyward to give the woodland a dizzying sense of otherness. It's as though I've been airlifted and set down in the midst of something akin to a North American mountain crossed with a secret English garden.
Nature is all around (ducks, sparrowhawks, badgers, deer, squirrels and otters love a little jaunt through these woods). And where there was once a swimming pool in these former pleasure gardens, painted by Gainsborough in his time, now resides a central lake, edged by wild, lush growths of water plants and bamboo.
This is The Lost Garden Retreat…which (10 years in the making) can justifiably be called a 'labour of love'. The clutch of four incredibly high spec, individually designed safari tents are the latest diversification for Hintlesham Hall Farms, which sold the hall to Robert Carrier decades ago, built Hintlesham Golf Club in the late 80s, and added offices to the site in the early 2000s.
"I've always wanted to do something down here," says owner Richard Bostock, who will run the properties with his wife Elisa alongside the other directors. "It used to be a pleasure garden, and when we dug it out we even found the diving board at the pool and another lake up the way. This area was basically our playground growing up."
The petite development really is a case of one man and his chainsaw. A decade ago Richard began to clear the woods in his spare time over five winters, eventually drafting in bigger plant machinery in what Elisa calls 'the dark days' when inclement weather turned the rural idyll into a mudbath that seemed to have no end point in sight. However, being of farming stock, of course Richard persevered and it has taken a year to actually lay the foundations for and construct the luxurious hideaways.
"We call him a tree hugger," Elisa says of her husband. "Richard's really very passionate about trees and he's worked so hard to achieve what we've done down here. It originally belonged to the Lloyd sisters who lived at the hall in the 1700s and in pre-war times the gentry would come down to enjoy the privacy. There would have been a tearoom and you can still see the remains of that further up."
What Richard and Elisa have managed to carve out of the overgrowth is nothing short of remarkable. The 'tents' (far too rudimentary a word for these spaces) were crafted especially for the site, pre-fabricated and slotted together, before being named and individually decorated by the family with the help of a designer.
Offering a great deal of privacy, each of the properties boasts its own car parking and wood store (stocked before guests arrive), a fire pit with seating, terrace complete with Weber barbecue, chemical-free Scandinavian-made wood-fired hot tub, and a decking space with seating.
The team at The Barn, Saxmundham have bespoke built much of the furniture, from a four-poster bed in The Woodsman's Lodge which wouldn't look amiss in a Disney fairytale, to a half boat settle at The Fisherman's Hideaway, and cattle print stools in The Cowshed.
Absolutely every creature comfort has been thought of. Kitchens are fully equipped with all you could need, even down to marshmallow skewers, toddler cutlery and bamboo tableware to use outside. There are retro boardgames in each accommodation. Wood burning stoves with a top oven. Hot water bottles for chilly nights. Hairdryers. Towels. A welcome pack of wine, nibbles and Monmouth coffee.
The safari tents sleep six across a master suite, twin with bunk beds and kooky king sized bed tucked up in a mezzanine over a play area, and complete with shutters to block out the world.
While the bathrooms are so decadent Richard laughs they're better than the one he and Elisa have at home. "We have our own borehole down here and the water pressure is amazing!" The generously sized bathing spaces have rolltop baths, a separate shower area with drench showerhead, and even boast glass bottles of lotions and potions, made in Norfolk with a different scent for each holiday home, from Seawood and Samphire to Wild Fig and Rosemary.
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Two of the properties are very close to Elisa and Richard's hearts. The Fisherman's Hideaway is a nod to Elisa's much-loved mum, who sadly passed away nearly three years ago. "She came from hospitality," says Elisa, "so I suppose I have this in my blood. Before she died mum talked a lot to Richard and said 'you are going to do that glamping site aren't you?' so we told that to the girl helping with the interior design and she named it perfectly. There's a real nautical theme in here. Richard's planted a tree out the front for her and in the play den there's a Wind in the Willows set bought by my mum."
Sitting in solitude on the opposite side of the lake, with a stilted twin deck facing the setting sun, is what the couple call their 'budget buster' - the Woodsman's Lodge - a little nod, Elisa says, to Richard. The positioning of the tent, as recommended by their architect Mat Blacoe of Embrace Architecture, gives the impression the building is almost weightless, nestled like a treehouse in its surroundings.
Guests staying here enjoy, not only the enhanced views, but the use of a wine cooler, cocktail making kit and bathrobes.
And if all that doesn't sound relaxing enough, you can even book yoga, pilates, massage and other wellbeing-based experiences to nurture your body and soul.
Prices in high season are £270 per night or £290 in the Woodman's Lodge, with a minimum three night stay in the holidays and high season or two nights in term time.
Find The Lost Garden Retreat online and on Instagram.