Travel: 'Staying at this hotel feels like you've won the lottery'

The Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa

The Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

There are lots of lovely places to stay in Constable Country...but few can lay claim to the gorgeous views bestowed upon Talbooth House & Spa. 

Tucked along a country lane in Dedham, the handsome property of 12 bedrooms (each named for an English poet) is a pocket of luxury on the Suffolk/Essex border. Pulling into the rose-lined gravel driveway, and climbing the stairs into the boutique hotel, feels like winning the lottery. 

You’ve hit the jackpot, and have been handed the keys to your own mini mansion. You see, with so few guests on site, there’s a gentle, serene feel about this place, and you might only stumble upon just one or two holidaymakers during your stay. 

Talbooth House & Spa

Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Contributed

Geraldine Milsom is behind the design of Talbooth House, beginning downstairs in the glamourpuss lounge and bar area, with its minimalist modern country house décor, and plush velveteen seating, and striding up the curved staircase into the bedrooms themselves. 

Our room for the night, Wordsworth, melded decades, combining details such as a retro 70s leather couch (very comfy) with Mid Century sideboards, and ultra-modern artwork – cue the ‘oohs and aahs’ when you flick the switch attached to the ‘spacegirl’ piece, only for her face to be framed by a pink neon light. 

The bathroom in the Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa

The bathroom in the Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

The 'spacegirl' in the Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa

The 'spacegirl' in the Wordsworth room at Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Wordsworth is more than comfortable. After throwing open the windows and admiring the landscape beyond, we took in all the little touches and features. A huge bed overflowing with pillows so squishy you could lose yourself in them, and a faux fur throw so gorgeously tactile I would spend the whole night pawing at it – an inanimate pet. 

Cool lamps. An old-style telephone. Large TV with Sky. Steps down to a bathroom with a sunken bath, double shower, ultra-soft robes and Elemis toiletries. A hidden hospitality tray in a cupboard, laden with local crisps, biscuits, fancy tea and coffee pods. And a fridge filled with more water than you could possibly need. We decided, quite shortly after depositing our bags in the dressing area, we could easily live here. 

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But there wasn’t much time to admire our boudoir. We were booked into the spa, which has recently been given TLC and new treatment rooms. 

“Fancy a game of tennis?” Mr J prodded, spying a court in the recently mowed hotel gardens. 

“Er, no thanks. I’ll watch Wimbledon later,” I smiled, punching the private spa code into the gated entrance, and admiring what laid within. The spa area is really rather nice. Existing in its own little walled enclave, it does have a retreat within a retreat feel, boasting a pool, plenty of stretching out space on the loungers, an enormous hot tub, electric sauna (where you can play your own music by Bluetooth and control the temperature), and the treatment rooms themselves. 

The pool area at Talbooth House & Spa

The pool area at Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Contributed

Charlotte in the hot tub at Talbooth House & Spa

Charlotte in the hot tub at Talbooth House & Spa - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Mr J was content ambling away time outside, catching a few rays, while I was led in for one of the spa’s signature therapies – a lava shell massage. 

Before I explain, I have to say how stunning the changing rooms are at the spa. The tiling, lighting, décor...even the recessed porthole handles on the doors...everything has an air of pure luxury, which definitely sets the mood for some serious relaxation. 

My therapist led me into a double treatment room (handy if you want to visit with a friend or partner), where the lights were down low, and the tinkle of chillout piano tunes filled the silence. 

By far my favourite type of massage is one with hot lava stones (they have a knack of easing off even the biggest tension knots), but I’d been promised this would be even better. 

And that promise was fulfilled. By some kind of natural wizardry, unlike stones (which are kept waiting in a heat pod and replaced throughout treatment), the lava shells’ heat is reignited with a little shake, meaning hands-on contact time is greater during the massage. 

A neutral, almost nutty base oil was used (ideal for those who are sensitive to strong smells or find them distracting) and my whole body was moved into a state of zen as the therapist moved the shells from part to part – the back, either side of each leg, arms, hands, shoulders. Utter bliss. 

It might sound counterintuitive, but afterwards, with a few hours to kill until dinner, and feeling peckish, we took a stroll into the village. 

There’s no direct footpath, and the road can be a little hairy, but we survived. I’d recommend, if you want to preserve your state of relaxation, driving over. There’s a large car park (signposted), or if you’re lucky, you could bag a spot on the high street. 

Dedham is somewhere we’ve visited a lot over the years. In fact, it’s the first place we took our daughter (now 16) for a walk in her buggy, although it probably wasn’t a good idea to use the route we did – filled with stiles to heave her over. 

Idyllic river Stour valley water meadow. Footpath between Dedham and Flatford Mill in Constable coun

Idyllic river Stour valley water meadow footpath between Dedham and Flatford Mill in Constable country - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We always have our first and last picnic of the year here. It’s a gorgeous place, with a jumble of enviable homes spanning multiple eras. You’ll spy ancient herringbone brickwork. Towering Georgian villas shrouded in vines. Fancy shutters and porticos. And, in amongst the dwellings, independent gift shops, tearooms and pubs. 

Dedham Arts and Crafts Centre is a popular place to stop and browse. The former church (which housed a toy museum on one of its floors when I was little) brings together around 60 artisans, selling everything from jewellery and artwork, to collectables and candles. 

We sat outside and had a bite from the tearoom, amongst the colourful container displays. You can eat in or out, choosing from a wide selection of homemade cakes, ice cream, quiches, platters, homemade soup, loose leaf tea and more. I was won over when I pressed the outside service bell, only for it to play a tune from an old TV show I can’t quite put my finger on. Utterly charming. 

Our chicken Caesar salad wrap and charcuterie platter of cured meats, artichokes, peppers and olives with bread, were ample fuel to tackle a walk along the meandering river Stour. 

The popular circular walk has been cut short by recent works to Fen Bridge, but fear not – there is a way around. If you follow the footpath from the eastern end of Dedham’s main street, through the wooded path and open grazing fields to Flatford, and cross the Flatford bridge, follow the road up and take (near the top) the footpath on the left. It will return you, downhill, to the opposite side of the walk, close to Fen Bridge, where you can carry on walking to the boathouse, and back into Dedham itself. 

Boats on the River Stour in the village of Dedham in Essex, UK.

Boats on the River Stour in Dedham - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Boat hire is available either side. And you can join a 30-minute motor boat trip with the River Stour Trust. Trips depart regularly, on the half hour from 11am at weekends from Flatford, costing £6 for over 12s and £3 for 11 and under. Babies (under 12 months) travel free. 

On Sundays, Talbooth customers can pick up a trip on the boat from the restaurant between 2pm and 4pm. This costs £6 per person (or free for babies under 12 months). 

Before you walk or boat your way back into Dedham, make sure you spend a while wandering around the gardens, Constable exhibition and buildings at Flatford. There’s the option to walk on to Manningtree and Mistley as well, where there are interesting shops, and the mainline train service to London. 

Five or so miles was enough for us though, especially in the heat. After cooling off back at the hotel we made use of Talbooth House’s free chauffeur shuttle service, which operates between its sister businesses Milsoms and Talbooth restaurant.  

Talbooth is unfailingly beautiful – no wonder it’s one of the region’s most popular luxury wedding destinations. The beamed restaurant hugs the rive, and at this time of year you’ll want to be outside on the terrace (there are blankets and heaters). 

Riverside at Talbooth restaurant

Riverside at Talbooth restaurant - Credit: Contributed

Food is modern British, with a nod to local, seasonal ingredients, and a fine wine menu (my pick with red meat would be the soft vanilla and nectarine filled Murray Darling Shiraz). 

We enjoyed a sophisticated take on a Caesar salad (with plump garlic prawns and a tangle of cured anchovies), sticky ox cheek, stone bass in a pool of buttery sauce with clams, and lamb with braised shoulder, charred hispi cabbage and roast potato and manchego puree. 

Do leave room for dessert. And if it’s still on the menu, the chocolate marquise. A creamy, melting mousse-like topping over a fudgy base, with coconut meringue cylinders, salted caramel and mango sorbet. 

The lamb dish at Le Talbooth restaurant

The lamb dish at Talbooth restaurant - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Dessert at Talbooth restaurant

Dessert at Talbooth restaurant - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

If you have room after that, you need to try the coffee and homemade chocolates. 

A chauffeur shuttle back to the hotel is just a call away. And staff are more than happy to pour a nightcap from the bar. That definitely helped us slip into the land of nod (as did the very very comfy bed). 

They say a good breakfast sets you up for the day. There is the option to have a continental style breakfast delivered to your room at Talbooth House, but if you want to go ‘out out’, head over to Milsoms for the new breakfast buffet. It’s £25 per person, and absolutely laden with everything you could want. Tea and coffee is delivered to the table, while you dither by the service area trying to decide what you want to tackle first – the well-cooked elements of a full English, fresh fruit, warm pastries, cheese, continental meats, cereal...enough to stoke you up for another day of walking and exploring one of England’s finest landscapes. 

Book your stay

A two-night mid-week stay in a deluxe room this summer is from £690 per couple including breakfast. The hotel is dog-friendly.

The lava shell massage is £55 for 25 minutes or £85 for 55 minutes. 

milsomhotels.com