Travel: Escape to this luxurious penthouse lodge at one of the region’s top golf and spa resorts
- Credit: Contributed
I never thought I’d find myself sleeping in the same bed as Nick Faldo and Denise Van Outen. OK, OK, just to clarify, they weren’t with me on my latest trip – that would have been weird – but they’re just two of the golf-loving celebrities who’ve stayed in the master suite of the penthouse lodge at Apple Tree Lodges.
The eco-friendly, contemporary properties are part of Stoke By Nayland Resort, found along a sleepy country lane, and set amidst 300 acres on the doorstep of Constable Country.
Follow the windy road from the main hotel, sweeping alongside the challenging 10th of the Gainsborough 18-hole championship golf course (beloved by pros on the international PGA tournaments), passing mature trees, lakes, and the stunning setting for the resort’s hilltop tipi weddings, and you’ll happen upon the lodges, nestled into the landscape.
Designed by local architects Wincer Kievenaar to ‘blend in’, the wood-clad, cedar-tiled clutch of buildings reside on the former site of a women’s land army hostel, which housed 100 hard-working ladies during and after WWII.
All that remains from that time is an original brick water tower – boasting a function suite for small celebrations (maybe hiring out all the lodges as a family or friendship group) with a ‘nest’ at the top enjoying far-reaching views over the family farmland and orchards....acres of apple and cherry trees, as well as strawberry, raspberry and blueberry plantations.
Halfway up the staircase are commemorations from the lodges’ opening day 10 years ago, when the family who own the resort were, touchingly, joined by a several of the women who’d farmed there so many decades before. A folder contains their photos and stories, including those of Phyllis Rose who was much beloved by the Peake family, having been taken on by the golf club’s founders Bill and Devora. Phyllis worked on the farm, where she met her husband Percy, and looked after Bill and Devora’s daughters when they were young. Director and daughter Tamara Unwin says she was almost like a second mother to them all.
This strong heritage, and the family’s farming roots, have been woven into the design of the lodges.
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Each one is named after a traditional English apple variety – be it Scarlet Pimpernel, Cox, Russet, or, in our case, Crispin.
While interior designers Rendall & Wright have lavished every one with a hint of 40s glamour.
Cast your eyes away from the view through the open-plan, floor-to-ceiling glazed kitchen/living space and you’ll notice the decadence of the sideboards, the oversized bevelled mirrors, coloured glass and crystal chandeliers, retro studio lamps, and even framed playing cards arranged to spell out lyrics from popular wartime songs.
Escaping from the chilly January frost, we couldn’t believe how toasty Crispin was inside. Stoke By Nayland has huge green credentials, and that includes the lodges, which have air source heat pumps and solar panels. The underfloor heating gave every inch of every room a cosy, much-needed blast of warmth.
The living area was more than generous – especially as it was just the two of us. We had an oversized sofa each, both strewn with plump, snuggly cushions, a dining table to seat eight (yes we did sit either end like royalty), a fully-equipped modern kitchen, a wrap-around terrace with views over the golf course, a huge bouncy bed with a dreamily thick duvet, loads of closet space, and a bathroom with a bath and separate shower.
Extra touches include a really decent sound system linked to Alexa, an electric fireplace under the TV, and free wifi.
If you’re looking to bunker down, escape from the world and spend hour upon hour reading books and hibernating, this is perfection.
But there’s plenty of action too.
And that begins with the hotel, where you’ll find a spa, high-tech fitness suite, 18-hole golf courses, a driving range, and two restaurants – a sports bar and fine dining option, The Lakes.
Pippin shop has essentials such as milk (and wine), plus other foodie treats and fresh fruit in season from the family’s orchards.
After a stroll around the grounds, and with dusk looming, we braved the nip in the air to visit the spa. A chilled glass of prosecco on arrival was a nice touch, and we were sent on our way with flip flops and robes. If you’re staying in one of the lodges, you can swim for free in the morning and evening or pre-book a two-hour session (not including treatments) for £20 per person between 10am and 6pm.
The spa incorporates a steam room, sanarium, pool, jacuzzi and hammam suite, where we’d booked the signature Rasul Mud Therapy Experience. It’s completely private and perfect for two, or groups of up to four.
Once in the suite we were instructed to shower, and left with a palette of four differently coloured muds to smother and smudge over our bodies. From pale white for our faces, to rich black for our legs and back – each with a different level of exfoliation. By the time we’d finished what felt like a caveman-era dating ritual, we looked like we’d just emerged from the jungle – and I wished we’d had a camera with us!
Armed with a cup of iced water, it was time to step into the rasul steam room. I can find saunas and steam rooms a bit overwhelming (I’m basically a total wuss and can’t stand the heat for too long), but the idea of a rasul is to build warmth gradually, allowing the mud to slowly work its magic.
After 20 minutes the heavens opened, and a warm rainforest shower sprung from the ceiling, washing away the debris. We were given a bowl of aromatic scrub to help with our efforts. A final spritz under the main shower in the suite and we were glowing, with smooth, peachy skin all over.
While Mr J couldn’t resist the lure of more heat in the sanarium, I took advantage of some me-time in the cabana-style chill zone on a lounger, where the low, melodic sound of relaxation music, mood lighting, and a temperature akin to being draped in a soft, warm cashmere sweater, soon had me in the land of nod.
I’ll definitely have to go back for the new NEOM organics De-Stress treatment – now that sounds like bliss.
Fully in zen mode, and with the night still young, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails by firelight in the upstairs hotel’s Orchard Lounge, before winding our way back to the lodge. It’s less than 10 minutes on foot (you’ll need a torch) but worth noting a free onsite ‘taxi’ service can take you between the lodges and the hotel from 7pm until very late, so you can relax and enjoy a delicious dinner with a drink or two. Very handy.
If we were being lazy, we could have had dinner at The Lakes, where executive chef Alan, and head chef Rob have crafted a stunning seasonal menu. But for the full ‘lodge experience’ we had to use the kitchen, naturally. And it was all down to Mr J .
On the way we’d popped to Hall Farm Shop and Café - a very short drive away and a mecca for foodies, with a butcher’s counter, deli and everything you need for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Perched either end of our oversized dining table with a hearty pie from the shop, made in Capel St Mary, local potatoes and vegetables, and a bottle of Amarone, we felt really rather smug. And, because we’re so rock ‘n’ roll, spent the night watching reruns of Midsumer Murders, cosy under a blanket on one of those giant sofas -well, it was cold outside.
After a really good night’s sleep (the curtains are black out and it’s very quiet) there was just time for coffee and pastries (bought frozen from the farm shop and cooked that morning) on the terrace, basking in the sun, which had finally decided to show its face.
“Ah,” we both sighed, “that was really nice.”
If you’re tempted by a quick escape in the next few weeks, Apple Tree Lodges is offering 50% off a four-night mid-week lodge break until the end of March 2022 - full details can be found in the Special Offers section online at appletreelodges.com
What to do nearby
1. There are footpaths from the resort which will take you straight out into Constable Country – you'll find stunning walks very close by in Dedham, Nayland, Boxford, Polstead and Bures (both known for their bluebell woodlands).
2. Take a kayak or paddle board and travel along the Stour, starting at The Anchor pub in Nayland or from the meadows near the Quay Theatre in Sudbury – this stretch of water is lovely.
3. There are large supermarkets in Hadleigh, Sudbury and Colchester – and farm shops close by – Hollow Trees at Semer, another at Assington, and Hall Farm at Stratford St Mary.
4. Boxford is minutes away by car, with village stores, a post office, butcher, pub and wonderful café which makes delicious cakes, and has a wine shop attached. They often have wine and charcuterie evenings.
5. Visit one of the UK’s most intact Norman keeps – Colchester Castle.
6. Immerse yourself in the picture-perfect villages of Long Melford, Kersey and Lavenham.
7. Bury St Edmunds, with fantastic shopping and loads of great places to eat (including Suffolk’s only Michelin starred restaurant Pea Porridge) is about 30 minutes away.