Picturesque villages and seaside postcard towns, Suffolk is a glorious UK destination, says Ben West
Suffolk is often overlooked as a holiday destination.
A beautiful and unspoilt county, its countryside is dotted with beautiful historic towns and villages, while exquisite beaches line the coast.
Much of Suffolk has escaped the unsightly development blighting other counties, although its landscape is often dismissed as monotonous and flat.
There’s lots of variety, spanning a romantically bleak coastline giving way to salt marsh and sandy heaths, rich forest and fen, valleys and rolling hills.
Along the 60-mile coast, there’s the sleepy, ancient town of Orford, genteel Aldeburgh, the traditional resort of Southwold, and family-friendly Felixstowe.
Orford boasts a 12th-century castle and 14th-century church, river cruises (orfordrivertrips.co.uk) and pleasant pubs. Buy freshly baked bread from Pump Street Bakery, which also has a cafe. For smoked fish and local delicacies, pop into Pinney’s (pinneysoforford.co.uk), or dine in its celebrated restaurant, the Butley Orford Oysterage – its no-frills decor belies the delicious food on offer.
The smart seaside town of Aldeburgh is a favourite with artists, composers and yachtsmen. It’s also home to the annual Aldeburgh Festival (June) founded by Benjamin Britten, which is an arts festival with an emphasis on classical music.
Aldeburgh was once a thriving port with a successful ship building industry, the Golden Hind was built here, which circumnavigated the globe in the 16th century captained by Sir Francis Drake.
Southwold, with its lighthouse, colourful beach huts and Georgian town houses, is another pleasant and popular seaside town. Its pier was rebuilt in 2001 and has a collection of coin-operated novelty machines designed by engineer, cartoonist and writer Tim Hunkin that the whole family will enjoy.
The Edwardian seaside town of Felixstowe offers traditional seaside fun, with its slot machines on the pier and the children’s rides at Manning’s Amusements and Ocean Boulevard.
After lunching on fish and chips, you can wander through the landscaped Seafront Gardens – they stretch for almost a mile along the promenade. Head to the south of Felixstowe for the Landguard Peninsula – its 18th-century fort is one of the best preserved coastal defences in England.
Suffolk is rich in history. The market town of Woodbridge was occupied by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Near Woodbridge is Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon burial site dating from the early seventh century.
There’s a full-sized reconstruction of the burial chamber and you can wander around the ancient burial mounds.
A few miles north, and you can step back in time at Framlingham Castle, an excellent example of a 12th-century fortress that was home to Mary Tudor in the 1550s.
A glimpse at paintings by Suffolk-born John Constable will help underline that the majority of the county lies in a time warp. Willy Lott’s cottage by the millpond at Flatford Mill is still recognisable as the setting for Constable’s The Hay Wain.
Upstream from the Mill is 16th-century thatched Bridge Cottage, owned by the National Trust, which contains paintings by Constable. There are lovely walks around surrounding Dedham Vale, where you can see landscapes he painted.
Constable and other painters such as Thomas Gainsborough were attracted by Suffolk’s pretty villages, and many medieval churches and charming cottages were painted in that distinctive ‘Suffolk pink’, which was originally a mixture of whitewash and oxblood.
The village of Kersey is perhaps Suffolk’s prettiest. A perpendicular church, so typical of this corner of England, towers over the old merchants’ houses. Other tranquil villages worth exploring include Boxford, Cavendish, Clare and Monks Eleigh. Another, Polstead, is restful today, but in years gone by witches would be ‘swum’ in its central pond.
For more information, go to visitsuffolk.com
Great for independent explorers
The walk along ex-military testing site Orford Ness Nature Reserve is considered one of the UK’s finest. Remote marshland and rare coastal vegetated shingle provide important habitats for many mammals, bird species and invertebrates.
Great for fun-loving families
Take the family on a walking safari at Africa Alive! (africa-alive.co.uk) at Kessingland. Explore the sights and sounds of Africa in the company of giraffes, zebras, lions, and other animals of the African continent.
Great for culture vultures
With its collection of rickety, colourful half-timbered medieval houses, Lavenham is one of the UK’s most attractive villages. Explore the curving little streets, late Gothic church emblazoned with the arms of the merchants who built it, the elegant Tudor, Georgian and Victorian houses and spectacular Guildhall on the market square.
Woman’s Weekly travel offer
Stay at the four-star Ickworth Hotel for two nights, with breakfast and dinner on the first night, from only £150pp. Surrounded by 1,800 acres of glorious English parkland, the hotel has an idyllic location.
The house and estate was created by the Earl of Bristol in the late 18th century.
Call 01904 436 057 and quote AF101 or visit womansweekly.com/suffolk-hotel