From food and drink to our favourite country hotels, our insider’s guide provides all the inspiration you need for a short break in beautiful North Norfolk
Words Georgie Rutherford
North Norfolk is at its best in spring, when the region is warm but not flocking with tourists. Come rain or shine, explore the best markets, prettiest walks and quaintest villages in the area, as well as top-notch places for foodies. Our insider’s guide has everything to enjoy the region’s flint-built villages, undulating countryside and vast beaches without being overwhelmed by the masses.
Where to go and what to do in North Norfolk
Catch your first glimpse of the scenic coastal landscape from the terrace at The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe. This glass-fronted restaurant has magnificent views of the tidal marshlands and produces some of the freshest local seafood around. Try their famous mussels that will have travelled no more than a few metres from where they were picked, and compliment it with one of their spicy Bloody Marys.
Head to the Georgian village of Burnham Market with its open green surrounded by characterful flint cottages. Whether you’re passing through or staying in the area, this is a lovely village to spend time relaxing, browsing and soaking up the atmosphere. If you’re in need of an afternoon pick me up go to Humble Pie and make sure to taste their famous Wicked Chocolate Biscuit Cake. If you’re a fan of contemporary homeware, Birdie Fortescue has to be top of your list.
If you’re looking to treat yourself after a long day on the beach, then head to The Hoste Arms – an inn since 1651 that once enjoyed the patronage of Lord Nelson. Enjoy a full body massage followed by a delicious afternoon tea in the conservatory to make it that extra bit special.
Holt in Norfolk is one of those towns you can find yourself wandering around aimlessly, perusing the shops down the small hidden yards, browsing in the galleries or getting carried away in the antique shops. If you want a little pit stop to rejuvenate then head to Byfords. Thought to be the oldest building in town, Byfords serves delicious pastries, cakes and plenty of low-gluten and vegan options. It’s the perfect place for people watching too.
The stretch of Holkham Beach that Gwyneth Paltrow strode across in the closing scenes of Shakespeare In Love has ensured that the beach always receives a steady influx of visitors. Stride out eastwards for an hour’s round trip to Wells-next-to-the-Sea, with its colourful beach huts, returning either along the sand or by the quiet coastal path behind the pine woods. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of riders galloping along the shore.
Another family-friendly beach where the sand is perfect for picnics and sandcastle building is Brancaster Staithe. Make sure to go at low tide where you can see the 1940s shipwreck of the SS Vina half submerged in the sand. More often than not you get to see the seals, which often loll on the shore.
No.29 is Norfolk’s newest culinary destination. Located in the heart of Burnham Market, in a Georgian Grade II listed property dating back to the 18th century. With original fireplaces, classic artwork adorning the walls and quirky murals, No. 29 is the perfect mix of casual and elegant. Enjoy one of their innovative cocktails at their fantastic pewter-topped bar or even a cup of coffee in the walled courtyard on a sunny afternoon. Sample the menu which features classic and modern British dishes and watch the freshest meat cuts being cooked on an open wood-fired fire pit.
Take your pick of the area’s best stately homes. Holkham Hall is an 18th century Palladian mansion in a large estate, home to the Coke family. Have a walk around the acres of grounds or buy a ticket for one of their many organised concerts and walks and make it the perfect day out for all the family.
This Spring, visit the magnificent Houghton Hall where there is a Damien Hirst Exhibition. A series of new paintings entitled Colour Space will be installed in the State Rooms from 25 March – 15 July. The exhibition will also include a number of the artist’s most celebrated sculptures, which will be installed throughout the 18th century house and gardens.
If you’ve got little ones, crabbing in Wells-next-the-Sea guarantees fun and laughter. So grab your nets and go up and down the Quay wall all day long. If you get a little peckish make sure you pick up some fish and chips at French’s on the harbour. Go early to avoid queues.
Where to Stay
Owned and managed by the Holkham Estate, The Victoria Inn is the perfect weekend retreat. This 19th century inn lies equidistant between North Norfolk’s most beautiful sandy beach and the parkland surrounding Holkham Hall. With twenty comfortable bedrooms named after shoot drives on the estate, most memorably ‘Honk’s Pit’ and ‘Cow Planting’. You also don’t need to worry about leaving the dog at home as the hotel is dog-friendly.
For bigger groups, Barsham Barns is the perfect location. A series of former farm buildings converted to exacting standards in a tiny hamlet of the same nam, cater to groups that vary in size from four to 14. Once a granary, the Great East Barn is now the grandest offering on the estate, with an open-plan living area that lends itself to parties, wood-burners and six double bedrooms.
The Gunton Arms is off the beaten track but definitely worth the trek. The rooms at The Gunton Arms are all designed by Robert Kime and have views over Gunton Park. A charming porch leads to a series of stylish rooms with interiors that feel cosy and traditional. The eye-opening modern art on the walls add a creative touch. The restaurant is also worth a visit during your stay, serving Norfolk classics such as Cromer crab and venison from the park cooked on an open fire in the Elk Room.