The Victoria, a classic seaside hotel, doesn’t actually face the sea. Indeed, you can’t even sea the sea from it. But take a walk down tree-lined Lady Ann’s Drive, along the sandy boardwalk through the pine trees, and you emerge on a hidden bay with vast flat sands that makes the children run and shout in amazement and glee.
The fact that it is hidden, here in this far-off part of Norfolk, is a bonus. Holkham Beach, with its island-like dunes and wooded backdrop, is like a setting from a pirate film. It’s part of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, which is owned by the Earl and Countess of Leicester’s Holkham Estate and managed by English Nature.
'A swift stroll, with birds lifting off around you from the surrounding wetland, takes you back to the hip country-house hotel on the expansive Holkham Estate. At weekends, even in mid-winter, the Victoria is awash with wellied, dog-walking families calling in for lunch as part of a great day out.'
Here, you can join the Norfolk Coast Path and head west to Gun Hill and a maze of mudflats, or east to Wells next-the-sea – a timeless harbour town. We spent our time walking, climbing, kicking footballs, paddling and generally relaxing, outside and in.
A swift stroll, with birds lifting off around you from the surrounding wetland, takes you back to the hip country-house hotel, which occupies a revamped pub on the expansive Holkham Estate. At weekends, even in mid-winter, the Victoria is awash with wellied, dog-walking families calling in for lunch as part of a great day out. Barbecues set the scene in summer. But it’s staying that is the greatest treat.
This is a cosy, friendly place decorated with fabrics and artefacts brought over from India, giving a coastal Raj feel. Our attic suite had a double bed and an adjoining room with two singles, flat-screen cable TV, plenty of coffee, tea and biscuits, and two luxurious bathrooms, which even tempted the children. The garden has a play area, while inside there’s a charming bar and wood-floored dining room with a conservatory and big windows overlooking the fields and marshes – all typically Norfolk.
Dinner had a Norfolk feel too, with locally smoked salmon, and Holkham Estate beef carpaccio and venison. There was a simple children’s menu, but our 11-year-old chose from the main menu, with the usual ‘sauce on the side’ request. What the hotel lacks, we thought, is a secondary ‘bistro’-style menu (like its lunchtime bar menu with fish and chips, and venison sausages and mash). In the absence of that, two nights here is heavy on both the stomach and the wallet. On our second night, we nipped into Wells for fish and chips instead.
Breakfast included kippers from the smokehouse at Cley just east of Wells, as well as huge field mushrooms on toast, organic smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, and a full English with local sausages. The friendly staff happily provided our kids with mugs of hot chocolate to go with the chocolate croissants from the buffet and didn’t bat an eyelid when serving them their individual, esoteric selection from the hot food.
On the morning we left, we headed through the arch into the Estate proper, to find there was a final treat in store — a long walk through grassland and trees, where deer roam, around a lake and up to the hall itself, to discover a farming museum, shop and good tea-room.
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