As much as I love my home, when you live, breath and work there – sometimes, you just need to get away. A change of scenery (for more than 24 hours) helps to refresh the mind, challenge your ways of thinking and inspire your creative patterns. In other words, it’s healthy for the mind and soul – and David and I probably don’t do it enough.
There’s something rather freeing about going on a stay-cation, because there’s no scheduled flights, transfers or security checks. You can jump in the car, hit the open road and see where the day takes you. Or like us, you can have a direct route in mind. A beach break in Suffolk.
Well, just a few days ago – we did exactly this. MINI kindly lent us one of their sleek new Cooper SD All4 Clubman’s for the weekend, so we loaded up the car with snacks, clothes and warm jackets and made for the motorway. With two and a half hours journey ahead of us, we chatted about our dreams for the future, our work currently, where we hope to head and what short term aspirations we have.
There’s something very lovely about having a long drive ahead of you with space to fill with conversation. This was made even more pleasant by the fact that our gorgeous MINI was an automatic, meaning you don’t even have the gear shifts to worry about.
Usually David gets the short end of the deal when we go on trips away, as I utilise the new locations to take photographs for my blog (usually of me applying make-up, prancing around in pink dresses or trying to act natural as I freeze my fingers off on a beach) – but having a new car (his ultimate passion) to test drive and input his expertise into, made for a beautiful weekend for the both of us.
We tested out the gadgets on the drive down – including the incredible heated seats (I’m not sure HOW I ever coped without these), the Harman Kardon sound system (incredible – we felt like we were having a MINI party all of our own) and the interior colour changing lights, which switch depending whether you’re in eco or sport mode – the latter of which David loved.
I’m no expert on cars but apparently it’s a dream to drive and super nippy!
A little while later, I got into the driver’s seat – which any of my family or friends reading this will GASP at – because I am the world’s most worried driver.
I passed my test at aged 17, bought a car and drove it to and from sixth form and work for two years.
I hated every single minute of it and as soon as I headed off to University, I gave it to my brother – sparing myself of having to drive.
And since then, I’ve avoided it as much as possible.
There’s the added independence of having a car – but I find it so stressful and so I’ve let David do all the driving until now.
“There’s something very lovely about having a long drive ahead of you with space to fill with conversation.”
There was the slight excitement of being behind the wheel of a swanky new car but also a huge pressure that OMG this car is so beautiful and I don’t want to damage it, ahhh!
But as soon as I learned the ropes of an automatic (I passed on a manual licence), I was off and whizzing up and down the roads – dare I say it – rather enjoying the drive.
The pressure that having an automatic takes off is unbelievable and the smoothness and ease of the MINI clubman was overwhelmingly reassuring.
There was no worrying about stalling at a junction and I loved the addition of the rear view camera which helps with reversing into tight knit spaces!
You can have a little watch of my vlog if you’d like footage of me driving the car. I may have cut out the clips where there’s a big queue of traffic behind me because I’m going at snails pace.
We eventually arrived in the tiny village of Aldeburgh at around 8.30pm, we found our home for the weekend – The Brudenell – and unloaded the car of our various belongings. It’s pretty funny seeing what I think are necessary items to pack for the weekend – because invariably I always do it in a rush and forget a variety of essential items. We most definitely require five books on mindfulness but a toothbrush, meh? Who needs one anyway…
What I love about staying in a small village is that everything is so personal and friendly and you feel like you’re being welcomed back to a friend’s place rather than just another guest in a formulaic hotel. The Brudenell’s resident dog (a gorgeous Golden Retriever) checked us in, with the help of the delightful female receptionist – and we were handed the keys to room 102, a stunning large open bedroom with three huge windows overlooking the ocean.
The window was open, letting in the waves crashing onto the stony beach below. The walls were adorned with sketches of boats and a ‘message in a bottle’ would instruct housekeeping not to disturb you. We were in true relaxation heaven.
After a little spruce up, it was time to sample the hotel’s Seafood & Grill restaurant, which has a adorable little terrace overlooking the beach. I can’t say we were daring enough to brave dinner outside in late February temperatures, but we did pick a table nearest the window so we could enjoy the views within the warmth and comfort of the vibrant Suffolk inspired decor.
The award winning restaurant is headlined by chef Ben Hegarty and features a menu filled with modern British dishes. Both simplistic in style but apparently strong in flavour, we were recommended a few of the best selling dishes and sat back to enjoy the view.
Before long, food aplenty began to arrive – Penny Bun bakehouse bread, smoked mackerel pate and Mussels steamed with Aspall Cyder and tarragon cream. Everything was well presented and delicious, but without that pretentiousness that some restaurants serving high quality food, add without permission.
We then followed with pan-fried sea-bass – and the shin of beef special.
Before finishing off with a selection of mouth-watering desserts.
With our stomaches full, we retreated back to bed to fall asleep to the sound of the waves whispering to the shells.
Having fallen asleep with the windows and curtains wide open (to make the most of the sounds of the sea), we awoke at sunrise and spent the next half hour gazing at the beautiful sunset. We tried to capture it but I don’t think any image could do it justice to be quite honest.
Breakfast soon awaited – a bowl of fresh fruit with a view of the sea and a peppermint tea – before then our MINI called for another day of driving, this time – with panoramic countryside views.
We headed onto Aldeburgh high street, pottered around the quaint little shops, oohed and ahhed at the colourful cottages and made way for the village’s only ice cream parlour, which despite the pitiful temperatures, was heaving with locals.
Unfortunately there weren’t any dairy free options aside from sorbets (but they did have gluten free cones), so it was a peppermint tea for me and a rather mammoth waffle cone mint choc chip creation for David.
Proving we were entitled to the full ‘foodie’ badge of honour, we then headed for pizza at a nearby restaurant – and may have finished things off with a platter of carbs from The Golden Galleon, Aldeburgh’s famous fish & chips residence.
Fuelled for the afternoon, we decided to test out our MINI’s 4 wheel drive capabilities, by heading up the stone littered dunes of the coast, which we figured would also make for a prime photo opportunity.
We were almost right, aside from forgetting about the wind – which almost blew me away at one point. So we retreated to the comfort of the heated sides and admired the view from the car.
A much more civilised way to enjoy what the UK’s Suffolk coast has to offer…
We then whiled away the next few hours driving aimlessly through winding countryside lanes, tree lined paths and muddy tracks. Sometimes going on a drive with no end destination is a real head clearer – and David especially wanted to really put the car through it’s paces (though really, I think he just loved switching on the sports mode, watching the interior lights go red and revving the engine).
Boys and their toys, eh?
But above all, what I love about the Clubman is the vantage point of the road – which is so reassuring if you’re a bit of a nervous driver like me. MINI’s are famed for their low suspension of the road but the Clubman is more sophisticated in it’s positioning and you feel very comfortable and safe within it’s doors.
I really like the screen with the in-built sat nav and the heads up display on the dashboard which tells you exactly what speed you’re going at – so you only have to tweak your eye position to check. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record, but I was really impressed. And that’s coming from someone who is terrified of cars. Okay slight exaggeration there, but I find them stressful to drive – rather than a pleasure, like this one.
As the light began to fade, we stopped back at the hotel for a quick change and then headed out again for dinner – this time, at a sister restaurant around the corner – Sea Spice – which according to it’s web page (does anyone else Google to the extremes whenever you have a restaurant booking? Nope, just me?) had a menu full of exotic Indian cuisine and local craft beer. Intriguing.
Now I’ll be honest here, as much as I love a good takeaway – Indian restaurants don’t really feature on my radar. There’s one round the corner from us and we’ve been a few times, but on each occasion, I’ve been a little underwhelmed. Everything is either blazingly hot or very bland and now that Chicken Korma is out of the equation (as it contains large amounts of dairy and ghee), I’m left with the tomato based options, which are largely pretty plain. So all in all, we don’t have anything to write home about (or blog about) in terms of Indian cuisine experience.
So as you can imagine, I wasn’t expecting vast amounts of Sea Spice. But it defied all expectations and blew us both away.
With gorgeous low lit decor, copper bowls and dark wood tables, the interiors itself set you up for a relaxing, exotic evening. It feels even more special that the general manger personally welcomes each table into the restaurant, recommending his favourites and choices depending on your dietary requirements.
Despite the busy buzz of the place (it was fully booked on the night we visited), the staff took the time to go through the menu with you, chat and set your evening up in the best possible way. I really appreciated the fact that every single staff member knew what ingredients were in each dish, so there was no ‘let me just go to the kitchen and check that for you‘ when it came to knowing what I could and couldn’t eat.
The menu was vast – filled with a plethora of incredibly exotic sounding dishes that I’d never come across before on a trip to my local curry house. We soon came to realise that this wasn’t your typical ‘korma, pilau and naan’ type of place. Guests are privvy to more authentic, South Indian cuisine which has a focus on flavour, quality rather than quantity. Portions are still value for money but you don’t leave feeling like you’ve eaten an entire house.
After a fair share of papadums, we enjoyed two incredible (and both dairy-free) starters.
First up was the hand dived pepper scallops, with mixed peppers and spring onions – coated in generous lashings of spicy tomato marinade.
They quite literally melted in your mouth – and even David, who isn’t a fan of seafood – was converted.
Then, we steamed into the second dish, the Uttapam V, which is essentially a fermented rice pancake served with onions, peppers and a variety of spicy dips.
It sounds rather odd, but it’s basically like a much lighter (and egg free) omelette, with flavour bursting in each mouthful.
The manager came over to explain the origins of this dish and even let us in to the secret recipe – so it’s one we’re going to attempt at home.
Before long, David’s local craft beer and my rose prosecco were empty and our empty dishes were replenished with a platter of even more tempting main course dishes.
I opted for the chicken jalfrezi, with tomatoes, peppers, onions – a dish that sounds rather basic, but was probably one of the most incredible things I’ve ever tasted.
Honestly, without exaggeration – David will tell you – I was wide eyed and audibly complimenting every mouthful.
It was spicy but not overwhelming so.
Just enough to let the flavours come through and tingle your tastebuds, while the chicken was so tender it practically fell apart.
Teamed with the whole wheat roti (essentially a much healthier and dairy-free naan option), it made for one of my favourite dishes of all time. Honestly, I’d return back to Aldeburgh (and face the two and a half hour journey) just for this chicken alone. It sounds mad, but I suppose you’ll have to try it out for yourself before you write it off…
David’s food was apparently just as exciting, opting for the 1/2 Tandoori Chicken, with yoghurt and Indian spices. Partnered beautifully with the Saag Aloo (creamed spinach, cumin and garlic), we ate in silence – which is a rarity between the two of us, so it must have been worth staying quiet for.
Again, we retreated back to our beach-front bedroom with satisfied stomach’s and fell asleep to the sound of the crashing waves. We could get used to this…
Unfortunately though, when Sunday arrived – we knew it was time to hit the road and leave our coastal retreat to head back to reality. The drive ahead was sweetened slightly by the fact we managed to find somewhere for a pit-stop roast dinner on the sat nav (The Orange Tree in Hitchin – fab food by the way), but still – we didn’t want to leave The Brudenell.
As much as I love where we live, there’s something so deeply heart-warming about being in a little village where everyone knows one another. We chatted to a lovely girl in the local sweet shop about blogging, we spoke to all the waiters about their favourite nearby places and had a chat in the street with a family walking their dogs. It’s in these kinds of instances where you realise the true charm of the country we live in – and you learn to really take note of the little things!
If you’re ever in need of a weekend retreat, I’d recommend the Suffolk coast in a heartbeat. Just make sure you leave behind those five mindfulness books and pack yourself a toothbrush. The best medicine for your head is being beside the sea!
Are you planning a weekend stay-cation anytime soon? What do you think of the MINI Clubman?
To book an overnight stay and a table in the AA two rosette Seafood & Grill at The Brudenell Hotel, Aldeburgh call 01728 452071; details can also be found on www.brudenellhotel.co.uk; to reserve a table to dine at the new Sea Spice Indian restaurant at the White Lion Hotel, Aldeburgh call 01728 451800 or for more details visit www.seaspice.co.uk. For suggestions for things to see and do visit www.thesuffolkcoast.co.uk
Our review at The Brudenell was provided complimentary and the MINI clubman was lent to us for the weekend, however as always, all opinions are entirely my own.