Photo of Fritton House

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 27th May 2007.

Talk of the Norfolk Broads and I think of Hoseasons and knotted handkerchiefs on bald pates, and jolly families weighing down elderly cabin cruisers. Fun, yes; chic, no. But now there's somewhere special to stay in the Broads where you can happily combine the two.

Talk of the Norfolk Broads and I think of jolly families weighing down elderly cabin cruisers

Fritton House stands on the edge of a country park that centres on the beautiful, two-mile stretch of water, Fritton Lake, with rowing boats, pedalos and picnic places, formal gardens, mini-golf course and adventure playground.

It's open to the public from April to October; for the rest of the year, and after five o'clock in summer, hotel guests have the run of the place, free of charge. Bring your children - they'll love it, and you can lounge on the terrace while the older ones run off to the adventure playground close by.

Fritton Lake Country Park is part of the Somerleyton estate, now run by thirtysomething Hugh Crossley, the next Lord Somerleyton and possessor of the family good looks (even his niece has mistaken him for Hugh Grant).

He's also a dynamo when it comes to dreaming up ways of developing the estate (Somerleyton Hall, where he lives, is open to the public).

Perhaps there's workaholism in the genes: his great-great-grandfather, the first baronet, reputedly died of overwork as did several other Crossleys (who originally made their fortune as carpet manufacturers).

The house that Hugh turned into a hotel a year ago, with interior design by his sister Isobel, has its origins as a 15th-century smugglers' inn. Many of its old beams have been exposed, juxtaposing the mainly contemporary, but always homely and easy-going, feel of the place.

It's as relaxed - in the best sense - as a hotel gets, the tone set by Sarah, the young and infectiously enthusiastic manageress (who is also knowledgeable about her beloved Broads) and Hugh, who keeps a close eye and is always hatching a new plan for the place (shellfish bar on the terrace; spa and gym in an outbuilding coming soon).

They operate the hotel on delightfully informal lines: ring for anything from your room - a cup of tea, a Mojito, even dinner - and it shall be brought.

The nine bedrooms, with lovely bathrooms, are coolly comfortable with splashes of colour and boldly patterned fabrics, and cheering vases of fresh flowers.

They are furnished with a mix of Crossley family furniture and modern pieces (wardrobes instead of hanging rails are apparently on their way) plus plasma-screen TVs and DVDs and big, new beds that just ask to be slept in.

Downstairs, there's a cosy sitting room with fire burning in the grate and family photographs on the mantelpiece, but the main hub is the bar and restaurant, where plenty of locals as well as residents come to eat.

"Simple food, well cooked" is the stated aim here, and while my husband was deeply content with his belly pork with crunchy crackling, I was less enthusiast about my overcooked liver, whose sauce was suspiciously similar to that of the pork. The wine list was excellent, with a really good selection of bottles for around £12.

We've booked a return visit to Fritton House in the summer, sailing on the jaunty Broads by day and returning to the hotel each night - and we can't wait.

Church Lane, Fritton, Norfolk (01493 484008; Doubles from £110 to £150 per night, including breakfast.