Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th November 2010.
The view is the thing. Propped up in bed, I have a grandstand seat over Blakeney Marshes: three quarters sky, one quarter bleak, compelling marshland threaded with channels of gleaming water, with a hint of the North Sea beyond. If I move to the window, diminutive Blakeney Harbour comes into view, its long finger of seawater allowing boats to moor at the quayside in front of the flint and brick hotel.
Take, for example, the two sitting rooms. The one on the ground floor is a sea of identical dark red armchairs where thoughts of nursing homes crowd my dispirited mind. But the upstairs sitting room, its picture windows allowing the same fine estuary views as from my bedroom, has been decorated in soothing shades of cream, heather and dove grey, and makes an elegant contemporary retreat in which to read, contemplate or take afternoon tea.
In the same vein, the spacious dining room speaks of the Eighties, with its floral swags and dessert trolleys, and yet the hallway and reception area are fashionably decorated with faux panelling plus vases of flowers and tasteful prints, mirrors and lamps.
Exiting the lift, I find myself walking to my room along corridors in shock-inducing mustard yellow (apparently the colour used throughout the hotel until recently) and standing before an unlovely bedroom door complete with brass number plate.
What lies within? Candlewick bedspreads, swirly carpets and trouser presses? I fear the worst. But no: the bedroom is newly dressed and very attractive, with antique furniture setting off the creamy walls and fabrics. There is indeed a trouser press, but mercifully it has been relegated to a cupboard.
All but a handful of the rooms have been similarly redecorated, and they are as calm and peaceful and softly coloured as the marshes opposite. Thirteen of them have estuary views, for which you pay a supplement of £12 per person. Others, however, such as attractive No 6, have good partial views, but don't incur an extra charge.
Confusing the Blakeney may be, but what I also detect, almost the moment I arrive, is a hotel that has a palpable feeling of continuity and I'm not surprised to learn that its owner, Michael Stannard, has personally run it for many years, and that a massive 78 per cent of the guests are repeat. It's his talented daughter, Emma, who's responsible for the new look that is taking hold in stages, hence the split personality – but not for long.
Add to that a startlingly modern pool complex, games and billiard rooms, pleasant food, friendly service and extensive gardens and you have a coastal Norfolk base that suits young and old alike. With a great view.
- Blakeney Quay (01263 740797; www.blakeneyhotel.co.uk) Double b & b from £148. Access possible for guests with disabilities.
- FIONA'S CHOICE
Any walk has to take in the marshes, which offer superb birdwatching to boot. You could also walk or drive to Cley then out to the National Trust's Blakeney Point, or walk along the coast path in the opposite direction to Morston.
What to see
Seal trips by boat from the quay opposite the hotel to Blakeney Point are a must. Enchanting sights await. If you prefer something indoors, National Trust Felbrigg Hall is a relatively little-known gem, a mixture of opulence and homeliness.
Best for lunch
Just outside Blakeney, on the road to Cley, Wiveton Café (01263 740515; www.wivetonhall.co.uk) is a delight. Situated overlooking the marshes on Wiveton Farm (with its gem of a Jacobean house), it is simple, fun and full of colour, serving delicious homemade food from the farm. A huge local hit. Be sure to check winter opening times.