Retreat East: The Suffolk weekend escape with Nature at its heart

Emma Earnshaw checks into Retreat East and finds a new hotel that's paving the way for more sustainable hospitality.

Retreat east and you will find true soul, all thanks to the love and care that Dominic Richards has lavished on a once derelict dairy farm in Suffolk over the past 18 years.

Having trained at the former Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture—where he was inspired by the now King’s ethos that ‘seeing is believing’—Mr Richards was determined to bring the 16th century farmhouse, crumbling outbuildings and land back to life in an authentic, holistic and sustainable way, using traditional building methods. 

The house was freed of its ‘suffocating cloak of concrete’ and the rotten elements of the oak frame repaired, before timber lathes, wood wool and lime render were added. Then every slate, brick, pantile and flint wall was taken down, cleaned, catalogued and reused to create this rural idyll, which embodies eco-friendly opulence.

Today, Retreat East is set amongst 35 acres. The eclectic accommodation includes rooms in The Farmhouse (which can sleep up to eight in total) and a cluster of free standing barns (each one can sleep up to four in total)—comfortable spaces that benefit from high-end kitchens, plump sofas and vast beds. 

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The Retreat’s new buildings have also come under equal consideration. Hewn from green oak frames and clad in local larch, they’re powered by renewable electricity, soon to be boosted by a solar field that will make the entire venture carbon neutral.

Guests are encouraged to explore the impressive kitchen garden, the beehives, bug hotels and wildflower meadows that attest to Mr Richards’ commitment to a better future with the environment at its heart. And for more traditional relaxation techniques, there’s a bijou spa, which has an outdoor tub, sauna and steam room (it’s possible to book it all out as a whole). 

At the centre of this haven stands The Great Barn—a triple-height open space with exposed beams and a towering brick fireplace—where we dined, before settling in for a drink at the tasteful bar, with a pool table and games room. 

Beyond all this is a terrace flanked by vines—ideal for savouring the new head chef Adam Spicer’s seasonal menu (when we visited it featured a fresh fig and shallot tarte tatin). The service is, unsurprisingly, faultless and no request, however fussy or unusual, is too much.

From £255 a night