Where to go when overseas travel resumes: The storybook English village

The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa occupies a timber-framed building from the 15th century. | Courtesy photo

In a country full of charming destinations this hotel in a remarkably well-preserved village is the perfect place to visit once international travel becomes easier.

The Swan’s timber-framed building from the 15th century — complete with creaky floors and exposed wood beams — is exactly what many Americans envision when they think of merrie olde England. Then there are the four-star hotel’s amenities, which separate it from the bland, transactional experience of the established chains. Here, the little things eliminated by corporate bean counters — slippers, bathrobes, morning newspapers — come standard.

More charm awaits along the streets of Lavenham, a small village (population 1,750) in Suffolk, a county in eastern England. Think timber-framed buildings painted in shades of pink, yellow, orange and red. Pretty much everything feels unchanged in 500 years.

The postcard-perfect streets of Lavenham, England. (courtesy photo) | Courtesy photo

Facing the old market square is the Guildhall or, more formally, the Guildhall of Corpus Christi with its jettying and gabled front porch. Built in the early 16th century, it has been called one of England’s most spectacular buildings. Around the corner stands Little Hall, the local museum.

Another landmark is St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, a notable example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture and one of the last great pre-English Reformation parish churches. It was built between 1486 and 1525, when the medieval wool trade prospered here.

If you go

Many Americans are drawn here by connections to family stationed nearby during the Second World War. This history is recognized in the hotel bar, which was frequented by American and British servicemen and is quite fittingly named Airmen’s Bar.

Unfortunately, the hotel is temporarily closed, a victim to England’s ongoing coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns. As of this writing, it is scheduled to reopen in mid-February.

Most visitors come for the weekend, but Lavenham’s location makes it a perfect base for day trips to nearby villages and towns with quintessential names like Woolpit, Saffron Walden and Steeple Bumpstead. Cambridge of university fame and Ely with its somewhat underappreciated cathedral — both destinations in their own right — are about an hour away by car.

The drive from London’s Heathrow Airport, the closest major airport, is an easy two hours. It should go without saying, but a rental car with GPS navigation is a must.

Spires and Crosses is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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