A Pocket Guide To Aldeburgh

One of Suffolk’s most charming seaside towns, Aldeburgh has a seafront lined with pastel-coloured holiday villas and great fish and chip shops – the perfect treat after an afternoon spent exploring its many galleries, independent shops and art installations. Whether you want to book a romantic weekend away or a trip with friends, here’s where to stay, what to eat and the places to visit.
By Heather Steele /
Sur-Mer At The Suffolk
REBECCA DICKSON

WHERE TO STAY

The most exciting opening in Aldeburgh this year is The Suffolk. Following a hugely successful pop-up, L’Escargot Sur-Mer, George Pell opened The Suffolk in August after a sensitive refurbishment of the historic building. Now, there’s a 60-cover restaurant named Sur-Mer, a rooftop terrace with sea views, a wine bar, 12 and 24-seater private dining rooms and – as of late November – six elegant bedrooms. All come with super king beds topped with Lansdowne Cashmere mattresses and the décor takes its inspiration from the surrounding area, with room names including ‘Orford Ness’ and ‘The Butley’, and a green and purple colour palette inspired by the native Elephant Hawksmoor moth. Bedroom furniture has been sourced from local antique dealers and all rooms come with Roberts radios. Guests will find a shared pantry on the first floor stocked with pre-mixed cocktails and nibbles, which are included in the room rate.

Tucked away just outside Aldeburgh, Five Acre Barn is one of the country’s most architecturally appealing B&Bs. The restored 19th-century barn acts as a communal area, while a zig-zagging extension houses five bright bedrooms. Pairing an idyllic rural setting with well-crafted modern materials, this spot is available to rent by the room or in its entirety.

For an atmospheric stay, The Martello Tower – the largest and most northerly of a chain of towers in England built to keep Napoleon out – has been transformed into a rental. The quatrefoil-shaped building stands at the foot of the Orford Ness peninsula, between the River Alde and the sea. The landmark is a good place for a family or a group of friends that want a shared experience – the bedrooms are screened from the central living area but not fully divided, so guests have a sense of being in a larger space. The stone-flagged battery on the roof is a great place to open a bottle of wine and watch the boats race from the nearby club.

Wilderness Reserve is an 8,000-acre estate of woodland and lakes in Saxmundham, one of Aldeburgh’s neighbouring towns. Doxie is its newest addition. The property has its own natural swimming pond and country views. Perfect for a romantic weekend away, Doxie sleeps two in a cosy double bedroom with an open-plan kitchen/living area featuring a cool twisted brick fireplace. Relax in the outdoor hot tub built into the patio, cook local produce on the Big Green Egg, and unwind in the sauna and steam room. As with all Wilderness Reserve properties, guests can also book a range of experiences, from falconry to kayaking.

Elsewhere, Kip Hideaways has a number of properties in the area. The Gallery is a pared-back and light-filled hideaway for four guests near wild meadows and coastline in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while Castle View in nearby Orford is a lovely, well-stocked bolthole for a weekend exploring the Suffolk coast.

The Suffolk
REBECCA DICKSON

WHAT TO EAT & DRINK

No trip to Aldeburgh is complete without fish and chips. The Golden Galleon, The Upper Deck and The Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop are all owned by the same family. The latter occupies a prime position on the south end of the high street. Regularly voted one of the best in the country, here you’ll find some of this area’s best fried cod, haddock, plaice and scampi – plus, the chips are made with local potatoes. On a Friday or Saturday evening, the queue is the only place to be.

Back to The Suffolk. Its pop-up name ‘L’Escargot Sur-Mer’ is a nod to the owner’s connection to Soho institution L’Escargot, so you know the food at the team’s seaside spot is going to be good. In an old coaching inn, a standalone bar is the place for cocktails such as sea buckthorn margarita with tequila, triple sec, lime juice and sea buckthorn purée; and a coral spritz of rosé, rhubarb syrup, blackberry purée, sage and club soda. Next-level bar snacks include oyster thermidor; smoked mussel tempura; and black ham and baron bigod croquettes. In the restaurant itself, expect to sample the likes of lobster bisque with crab toast; dressed Suffolk crab with pickled cucumber; BBQ monkfish tail and samphire; and crab linguini followed by local Pump Street chocolate delice with salted caramel and hazelnut.

On the high street, you’ll find The Lighthouse. This local favourite has been around for over 25 years and offers a relaxing atmosphere across two dining rooms and a courtyard in the summer months. Head chef Guy Welsh ensures the ingredients are as local as possible – much of the fish comes straight from the North Sea, meat is provided by KW Clarke in Bramfield, and even the salad leaves come from an individual grower in Thorpeness. As well as great takes on classics (think platters of oysters, smoked salmon cured in the restaurant’s own gin, and a fish pie), The Lighthouse serves a decent selection of wines and local beers.

Just down the coast, Pinney’s of Orford is well worth a visit. Given its coastal environs, this is another restaurant where seafood is the star. Served in an uncomplicated style, menu hits include half a dozen plump Butley oysters; homemade smoked salmon paté; griddled prawns with hot and smoky garlic butter; and skate with brown butter. Marble café tables, playful artwork, a location on the market square and a daily changing chalkboard menu all add to the charm.

Pinney's Of Orford

WHAT TO DO

The pretty town is an old fishing centre and fishermen can still be seen hauling their boats up the steep shingle beach to sell their catch each morning. Whatever the weather, the beach is well worth a stroll along. One of the seafront’s most recognisable features is a giant scallop shell that rises from the shingle. Made by local-born artist Maggi Hambling, the sculpture is a tribute to composer Benjamin Britten who lived in Aldeburgh and walked along the stretch of coastline between here and Thorpeness every day.

If you want to learn more about Britten, head to The Red House, which once belonged to him and his partner Peter Pears. Now, it's a small but fascinating museum with a lovely five-acre garden to explore. The farmhouse is home to the couple’s collections and archive, alongside a gallery space, shop and outdoor café. Children will enjoy following the Garden Discovery Trail and learning about the nature.

The town is also home to the annual Aldeburgh Literary Festival and multiple galleries. One of our favourite spots is Aldeburgh Beach Art House, which exhibits paintings and sculptures by some of the most eminent artists – think Picasso, Matisse, Emin, Frost and Blake – with many works for sale (viewing is by appointment only). Isolated on the beach, the Art House is the home of art dealer Caroline Wiseman, who first spotted the tower while taking her morning swim in the sea in 2010. Now transformed, its Aldeburgh Beach Lookout welcomes a new artist, poet, performer, musician or thinker each week as artist in residence, and each residency culminates in an exhibition of new work.

Aldeburgh’s high street is lined with attractive Georgian buildings housing independent shops, galleries and restaurants. One of the best stores is Aldeburgh Bookshop, which has been run by John and Mary James for the last 20 years. You can find just about everything here – ideal if you’re after a holiday read. O&C Butcher is a must for fashion fans and stocks everything from American Vintage to Falke, Levi’s, Selected Femme and Scotch & Soda. For a true Aldeburgh souvenir, head to Fishers Gin Distillery, which looks over the shingle beach. Its gin is distilled with local botanicals such as samphire – make sure to book in for a tour and tasting.

Wilderness Reserve

AND FURTHER AFIELD…

Snape Maltings

If you’re in the mood for some more shopping, make a beeline for the town of Snape Maltings. You’ll find everything from homewares to antiques, plus a regular farmers’ market and a legendary food hall. A beautiful heritage site with converted Victorian buildings, Snape Maltings is home to independent shops and galleries, decent places to eat and the world-famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Somewhat confusingly, the famous Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival is actually held in Snape Maltings and is one of the best in the country.

Southwold

With its sandy beach, colourful beach huts, lively town centre and pretty pier, Southwold is a great place for a day out. The pier – which stretches 623ft out into the North Sea – is a must visit. Don’t miss inventor Tim Hunkin’s Under The Pier Show where his eccentric arcade machines provide hours of entertainment, and be sure to stop by Harris & James for a scoop of gelato. Half a mile from the town centre, Southwold Harbour is the perfect spot for a sundowner. You can even catch the ferry from the harbour to Walberswick – we recommend relaxing among the sand dunes with a picnic from the Black Dog Deli.

Woodbridge

Woodbridge is a quintessential market town on the River Deben. Across the river you’ll find Sutton Hoo, the awe-inspiring Anglo Saxon burial site that was at the focus of recent Netflix hit The Dig. Other decent places to visit include coffee shop Honey + Harvey and the Angel, which sells local craft beers and around 250 different types of gin. Don’t miss the beautiful beach at Shingle Street, a hidden gem 20 minutes’ drive away.

The Red House Archives
UNSPLASH/ BOBBY ALLEN

Thorpeness

One of the main attractions of Thorpeness is the Meare – hand dug and opened in 1913 – it covers over 40 acres of water and is no more than 3ft deep in any spot, making it a great spot for boating. The Meare still has many of its original rowing boats – rent them along with canoes, kayaks and punts to explore the channels and islands, all named by J M Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Thorpeness is also full of unusual architecture, including the House in the Clouds, a converted water tower that’s available to rent. Leave time to pop into Mabel & Co, a beautiful letterpress studio.

How To Get There…

The nearest train station to Aldeburgh is Saxmundham and there are plenty of daily services from London Liverpool Street, which take just under two hours. If you’re travelling by car from the capital, the journey should take around two-and-a-half hours.

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