Best of 2016: Spring in Norfolk, England

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Holkham Beach, where Gwenyth Paltrow took her Shakespeare in Love star turn

Looking for a spring getaway that’s off the beaten path, yet still somewhat familiar? Norfolk is a weekend getaway for British Royals, and regular rural-seeking weekenders alike. It’s an easy train ride from Kings’ Cross Station in London, landing under two hours later on the platform at Kings’ Lynn. It’s the route Queen Elizabeth and her entourage take, yes, just like regular folks, to get to her weekend home!

Click through for five reasons to visit Norfolk. Book now, but visit in the late spring, when everything is open and in bloom. (For more information, see




1. It’s the Royals’ weekend getaway

Sandringham House, built in 1870 by the Prince and Princess of Wales – the Prince was later crowned King Edward VII – as a private getaway for the royals and their family. It has stayed a private home over four generations of monarchs and, as for family, it is still the place where her Majesty gathers her kin for the yearly Christmas celebrations.

The home itself is open to the public, and many of the ground floor rooms on view are also rooms that the Royal Family use when they are here over the holiday season. Much of the furniture is original to Edwardian times, with a wonderful collection of objet d’art that has been maintained since the days of Queen Alexandra. On the walls, you will find painted family portraits, but it is the candid snapshots placed in frames around the rooms of the current occupants that reveal a family at play and relaxation.

2. It’s Romantic

After a visit to Sandringham House, take the less than an hour drive to Wells-next-the-Sea. If Holkham Beach doesn’t sound familiar, it should. This is the beach where Gwyneth Paltrow took her star turn and Oscar-winning performance in Shakespeare in Love. Miles of flat sand, rolling dunes and cloud-watching skies make this the perfect spot to stroll hand in hand. No wonder Holkham Beach was voted Best Beach in Britain by UK travel writers.

Check into The Victoria Inn in Wells-next-the-Sea (even the name sounds romantic!). Located at the gateway of Holkham Park, smack dab within a 5-minute drive of both Holkham Hall and Gardens and Holkham Beach, this 10-bedroom member of The Great Inns of Britain has recently undergone a transformation that’s added 10 additional bedrooms in the ancient house next door to the main house. And don’t miss dinner. The dining room here makes the most of the ocean’s bounty.

Outside Holkham Hall, the grounds are walled gardens and sprawling lawns.

Inside, you’ll discover one of Europe’s most interesting art collections among sumptuously decorated rooms. A mix of sculpture and master paintings, most brought back by the Viscounts of Coke during their travels in the 18th century, it is still a private family home, and its collection – even some of the furniture, continues to be a historic resource for experts of the period. The Red Parrot Room is on view, but also serves as a guestroom when needed!

3. It’s Relaxed

Undulating country roads are lined with hedgerows, green fields are dotted with cows grazing, and seaside routes feature stretches of ocean as far as the eye can see. Take the easy drive along the coast road for these views from Wells-next-the-Sea to Brancaster, but en route, detour inland to Burnham Market.

This town is affectionately nicknamed Knightsbridge-on-Sea as it’s a draw for London weekenders looking for English hospitality and a quaint village respite. Row houses decorated with brightly coloured doors greet visitors with a cheery face. Great place for a traditional pub lunch or for something a bit more luxe, grab a table in the Garden Room at The Hoste. Oh, and if you’re looking for that special fascinator, Burnham Hats has something for every outing, whether it’s the Derby or a wedding.

4. It’s Really Authentic

After lunch, head back to the coast to Brancaster, to check into the Titchwell Manor. This Victorian farmhouse on the coast – you can see the ocean across the marshes from the front door – features 27 rooms both in the main house and in the herb garden cottage.

The country retreat’s restaurant, with head chef Eric Snaith at the helm, is also a member of The Master Chefs of Great Britain.

Everything’s good here, from the traditional English breakfast in the gorgeous Conservatory Restaurant to Snaith’s innovative “Norfolk Tapas,” in the Eating Rooms, a more informal pub-style setting where traditional meets Brasserie – and Eric’s Fish & Chips, of course!

5. It’s Remarkable

The views of the North Norfolk never get old – moody clouds hang low in otherwise blue skies, miles of sandy beach, like those on Brancaster Beach, above, and golden fields lead you to towns where you can get the latest in coffee culture or throwback to historic times.

Inland, in Great Bircham, you’ll find the Bircham Windmill. More than 100 years old, the windmill is one of the few that is still in working order and the baked goods still contain flour milled here.

In the market town of Holt, you may just run into a royal – Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to be exact. She’s been known to go on the hunt for antiques here and the surrounding countryside, including The O.D Stables in the grounds of Bayfield Hall en route to Holt. In town, Vintage finds can be had at Richard Scott Antiques and Old Town fashions.

And don’t forget to be on your best behaviour. You never know which Royal may be boarding the train in King’s Lynn at the end of the weekend!