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When London’s intrusive (but necessary) security cameras and crammed Tube become too much for you, consider taking a scenic two-hour train ride to Halesworth, followed by a 20-minute taxi ride down winding roads and past ruby poppy fields to the seaside village of Southwold. Flanked by the North Sea, this endearing, 1,200-resident quintessential outpost in East Anglia is a vacation hot spot for upper crust Londoners and well-known for its Adnams brewery, quaint shops, colorful beach huts, lighthouse, and 623-foot pier.
Last month, I had the privilege of spending a weekend in Southwold. The town is like one of those life-sized ceramic villages displayed at Christmastime, dotted with cafés and tea rooms, bakeries, boutique clothing stores, bookshops, and bountiful fruit vendors with produce ripe for the taking. And the charm? Well, in this seafaring community it runs deep – all the way down to its residents. Mothers toting baby carriages, husbands escorting their wives through the shopping promenade, and customers waiting patiently in a line that spills out the local butcher's door are common sights in Southwold and reminiscent of a bygone epoch.
For the two nights I stayed in Southwold, I retired to the divine Swan Hotel – a 42-room inn steps from Market Square with stunning sea vistas (from certain rooms) and an at-home vibe. It’s the type of hotel where frequent visitors to Southwold pass by and say: “We must stay here.” Entry to spacious guestrooms is with old-fashioned keys, but the hotel does not ignore the modern luxuries and conveniences all of us crave – so you can enjoy flat-screen televisions, towel warmers (perhaps my favorite feature), as well as separate showers and soaking tubs before turning in for the night.
Southwold’s biggest draws are without a doubt the beach, pier, and shopping opportunities, but the highlight of my weekend was the excursion on Coastal Voyager – a completely underrated, exhilarating speedboat that somewhat seems out of place in such a picturesque village. My heart-pounding, 30-minute Sea Blast joy ride was full of bumps, dips, and chilly saltwater mist as we made our way up coastline, cutting the engines briefly for a history lesson. When I was churning the waters in mid-June it was unseasonably cold, but temperatures during the height of summer can hover around 75 degrees and the Coastal Voyager is the perfect way to stay cool (and relish breathtaking views of Southwold from afar).
Besides Southwold being very accessible from London, it’s also a great jumping off point for visiting other Suffolk towns. Aldeburgh, which is laden with shops and restaurants, and Orford, a tiny village that is famous for its 12th-century castle erected by Henry II, are only a short drive away.
Steeped in history and exuding timeless elegance – Southwold is no-doubt a classic example of a pastoral oasis, but vacationing during the peak summer months can definitely diminish your appreciation for this town. Avoid traveling in July and August and you’ll miss the hordes of visitors, as well as the certain gridlock of cars (weather is still pleasant in June and September, with average highs regularly reaching the upper 60s).
For more information, and to help plan your stay in Southwold, visit www.southwold.biz.