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With all the pomp and ceremony of a bygone era, what better way to explore a ‘new’ city over the weekend than from the back of a Bentley MK IV Park Ward Bentley 1950 convertible top bare? Complete with a well-dressed driver?

Thanks to hotelier David Chaplin’s lifelong passion for cars, that’s exactly what’s on offer at the Maid’s Head Hotel in Norwich, which is said to be the UK’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1287 .

Acquired by the Chaplin Group in 2012 and located in quaint Tombland, adjacent to the city’s magnificent Romanesque cathedral, the newly arrived hotel, looking like a phoenix, after a flurry major renovation worth £4.2 million.

During the seven-year program, each of the 84 bedrooms is complete with a makeover with vibrant new fabrics, soft lighting and custom furnishings. Public areas – including a chic new reception – have also been overhauled and modernized.

Most owners have drawn the line there, but Chaplin took it a step further, satisfying his passion for cars and seizing the opportunity to introduce the Bentley Mk IV. He built a shiny new showroom to house his pride and joy, next to his venerable 1963 Bentley S3 Tourer.

Proudly displayed through large sliding glass windows, they take center stage in the hotel’s showroom, which boasts unique leather armchairs ‘borrowed’ from another, dismantled Bentley and has space for meetings, presentations or weddings.

The Maid’s Head Gallery

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Tour

Each Maid’s Head guest is offered a free tour of many of Norwich’s highlights from the back of one of the vintage cars, driven by chauffeur Matthew Johnson, with his encyclopedic knowledge of city. On clear days, most guests choose the Bentley convertible, resplendent with Royal Blue, powered by a 6.4-liter inline petrol engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

There’s no power steering – but most guests won’t forget the effort it takes to drive a classic as they immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of Norwich. “At least it keeps me healthy,” jokes Matthew, whose love for the city is contagious.

David Williams in the back of a Mark IV Bentley, with driver Matthew Johnson at the wheel

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Typically, 30-minute tours not only visit the charming, touristy old world – with views of the cathedral and its majestic 13th and 15th-century gates – but also the remote hilly vantage points of the city, including Mousehold Heath with its imposing 19th-century prison.

From there, glimpses of not only the cathedral’s 96-meter-tall spire, the second tallest in Britain, but also its stunning 44 acres, lazily flow across the Wensum River.

Other highlights of a Bentley chauffeured tour include Riverside, Bis Bishopgate, popular shopping arcades, the striking Art Deco City Hall, the Roman Catholic cathedral – and Delia Smith’s ‘home’ – Carrow Road Stadium – of course also home to the Premier League side of the city of Norwich.

Where is it?

One of the advantages of being there first is that you get the best location, and that’s certainly true of historic Maid’s Head, which enjoys a prime location in the heart of Tombland’s cobbled streets. lovely cobblestone with small, independent shops like jewelers. , cafes and antique shops. It’s also just a few meters from the privacy of the Close that surrounds the cathedral, with its vast lawns, trees, bushes, and strong sense of history. It’s well worth the time to stroll here, admiring the cathedral, the stately old buildings, the river, and the vast playgrounds.

It’s also just a short walk into the city, a wonderful, mellow and friendly center for walking and exploring, with 31 separate churches, most of which have their own courtyards, clusters of doors. shops, attractions and – often – beautifully planted gardens .

Style

After major refurbishment, Maid’s Head is a hotel of two halves; part modern boutique-style comfort tastefully modernized with imaginative fabrics and appealing colors, part rooted in the past with Intimate areas and refurbishment have yet to happen in the older, clearly worn-out zones. You can’t do it all at once.

Maid waiting room

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Most of the public areas are light and airy, especially the large lounge and dining room filled with light from the ‘conservatory’ roof. The old parts of the hotel, which has continuously served visitors since the 12th century and even had an earlier Norman pillar, are much more intimate, including the Yard Bar paneled with a large fireplace. Particularly in demand is The Snug, a cozy, private, antique wood-paneled living room that features a round table with seating for eight. Or – for romantic weekends – just for the two of you. There is also a covered patio for dining.

Food and drink

The maid clearly understood the appeal of an imaginative kitchen. The Wine Press restaurant serves award-winning fine dining from Chef Simon and his team, primarily using locally sourced ingredients. Specializing in flamboyant entertainment, the restaurant also serves beautifully creative appetizers such as glazed lamb sweetbreads with goat curd, bean cress and mint sandwiches with black olives, Chicken liver parfait with homemade bread, rhubarb and beetroot ketchup, wild garlic butter with crispy skin chicken.

Great entrance

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Dishes include the perfectly textured sautéed beef with crab and chives, tenderized leeks and samphire with pickled grapes and brown crab, wild garlic gnocchi in chervil butter with braised shallots, asparagus, Mrs Temple’s pickled shallots and Alpine cheese. There is a tasting menu from £50, (£80 with wine).

Service

The best time to test service is when they rush off their feet at breakfast – and the staff at Maid’s Head are clearly up for the challenge, constantly providing friendly, courteous, attentive service. Chauffeur Matthew is a travel expert, while the front desk staff are happy to guide you to all that Norwich has to offer.

Extracurriculars

If you like London’s more posh shopping – think Covent Garden, Soho or the smaller streets of Spitalfield – you’ll love Norwich, which is dotted with alleys, courtyards, gardens, paintings occasional wall on the street and all the hustle and bustle of a happy city. its own skin. Your Bentley tour is just the beginning – Norwich is the perfect city for a stroll.

For a night out, just a stone’s throw from Maid’s Head, is Norwich’s best-kept secret, Gonzo’s Tea Room (including Two Room, a disco-oriented club). Housed in a comfortable simple Art Deco building on a corner of London Street, above a betting shop, this attractive three-story activity plus terrace complex boasts more than a tea room but There’s also a highly innovative, stylized restaurant – Brix and Bones – and a live music room.

The entrance to Gonzo’s in Norwich

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Make a reservation for some of the more creative, labor-filled dishes you’ll find in Norwich (the kitchen even makes its own activated charcoal for the savory banh tet). yummy). Sparkling appetizers and snacks include the Shrimp toast with pickled onions and burnt lemon togarashi, or the pork head taco with Korean barbecue and pickled kohlrabi, and the beetroot tartare with duck eggs and nuts smoked hazelnuts.

Jazz

Dishes include minced pork with Korean pesto accompanied by Wagyu beef yams, and burnt gems, radish, seaweed mayo and walnut salsa. It’s all consumed in a cozy, buzzing 30-seat bar-style restaurant with influences sure to include American diner, Midwestern gentlemen’s club… and hints of the Club. Shoreditch’s Bike Shed motorcycle set. Service comes with a smile, especially when they know you’re being entertained if you choose to stay after dinner, to enjoy one of two salons serving music from live jazz to DJs, indie and electro bangers. On the night we visited, Norwich jazz musicians gathered late into the night, creating an enchantingly intimate atmosphere. Than www.gonzostearoom.com

Don’t miss The Plantation Garden, a restored Victorian wonderland garden nestled in an old quarry, now registered for British Heritage Level II. Nor should you leave Norwich without visiting the mind-bending Sainsbury Center, a short bus ride from the center and located on the large, green campus of the University of East Anglia.

Garden of plants

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Here, you should walk around the outdoor sculpture park and enjoy your meal at The Terrace or Modern Life Cafe; all in architecturally striking surroundings, including the spectacular Center itself. If you’re visiting before July 17, be sure to check out the ‘Pablo Picasso, Legacy of Youth’ exhibition, or if visiting before July 3, the ‘Transformative Tradition of Scottish Female Artists’. ‘Rhythm and Geometry: Constructive Arts in Britain from 1951’, until July 17, is also a must-see.

The Maid’s Hotel isn’t as crazy about gas as you might think. For those who enjoy cycling, it also has a fleet of small Bobbin bikes for free rental; perfect for reaching further when your feet start to ache with all that Norwich has to offer. It’s hard to stop exploring this light yet energetic city.

Which room?

The most romantic is probably the Filby Junior Suite, nestled high above the beams with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams. It’s inspired by the flower, the Bird of Paradise, and has several views of the cathedral. We stayed in the spacious Catherine of Aragon suite, with a roll-in tub in the bedroom and separate bathroom – complete with a floor-to-ceiling photo wall depicting Norwich street scenes, a specialty at Maid’s Head. It feels quiet, secluded, peaceful – nicely tucked away.

Suite Junior Filby

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All rooms feature light fabrics, bold wallpaper, and attractive furnishings and furnishings.

Best for

Romantic weekends go a long way – especially for those with gas in their veins and those who love to explore a ‘new’ city with plenty to offer in the way of restaurants, cafes and shops independent goods.

The bedroom in the Paston . suite

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How to get there

About a three-hour drive from central London, going directly to the M11 and A11. The Maid’s Head Hotel offers free parking. But beware, confusing – not to mention confusing, the new transport plans in the city, are certainly designed by someone who doesn’t like motorized traffic. New unsigned pedestrian and bicycle zones operating at different times not only trap visitors; Local residents say they are confused by them as well. To search for the hotel, we followed the satnav straight into a poorly-signed pedestrian area without even realizing it. Can’t get out without going somewhere else. Am angry and it needs to be fixed quickly.

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