Newest Review: ... way to go for the Boat House but managed to take the wrong route - we had not been offered bag help on this occasion. However, shortly... more
We're No Longer Strangers Here.
Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel
Member Name: Verbena
Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel
Advantages: Professional, helpful, friendly staff, comfortable except bed, good food
Disadvantages: Problems with broadband/wi-fi/mobile phone signals; key card issues
Our family of Lincolnshire Yellow Bellies are not strangers to one of our favourite neighbouring counties, Norfolk. When our children were small it was the perfect location for a seaside holiday, with a journey time of under two hours. Lately we've taken off-season breaks. It was driving home after one of these, when we'd been watching the spectacular autumnal arrival of geese in the Salthouse region that my husband first commented that he would really like to try out the Le Strange Arms Hotel in Old Hunstanton. I'm not sure whether it was the sea views or the proximity of the pitch and putt golf course. On several occasions we tried to book a break there, but for some reason there never seemed to be vacancies at the times when we were free to visit. Then, a week or so before a significant birthday this February, the opportunity arose. He's the kind of guy who likes to arrange things himself so he dealt with all the booking aspects etc.
We have stayed at a couple of other hotels in the Best Western chain in the past and had picked up one of their loyalty cards which means that we are informed of special deals from time to time. This two night break was one of these. We returned for an equally impromptu break with our daughter just after Easter, and this was not a special deal, so I felt it was a good opportunity to review our experiences at the hotel over both visits.
=== A Bit of Background ===
The little village of Old Hunstanton is located to the north of Hunstanton itself. Originally it was a fishing village, which is evident from the old cottages. This part of the North Norfolk coastline is unusual in that it is pretty much facing west. Sunsets at a North Sea resort are quite a rare occurrence. On a clear day we had a very clear view of our home Lincolnshire coastline as far as Skegness, I believe! Tiny the village may be, but it's not short on history as it dates back to AD855, apparently, when St Edmund is said to have been shipwrecked there. The ruins of a chapel built to commemorate this event by the monks of Bury, are still visible on a cliff top and have been incorporated into a garden of remembrance. The Le Strange family name is also closely associated with the village: in addition to the hotel there is the Le Strange Old Barns, with arts, crafts and antiques available under one roof. The family name can be traced back to John Le Strange, born about 1142, if you are interested in that kind of thing - space here does not permit!
The Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel has been used for its current purpose since late Victorian times, and there is an old Guest Book on display as evidence. It now has 43 hotel rooms, 2 bars, 2 restaurants - The Le Strange Restaurant or the adjacent pub, The Ancient Mariner, which appears to be part of the complex, 3 Meeting Rooms and conference facilities. They seem to major more on promoting themselves as a wedding venue than a conference facility, though. The hotel has a 4star rating from the AA. There is 24 hour service, a lift, and parking spaces onsite for about 100 vehicles. Their website states that, because of such receptions and dinner dances, some rooms may be affected by noise until approximately midnight and you should check before making a reservation if concerned. When we arrived for our second break - a Friday afternoon - we were initially unable to find a space due to their being a large lunch function taking place, but were directed towards a temporary car parking area which was quite adequate in the dry conditions. We were able to move the vehicles nearer to the hotel entrance well before night time.
=== Checking In ===
When we checked in for our first visit the hotel occupancy did not seem high. The check-in procedure was smooth and we were guided to our room, with help offered for our bags. They were busier but still efficient on our second visit. We knew that our rooms were not in the same parts of the hotel but were a little disconcerted to find that our daughter had a room in the hotel itself, whilst my husband and I were located in the Boat House, which we had read about in the brochure but it sounded like this was really a self-catering facility. We were given key cards and directions to our rooms. We thought we had understood which way to go for the Boat House but managed to take the wrong route - we had not been offered bag help on this occasion. However, shortly after getting into the room we received an internal call from reception asking if we had found our way etc. Our daughter had also received a courtesy call.
=== Access ===
A lift was available to transport guests to the wing of the hotel in which our daughter's room was located. I feel it would have been difficult for anyone with a physical disability to access the Boathouse accommodation. I expect that you are able to express individual needs on making a booking.
=== Rooms ===
Our first impressions of our own room were favourable. The bathroom was well -equipped with the usual toiletries, towels etc, bath and shower. There was a double bed and two bedside units, a small wardrobe behind a door, a desk with a TV and special retractable cable for wi-fi computer connection, an upright chair and an easy chair, and a bag rest. On our February break we had a room with twin beds, which were extremely comfortable, but the chairs were situated in such a way that you couldn't see the TV while sitting in them. I soon realised that one of each chair only was going to be a bit inconvenient in our second room. I wasn't comfortable, either, with the lack of drawers in which to put underwear, socks etc, as the bedside units were drawer-less and there was no room in the wardrobe due to it containing extra bedding, a fan etc. I didn't find the bed comfortable, either, I'm afraid. Maybe it's due to having a memory foam mattress at home, but it felt as though I could feel springs sticking into me and I didn't sleep too well. To add to my discomfort I found the room hot, despite not noticing the radiators being on. My husband didn't seem affected as I was, but our daughter commented on the warmth of her room. Both of the rooms were clean and had attractive artwork as decoration.
We were well provided for in terms of in-room refreshments, with milk, coffee, sugar, biscuits etc to go with the kettle and these were fully replenished. Our daughter rarely drinks hot drinks, but she would have been able to get bottled water instead had she asked. The internal telephone system made it easy for us to call her, for instance, to say we were about to go across for breakfast. As it turned out it was just as well that this system worked well; our mobile phones did not have a reliable signal and often did not work at all. This is a problem we have encountered in Norfolk before, and probably is no reflection upon the hotel. The Boat House had its own lounge area, with additional drink -making and cooking facilities, dining area and comfortable seating. It had great sea views. I believe it's possible to book the whole Boat House as self-catering accommodation for up to about 8 people with about 5 apartments. Because the Boat House is a little distance from the main hotel it has its own front door key card.
=== Key Cards ===
During our February visit our key cards worked fine. Not so on the April visit when we all had problems. On one occasion, my husband and I were told that our cards had been cancelled at midday: 'had we decided to stay an extra night?' No! My worst experience was trying to get in to the Boat House when my husband had gone ahead. The card didn't work, neither did the phone. I was able to walk on the garden and tap on the window to attract his attention - otherwise I would have had to go back across to reception to report the fault. When my daughter's didn't work she was advised to keep it inside its paper slip & keep away from her mobile phone, credit cards etc. She still had problems despite following this advice to the letter, which made us question the whole system - we had had no problems at all in February.
=== Dining ===
We ate dinner in the Le Strange Restaurant on both evenings, so I cannot comment on the food in the pub, other than to say it appeared quite popular. We prefer not to eat late, so were easily able to book a table for 7 p.m. We 'checked in' at the Bar, ordered drinks and were given menus. We took these into the Conservatory area to make our selection - partly to observe the sunset and partly because there was a chance of picking up our emails in there. Our previous experience had shown us that the wi-fi connection was at best intermittent and at worst non-existent. Again, this has often been our experience in Norfolk, unfortunately, so is not unique to the hotel; though I would have thought it would have impacted somewhat negatively upon its suitability as a Conference venue.
Our orders were taken promptly and courteously and we were shown to our table without much delay. My husband and I selected from the Table d'hôte menu, which offered 2 courses for £22 or 3 for £27. Our daughter ordered a steak from the A La Carte menu on the second evening. It seems that a few items are changed on the menu each evening, with the core staying the same. This means that there is always something new to try.
=== Starters ===
On the first night my husband and I both elected to have duck pate as a starter. Our daughter had salmon, prawn and cream cheese tian. We all enjoyed our choices. One might have argued that there was too much pate for the toasted ciabatta supplied, but we had been offered a bread roll as we came to the table so that was more than adequate. Daughter feared she wouldn't like the salmon if it was smoked [the menu didn't state this, and she didn't ask] It was, and she did! Our second night starters were cream of tomato, bacon and thyme soup with croutons for the other two, and chorizo, peas and wild garlic risotto for me.
=== Mains ===
I'm only commenting on our recent visit in detail here, as it doesn't seem fair to try to recall February meals in detail.
On our first evening, for the main course our daughter selected beef medallions, husband went for a rack of lamb, and I had sautéed scampi with chilli, lime and ginger butter served with wild rice and mushrooms. The other two seemed to thoroughly enjoy their meals - indeed, our daughter commented that it's rare for her to clean up her plate! I could have raved about my dish. The scampi was succulent and so tender it almost melted in my mouth. The rice was delicious and the sauce complemented the meal very well. I was tempted to order it again on the second night, but there were so many things to try! My husband and I both selected Gressingham duck breast - we had enjoyed duck on our earlier visit. We asked for it to be served 'not too bloody' but it didn't even show pink. It tasted fine, though, so we didn't complain. I was also a bit surprised that the plum sauce on this occasion was chunks of fresh plum - somehow that didn't quite work. So for me that course was a little disappointing. Our daughter was very happy with her steak and cleaned up her plate again. As in many hotels the vegetables were served by the waiter directly on to our plates, with a selection of at least three - well, this was true of the first evening. On the second evening we were offered service 'or would you prefer me to leave them so you can help yourselves?' Actually we preferred this. I was surprised to find the offering was chopped carrots with something that might have been swede, served with chunks of sweet potatoes. I didn't find these particularly appetising.
=== Desserts ===
There was a separate dessert menu which was offered after the mains course. My husband can't resist a pudding, so, full as we were we had a look and decided upon ice creams as a light option. I elected to try mandarin sorbet the second evening; it was deliciously refreshing! There were several other options, such as fruit tarts, Eton mess, cheese platter etc but we were simply too full. Again I did note that at least one item was changed on the menu from one evening to the next. A nice touch was that we were able to take tea and coffee in the lounge area, and at this time of year, having dined early, we were just in time to view beautiful sunsets from the Conservatory.
=== Breakfast ===
We were shown to a table and helped ourselves from the selection of 'first courses' available: a good range of cereals, yoghurts, Danish pastries, continental smoked cheeses and fruit. Individual marmalade pots were on the table but jams & honey were also available, as were several flavours of fruit juices. Once seated again, staff took orders for hot drinks and cooked breakfasts -everything from full English to smoked kippers [no thank you!] We never got further than scrambled or poached eggs on toast. I found the scrambled eggs overcooked as I prefer them slightly moist - I wouldn't say these were rubbery but too cooked so I opted for poached the next time. I was puzzled that a rack of toast ordered between the three of us was brought to the table before the cooked course. It was cold by the time we'd finished.
=== Checking Out ===
Checkout was by 11 a.m. on departure day. We were asked if everything had been satisfactory about our stay. As we had been able to add meals etc to our account, it took only minutes to print off our bill, for my husband to check it and to pay. It was speedy and courteous. We were offered a card so that we could book directly with the hotel on our next visit. My daughter was able to obtain her own Best Western Hotels Rewards brochure and I think it's likely that she will use it.
=== Cost ===
This was a fairly expensive break by local standards- our room was £220, daughter's was £200. The additional meals we took came to around £200 for the 3 of us. I think this was due to it being the Easter holidays, and a late booking with no special deals available. We had looked at a few other possibilities locally but found no better deal. At least we got a lot of points on our Best Western rewards card! Our special offer break in February was much cheaper, at about £50 per night I believe. That I count as exceptional value.
=== What To Do ===
The local area provides a lot of potential activities within reasonable travelling distances. There are golf courses, boat trips, National Trust properties and other historic buildings, bird watching reserves and so on. You can walk right along the beach into Hunstanton itself from the hotel should you choose to do so, though I feel the town has much less in the way of shopping opportunities than in years gone by. Sandringham and the Norfolk Lavender Visitors' Centre are close by. Many of these naturally have seasonal variations in their opening times. On a clear day, if you feel like driving, there are stunning views to be had along the coastal road from Hunstanton to Cromer. Our daughter travelled on to Sheringham to visit friends at the end of our stay - a journey of about 1 hour.
=== In My View ===
We did really enjoy both stays: we wouldn't have returned for that second visit had we not enjoyed the first! The staff were always polite, warm and helpful, although at times we felt they were stretched during the April stay. One or two small things went wrong, like the time taken to bring coffee to us one evening. Overall the facilities and food were very good but not quite outstanding, although I think perhaps we are not particularly assertive customers and therefore didn't always give them the opportunity to rectify things - for instance, it was indicated that we could ask for help with the internet connection in our room, but we didn't bother. On our return home we found that the obligatory evaluation questionnaire had already arrived, so we expressed some of our minor dissatisfactions in there.
I noticed that, despite it being the Easter holidays, there seemed to be few families staying at the hotel. Those I did see generally had only very small children with them. I feel that the Boathouse would probably be more suitable accommodation for families than the main hotel. The option of taking meals at the Ancient Mariner, with its air of informality, might also better suit them.
Would we visit again? Yes we certainly would, although I have to admit I would be less keen to stay in the Boathouse - there were pros and cons with it. My main reason was that I found the bed far more comfortable when we stayed in the main hotel! I love the location, with the freedom to walk down to the beach whenever you choose. The hotel has a professional but warm and friendly atmosphere. In some hotels I find it hard to relax and be myself - not so here. It's not perfect but that's not what I look for in a hotel. I would much rather feel welcome, comfortable and at home. All things considered, this hotel did that so for me it's a four-star rating. Recommended - I suggest keeping an eye open for special deals but I fear they will mainly be out of season.
Thank you for reading my review, especially if you've stuck it through to the end!
It may appear on other sites.
©Verbena, April 2013
Summary: A lovely short break at the sea-side.
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