by John O'Ceallaigh, The Telegraph, March 17, 2017
Wilderness Reserve guests arriving by train at nearby Darsham will find complimentary transfers on standby for their arrival, and the luckiest visitors of all will be those greeted by the estate's green 1970 Rolls Royce Phantom, complete with built-in cocktail bar for gin and Dubonnets en route to their temporary Suffolk abode.
A short drive through bucolic Suffolk countryside, the newest residence of all is The Walled Garden, a Victorian-inspired half-glass, half-brick house complete with eight bedrooms, roll-top baths and a kitchen and dining area fit for gatherings of bacchian proportions.
The House: Wilderness Reserve is a collection of self-catered cottages and houses on a 5,000-acre estate, which is surrounded by woodland, features Capability Brown-designed parkland and has as its grandest exclusive-use property the handsome Sibton Park manor house. This latest property has been restored in what was the estate’s original walled garden – the house now sits where the gardeners’ bothies would have been. The redesign even followed original planting schemes.
A brick wall bisects the house, one side of which is made up of sloping glass ceilings and walls (a modern take on a traditional glasshouse inspired by British architect Sir John Soane). Though open plan, this half of the building is divided into three sections: a games room, kitchen and lounge (complete with TV that is about as high as I, at 5'4'', am tall). At the end of this month, the addition of a sauna and private hot tub at the bottom of the garden will round out the offering. Guests can also use the estate’s communal sunken pool and hot tub.
The style is glossy country living without the tweeness. It’s a savvy combination of high- and mid-brow styling: John Lewis cable-knit rugs and bright Anthropology parlour chairs sit beside unique features such as handmade velvet cushions and auction house finds. The centrepiece is in the beamed entrance hall: flanked by stone fireplaces is a bespoke American walnut tree-trunk table with 16 leather safari chairs. It calls for late-night revelry.
The kitchen has all the facilities you might need, including induction hobs, toasters, a slow cooker, food processor, lovely Leigh Asiatic crockery, a dishwasher and plenty of fridge and freezer (including wine fridge) space. A welcome hamper of local goodies includes the likes of sourdough, butter, pork pies, charcuterie and cheese. You can order Waitrose deliveries in advance of your arrival (which will be unpacked), or book a private chef who can prepare everything from a barbecue to a formal dinner.
The location: Lots of activities – such as cycling, clay-pigeon shooting and boating – can be arranged on site. Venture outside the reserve, however, and you’ll find top dining spots such as Darsham Nurseries restaurant and farm shop (2.5 miles away) which serves colourful European and Middle Eastern-style small plates of the finest meat, fish and vegetables. Those looking for classy pub fare should book a table at Michelin-recommended The Unruly Pig (19 miles away), a gastropub which dates back to the 16th century. For day trips visit the pretty seaside towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold.
What to expect: In reality, the house is much bigger than it appears in photos. There is ample space for everyone, even when full. Due to its size and the abundance of glass, heat controlling can be an issue though this is rectified in winter with extra heaters, and in summer you can open all of the doors. Service is hands-off so you can be left completely to your own devices, though someone is on hand 24/7 in case of any problems. Newspaper delivery, fire-lighting and daily cleaning come as standard.
Come warmer weather, outdoor dining is possible
Standout feature: The architecture. It is especially picturesque when the sun is out and the whole of the glasshouse bathes in golden light.
Not so keen: The lack of bathrobes and slippers were noticeable, especially in winter, as the floors in the main areas are stone. Bath oil or salts would also have been handy.
The rooms: Eight comfy double bedrooms sleep 16 – all but two have roll-top baths. The two rooms off the entrance hall have split-level, gabled bathrooms; the open master bedroom has a huge sunken tub and shower. A proportion of the guest rooms are grouped in twos, with their own entrance – great for those who want extra privacy. The property can also be booked along with the neighbouring Garden Cottage which sleeps up to 12 people (including a room with triple bunk beds for six children).
The house sleeps 16 in eight comfy double bedrooms
Who it’s good for: Big groups of friends and families. Children are welcome (though there are lots of freestanding vases). Small dogs are allowed.
Wedding ready? Wedding ceremonies and parties can be hosted at Sibton House. All Wilderness properties can be booked as wedding accommodation.
Getting there: The nearest train station is Darsham, a 10-minute drive away. Trains leave from London Liverpool Street (one change in Ipswich). Driving from London takes approximately 2.5 hours.
Cost and how to book: Rates at the Wilderness Reserve Walled Garden (020 7484 5700; ) start from £1,628 per night based on a three-night stay. There is a seven-night minimum stay over Christmas and New Year, from £11,830. Garden Cottage starts from £645 per night (three-night stay) or £4,140 for a seven-night Christmas stay.