Combining culture with a cosy weekend away

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Feeling fed up with the daily grind and longing for a little R&R in a luxurious setting, with a little culture thrown in as a bonus?

Then listen up, dear reader – the solution is at hand.

Barnham Broom Hotel just outside Norwich

Barnham Broom Hotel just outside Norwich

It may sound an unlikely combination but trust me, I’ve tried it. And it works.

Just a couple of hours up the A11 is a hotel that offers five star service at affordable prices . . . and 10 minutes from there is a boutique gallery situated, bizarrely, on the University of East Anglia campus in Norwich.

I’m talking about Barnham Broom – a hotel with championship golf, Espa and a chef to rival the capital’s finest – together with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Barnham Broom nestles in 300 acres of beautiful Norfolk countryside.

Behind a Glass Door by artist Phil Harris

Behind a Glass Door by artist Phil Harris

The rooms are fabulously well-appointed with Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom and beds so inviting I was tempted to slip twixt the white linen sheets and sleep for a hundred years – so yes, I really was needing a break.

But if you’re the active type, the Edge Health & Fitness Club and two championship golf courses are on your doorstep – which is just as well, because the food is so scrumptious you’ll want two helpings of everything.

I also had one of the best massages of my life at the inhouse Espa.

Turning to matters cultural, it was my first visit to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and and I’m now a total convert.

For a start there are two Henry Moores adjacent to the building which is so high tec it’s mind blowing – climate-controlled gallery spaces kept at optimum temperature for the precious works of art displayed therein and blinds that activate as soon as the sun reaches a certain trajectory.

Designed by Norman Foster and opened in 1978, it’s a fairly stark prefabricated modular structure formed around a steel framework which houses the permanent Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection in the Living Area Gallery.

This includes major works from Oceania, Africa, the Americas, Asia, the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe, as well as significant examples of European modern art – Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Francis Bacon, Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Amedeo Modigliani are all represented.

There are lots of little spots where visitors are encouraged to sit and contemplate the glory around them, read a book or simply enjoy some quiet time.

There was a noisy children’s workshop taking place in the basement when we were there which was a joy to see – and hear.

The gallery hosts several exhibitions every year. The next opens on September 27 and runs until March.

Entitled REALITY: Modern and Contemporary British Painting, it brings together more than 50 works celebrating the best and most influential artists of the last 60 years.

Although ‘art’ now includes mediums such as photography, film and installation, REALITY is all about the painting and focuses on famous names like Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Walter Sickert, Ken Currie, George Shaw and Caroline Walker among many others.

The gallery has a coffee bar and Modern Life Cafe, which offers delicious healthy food from around the area. Don’t miss the Alder Tree Gooseberry and elderflower fruit cream ice – it’s to die for.

Norwich is also well worth a visit.

So next time you’re needing a bit of R&R not to far from home, follow the instructions above and you’ll come back refreshed and rejuvenated . . . I promise.

> For more information about Barnham Broom visit www.barnham-broom.co.uk and for the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts go to www.scva.ac.uk