“ Address: The Green / Long Melford / Suffolk / CO10 9DN / England „
** I know the Lion so well **
Although I have only actually stayed at the Black Lion for one night, I know this hotel really well and have seen almost every room in the place. I used to work for a company that used it as their hotel of choice when colleagues from other countries were visiting and, since I was the person who lived nearest, I was a sort of unofficial taxi service for picking people up in the morning and I also ate there often with visitors (although given the chance, my preference was usually to take them just down the road to a restaurant called Scutchers which was better but more expensive). The staff at the Black Lion are outstanding and on more than one occasion were kind enough to show me round all the rooms that were unoccupied at the time. However, because I lived so near, it was only after I left the company and moved away that I finally got to stay the night.
I've eaten breakfast, lunch and far too many dinners both in the bar and the restaurant. I've also hosted some rowdy business meetings there - if the owners should ever come across this review, they may still remember some vodka tasting sessions that quickly degenerated to lots of hysterical giggling. I was the one booking the hotel on those occasions. As well as colleagues, I've also booked friends into this hotel when we ran out of space to squeeze them into the house we lived in nearby.
** What sort of a hotel is it?**
The Black Lion is a real 'one of a kind' country hotel, located on the green at the north end of the Suffolk village of Long Melford. Long Melford is much loved by antique collectors, American tourists and people who enjoy visiting stately homes and has two such homes on the doorstep. Melford Hall is run by the National Trust and is visible across the green from the hotel and Kentwell Hall is hidden away behind the church. Long Melford is a lovely place with plenty to see although if you live nearby the charm gets a little worn quite quickly. If you are looking for excitement you are in the wrong county.
**Practicalities - Parking and getting in**
The parking at the Black Lion is very limited with just a handful of spaces on the kerb at the front of the hotel, but there's plenty of on-road parking on the road at the side of the hotel or if you can't find a space on the road, all the locals park on the grass near the church.
There are two entrances, both of which involve going up steps so keep that in mind if you struggle with accessibility. My guess is that a wheelchair user might well be able to get in through a back entrance but might not appreciate being treated like a grocery delivery. The side entrance takes you in through the bar and the front entrance delivers you straight into a lobby that's richly decorated and has some of the early signs that this is a bit of a different hotel. There's a hat rack with lots of strange and glamorous hats hanging on it and a large painted rocking horse standing by the staircase. Not also that it's staircases all the way here - no lifts and no ground floor bedrooms. The reception desk has a board with heavy key fobs hanging on it and you sign in by writing in a visitors book. It has the feel of visiting fancy friends in their country abode rather than checking into a hotel.
**Eating and Drinking **
Standing at the reception, you'll find the formal restaurant on your left and the bar and casual restaurant on the right. Apparently the Black Lion was voted 'Best Restaurant in Suffolk" in 2006 - an achievement that had me searching to find out WHO voted it that accolade because I know many better restaurants in the area. The Black Lion isn't bad at all but I struggle to believe it's the best.
Prices are around 20% higher in the restaurant where you'll find thick table cloths and gleaming cutlery and sparkling glasses. A particular oddity of the Black Lion restaurant are the bizarre pickled fruit centrepieces on each table. If you prefer something less formal you can either sit at the sofas in the drinking area or on stools at the bar, or eat in the bar/restaurant area, choosing your food off chalk boards on the walls. There's generally a good choice of local meats, fish from the Suffolk or Norfolk coastline and a couple of veggie options. Portions tend to be generous and come with plenty of extras.
Breakfast is served in the bar and is particularly impressive but much more intended to holiday makers with time to linger over their cooked-to-order delicacies and not busy business people who need to get to the office. In my taxi-ing days I frequently lost my temper at how late all the people I was collecting always were because they would plan to spend 10 minutes over breakfast and then stay for 30-40, leaving me tapping my toes in frustration.
Up the stairs and you come to the rooms which are laid out over two floors with the most impressive ones at the very top. I forget the exact figure but I recall being told that the refurbishment of the 'honeymoon suite' set the hotel back by more than £25000. This is a hotel that really wants to do things as splendidly as they possibly can.
All of the rooms have names rather than numbers and are named after types of wine, some more pronounceable than others. Pity the guest who can't pronounce their wine - thank goodness they avoided Gewuertztraminer. The Sancerre is the honeymoon suite and has an impressive canopied bed as well as a separate living room with CD and DVD players. I stayed in the deep red Yquem room which has a four poster bed, is decorated entirely in red and has a beautiful old bathroom. Both the bedroom and bathroom had views over the village green. My room had lovely toiletries including delightfully smelly hand made soaps. One of the rooms even has a separate connected room with bunk beds and is ideal for families.
**What's the damage?**
Rack rates for the hotel are not cheap - ranging from £150 to £195 per night. However, single occupancy is charged at about 60% of double and many local businesses have specially negotiated corporate rates. I paid around £65-70 for my room.
**What you won't find at the Black Lion **
There's no gym or pool or any of the things you might take for granted in city hotels and probably no wifi either - but if you need exercise you'll find some excellent walking in the area, can go for a run or better still, give up on all that exercise nonsense and curl up with a glass of wine and play scrabble in the bar. As I mentioned there's no lift but who needs such practical things - after all, there's a rocking horse! Most hotels can't boast one of those. You know it makes sense and a bit of indulgence and relaxation is great therapy.
Alternative hotels to consider if the Black Lion is full include The George in Cavendish which used to be lovely but has changed ownership since I moved away so I can't be sure what it's like now, or the Swan in Lavenham if you have money to burn.
** Ideal For.......... **
..........romantic country weekends, somewhere to propose to the man/woman you love, perfect for a special anniversary
..........antique hunters who don't mind splashing out on a good hotel
..........Americans - it's just SO quaint, they'll be telling their friends for years
..........Families - the family room with bunk bed annexe is a great bargain
..........Stately home lovers
..........you can't cope with stairs
..........you are on a diet and don't want to be tempted
..........you need to leave REALLY early - breakfast isn't served until 7.30 am on weekdays and you can't really rush it.