The Harper review: A luxury boutique hotel in the wildest, most beautiful corner of Norfolk

Norfolk’s chicest new hotel has a neighbourly ethos, as Emily Anderson discovered when she paid a visit to The Harper.

Foreign travel being largely on hold for a couple of years has motivated millions of us to do something all too easily neglected: exploring the best of our beautiful island. And right at the top of the list has been Norfolk, whose vast coastline and wide-open skies have inspired poets and artists for centuries, not to mention being hugely popular with dog walkers and birdwatchers. Amid that, the opening of The Harper earlier this year seemed well-timed to pull in urban escapees seeking freedom and fresh sea air — with a few fancy shops and good food thrown in.

Holkham Bay, Norfolk, nearby to The Harper.

The Harper is a boutique, 32-room hotel set within a former glass-blowing factory in the village of Langham. It’s a venture of the Cutmore-Scott family who are well known for their wedding planning company, Bijou, and there are touches around the hotel to honour the family history: Stanley’s, the restaurant, is named after the owner’s grandfather, who was a mechanic in Norwich; the bar, meanwhile, is named Ivy in honour of a grandmother who loved the Norfolk coast.

The philosophy at The Harper is clearly very important to them, and important for guests to embrace — so much so that they’re candid about the fact that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the customer isn’t always right. Don’t expect airs and graces, someone to carry your bags or ask if you need anything every 10 minutes — this is a place that’s all about being refreshing, relaxed and neighbourly: their aim is to ‘treat others as you would have them treat you (with empathy, warmth, and respect)’.

That said, there was always someone around if I had a question (or was in need of some bubbles) but otherwise I was left alone to enjoy my stay — just as I like it. The  rooms — categorised as big, bigger and biggest — all offer the same relaxed, contemporary style, with Irene Forte products and bottled cocktails in the mini bar.

Every space within the hotel was accessible, and the atmosphere is such that we felt comfortable making it your own. Even the spa felt luxuriously private, though that is in part due to current covid restrictions which meant that guests must book a time slot.

Even pets are given a warm welcome: there are towels at the entrance for muddy paws, a roll top bath outside for particularly mucky pups plus treats at the desk. At one point in our stay a four-legged friend (complete with dishevelled family member) popped in for coffee at the bar having just spent three nights at the Deepdale Festival. Not only were both welcomed, there was even a plush velvet dog bed in the corner.

You can order drinks or food to anywhere in the hotel and there are lots of lovely spots to choose from whatever time of day. Breakfast was a definite highlight: one morning we opted for a full English, the other morning it was fruit, yoghurt and granola and a basket of pastries. Later in the day, Ivy’s Bar had an intimate vibe, with a log burner and beautiful arched glass painted windows, while the more informal bar downstairs bar was great for coffees and cocktails.

Head beyond the downstairs bar and you’ll find The Den, a space with a huge corner sofa ideal for lounging, as well as a pool table and wine dispenser. This is definitely the most lively room and where you are more likely to interact with other guests. We enjoyed drinking red wine and playing board games until the early hours.

The Den at The Harper.

With good weather, though, the ultimate spot to have a drink in the hotel was undoubtedly the stylish courtyard, named ‘The Yard’ — surrounded by flint walls, a fig tree, water features, fairy lights and a view of the top of Langham’s 14th-century church.  We headed in to the restaurant for the foodie highlight of the weekend — a Chateaubriand to share at Stanley’s Restaurant — before heading back out, grabbing a blanket, settling in by one of the fire pits and enjoying a nightcap under the stars.

The Harper, Langham, Norfolk — prices start at £190 per night for the Big Rooms. See www.theharper.co.uk for more details.

Things to do

Visit Holkham Beach (voted one of the best in Britain) or go seal spotting at Blakeney Point. If you’re feeling brave you can even take a boat trip in December to witness grey seal pups in the weeks before Christmas.

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point.

If you are anything like our Architecture Editor, you’ll also want to be in close proximity to a country house, and Holkham Hall with its 25,000-acre estate is a fun day out for all the family.

Houghton Hall, also close by, is one of England’s finest Palladian houses built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. You can even brush shoulders with royalty at Sandringham where the estate is now managed by The Prince of Wales.

North Norfolk isn’t just rugged beauty for nature lovers, it does also come with a side of fish and chips. After all, who can resist a little British seaside nostalgia in Cromer? It is famous for the Victorian pier and of course crabbing; visit in May and you can catch the Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival.

For me, though, the key to any great location is clearly boutique shops and brunch stops: that’s where Burnham Market comes in. Slightly unaffectionately dubbed ‘Chelsea-on-sea’,  it’s a bustling village with charming flint cottages, independent shops, delis, renowned pubs, superb restaurants and art galleries. As you can imagine, this is the place that’s become the haunt of tourists and second home owners alike.

For a more relaxed and less showy atmosphere, however, enjoy an afternoon strolling through the higgledy-piggledy courtyards and alleyways of the historic Georgian town of Holt. It’s brimming with antique shops, quirky independent stores and irresistible cafés tucked away.