Living in Norfolk used to mean driving an hour and a half south to Cambridge for shopping and another hour to London for a decent meal. Now, thanks to a few newly minted design hotels and restaurants—not to mention rustling fields and a sandy coastline—this fairly forgotten county has become a rural respite for city sophisticates.
Near the regional capital of Norwich, a London architecture firm has turned two 18th-century farmhouses into the Quaker Barns & Hall (Haveringland; 44-1386/701-177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk; from $1,400 per week; sleeps up to eight guests), a serene refuge with contemporary flair. The designers have retained old-world Dutch gables and exposed beams while adopting modern elements such as glass roof pantiles, granite counters, and green-oak cladding. The Victoria (Holkham; 44-1328/711-008; www.victoriaatholkham.co.uk; doubles from $220; dinner for two $95), owned by Viscount and Viscountess Coke, stands on the grounds of the coastal Holkham Estate. Its 11 rooms are done up in a "manor house meets the Raj" motif by the viscountess and interior designer Miv Watts (mother of actress Naomi). The inn's chef, Neil Dowson, formerly of the Savoy hotel, serves simple local shellfish as well as beef and venison raised on the estate. Pine-fringed Holkham Beach, one of Britain's best, is just a five-minute walk from the front door.
In the nearby Georgian village of Burnham Market, Watts's housewares are for sale at House Bait I (Market Place; 44-1328/730-557). Just across the green, Chef Andrew McPherson creates Asian-European fusion dishes, such as crisp duck confit with sweet plum dressing, at the Hoste Arms (The Green; 44-1328/738-777; dinner for two $80). Meals are presented in a circa-1530 dining room or under a pergola in the garden.
Galton Blackiston, one of England's top country chefs, serves farm-fresh food—pan-fried wild salmon with samphire (a parsley-like green), roast lamb with braised fennel and ratatouille—at Michelin-starred Morston Hall (Morston; 44-1263/741-041; www.morstonhall.com; dinner for two $122), five miles from the town of Holt. For a more rustic experience, pick up provisions at Bakers & Larners of Holt (8-12 Market Place; 44-1263/712-244), a block-long general store packed with British delicacies such as Stilton-and-Guinness pâté and farmhouse cheddar. Then find a picnic spot along the placid Norfolk Broads (rivers) or among the yellow-and-green-quilted fields near town.