ISLINGTON-BY-THE-SEA. That’s what I was told about Southwold. Two chambers of my heart sank at the thought of weekender metropolitan types invading a docile Suffolk seaside town with their truffle-eating ways. The other two chambers leaped for joy — there’ll be people like me there! It’ll be like a coastal home from home!
Driving through the pretty little streets, all pastel-hued cottages, I haven’t spotted any of my ilk by the time I find The Swan, a 35-room hotel that has been standing in one form or another since the 14th-century. Everyone looks normal, in the best possible sense. However, The Swan, which has undergone a multimillion-pound refurb with the help of design studio Project Orange, has pitched itself well beyond the ordinary. Our ‘Fabulous’ room (none are described as less than ‘Excellent’ here) is modern with just a whiff of seaside styling. Giant ‘Outstanding’ rooms are a lush kaleidoscope of colours with four-poster beds.
The Swan is owned by the brewer Adnams, which has its main, very substantial, brewery discreetly tucked away out back. My pal and I make swift work of the excellent complimentary bottle of gin (discernible notes of the sea, FYI) before afternoon tea, which consists of a tower of delicious little cakes.
USP: Besides elegance and comfort (my hungover companion later describes his mattress as like sleeping on the blubbery belly of a colossally cosy whale), it’s all about the booze and food here. The beer (great stuff) is Adnams, the spirits (ditto) are Adnams, and they are poured with — if you’re going the whole hog — a chef’s six-course tasting menu (£65). Seated in the grand Still Room (there’s also a pubby Tap Room), strewn with lively paintings and bathed in copper-hued light, we are led through an excellent mini-banquet of local, seasonal produce. It’s gently experimental fare (scallops come with sweetcorn, apple and a pistachio tuille), with huge applause going to the best venison I’ve ever eaten.
Who goes there? Unassuming city folk with disposable cash looking for a low-key but lovely getaway. And equally unshowy Middle Englanders splashing out on a special weekend.
Venture out: Much like those American places where everyone works at the metal box factory, this is most definitely an Adnams town. It owns all the pubs (The Lord Nelson is the quaintest), runs brewery tours and gin-making lessons, and has the biggest gift shop in town. Hit the pier for traditional pleasures as well as my eccentric highlight of the year: a Heath Robinson-style games arcade where we amusingly fail to cross the motorway with a Zimmer frame. Or ask Holmes (one of The Swan’s butlers) to drive you in his Jag down to the harbour for a bracing RIB powerboat ride out to sea (£26, coastalvoyager.co.uk).
Doubles from £200 B&B theswansouthwold.co.uk