It does great food and excellent cocktails, it’s got beautiful bedrooms, friendly staff and even has a brewery and distillery on site (it’s owned by 147-year-old Suffolk brewer Adnams). Added to that, it’s right in the heart of Southwold, one of Britain’s loveliest seaside towns, so there’s a lot going for the Swan hotel in Southwold and I would wholeheartedly recommend a stay at this most charming of places.
The moment I walked into the room at the Swan I knew I wanted my bedroom at home to look exactly the same. The use of colour and light – a bright rug here, some lovely pictures there – was quirky and fun, and there was the shabby chic charm of colourful chairs, uplit pictures and a wooden dresser packed with essentials such as Nespresso coffee, Tyrells crisps and a complimentary bottle of Adams own Longshore vodka.
The bathroom had full-sized Temple Spa toiletries, a luxurious fast-filling and very deep bath and there was lots of information to read about the hotel so you could fully immerse yourself in its history. The Swan itself dates back hundreds of years, with records of ale being brewed here as far back as 1345 – by determined ‘ale wife’ Johanna de Corby who kept on appearing in court thanks to the crime of selling ale in unmarked measures – and has been owned by Adnams ever since the brewery was founded in 1872.
In spite of its age, the Swan feels very modern thanks to a recent refurbishment, and the well-thought out design of the bedroom continued into the public areas of which there are many, including a lounge, the Tap Room bar and the main restaurant, so you won’t have any problem finding a sofa or secluded spot to enjoy a drink, snack or afternoon tea.
The Swan is the flagship hotel of the historic Suffolk Adnams brewery and there are frequent brewery and distillery tours run from the Visitor Centre at the back of the hotel. I spent a very enjoyable hour on an informal tour with Adnams head distiller John McCarthy working our way through the Adnams range of spirits. Historically brewers (beer) hadn’t been allowed to operate distilleries (spirits) but Adnams changed all that when it opened its Willy Wonka-like shiny new distillery in 2010 and now makes award-winning vodka, gin and whisky, with my current favourites being the lovely Copper House gin and Longshore vodka which recently won top prize at the world’s top spirits awards for the second time – no mean feat.
After all that sampling it was just a few steps to the bar at The Swan and time for some more alcohol-related education, this time in the form of a cocktail-making masterclass from Adnams own mixologist who was great in showing us exactly how to make the perfect caipirinhas and espresso martinis – it was a revelation to me that you could make it with Tia Maria as well as Kahlua (or indeed any coffee liqueur) – so we tried both and worked out our favourites.
Happily refreshed, we had dinner in the Swan’s excellent restaurant, where the clear, well-chosen menu was a great indicator of the quality of the food, with classic dishes given a twist of luxury. Thus the pumpkin soup was made even more special with pappardelle pasta, truffle, torched ragstone goat’s cheese and sorrel while there was also choices of pepper and dill-cured salmon, aged local vension carpaccio and mustard panna cotta – and that was just the starters.
The main dishes included aged ribeye of beef, roasted halibut, Barbary duck breast and free-range pork (there was a separate vegetarian menu) and had we had room for them, the desserts ranged from passion fruit mousse and banana sponge to saffron and honey custard tart and East Anglian cheeses. Instead we ambled happily to bed and slept like logs – our room overlooked the distillery itself so I was worried about the traffic noise in the morning but if there had been any, I slept right through it.
Breakfast the next day was equally sumptuous and I wasn’t allowed to depart without sampling a vast, spicy Bloody Mary, made again with Adams Longshore vodka of which they are justifiably proud. However I wasn’t going far – the pretty town of Southwold is known for the diversity of its independent shops, colourful beach huts and landmarks such as its famous lighthouse and I spent a very pleasant hunting for bargains and even visited Adnams Store and Cafe which has all the drinks range plus some kitchen gadgets and a cafe round the back (where you can enjoy coffee and cake in an old mash tun).
It was with reluctance that I finally left but it made a lasting impression. Anyone who is still under the erroneous impression that a stay in a pub is somehow more downmarket than a boutique hotel has to come to the Swan at Southwold to have their mind changed and for beer and spirits aficianados then a stay here combined with a brewery and/distillery tour is a must. Cheers!
The Swan hotel, Market Place, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6EG
B&B Room rates: Excellent rooms – £200/ night Mon-Thurs, £270 / night Fri-Sun; Fabulous rooms (I stayed in a Fabulous room) £260/ night Mon-Thurs, £320 / night Fri-Sun; Outstanding rooms – £350/ night Mon-Thurs, £420 / night Fri-Sun
Brewery and distillery tours last an hour and a half and cost £20 with discounts for group bookings. Price for cocktail-making classes depends on numbers. Book here or enquire on 01502 727222.