Where is it?
Southwold, a pretty Victorian seaside town on the Suffolk coast, which is just like any other English seaside town only without the, erm, crap. The delicious smell of chips wafts on the air but there are no doner kebab outlets, no tawdry candy floss, no filthy streets, no clunky day-trippers. Just kooky design stores, old-school chemists, artisan bakers and a huge kitchen-cum-booze shop courtesy of local brewers Adnams. You might even buy something.
Why so lovely?
According to Holmes, our butler, The Swan was once the sort of place you’d walk straight by without a second glance let alone a third. Not now. Someone very clever with design has transformed it into something that has all the clever mid-century touches – graphic wallpaper, Ercol-esque furniture – without crowding out the loveliness of the old-school English inn. The salon has huge gem-coloured sofas by an open fire under a portrait of a local aristo from goodness-knows-which century and just the use of colour in the main spaces and the rooms is extraordinary, if that doesn’t sound too wanky.
Apart from the surprise that what looks like a regular village pub from the outside is so spacious and smart inside, your first impression is of how friendly everyone is, in a totally relaxed way. Within minutes our cases have been whisked, champagne has been opened, a mini-tour of the warren-like ground floor conducted all with the sort of warmth you’d expect from your Auntie Jean.
And the accommodations?
Up the crooked stairs (we actually work out there are at least four ways of getting to our room), along a corridor looking over the brewery and a lighthouse and some sea, is a room that has picked up on all the mid-century design features downstairs: wallpaper, cosiness, pieces of cake in the cabinet where the coffee machine is stashed. The bathroom is a bit poky but it does have a real window and we do have that view of the lighthouse.
You get a choice of two spaces. Less formal is The Tap Room out the back, with its choice of 12 Adnams beers, but don’t go thinking this is just some back-of-the-pub set-up: it’s smart and cool with powder blue banquettes, old-world tiling and curated clutter as befits a menu that mixes prawn bisque and chalk stream smoked trout with lobster and steak burgers. In The Still Room, done out in navy and gold and bronze with huge gin still mechanickery turned into light fittings, expect the likes of curry spice monkfish, seared yellowfin tuna and duck breast with fennel. Oh and don’t skip cocktails. We even got to make our own. Or muddle them. Or something.
What is there to do?
Take a walk down on the beach, where they have those sugared almond-coloured beach huts and a mini-pier with craft shops. Spend time in that Adnams store and the other cool little boutiques, like the one just opposite The Swan that has a capsule collection of gorgeous things. Or drive out to Aldeburgh and visit The Red House, which composer Benjamin Britten shared with his lover Peter Pears.
And it’s not too late for Christmas!
A special three-day package has been lovingly crafted including festive afternoon teas, meals, movie nights, gifts from Collen & Clare (one of those local actually-hip shops we mentioned) waiting outside your door, proper Christmas lunch, live music… Think of it as a house party but you don’t know anyone enough to hate them. Perfect! The package is from £1,750 per room for the three days.