Anchored to the Adnams brewery and distillery, The Swan Southwold is a lively cocktail of Georgian architecture, modern maritime style and award-winning booze. Part of the town for hundreds of years, this historic hotel and brewery survived fire and financial ruin before coming together to offer a unique (and free flowing) form of hospitality. Ocean blues, nautical artwork and weathered antiques ensure the hotel’s got plenty of coastal character, but a complete refurbishment saw them infused with bold, bright colours and copper details borrowed from the distillery next door. Sample the best of Suffolk’s fields and waters and sip all things Adnams, leaving the rest to your butler, who can arrange everything from restaurant bookings to brewery tours.
Double rooms from £183.75, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates usually include the hotel’s à la carte breakfast. Keep things light with pastries and fruit from the Continental buffet, or go hearty with a Full English, made with bacon and sausages sourced by nearby farms. Eggs can be done however you like them.
If you’re wondering why the hotel has Georgian exteriors when it’s over 400 years old, it’s because it was completely destroyed – along with most of the town – in Southwold’s great fire of 1659.
Outstanding Rooms offer serious leg room, with space for a separate lobby, living area and a king- or superking-size bed. The Fabulous Rooms around the garden are the only ones without four-poster beds, so you might want to ask for a different room if you’ve got your heart set on sleeping in one.
Don’t forget your cycling gear – you can bring your own bike or hire one at the hotel; just ask your butler to arrange it.
All the common areas are wheelchair accessible, and there’s a lift to all floors. Room 47 is specially adapted, and has a wet room shower with a fixed seat.
Pets can stay for an extra fee of £10 a stay, paid at check-out. Dogs aren't allowed in public areas, only in the Garden Rooms. If you don’t want to leave your pooch alone, you’ll need to dine in-room or in the Courtyard (open in the summer). See more pet-friendly hotels in Suffolk.
All ages are very welcome. The hotel run a ‘cygnet’ programme for children, which includes stickers, a postcard from the manager and a teddy bear. There’s a Hamley’s draughts game in each room, and Garden Rooms open onto an enclosed lawn.
The Swan sends its food waste to an anaerobic digester that provides renewable energy for Adnams’ brewing operations, and recycles cardboard and plastics; the housekeeping team use eco-friendly cleaning products. They’re also keen on conservation: the hotel keeps 250,000 bees in hives at Reydon, and many of the staff are regulars at Southwold beach cleans.
We’d go for one of the tables around the outside of the room, where it tends to be a little quieter.
Keep it shipshape with stripes and patterns in white, navy and ocean blue.
The restaurant takes many of its design cues from the distillery next door, the most obvious being the being the gleaming copper bar, which is lit by four still-shaped lamps. Over the tables, lights are hidden inside cases of wine bottles – a nod to Adnams’ wine makers across the channel. The menu is the work of chef Rory Whelan, who’s kept things as local as possible: seafood like scorched mackerel and hand-collected scallops champion the bounty of the local waters; meat offerings like duck breast and pork fillet fly the standard for Suffolk’s fields and fens. You’ll have no trouble finding an appropriate tipple to pair with, either – there’s a lengthy selection of Adnams beers and a wine list curated by the hotel's commercial director, James Davis, who's a certified Master of Wine.
With brewing and distilling happening right on the doorstep, we think it’s fair to say that the Tap Room is the hotel’s heart – in spirit at least. The bar is the most maritime-influenced room in the hotel, complete with dark blue banquettes, bulbs hanging from thick ropes and white tiles emblazoned with nautical symbols. Things are just as impressive behind the bar, too, with 12 gleaming taps dispensing Adnams beer and all of the distillery’s offerings arranged across the shelves. The food is less formal here but cooked with just as much love; try the battered monkfish with triple-cooked chips or the ribeye steak, best paired with the Argentine Malbec.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10.30am; lunch from noon to 2.30pm; dinner from 6pm to 9.30pm. The Drawing Room is open for coffee and cake from 10am to 5pm (afternoon tea is served from 3pm to 5pm).
Breakfast can be served in-room for a small charge. While the restaurant is open, you can order most dishes from the main menu. Sandwiches and drinks are available after hours.
The Swan is on the high street in Southwold, a charming seaside town on the Suffolk Coast.
The closest airport in Norwich, just over an hour’s drive away. Flights touch down there from Manchester, Edinburgh and Exeter. If those aren’t convenient, you’re best off flying to London Stansted Airport, around two hours’ drive from the hotel. The hotel can organise private, one-way transfers for £150 from Norwich or £225 from Stansted.
If you’re by coming by rail, take a train to Ipswich or Norwich, then hop on to a regional service to Darsham, the closest local station. If you’re travelling from London, you might want to get off at Ipswich and have a car take you the rest of the way – the connecting train to Darsham can be unreliable.
Southwold is small enough that you won’t need a car, but having one will make trips along the coast a breeze. If you do want to hire, the Smith24 can arrange it. There’s onsite parking at the hotel, too.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Adnams brewery and distillery has become one of the most eco-friendly and forward-thinking in the country, making a tour worthwhile even if you’ve done a few before. If that isn’t hands-on enough for you, ask your butler to book you onto a gin-making class, held by one of Adnams’ expert gin makers. They’ll guide you through the entire process – from selecting your own choice of botanicals right through to labelling – so you can leave with a bespoke 70cl bottle of your very own gin. If you feel the need to offset your indulgence, join the free yoga class that runs each week (the day and time varies throughout the year). Backed by a row of vibrant beach huts, Southwold beach makes a fine swimming spot from July to September, when a lifeguard is on duty 10am–6pm. The modest waves make it ideal for paddle boarding and surfing lessons too – both can be arranged through the hotel. Another guest favourite is crabbing; those in the know head to Walberswick, a 30-minute walk along the coast. You might want to stop off at the Black Olive Deli along the High Street before you go, as Southwold crabs seem to have Continental tastes, proving partial to salami and Parma ham. If the weather isn’t playing ball, decamp to the Electric Picture Palace, a 70-seat independent cinema that screens a mixture of new art house films and classics. It’s got all the hallmarks of a retro picture house, including a manager in a dinner jacket and a ‘Tiny Wurlitzer’ organ that pipes up during the interval.
For brunch or a light lunch, stop in at the Two Magpies Bakery, who do a roaring trade in artisanal bread, flaky pastries, sourdough toasties and seasonal hotpots. They’re big on provenance and believe people should know what they’re eating, which is one of the reasons you can see right into the business end of the bakery, where the loaves are fired in a four-tiered oven. On Saturdays, the ovens are also used to make sourdough pizza. For the rest of the week, you can do no better than Enzo’s Pizzeria, run single-handedly by its eponymous owner. The Fulham FC memorabilia on the walls attests to Enzo’s other great love affair, but make no mistake, this place only exists because of his raw passion for handmade pizza. Booking is essential and Enzo only accepts cash. Occupying a building that dates from the 1400s, Sutherland House is the place for a really memorable dinner – if you can get a table, that is. The restaurant’s reputation and award-winning meat dishes (their black pudding is famous) mean it often gets booked up weeks in advance.
You won’t find anywhere better for beer or cocktails than the hotel’s own bar.
Southwold is charming year-round, but there’s something particularly appealing about visiting for a pre-Christmas break. For one thing, there are a host of independent shops selling potential presents that you won’t find elsewhere (cosy knits, seaside-themed tree baubles…), a homemade festive fair going on, and numerous bakers and delis selling mince pies and pastries – all of which can be burnt off on a brisk beach walk. The brightly painted beach huts may be safely locked up for the season, but it’s fun to choose what you’d name your own hut and which colour scheme is the best.
When the cold starts to reach its way down the back of your neck, or up a trouser leg, it’s time to withdraw to the shelter of colourful, close-to-the-beach boutique hotel the Swan Southwold, whose tearoom-cum-bar in the front of the building is perfect for people-watching. Aside from guessing who’s got what in their shopping bags, you’ll also have a view of the town’s three Christmas trees, decked in colourful lights. Indoors you can admire the hotel’s own festive fir – one of many – with a crowned swan and other treasures nestled in its branches, while sitting beside a log fire, sipping mulled wine.
While the hotel dates back to the 1600s, it has a luxe, modern feel thanks to its dark-blue walls, velvet furnishings and copper light-fittings. Our garden room is located around the back overlooking a small green space that I imagine is well-used over the summer months. The room is warm and cosy, with a decent-sized double bed covered in cushions and pillows. It’s dominated by a blue cabinet, drawers packed with tea bags, Nespresso coffee pods, biscuits and minibar items, and a Smart TV hidden behind its shutters. As someone who doesn’t own a TV, it’s always a treat to watch one in a hotel (although why is it always Frasier on Channel 4?), and I confess we eschew the town’s many restaurants on Saturday night to stay in for the Strictly Come Dancing finale with facemasks and fresh white robes on, plus treats from Southwold’s Black Olive Delicatessen. We’re delighted by the free homemade biccies and a bottle of Adnams gin (the distillery is next door) to take home as a souvenir, as well as the discount card for some local businesses. Our immaculate bathroom is cosily warm, and the hotel’s anti-single-use plastics policy means big bottles are frequently topped up with Temple Spa toiletries – a great idea – so I slather on face cream without guilt.
Those who enjoy a tipple will feel right at home at the Swan: it's owned by Adnams and is the starting point for their brewery tours. Three are available: wines, beer or gin, and we see various enthusiasts trying samples in their high-vis jackets as we head to and from our room. While we don’t make time for a tour, we do squeeze in a visit to one of the town’s Adnams shops, and take home Southwold-branded beer bottles and prosecco for – grown-up – stocking fillers. (Happily this is one of the aforementioned discounted shops for Swan residents). There are two options when it comes to eating at the Swan – The Tap Room (which is a more casual, pub-style eatery) or the Still Room (which is slightly pricier). We plump for a pub dinner and have delicious triple-cooked chips with battered monkfish. Friday night is busy, but thanks to the layout of the dining room – divided with glass shelves filled with interesting knick-knacks – it still feels intimate. In the morning, breakfasts take place in the elegant Still Room, with a buffet and cooked options. For my money, the veggie breakfast is hard to beat – it combines the best of everything but doesn’t feel too heavy or greasy. If you’re planning a day pottering around the town afterwards, I’d recommend sticking your head into the Sailor’s Reading Room. It’s a sweet space which was once reserved for sailors in need of a break, and now serves as a tiny museum for life on the seas. We love the black-and-white photos of old sea-dogs, as well as the wooden mastheads from ships; it’s free although donations are appreciated. Next, wrap up warm and wander along the seafront to the pier – surely Southwold’s most famous attraction thanks to its quirky Under the Pier arcade designed by Tim Hunkin. Cast aside images of penny-slot machines and grabber cranes: this is equal parts art and entertainment. Test your DNA, get a prescription from the ‘doctor’, see life from a fly’s POV, enter the Booth of Truth or walk a mechanical dog on a treadmill. Each installation has a delightfully homemade feel, while being funny and conveying its own original story. Make sure to bring cash because you’ll want to try them all.
After, walk to the end of the pier to try to spot the Netherlands (spoiler: you won’t), the lighthouse and to read the touching dedications to loved ones embossed onto metal plaques: a heartwarming sight in a chilly season, as is the Swan Southwold on our return.