Stylist contributor Mandie Gower discovers why everyone who’s anyone is heading to the town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast
I have nothing against north London. Truly. Some of my best friends live there. Yet as a lifelong south Londoner who has just driven three hours in search of sea air and quiet countryside, ‘Welcome to Little Islington!’ was not the greeting I was expecting.
I’m in Southwold, Suffolk, one of the UK’s most popular seaside towns. At first glance it’s a world away from the buzzy scene and bus-clogged arteries of the chi-chi north London enclave. But don’t be fooled by the candy coloured beach huts and quintessentially English tearooms. Trad little Southwold is a hotspot, with a long history of celebrities, intellectuals and, yes, wealthy Londoners in Hunters making it their second home. It’s not unusual to see a Hollywood name in a local restaurant, nor eye-watering prices in estate agents’ windows. A ‘humble’ beach hut recently commanded a £120,000 tag.
The latest high-roller in town is our destination: The Swan, a boutique hotel with its own brewery and distillery. Recently given a £4.5million face lift, the Georgian coach house now presides over the market square like a glamorous dinner party hostess at the head of the table. Inside it’s a gloriously Instagrammable riot of shade and comfort, with sumptuous velvet sofas, contemporary copper fixtures, and an invigorating colour palette that makes my heart sing every time I enter a room.
Equally joyous is the news that we have a butler, Holmes, who charms us with his local knowledge and chauffeuring offer. So, tempting as it is to flop on our large four poster bed and cosy up with Apple TV (and complimentary bottle of gin), we head to Southwold’s traditional-with-a- twist pier. Take plenty of change for the bonkers amusement arcade full of homemade machines. From there, we walk to Walberswick, a chocolate-box hamlet straight out of a Richard Curtis film. “Oh yes, he lives up the road,” says Holmes.
For many, though, the real star of Southwold is Adnams, the family-run brewery that owns The Swan and has been the lifeblood of the town since 1872. It now produces not just beer but vodka and gin too, and after a mooch along the largely independent high street, we join a gin distillery tour. One tasting session later (the aromatic Copper House Dry Gin, crowned best gin in the world a few years ago, gets my vote too), it’s not just the booze talking when we promise to return for the Make Your Own Gin workshop.
Luckily, the food at The Swan is both excellent and plentiful. The tasting menu (£65 for six courses) is brilliant value and not without its quirks – mains include beer-glazed mackerel with smoked yolks, and butter is served on a beach pebble (unfortunately resembling an old jacket potato). But then that’s Southwold – and The Swan – for you. Stylish yet authentic. Refined yet eccentric. Old-world charm with modern metropolitan comforts. No wonder north London’s champagne socialists want in.