As the English summer approaches I’ve been on the search for a stay with something special. If you travel as much as I do then hotel stays can often blur together. Soft white sheets, exceptional service, delicious food – I’m a lucky lady to visit so many beautiful places but I must admit, I’m always searching for something a little extra.
When I read about ‘A West Sussex Gin Journey’ it sounded like just the thing I was looking for. An overnight stay in a country hotel coupled with a tour of a gin distillery and a tasting. The Spread Eagle Hotel & Blackdown Distillery are two family-owned businesses in Sussex who have come together to raise a glass to the British art of gin making and I couldn’t wait to join them!
Set in the heart of historic Sussex, The Spread Eagle is a real hidden gem. As we approached, the hotel’s sign swung in the county breeze and the sun lit up the wisteria climbing the walls of the courtyard – it was picture perfect.
It takes around 50minutes to get the train from London Waterloo before a short taxi ride to the hotel. So if you’re looking to escape the city for a weekend then the market town of Midhurst is the perfect destination. From the local antiques and tea shops to the South Downs National Park, the town is a stone’s throw away from some lovely country walks and fun day trips. Best of all, it’s full of fresh air!
I was staying in The Egremont Room which was like something out of a fairytale! The four poster bed looked fit for a princess and the room was decorated with traditional paintings, antique vases, vintage furniture and beautiful books. So I did what princesses do… I opened a mini bottle of champagne and drank it in my four poster bed whilst I read my book.
After a delightfully peaceful afternoon I put on my dress and heels for dinner. Before we were seated we visited the bar for cocktails – gin of course! The Spread Eagle’s Gin Bar has more than 55 different gins (some more unusual than others) and 12 different tonics on offer. My favourite was a strawberry cocktail mixed with Blackdown Gin, local mead and a strawberry liqueur made from wild fruits picked by the distillery owner’s children.
There were six of us dining together and we had a lovely evening chatting about gin cocktails, the countryside and our latest travels. We enjoyed a delicious three-course supper of locally-sourced seasonal dishes and, of course, all of the courses were inspired by gin. My favourite had to be the starter of smoked gin-cured salmon with crème fraiche, baby capers and mixed leaf salad.
In the morning I woke up early to make the most of my surroundings. I went for a swim in the pool, relaxed in the sauna and then treated myself to waffles with maple syrup as I read a newspaper with a coffee. Mornings don’t get better than that do they?
At around midday we were driven to Blackdown Distillery for our tour. It’s set at the foot of Blackdown Hill in the South Downs National Park and was just a few minutes’ drive from the hotel. In addition to Sussex Dry Gin, the distillery produces Silver Birch Vodka and Silver Birch Vermouth – all in small, artisan batches.
The distillery really was charming – especially inside. There were copper cauldrons, bottles of spirits and jars of spices dotted around the place. It felt a little like a spells class straight out of Hogwarts! Sarah, the friendly founder of Blackdown, gave us a tour of the distillery and made us these beautiful G&Ts garnished with edible flowers. For an instagram-addict like me it was the perfect drink – photogenic and delicious!
After our tour we had a special tasting and learnt about the unique silver birch sap that makes this gin so distinct. To help us identify the taste we were offered a cube of frozen sap. When I sucked on the ice cube it tasted quite watery at first but left a rich botanical aftertaste just like in the gin.
I love a good G&T (I mean who doesn’t) but I had never thought to learn more about gin. Wine tastings and vineyard tours are very popular but you rarely see the same for spirits so I really enjoyed having such a unique insight into the gin-making process.
We left with a gin-blending kit each to put our new-found knowledge to good use. The weekend inspired me to buy this Gin & Tonic drink stirrer too – isn’t it cute! Now I have everything I need to make the perfect G&T right at home.
After the tour we returned to the hotel for a scrumptious afternoon tea. Not being one to turn down a lemon meringue pie I filled up my plate with sweet treats and poured myself a cup of white apricot tea – it was the perfect end to our weekend in West Sussex.
If you want to learn more about the wonderful world of gin then I can’t recommend this trip enough! And if you’re just looking to escape the city for a weekend with something a little extra special then you will love what The Spread Eagle have to offer.
From £339. Price includes overnight accommodation in a Traditional Room on a B&B basis, a three course dinner, gin cocktail, gin tasting tour at Blackdown Distillery, return transport and a gin blending kit. Available to book from 1 June – 30 September, subject to availability. To book: www.hshotels.co.uk