Resident gin lover and You & Your Wedding digital writer Alyson Lowe jumped at the chance to try out the tantalisingly titled ‘Ultimate Valentine’s Experience for Gin Lovers’. Comprising of an alcohol-laden cocktail masterclass at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery followed by a five-course meal and overnight stay at The Vineyard, a five-star hotel in Newbury, this luxurious weekend certainly didn’t disappoint…
Tucked away in Berkshire and right by the banks of the River Test, the newly opened Bombay Sapphire Distillery is as tranquil as it gets. But, don’t let that fool you: every single bottle of its famous gin is produced on-site. With that in mind, it’s safe to say their cocktail master classes are just that: a master class. As our car pulls up, the distillery’s old Victorian buildings look bright and fresh in the crisp winter light: the perfect contrast to the funky on-site cocktail bar and fresh white master class space. Their piece de resistance is, of course, the botanical glasshouse: like the billowing end of a tuba crossed with a nasturtium, these incredible structures keep the plants needed for the gin’s vital secret ingredients at a perfect temperature. Step inside in mid-February, close your eyes, and you could be on a Greek island…
Despite being an experienced gin consumer, I’d never before got hands-on with the making part… until now. Enter the Bombay Sapphire cocktail master class: alongside a satisfyingly rowdy rabble of fellow gin enthusiasts, we quickly learnt the basics of cocktail making, concocting two delicious creations each under the watchful eye of Pete, bartender extraordinaire. And, if that wasn’t enough, each cocktail experience comes with a complimentary drink in the bar (I opted for a 007-inspired gin martini) leaving us in a blissful late afternoon state before we headed to The Vineyard.
Room for romance
Rooms at The Vineyard are uniquely designed, and hit the perfect balance between fresh, funky styling and sultry sophistication: Christian Grey would definitely approve. Staying in one of their Deluxe Suites, we were treated to lightly-hued interior design with chic coloured details, a balcony looking out onto the gardens, and, most importantly, a glass of wine and a macaron on arrival. In-keeping with the hotel’s luxurious feel, marble features heavily, both in the reception area and in our bedroom’s stunning dark bathroom. There are 49 rooms and suites available – and what’s more, they’re all accessed via a maze of windy corridors and staircases, so you can forget everything you’ve experienced in large chain hotels. If you’re after the ultimate luxury, plump for one of their Californian-styled Deluxe Suites – who doesn’t love a four-poster bed?
As we arrived late, we were lucky enough to find the hotel’s spa entirely to ourselves after hopping downstairs in our fluffy bathrobes. We particularly loved the unusual circular pool and underground sauna, which was all the more exciting with the dark cold night just outside the window. For a pre-wedding pamper, treat yourself to their Darphin facials for an oh-so-healthy glow.
Wine and dine
A feast of delights awaited us in The Vineyard’s stylish restaurant, with a mix-and-match five-course menu on the cards. The restaurant manager helped us choose not only what to sample, but in which order to eat our dishes – while sipping a gin and tonic and nibbling nuts, of course. To start, I tucked into soft-as-butter scallops, followed by a rich pheasant terrine. Next came amazingly presented foie gras with brioche, which was just enough to prepare me for the main event: succulent sea bass with crushed potatoes and chorizo. Somehow, their perfectly balanced portions left room for a sweet treat in the shape of rhubarb and cream. As for the verdict from my other half, ‘this is the best beef I’ve ever eaten,’ sums it up pretty well.
But, it was the hotel’s choice of wine that turned a great meal into something truly special. Every course came accompanied with its own specially chosen wine – each of which were conveniently tagged around the base, so we could remember what they were. As if by magic, we transformed into wine connoisseurs, sniffing, swirling and swilling our wines like professionals! To top it all off, we sipped tea by the log fire before treading upstairs to bed with very happy tummies.
Let’s get married
Not just a romantic retreat, the hotel is a dab hand at weddings, too. From small and intimate celebrations to a larger exclusive hire do, The Vineyard promises a tailor-made wedding that lives up to every one of its five stars. The staff really are experts at what they do – professional enough to know every detail of every meal, yet still friendly enough to chat about their day. If it was down to us, we’d host a sunny summer wedding in their garden filled with their signature cuisine, then head to the distillery for recovery drinks the following day.
Everything: the food, the wine, the room; it was all heavenly at The Vineyard. As for Bombay Sapphire, we’re already looking at booking our return visit.
We don’t love
The simple fact that we were only there one night: we’re already planning a return visit…
Book a Bombay Gin Break, which includes a gin workshop, five-course meal and a one-night stay at The Vineyard, from £238 per person. Visit the-vineyard.co.uk for more details.