Long before the discovery of the Americas, the birth of Shakespeare, or Henry VIII’s first romance, the staff of The George and Dragon were pouring pints, just as they do today. Such longevity (the pub boasts it has been “serving ales and fine food since 1446”) would be unique in most places but in Sandwich barely merits a second glance. In fact, so ancient is this small town that you could do a decent pub crawl without visiting any establishment built after 1600.
History is everywhere you look. There’s a gatehouse built in 1385; a ruined chapel from 1250; a 14th-century church; and numerous timber-frame buildings that lean out over the narrow, winding streets. The 8pm curfew bell – to remind medieval residents to release their pigs and geese into the streets to feast on the day’s rubbish – rings out to this day.
Sandwich was once an important port, linked to the sea by the wide River Stour, which provided safe harbour for hundreds of ships. But, by 1500, the Stour had begun silting up, and today it is narrow and muddy, leaving the once-great port marooned two miles inland.
Just beside what was once the bustling quay is The Salutation, brand new by Sandwich standards – having been built in 1912. Surrounded by three-and-a-half acres of walled gardens, it was created by Sir Edwin Lutyens as a weekend retreat for the Farrer family.
Both house and gardens had fallen into disrepair but, in 2004, new owners Dominic and Stephanie Parker began a major restoration project. The gardens were replanted as Lutyens and his collaborator, Gertrude Jekyll, had designed them and, in 2007, were relaunched as a public attraction, The Secret Gardens of Sandwich. Then this spring the grand main house was opened as what might be Britain’s smartest bed and breakfast.
There are eight rooms. Ours is vast, with a 7ft-square “emperor-size” bed, swathed in Egyptian cotton sheets and duck-down duvet. Aside from some slightly naff ornaments from Homebase, it’s the epitome of country-house style, and feels like a private home rather than a hotel. Instead of electronic entry cards, for example, we are given two heavy keys, one for the room, the other for the front door. Instead of a minibar, there are decanters of sherry and whisky. And instead of noisy air conditioning (that wakes you in the night, infuriates you with its unintelligible control panel and ensures you wake dry-mouthed and tetchy) there are two tall sash windows that look out over the ornamental lawns. We wake to birdsong.
Downstairs there is no restaurant or bar, but a lounge full of books, with a grand piano and a well-stocked drinks cabinet – we’re told to help ourselves. Breakfast is served in a light-filled drawing room, tables decked in fresh daffodils and grape hyacinths from the gardens. Some might find The Salutation’s rates rather steep for somewhere with no butlers, barmen or room service; others will think it is a snip for having free run of a Grade 1-listed private house – and its grounds. At 5pm the gardens close to the public; guests can take a moonlit stroll whenever they please.
Knightrider Street Sandwich, Kent CT13 9EW. 01304 619919; www.the-salutation.com. Doubles from £215
The Salutation is five minutes’ walk from Sandwich station. Trains from London St Pancras, via Ashford, take 1hr 45m
Hot holidays: New Balearic bolt-holes
At the foot of the Tramuntana mountains, Castell Son Claret is a 325-acre estate dating back to the 15th century. Bought in 2010 by the German billionaire Klaus-Michael Kühne, it has been restored, and, on Tuesday, opened its doors as a luxury hotel. There are 38 guest rooms within the castellated manor, stables and surrounding houses. Doubles from €220; www.castellsonclaret.com
Traditional, whitewashed, Menorcan farm buildings have been converted to become Torralbenc, a boutique hotel which opened last weekend. There are 25 rooms and two cottages, surrounded by vineyards and 70 acres of private grounds, with beaches just over a mile away. The restaurant is overseen by the award-winning chef Paco Morales. Doubles from €165; www.torralbenc.com
The big news on the island is the opening of Destino – a seaside resort created by Pacha, Ibiza’s most-celebrated nightclub. The 170-room hotel, which opens on June 1, is on top of the cliffs at Cap Martinet, three miles from the historic old town. The focal point is the large pool, surrounded by palm-shaded gardens and an open-air restaurant. Doubles from €300; www.destinoibiza.com