Jill Nash shares her top three grape-themed escapes.
Secret Valley, Somerset
Secret Valley is sat in the fertile hilly landscape of Quantock Hills, an authentic 400-acre organic farm. Couples who enjoy a spot of cool camping will love the tranquillity of this peaceful spot.
On arrival, you’ll be given a helpful welcome pack and if you forget anything, fear not, the evening buggy will drive around between 5-6 pm, stocking you up with wine, coal for your fire, cider and marshmallows. Each yurt, wigwam or shepherd’s hut is thoughtfully furnished with cosy blankets and mood lighting, there’s a fully equipped kitchen for making a homemade meal too. If you fancy a spa treatment, head to the natural pamper pod, where you can indulge in a 60-minute, full-body massage or a Thai foot massage to stretch out those tired, lower legs.
Quantock receives fewer visitors than neighbouring Dartmoor, making the area ideal for bikers, hikers and those in search of deserted trails. Next door to Secret Valley, there’s a separate business Black Rock Outdoors, an activity centre where you can test your nerve on the high ropes course or bond over water zorbing. It’s ideal for couples seeking peace, nature and a spot of outdoorsy adventure.
Secret Valley has five acres of vineyard growing five varieties of grapes: Pinot Noir, Rondo, Orion, Solaris and Reichensteiner (producing their first crop in 2010), which can all be tasted by visitors. A rather informal DIY experience, and the cost is only £5 per person, it represents excellent value for money tasting some great homegrown grapes.
After sampling the wine, head back to your Scandinavian wigwam, fire up your hot tub, spark up the fire pit, pour yourselves another glass and watch the sunset over the rolling hills. Sounds clichéd? Yes, but it hits the romantic button.
Accommodation in a Hill View wigwam with a hot tub is from £145 for two guests per night. Includes two complimentary buckets of wood for the wood-fired hot tub and a bottle of Secret Valley wine, visit secret-valley.co.uk
The Vineyard Hotel, Berkshire
Home to Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year 2019, and six other sommeliers from around the world, the five-star Vineyard Hotel set in Newbury (an hour west from London) is a small, private property. The intimacy of this hotel means that all guests interact with a sommelier during their time here. While this hotel isn’t physically sat on a vineyard, it’s the perfect retreat for gourmands and wine enthusiasts. There are delectable wine dinners on offer and the impressive cellar is not called the ‘temple of wine’ without good reason. They have a mouthwatering range of English wines from progressive vineyards, such as Camel Valley in Cornwall and Exton Park in Hampshire, which the sommeliers are very passionate about.
Entering the hotel is an astonishing visual feast. The strong scents of lavender and wild rosemary lead you into the doorway littered by an enviable art collection and then, of course, the striking wine vault with 30,000 bins visible through the polished glass floor. The double doors of the cellar then lead into the Judgment of Paris room, where you can marvel at the famous artwork and join a wine discovery experience, costing from £30 per person.
The real highlight of a stay here is to re-live the controversial 1976 blind-tasting dinner and compare the French and Californian wines for yourself. Using specialised knowledge, the hotel has recreated a Judgement of Paris dinner package, costing £184 per person. Each course of the seven-strong dinner is paired with two wines – one Californian, one French – and there are a couple of completely blind tastings thrown in too, served in black glasses to allow you really to test your knowledge. After a short introduction by the sommelier, and paper placemats to turn over after the end of each choice to see how you rate each wine, its incredible fun, but be careful that discussions with your partner don’t end up too heated!
Finally, The Vineyard Hotel has a splendid spa. The relaxing garden with cosy loungers is where you can wrap up in a robe and snooze off the effects of the wine tasting from the night before. If you fancy it, take a light afternoon tea or top up the alcohol levels with a bottle of champagne.
Accommodation and breakfast are priced from £255 based on two guests, visit the-vineyard.co.uk
Longueville Manor Hotel (& La Mare Wine Estate), Jersey
Longueville Manor is sheer indulgence. A sympathetically restored manor house offering inspiring menus, a boutique spa with a bubbling hot tub, scented wild woodland gardens perfect for long walks, and a world-class, wine-tasting cellar. It’s no wonder this place is one of Europe’s most popular getaways, and with Jersey becoming a notable spot for wine and gastronomy, the destination is a fine choice for a weekend escape.
A 30-minute drive from Longueville Manor, you can find Jersey’s most celebrated wine estate, La Mare. You can take an expert-guided tour around the ancient orchards and go behind the scenes of the distillery, where you’ll enjoy a variety of exclusive La Mare wines and walk through the production kitchen watching chocolate making, prices from £10.50 per person.
Back at Longueville Manor, guests can find the state-of-the-art wine cellar stocking up to 4,000 bottles, which also works as a small museum holding a unique display of very rare and valuable wines. The cellar showcases a collection of Burgundy wines, ten vintages of the prestigious Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru, including the very rare 1986. Arguably, it is one of the finest private wine collections in the world. A basic introduction to wine tasting, including a tour of the cellar and three whites and three reds from New Zealand, Chile and Portugal, lasts 1.5 hours and costs £50 per person.
Fine dining in the 15th-century Oak Room is an intimate experience, with only a few tables serving couples in a formal setting. The wine list stretches over 60 pages and is an epic novel in itself. If you wanted to splash out, the most expensive bottle from the list is a 1953 Bordeaux produced by Chateau Gruaud Larose at an eye-watering £4,250 per bottle, or you can opt for a more modest local Sainte Marie wine from La Mare.
If you extend your stay, then set sail to one of the other Channel Islands or hop over to France on the hotel’s exclusive private luxury yacht – the Fizz Too. A full-day charter includes a seafood lunch with dessert, whilst a half day offers a selection of snacks. Both full and half days include Champagne and wine (of course). A steward service is included, with prices starting at £1,400; it’s not cheap, but worth every penny.
Accommodation is from £127 per room per night for bed and breakfast in a classic double room, visit longuevillemanor.com