Sunday 7 October 2018

An unforgettable experience with Solent Forts

What is the first thing you think of when you think of luxury hotels?

Decadent rooms? The fluffiest white towels? A fort in the middle of the Solent?

The last one isn't something most people think of but it is a reality, a reality I was able to experience recently which includes just that when I spent the day with Solent Forts exploring Spitbank Fort, No Man's and Horse Sands. The forts, also known as The Palmerston Forts encircle Portsmouth and were built in response to the 1859 Royal Commission dealing with the perceived threat of a French invasion. The forts were intended to defend the Dockyard in Portsmouth. 

They took fifteen years to complete by which time the invasion no longer existed and they didn't really get their time to shine during both world wars either. By 1956 the forts became empty and unused until a couple bought the forts in the 1980's and then in 2009 work began by Solent Forts to bring you what you see today. 

We started the morning on dry land before boarding a private rib from Portsmouth Harbour to our first stop of the day, Spitbank Fort. Thankfully the storm that had been forecast to hit the South Coast came in a day early so we had the most beautiful weather. The sun was shining, we had clear blue skies with little pops of fluffy cloud and the water was pleasantly still which made for an easy crossing.

Spitbank Fort is a luxury island retreat with eight bedroom suites, a bar, hot pool, sauna, roof deck and so much more. I went in with no expectations, I had basic knowledge of the forts from what I swatted up on the night before and I'm so glad I went in to it like that because I felt I could experience and appreciate the forts so much more. After stepping off the rib, we made our way to the reception area to be handed a glass of champagne before we were introduced to our tour guide for our time there. We had the entire fort to ourselves as that days set of guests weren't due for another hour so we grabbed our cameras, our champagne and explored to our hearts content. 

Spitbank is quite a bit smaller than No Man's Fort with a collection of exquisite bedrooms, intimate lounges as well as bars and terraces to discover. You can take the opportunity to explore with a guided historical tour where you'll find hidden rooms, corridors and a missile or two on the terrace. 

The fort holds the original hooks which would've been used for the men's hammocks as well as the original wash basins. You can't comprehend how so many could've lived, worked and slept in the spaces. It is so enriched in history which is part of the reason I was so excited for the day, every where you turned there was something new to discover, a book or two to leaf through and old photos to look at. I could've spent hours looking into every nook and cranny which is why I kept tailing behind! Oops! 

We made our way from the champagne bar to the wine cave, through luxury bedrooms and dining areas up to the top deck where you'll find a fire pit, hot pools and the lighthouse with a fog horn, which by the way I was shown how to use so I think I might have found my next job. Just call me Lighthouse Master Alice. 

The forts have a 360 degree view of The Solent, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth and maybe, just maybe on a very clear day you can see France.... Maybe. As I've said, we were so lucky with the weather and the wind wasn't overly chilly either. It was just a perfectly lovely, warm day as we looked out over the water. After one more glass of champagne, it was almost ready to move on to the next fort although I think I might've liked to stay on Spitbank for quite a bit longer. At this rate, I'll be hiring it myself for an extravagant sea party*! 

(*Fun fact for you, back in the 90's and 00's, there used be regular raves held on Spitbank Fort and there's still lots of videos on Youtube of them.)

Before long, we were back on the rib and making our way to No Man's fort but first we took a spin around Horse Sands. Horse Sands stands now as a preserved museum, the same size as No Man's Fort, it holds 100 chambers and living quarters, original gun carriages and armour plated walls. We didn't step on to Horse Sands due to the condition of the fort but that just made me want to more. 

After our flash tour of Horse Sands, it was time to experience No Man's and I really couldn't wait! 

No Man's Fort is something else and it is where we would be spending the rest of our day which was very exciting. No Man's is the larger hotel venue with 23 spacious bedrooms all with en suites and sea views, the rooms are spectacular and I even climbed in the huge bath in one to take a photo. The fort has a choice of five bars, casual and formal dining as well as rooftop hot tubs, a cabaret club, laser quest, a fire pit as well as a spa which has double rooms for couples massages.  

It was unbelievable. 

We started our tour in the lighthouse which is where we would be eating lunch, from there we walked the winding stairs to the top and it was at this point I decided I apparently had a fear of everything and had to come back down for a breather which was a new experience for the girl not afraid of heights! I re-joined the group at a lower level where we explored the bars, club, spa and the rooms each named after a ship in the British Naval Fleet. The beds were huge and luxurious, the atrium bright and spacious and the Lord Nelson pub full of historic artifacts. I needed at least a day to explore everything. 

After we worked up an appetite exploring the entire fort, we made our way back to the lighthouse for lunch. Our glasses were kept topped up throughout the day and we were able to sit back and take in the views of the sea views while we ate. The menu was superb, a three course lunch of perfectly matched seasonal dishes with crisp white wine. 

The main course of pan fried corn fed chicken with dauphinoise potato, vegetables, ratatouille with a red wine jus was incredible, so incredible I could've done round two but there was dessert to be had and that was just as delicious as the first two courses. We were kept fed and hydrated throughout the day even if by hydration I mean wine and champagne, it made for a very wonderful Monday! 

After lunch, we had some time to explore at our own leisure but before that we took a walk down to the spa which now solely uses Espa, my favourite, for a hand and arm massage. As the sun was still shining, we took the rest of the bottle of wine up to the sun deck and soaked up some more vitamin d after our time in the spa.

The service was unbeatable, everyone we spoke to was so passionate about the forts and each had their own unique and favourite story to tell. Passionate staff members are incredibly valuable to any business and the staff we met on the day completely exceeded all expectations making the experience so memorable. 

It was an absolutely perfect day I did contemplate hiding when the boat back was approaching so I didn't have to leave.

The massive beds looked so comfy and I really wanted a nap or a huge bubble bath in the oh so Instagrammable bathtubs. I honestly believe Solent Forts is a once in a life time, bucket list type trip. It was unbelievable and totally unforgettable, I'm dying to go back or maybe move our entire wedding to a fort seeing has you can hire the whole thing, what a wedding that would be! 

There are so many packages to choose from weddings to corporate hire, afternoon teas, discovery days and festive dinners! I'm really intrigued by the Halloween Gala Dinner especially as there are a number of ghost stories about the forts. 

So do you want to experience Solent Forts for yourself? I have a special discount code which entitles anyone to redeem 10% off anything Solent Forts are selling from afternoon teas to EXCLUSIVE use of the fort! How amazing is that? 

It can be used online or by ringing the port office - use ALICE10 for your 10% discount on anything!

Experience was completely complimentary - This is not a paid for review - see disclaimer.
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