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Kent winery Balfour Hospitality have beathed new life into the atmospheric Ship Inn set beside the quay at the bottom of cobbled Mermaid Street in the attractive coastal town of Rye.

They have spruced up the 16th-century smuggler's warehouse, giving the rustic-chic bar and rambling dining rooms a lick of paint and smartening up the 11 simple, boutique-style bedrooms (dogs welcome), which ramble across two floors with views across the river and town.

The bar is all ancient timbers, flagstone, blazing fires, cosy nooks and quirky décor - old leather sofas, warm hues, candles and jugs of fresh flowers - so grab one of the rustic tables and peruse the papers over a pint of Harvey's Sussex, or sup Jake's cider, or a decent glass of Balfour Rose.

Stroll up Mermaid Street to find the hilltop church and climb the tower for far-reaching coast and marsh views, and don't miss Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and a walk along stunning Camber Sands. If you love the Balfour fizz, be sure to visit the state-of-the-art Winery on the Hush Heath Estate in Kent for tours and tastings.

Rooms from:

11 doubles: £100

Good to know

Credit cards accepted (not Amex)

Alfresco & private dining

No parking; pay car parks nearby

Dog stay: £10


Charming Rye is filled with picturesque cobbled streets and clay-tiled roofs. Browse independently owned shops, potteries and art galleries, and visit Lamb House (National Trust), the former home of the American writer Henry James.

Balfour Winery Tours

Set on a 400-acre family-owned estate in Kent, the modern winery offers informative tours and tastings, and is famous for producing Balfour Brut Rosé, one of the most iconic and exclusive English sparkling wines, using traditional Champagne methods and grape varieties.

The eleven bedrooms ramble across the two upper floors and due to the age and layout of the building they vary in size - some are small and cosy and bathrooms in general are quite compact.

Steep stairways lined with stunning photos of the Vineyard and Winery lead up to the Cosy, Deluxe and Superior doubles and the spacious Hush Heath Suite, the largest room that's ideal for a family stay. All are simply decorated with modern grey hues, an eclectic mix of furnishings, perhaps an antique pine chest of drawers and contemporary moulded plastic bedside tables, and brass or wooden, rattan-style beds, topped with quality linen, feather duvets and colourful blanket throws.

Some are light and airy with dual aspect windows framing river or town views; all have Nespresso machines; Joe's Tea; homemade biscuits; fresh milk delivered to the door; and Smart TVs. Clean, compact bathrooms have showers (a couple have showers over baths) and Isle of Arran toiletries.

A cosy, characterful and very relaxed bothhole a short stroll from the centre of Rye.

Restaurant & bar

Food is simple, unfussy and hearty - dishes are freshly made from locally sourced produce with a focus on Rye Bay fish and scallops and lamb reared on Romney Marsh.

Nibble on pickled cider cockles or devilled whitebait with smoked garlic mayonnaise with a pint of Old Dairy Red Top brewed in nearby Tenterden. From the seasonal menu, fishy starters might include smoked haddock chowder or seafood sausage roll with brown crab mayonnaise, otherwise try the excellent Burrata. Tuck into a steak, caramelised red onion and mustard mayonniase sandwich with fries, or order some small plates (mussels in Jake's cider and thyme), or for something more substantial try the salt marsh lamb rump with Luke's Pinot Noir jus. Leave room for caramel and hazelnut tart.

Balfour pioneers both English traditional sparkling wines and world class red, white and rose wines and a good selection are available by the glass and bottle at The Ship - do try one of the wine tasting flights (3 fizz & 3 still) to get a real flavour of the Balfour Collection. There are over 20 wines by the glass, in addition to Jake's Session IPA and Kentish Cider, also made at the winery in Kent.

Private dining

Upper Deck Dining is a beautifully designed private dining or event room and bar offering a boutique space for small weddings, entertaining, group dining and an inspiring meeting space for work functions.​

Things to do

Located in the glorious Weald of Kent just north of Rye, Smallhythe Place is a 16th-century cottage that was once the home of the greatly admired Victorian actress, Ellen Terry. Explore this pretty, half-timbered building and discover her fascinating theatrical collection. In the garden stands the thatched Barn Theatre. National Trust

'Fine ales from the garden of England' is the tagline for the exceptional Old Dairy Brewery housed inside two World War II Nissen buildings just off the High Street. As well a core range of beers such as Gold Top and Copper Top, there are seasonal ales and specials such as AK 1911 brewed to a century-old Kentish recipe. Brewery shop and tours.

Great Dixter in Northiam was the home of the gardening writer Christopher Lloyd who, over many years, transformed the garden here into a horticulturalist's dream. With its medieval buildings, natural ponds and striking yew topiary, Great Dixter is one of the most exciting, colourful and constantly changing gardens of modern times. The house is equally fascinating, with its magnificent Great Hall, the largest surviving timber-framed hall in Britain.

Getting here


Nearest train station: Rye

Taxi from station: 2min

Drive: Tenterden 22min; Hastings 29min; Folkestone 45min; London 1hr 54min


The Strand, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7NB

Prices & availability