The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Sussex Edition

Chic sleeps and Sunday roasts at Rathfinny Wine Estate

3 Jan 2017

Ever keeled over on a settee hugging a bottle of Pinot Noir? No, me neither <cough>. Anyway, here’s a much more sophisticated way to sleep with wine. Rathfinny vineyard perched in the South Downs has some gorgeous cosy-yet-stylish accommodation in the Flint Barns on site. It’s perfect for either a house party, or a rejuvinating break with country walks. You can simply make a day of it if you prefer, building a visit round the regular Sunday roast on offer. It’s even dog friendly.

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I actually first heard of the place from a London friend who had booked it for a girl’s weekend to celebrate a significant birthday. I made an overnight stay there myself with Mr Muddy just before the grape harvest.

The Flint Barns (once an 1860s farmhouse) are a cross between a B&B and upmarket hostel. The building was originally converted for estate workers to use but was so nice it was opened for regular guests with harvest now the only time you can’t visit. 10 private and dorm-style rooms range from doubles to family rooms to some sleeping up to eight, meaning a total 45 can be accommodated overall. Some rooms have extra pull-out beds, others have bunks.

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It’s a contemporary conversion with a lovely high spec finish. The look in the bedrooms is pared back industrial-chic but with luxury touches like comfy mattresses, crisp cotton sheets, touch sensitive lights, underfloor heating, complementary bottled water and smart bathrooms.

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View from my window!

Plenty of reclaimed wood has been used throughout, the site also has other great eco-credentials including solar panels and water recycling. Along with the polished floorboards there are exposed flint studded walls and plenty of thick woollen throws (also on sale in the vineyard’s shop in Alfriston) creating a cosy feel.

The communal lounge is a particular star, with a wood burning stove, bookshelves and plenty of nooks for different couple or groups to make their own. There’s also free wifi in the public areas in case even though you’re here to switch off you can’t resist creating a bit of Instagram envy.

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You eat communally in a beamed refectory, which has a sung to one side and a help yourself tea and coffee station. Bed and breakfast is standard but with enough people an evening meal can be arranged, or a barbecue in the courtyard. On certain dates there are roasts for guests and outside visitors. On a nice day ask for a picnic lunch and head off to find a pretty spot.

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Veggie breakfast. Meat is locally sourced.

The vineyard surrounds the property and the location is fabulous – perched on hills on the edge of pretty heritage village Alfriston. The knockout view is actually from the estate office – pause outside as you wend your way up to the barns and you can take in Litlington chalk horse, Cuckmere Valley and the sea.

This is also a great place for wildlife. Walking round the estate in the morning I reeled from an almighty noise like a canon shot which I quickly realised was a timed bird scrarer. Despite this precaution to protect the vines we saw rabbits, buzzards and even partridges hiding from a shoot at Firle Place. We also found what the staff told us was evidence of badgers – droppings full of grape pips.

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There are maps to help guide you on a circular route past the vines, sunflowers and poppies, and talking posts beside the path at a couple of points tell you more about the wine and the wildlife. Tours and tastings can also be arranged at the vineyard. When fully planted Rathfinny with be the largest vineyard in England and its first sparkling wine is due to hit the shelves in 2018. You can buy the estate’s existing wines at Flint Barns (well it would be rude not to try some).

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Alfriston itself has plenty of diversions like old beamed pubs, tearooms and boutiques (read my feature on Much Ado Books here) and Rathfinny’s own gift shop/cellar door called the Gun Room after its former use. The National Trust’s Clergy House is in the village and popular family attraction Drusillas Park with its zoo and rides, and the beach at Seaford are under 15 minutes drive away.

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the Gun Room

Flint Barns would be a lovely spot in summer but is also cosy enough for winter (not a bad choice for Valentine’s in fact…).

If you’re planning a celebration with family or friends this is an excellent option. Did you feel the squeeze this Christmas? How about booking ahead now for a big house party for the next festive season? There are Sunday lunches for non-guests on selected dates (£20 for two courses, £27 for three) so why not visit for a nosey now. Next up is on Sunday February 12 and there’s also a Saturday dinner on 4 Feb with local fish, meats and homemade desserts. Do book ahead.

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Double rooms at Flint Barns cost from £110 including breakfast. Exclusive hire of the whole property sleeping up to 45 costs from £2,800 for B&B (two night minimum stay required). Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston, BN26 5TU, 01323 874 030,  flintbarns@rathfinnyestate.com rathfinnyestate.com.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Sussex Edition