From the top of the lighthouse the joy of Southwold is clear.

Look east and the sea shimmers off to the horizon. To the south and west is the harbour and town, cuddled into the space between sea, river and marshes.

Here are the old fishing cottages, handsome buildings speaking of Southwold’s important seafaring history, magnificent St Edmund’s church, pretty town greens created as 18th century fire breaks, the vast sandy beach punctuated by the gleaming pier, and, almost directly below, Adnams’ brewery and distillery.

Great British Life: Southwold Harbour. Southwold Harbour. (Image: Anthony Cullen)

Tours of the still-operational lighthouse are run by Adnams, alongside its famed brewery and distillery tours.

We were staying in The Swan, the most lavish and indulgent of Adnam’s five hostelries in lovely Southwold, and recently named in Which magazine’s best 10 UK seaside hotels.

Southwold is a seaside town but it is definitely not just for summer. It sparkles all year round, and the Swan positively gleams. Whatever the weather, light glows invitingly from the handsome, historic frontage and once inside the atmosphere is super-welcoming, with an abundance of luxurious and cosy rooms, lounges and alcoves, perfect for relaxing.

Our first-floor room was a wonder – handsomely furnished with fine chests, comfy chairs and a four-poster bed. The be-marbled bathroom was lavished with brass fittings, two basins, a luxurious bath and drenching double shower. In the spacious sitting area a bespoke cupboard cleverly concealed a coffee machine, television and well-stocked tea-tray. A coffee table held a welcoming plate of cake and bottle of Adnams (of course) gin.

Great British Life: The Swan Hotel, Southwold. The Swan Hotel, Southwold. (Image: Adnams)

It would have been tempting to hole-up here in glorious luxurious isolation but that would have missed the point of the Swan, and Southwold. They are made for exploring. Adnams runs tours of the lighthouse, as well as its own brewery and distillery. Our 113-step spiral ascent of the lighthouse was illuminated by fascinating facts from our tour leader, and sailor, who loved the lighthouse for its guiding light from the sea as well as for its history and handsome architecture.

Back at ground level the distillery is a very recent enterprise compared with the adjoining Swan. ‘Ale wife’ Johanna was making beer here almost 700 years ago. Adnams took over the Swan and its brewery more than 150 years ago, and launched the distillery in 2010. Within four years its Copper House gin and Longshore vodka were named best in the world.

Adnams is unusual in that it distills its own spirits, piping the starter beer from the brewery to be turned, by art, science, heat, flair and a series of gleaming copper vessels and towers, into whisky, vodka and gin.

Great British Life: The Swan Hotel, Southwold. The Swan Hotel, Southwold. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

That evening we learned how to transform the award-winning products of the distillery into bespoke cocktails. The cocktail masterclass is not something I would have thought of booking but was a highlight (not literally, that was the lighthouse, obviously) of a break full of highlights. Creating our North Sea Mojito, Southwold Sour and Clover Club at The Swan’s splendid copper bar was great fun, and then we got to drink them before enjoying a very fine dinner from a menu including Maldon Blackwater oysters, monkfish, venison, and a vegetarian feast of crapaudine beetroot, jerusalem artichoke, pear and chestnut.

The decor of the dining room is as beautiful as the rest of The Swan, with lots burnished copper and particularly fabulous lights.

Great British Life: The Swan Hotel, Southwold. The Swan Hotel, Southwold. (Image: Charlotte Bond)Great British Life: Dining at The Swan Hotel, SouthwoldDining at The Swan Hotel, Southwold (Image: Rowan Mantell)

Our evening walk along the lanes and promenades we had spied from the lighthouse above flowed into a wonderfully restful night. After breakfast, another delight of beautifully-presented local produce, we borrowed two hotel bicycles (what a fine concept – high end bikes, ready to roll with lights, locks and paniers) to explore a little further afield.

While Southwold is a very genteel place these days, the winding streets, quaint cottages, irresistible shops and vast beach, so beloved of tourists, were once broiling with fishermen, sailors and traders. We took a look at the charming Sailors’ Reading Room before heading for the harbour, where fish are still landed and sold, and the vibe is more muddy-rough-and-ready than the pristine town.

Great British Life: Sunset over Southwold Harbour. Sunset over Southwold Harbour. (Image: Denise Bradley)Great British Life: Southwold pier from the lighthouseSouthwold pier from the lighthouse (Image: Rowan Mantell)

There is lots to see along the river, with its boats, boatyards and fish shacks. And if you pitch up at the Harbour Inn (another Adnams pub) on the second Thursday of a month you will find yourself at the heart of a traditional music night. The traditional ferry is a fun way to cross the river to the neighbouring village of Walberswick, or there is a cycle and pedestrian bridge. The pretty village includes, between flinty homes and sandy dunes, yet another Adnams pub (The Bell).

There is more to Southwold than Adnams – but the town would be very much poorer without the family-run company. Its history includes the phenomenal success of its drinks and hospitality businesses, flavoured with quirky info such as the 19th century Adnams (allegedly) eaten by a crocodile in Africa, its Tally Ho beer which has been brewed for the same recipe for 144 years and its stewardship of so many fine inns. Its staff are particularly impressive. From the moment we stepped inside the Swan until we reluctantly left for home (via a wander around the Adnams shop) they were unfailingly welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable.

The Swan was so fabulous I wanted to move in, and Southwold itself has the same effect.