As Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower faded into the distance, the speedboat upon which I was precariously perched leapt through the water towards a grey blob - barely visible amongst the many vessels that ply their trade in the very busy harbour. As I was shaken (not stirred), I imagined I was James Bond heading to a villain's lair - although admittedly it was unlikely that SPECTRE would choose to base their headquarters off the coast of the Isle of Wight. As we grew closer, I spotted a row of uniformed staff lined up to greet us - but as they were smiling and waving I was confident that the chances of being covered in gold paint or dangled over a tank of piranhas was mercifully quite slim.
The grey blob in question is Spitbank Fort - a luxury hotel situated in the middle of the Solent - and our home for the next twenty four hours. I sent up a silent prayer of thanks to Secret Escapes (a 50% discount offer had prompted the visit), and happily climbed aboard.
Wow. Not knowing quite what to expect - and the grey and weathered exterior hardly screamed 'luxury' - it was a very pleasant surprise to be ushered into the lounge for a welcome drink. The hotel only has eight rooms - and with just five of them occupied during our stay, the ten of us had plenty of space to explore.
We were first given a tour of the Fort, during which we learned that fear of invasion by Napoleon's France led Queen Victoria's government to commission three sea-based defences to protect the naval fleet in Portsmouth's harbour. However, by the time they were finished, the invasion threat had evaporated and they were regarded as follies.....until the First and Second World Wars, when they were again put to use as a last line of defence. Post-war they were decommissioned and languished largely unloved before the smallest of them - Spitbank Fort - was converted into a luxury hotel in 2012.
We had the run of the place during our twenty four hours 'on board', with facilities including a hot tub, sauna, games rooms, spa treatments, and, er, kite flying! The drinks kept coming, and during our twenty four hours we were certainly not going to go hungry. Lunch and afternoon tea were followed by a fabulous five course dinner - after which those of us who hadn't burst were invited to toast marshmallows over the fire pit on the top deck.
But what about the decor? I hear you cry. As you can see from the photographs, whoever was commissioned to design the interiors has had a lot of fun. Rather than keep to a rigid Victorian theme, the rooms have been designed with an eccentric mix of props that hark back to any period from 1850 to 1950. I'm not sure I will ever again stay somewhere that boasts both a wind-up gramophone and a torpedo as decorative items. Not a scheme that would be easy to recreate at home! All mod-cons were present: our isolation didn't mean a lack of wi-fi or enduring primitive plumbing (in fact our bedroom was one of the largest and most luxurious in which I've had the pleasure to sleep). It was a lot of fun - swanky but quirky; posh but not remotely stuffy.
The staff were attentive, friendly, and in one case an absolute hoot (Sean in particular is deserving of his own tv show), and our stay passed all too quickly. With time only for a very large breakfast, the Bond-style speedboat arrived to take us back to reality (and some shopping at Gunwharf Quays). If you get the chance to spend some time here, I'd highly recommend it. After all you only live once (or should that be twice?).