Pitch Perfect

Claire Passos launched her upmarket campsite Caracol in 2022. Since then the luxury retreat, which is located in a stunning spot in Groombridge, has proved to be a great success. Here Claire reveals more about its evolution from farmer’s field to glamorous glamping destination…

When did you have the idea to launch a glamping project? 

It has been an idea I’ve harboured for a very long time. I always dreamt about setting up a glamping business and during Covid, while I was furloughed, I thought ‘it’s now or never’. 

Why did you believe your idea had a chance of success?

We’re fortunate enough to live in a fantastic area with a multitude of activities, and incredible places to visit on our doorstep. I have a pretty good eye for detail and was confident that I could create a beautiful space for people to enjoy being at one in nature whilst having all the creature comforts for a luxurious break away. 

How did you acquire the land and how big is the space?

After seeing a lot on the BBC’s Countryfile about farm diversification I looked for ways that I could make it happen. I approached the local NFU who put me in touch with Michael who owns Groombridge farm Shop and New Park Farm. He is renowned for growing asparagus at his farm and had a fallow three acre field that wasn’t being used. It was absolutely perfect for what we were looking to do and given that we are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) it couldn’t have been any better. Can you talk us through your journey from conception to completion?

After initial discussions we got the ball rolling with a pre-planning application to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. It was crucial for me to understand how we could add value to the local tourism industry, and align our business and values to the community’s initiatives regarding health, wellbeing, biodiversity inclusion etc. Key to this was alignment with the High Weald Management plan in terms of providing opportunity for people to experience the natural beauty of the AONB. After 18 months, and thankfully with no objections from the local community, we were given the go-ahead in February 2022. We opened to the public in June that year.

What valuable lessons did you learn from your first year in business?

That if you build it they do not necessarily come! Setting up a new business is tough and you have to be well organised and plan the priorities. My husband Ade took charge of the site set up, and I focused on the brand design, forward facing elements such as website, booking systems etc. We understood the importance of getting our brand style right from the outset, and worked with Big Orange Media, a professional agency to achieve this. I have now left my job there to work on Caracol full-time.

You’re looking to boost your midweek bookings. What are the benefits of coming then?

We are offering three nights for the price of two for midweek stays (T&C’s apply). There are a multitude of benefits including the peace and tranquillity of the site without it being too busy. There are a huge number of places to explore and visit during the quieter midweek days. We are lucky to have many activities on our doorstep such as gorgeous countryside walks, rock climbing, cycling routes, castles and stately homes. It’s also a great place for businesses and corporates to take their teams for an away day, retreat or summer event. The space is very flexible and we offer a variety of packages to suit all needs. 
You’re keen on partnering with local therapists, practitioners and hospitality professionals. Can you tell us a bit more about this concept? 

Yes we are really keen to showcase the site and collaborate with local partners that offer health, wellbeing, creative and mindfulness activities. It’s a perfect place for a secluded event or retreat without any road noise or distractions. We are very lucky to have some incredible people in our community that offer wonderful experiences and I’m keen to showcase our space to highlight their amazing offers. We are also hoping to offer live music on Thursdays…

What do you believe Caracol’s USP is?

That we offer a unique escape in a vibrant wildflower meadow. Our bell tents and the site are thoughtfully furnished with upcycled and reused materials, reflecting our commitment to sustainability and values for increasing biodiversity. Immerse yourself in nature’s tranquility and discover a responsible and rejuvenating way to reconnect with the environment.