It could be said that bees are singlehandedly responsible for our breakfast staples: they are not only crucial to the world’s agriculture but are also the artisans behind the unctuous spreadable we know and love as honey. Yet, this sophisticated insect’s livelihood hangs in the balance, and human malpractice is to blame. Since the 1990s, honey gatherers have noticed a steady and rapid decline in the number of honeybees. Last winter, almost 40 per cent of managed colonies in the US alone were lost. And while populations remain more stable in the UK, our bees are by no means immune to poor hive management, chemical pesticides and climate change.

That’s why, at Red Carnation Hotels, we’ve established resident apiaries, or honeybee hotels, at three of our properties, responsibly managed and conscientiously harvested. Guests staying at The Chesterfield MayfairThe Montague on the Gardens, Ashford Castle and The Oyster Box can tour these hives and sample the intricate flavours of their honey. With even more hives on the way at Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Restaurant, the partnership between Red Carnation Hotels and the honeybee is only just getting started.

The Chesterfield apiaries

The first in the Red Carnation Hotels suite of honeybee hotels were the apiaries atop The Chesterfield Mayfair. Constituting four hives, The Chesterfield’s bees number in the hundreds of thousands. Their unique, London brand of honey is perfumed with blooms from Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park and Clarence House. Given the extensive bouquets of these royal gardens, The Chesterfield’s bees have access to an extraordinarily complex palette, from hydrangea and hyacinth, lilac to lavender.

Once a year, the bees’ honey is humanely and sustainably harvested, yielding an average of 160 pounds. The resulting honey is as rich as it is deep in flavour, and guests staying at The Chesterfield enjoy it every morning at Butlers Restaurant.

The Montague apiaries

The astounding success of The Chesterfield’s honeybee hotels did not go unnoticed. It wasn’t long before Bloomsbury’s The Montague on the Gardens looked into setting up its own resident hives. Complications soon arose: there wasn’t enough space on The Montague’s roof to accommodate the beehives. However, through a partnership with neighbouring The Bedford Estates, two co-owned hives were set up in the gardens behind the hotel. A total of 20,000 bees were chauffeured from Woburn Abbey, the ancestral home of the Duke of Bedford, and their new patch was landscaped with all manner of majestic florals.

This year, the first, over-80-pound batch of honey was harvested and has since won 2nd prize in the Woburn Abbey Honey Festival. The honey is served at breakfast in The Blue Door Bistro and can be purchased in personalised jars or sampled in The Leopard Bar’s signature honey cocktails. Next year, proceeds from The Montague’s harvest will be donated to a sustainable bee project.

The Oyster Box apiaries

The most recent instalment of Bea’s honeybee hotels are those atop South Africa’s The Oyster Box. The two hives see bees buzzing around the Umhlanga cliffs, gathering sweet nectar from the coastal flora. One prominent source of nectar is the surrounding milkwood trees, the fruit of which has a pleasant, astringent taste that complements the sweetness of the honey. The result is referred to as coastal honey, distinct in taste from pretty much all other mellifluent varieties. Honey at The Oyster Box is harvested from “supas” or sections added to the top of the hives. As a result, no honey is taken accidentally from what the bees need for themselves.

Sustainable honey

At Red Carnation Hotels, we go to great lengths to minimise our impact on the environment. By installing hives across our hotels, we not only preserve the precious honeybee. We also contribute to the pollination of surrounding ecosystems - each hive enriches an area of up to three miles - and dramatically reduce our food miles. The hives are part of our commitment to using local ingredients and to preserving our wonderful environment.