Ah – the Great British seaside, a holiday institution that has seen more revivals and reinventions than Madonna’s on-stage wardrobe. With the Euro gaining strength, the credit crunch biting (anyone else sick of hearing that term already?) and growing interest in train travel and supporting local enterprise, making the most of our very own coast seems, well, the polite thing to do. Particularly since our seaside towns’ most iconic structure – the traditional pier – is becoming an endangered species (Weston-Super-Mare’s spontaneously combusted; Brighton’s West Pier crumbled into dereliction, after catching fire. Twice).
Our top politicos have already seen fit to be seen frolicking surfside in decidedly un-conservative Cornwall (Dave and Sam canoodling near Padstow) and strolling the strand in Suffolk (Gordon and Sarah are Southwold fans), sending a clear message to the public: once more unto the beach, dear friends!
Not to be left out, members of the Smith team also spent last weekend gallivanting at the water’s edge. Anthony headed down to Brighton to check up on Smith stay Square, sniff out some new hotels and taste tapas at Pinxto People (more on that soon), while I whiled away a weekend in Broadstairs in Kent.
Having spent childhood summers there, paddling in rock pools and slurping up knickerbocker glories at kitsch café and ice-cream parlour Morelli’s (still there in all its gaudy pastel glory – and their frozen treats are now sold in Harrods, don’t you know), it was a pleasure to rediscover the Oscar Road Café. It’s been there for as long as I remember, and is now enjoying a rather splendid second life as a vintage-style tea shop. In the place of formica tables, fry-ups and roast dinners, there’s floral bunting, 1940s trinkets, crab sandwiches and hefty slabs of home-made cake. As we sat in the little garden patio taking a high tea of gooey fudge brownies, Victoria sponge, pork pie and piccalilli, seagulls cried in the distance, and the occasional swelling notes of a brass band blew over, all the way from the bandstand on the seafront. The tune? ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’. It couldn’t have been more charming and filmic (frankly I came over all wet-eyed and sentimental, but I’d probably had a bit too much sugar). Obviously it has earned itself a place in the Mr & Mrs Smith destination guide to Kent…
So, in the spirit of round-the-piano pub singalongs and riding bicycles in tea dresses, here are a few weekend-away corkers picked from Mr & Mrs Smith’s scrap-book of UK coastal stays. We can’t promise sunshine, but we can guarantee rosied cheeks, that nicely fatigued feeling you get after a day in the fresh air, and cosy places to cuddle up and watch the seascape.
The real-life Jurassic Park (ok, only a bit like the real Jurassic Park, because the dinosaurs are frozen in time – in the form of giant fossils in the sea cliffs). Big-sky views plus beaches where land giants once roamed plus fantastic foodie scene = coast-weekend match made in heaven…
Seaside fix: hunt for mariner’s tales in Bridport’s second-hand bookshops; guzzle a gastropub lunch at the Beach & Barnicott; go for a sea‑breezy walk on the beach (borrow a dog or a frisbee for extra fun); forage for fossils in the fallen rocks; have locally landed fish for your supper at the Riverside Restaurant.
Rest your head: at the only boutique stay that almost makes a Prints Charming pun acceptable, The Bull Hotel, with its vintage-chic decor and seafood-focused restaurant.
ST MAWES, TRURO & ROSELAND PENINSULA, CORNWALL
A cultured enclave harbouring delicious seafood, seasidey galleries and arty shops selling crafty nauticalia – plus some of Cornwall’s best boutique hotels.
Seaside fix: charter a yacht and tackle the high seas; take the foot ferry from St Mawes to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth; stomp along the cliffs for a fine fishy dinner and a pint in Portscatho.
Rest your head: at this coastline’s most glamorous trio of getaways. Choose from Olga Polizzi’s stylish Hotel Tresanton, the laid-back-but-luxe Lugger Hotel, or Driftwood, with its New England beach-house feel.
BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX
The classic naughty weekend destination, with quirky shops, pebbly shores and a great going-out scene.
Seaside fix: crunch along the pebbly beach, ride the scary wooden rollercoaster at the end of the pier, eat fish ‘n’ chips from a newspaper cone, then retire to your boutique hotel to watch the lowering sky while you warm up with a well mixed martini or bursting-with-berries glass of red – at the bar, in your bath or on your bed.
RYE, EAST SUSSEX
A mediaeval market town with sweet cobbled streets, a working harbour, antiques boutiques and tea shops, Rye is a great place for a genteel weekend of gentle activity (and pub lunches).
Seaside fix: watch the fishermen land their catch on Strand Quay; take a picnic (and a kite) to Camber Sands; search for marine-themed treasure in the shops on Rope Walk; have high tea at Mermaid Corner Tearooms or Fletcher’s House; dine on Rye Bay scallops or plaice at the Landgate Bistro.
Rest your head: at The George in Rye, a converted Regency coaching inn with Continental leanings.
CARDIGAN BAY, WALES
A chocolate-box chunk of windswept Welsh coastline, dotted with Georgian fishing villages and fringed with the lush mossy hills of the interior.
Seaside fix: hoist little-uns into a ‘toddler backpack’ and hike along the coast; watch the waterfall cascading down cliffs at sandy Tresaith beach; make proper buckets-and-spades sandcastles; sign up for kitesurfing lessons; snuggle on sheepskin throws at bedtime.
Rest your head: at cosy little Llety Bodfor in Aberdovey; the bright and breezy Harbourmaster Hotel in Aberaeron.
PENZANCE PENINSULA, CORNWALL
Pirates, anyone? With smuggler’s coves and adventure tales galore, Penzance and the westernmost tip of England is perfect for fairytale family getaways or grown-up couples with a sense of adventure.
Seaside fix: go surfing on Sennen beach; clamber along Mousehole’s rocky shore and gaze across to St Michael’s Mount; pack a picnic dinner and enjoy the crashing-waves soundtrack at the open-air Minack Theatre in Porthcurno; have a nightcap at the Lamorna Wink pub and make up stories about the sailors’ bounty pinned on the walls.
Rest your head: at a private rental where you can shrug off boring breakfast timetables and make the most of the early hours. We love dear little bolthole for two, Skippers in Mousehole; and glossy home-tel The Cove, where you can descend en famille or with a gang of friends.