I DO LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE...
... staying in a stylish boutique hotel. If your ideal lodgings come with rough wooden floorboards scattered with Persian rugs, Cath Kidston fabrics and gourmet cuisine, you're in luck. Although there are still some old-school boarding houses and faded Edwardian giants towering over Britain's seafronts, they are, thankfully, becoming harder to find. The British coast has had to dust itself down to compete with, first, the foreign package holiday and, more recently, the European city break, and accommodation options have never been better.
EVEN IN BLACKPOOL?
Yes. Siberian goose down-pillows and Egyptian cotton sheets have finally come to the home of the Pleasure Beach and Illuminations. The resort's first boutique hotel - well B&B, is Number One (Saint Luke's Road, South Shore; 01253 343 901; www.numberoneblackpool.com). This contemporary townhouse has just three individually designed rooms (the black leather and fake fur bedspread theme is probably an acquired taste). Double rooms cost £110 including breakfast; a single is £65.
DOES BRIGHTON ROCK?
That other kiss-me-quick destination shook off its dirty-weekend image long ago, and today the hotel scene has never been more dynamic. A batch of revamped Georgian townhouses has put the fun back into the weekend break. The Pelirocco (01273 327055; www.hotelpelirocco.com), near the seafront on Regency Square is conventional from the outside and psychedelic within. Saucy rather than seedy, the 19 themed rooms, designed by artists and musicians, include The Pin-up Parlour - a self-styled kitsch and camp glamour palace dedicated to the blonde bombshell Diana Dors (from £105 including breakfast; singles start at £50).
Blanch House at 17 Atlingworth Street (01273 603504; www.blanchhouse.co.uk) is another boutique hotel owned by an ex-music PR-turned-stylist Amanda Blanch and Chris Edwardes, who used to run the bar at the Groucho Club in London. Again the 12 rooms are individually - and funkily - designed with doubles from £125 including breakfast. You can wallow in the free-standing bath in the Decadence Suite or the White Suite's Jacuzzi.
The Neo Hotel at 19 Oriental Place (01273 711104; www.neohotel.com) is a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse with 11 rooms. Some feature bespoke wallpaper by Alexander Beauchamp, others original 1930s wallpaper designs. The opulent, oriental decor is complemented by an eclectic smattering of antiques. Instead of white towelling robes, silk kimonos are provided. Doubles from £90, singles from £50, but not all are en suite.
Brighton even has a branch of the popular mini-chain Hotel du Vin at 2-6 Ship Street (01273 718588; www.hotelduvin.com). It is spread across a jumble of buildings, including the 1934 mock-Tudor premises formerly belonging to a wine merchant. Each of the 37 rooms is sponsored by a wine company, and the cellar is stocked with 600 wines.
Other modern Brighton gems include Drakes, 44 Marine Parade (01273 696934; www.drakesofbrighton.com) with doubles from £95 excluding breakfast; Square at 4, New Steine (01273 691777; www.squarebrighton.com) just off the seafront in Kemp Town, doubles from £150 including breakfast; and Brightonwave at 10 Madeira Place, (01273 676794; www.brightonwave.com) which has doubles from £100 including breakfast.
Cornwall is another hip hotel hotspot after a makeover largely spearheaded by designer Olga Polizzi. In St Mawes, she transformed The Tresanton (01326 270 055; www.tresanton.com), a converted yacht club perched on a promontory, into the sort of stylish yet comfortably rural hotel that can command London prices. It is a cluster of houses at different levels with 24 individually designed bedrooms and two family suites - all with sea views. Rooms are scattered with antiques and well-thumbed books. You can borrow video classics such as The Philadelphia Story - and wellies from a rack by reception for bracing cliff-top walks. Doubles range from £195 to £280 per night, while family suites are £400 including breakfast.
This corner of the south Cornish coast is packed with designer hotels. The Lugger (01872 501322; www.luggerhotel.com; doubles from £200 including breakfast) is just up the road in Portloe. The location is so picture-perfect that it was used in the television adaptation of Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn. This 17th-century inn squats in the tiny cove amid a tangle of lobster pots. It was once frequented by local smugglers (one of the previous landlords, Black Dunstan, was hanged in the 1890s for smuggling liquor). Now the inn, a handful of fishermen's cottages and the old lifeboat hut on the water's edge have been converted into a stylish retreat and spa.
Nearby Driftwood (Rosevine, Nr Portscatho; 01872 580644; www.driftwoodhotel.co.uk; doubles from £180 including breakfast and afternoon tea) is surrounded by sweeping lawns, and has a nautically themed interior. In Penzance, the end of the railway line, The Abbey (01736 366906; www.theabbeyonline.com) was once owned by Sixties' pin-up Jean Shrimpton. It is a peaceful retreat set high above the harbour in a listed building dating back to the 1600s. With a walled garden and views of the bay and St Michael's Mount it feels far removed from the bustling town. Doubles from £120 including breakfast. Also worth a look is The Old Coastguard Hotel (01736 731222; www.oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk) in the tiny village of Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) with its sandy beach and picturesque harbour dating back to 400AD. It was from here that pilgrims once set out for Rome. Doubles from £100 including breakfast.
RICK STEIN COUNTRY?
Yes, Cornwall is also home to celebrity chef Rick Stein's empire (01841 532700; www.rickstein.com). He opened The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow back in 1975, across the quay from the lobster boats and trawlers. His portfolio has grown considerably. Today it includes the Padstow Seafood School which offers residential and non-residential cookery courses throughout the year; Rick Stein's Café; and Stein's Fish and Chips. There are also 33 rooms spread between four properties. As well as St Petroc's Hotel and Bistro (doubles from £115*
*including breakfast) there are a handful of rooms above The Seafood Restaurant, six luxury rooms named after famous Cornish surfing beaches with modern cherry-wood four-posters in St Edmund's House, and, bottom of the heap but still a cut above your average bed and breakfast, the Middle Street B&B (doubles from £85 including breakfast).
Over the Camel estuary at Rock (the summer holiday spot of choice for posh teens) is the St Enodoc Hotel (01208 863394; www.enodoc-hotel.co.uk). It has 16 light, airy rooms and four family suites, a heated swimming pool and al fresco dining on the restaurant terrace with views, of course, over to Padstow. There is a small beach at Rock ideal for children; surfers head to nearby Polzeath. Double rooms from £215 including breakfast during the summer, singles from £155.
However, Padstow and Rock don't have a monopoly on seaside chic on the north Cornwall coast. Near Tintagel, the Mill House Inn (01840 770 200; www.themillhouseinn.co.uk) in Trebarwith, an old 16th-century corn mill, is hip London hangout meets laid-back retreat. With a burbling brook, a cosy stone-flagged bar, a reading room with old leather sofas and a jumble of old school furniture in the airy restaurant, it's an exercise in hippie-chic. The rabbit warren of charming rooms offers rooftop views and creaking beds. The food is worth a detour even if you don't stay. Doubles from £90 including breakfast. Trebarwith Strand down the shady lane offers good surfing, boogie boarding and swimming.
RISING IN THE EAST
On the opposite side of England in Norfolk, The Victoria is an impressive gastro-pub on the Holkham Estate (01328 711 008; www.holkham.co.uk/victoria). It is just a 10-minute walk crunching through pine woods to the sea - and one of the country's best beaches. The sweep of sand at Holkham is a wide expanse of dunes under an endless sky. The Victoria's individually designed bedrooms are strewn with Persian rugs and exotic fabrics. Dark wooden furniture is handmade in India, paintwork comes in apple green and deep cerise. The restaurant serves fresh local produce including Cromer crab and venison from the Holkham Estate. Doubles from £140 including breakfast. Down the road in Wells-next-the-Sea is The Crown (01328 710209; www.thecrownhotelwells.co.uk), an old coaching inn now updated with modern interiors. Doubles from £120.
Heading back into Suffolk, in Southwold, a quintessential English seaside town complete with beach huts and pier, The Swan (01502 722 186; www.adnams.co.uk) is a beautifully furnished 17th-century inn with doubles from £146 including breakfast. In the little village of Campsea Ashe near Woodbridge, The Old Rectory (01728 746 524; www.theoldrectorysuffolk.com) is a Georgian country house next to the church. The gardens are stocked with apple, fig and walnut trees; the eight double rooms - some with Victorian baths and four-poster beds, cost from £85.
The two best hotels on the Isle of Wight are at opposite ends of the island. The Priory Bay Hotel (01983 613146; www.priorybay.co.uk) is in Priory Drive, between Bembridge and Seaview. It is an elegant yet cosy family favourite, with a wood-panelled drawing room and comfy sofas. Grassy slopes roll down towards a wooded path to a small beach. There's also an outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and nine-hole golf course. During August you can listen to jazz performers if you come for dinner on Friday evenings or lunch on Sundays; booking essential. Doubles from £170 in high season, plus a £40 a night supplement at weekends, including breakfast.
The George (01983 760331; www.thegeorge.co.uk) on Quay Street in Yarmouth on the west coast is also elegant with a stone-flagged entrance hall and panelled bar. In the centre of the bustling little town, it's close to the harbour and castle and also has its own patch of pebbly beach. Doubles from £180 plus a £20 supplement in August including breakfast.
The nautically themed Seaview Hotel and Restaurant (01983 612711; www.seaviewhotel.co.uk) on the High Street in Seaview is also popular and has doubles for £110 in August,with breakfast.
MORE ISLAND MAGIC
In the Scillies, a tiny archipelago 29 miles off the westernmost tip of mainland Cornwall, washed by the Gulf Stream, you'll find another coastal bolthole. The Hell Bay Hotel (01720 422 947; www.hellbay.co.uk) is surrounded by turquoise seas, long sandy beaches and scrubby heathland woven with wildflowers. There are few cars, and only the cries of seabirds and waves crashing on the beach break the silence. This peaceful hideaway is on Bryher, the smallest inhabited island. Rooms are furnished in soft greens and blues, original paintings and sculptures scattered around by local artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Julian Trevelyan. Doubles from £340 including dinner, bed and breakfast and transfers from Tresco or St Mary's by taxi and boat to Bryher.
Slightly closer to mainland Britain's shore is Burgh Island, just 200 yards off the south Devon coast. The Burgh Island Hotel (01548 810 514; www.burghisland.com) is a Grade II-listed art deco building. At low tide you can reach the hotel by walking across the sand; at high tide they send a custom-built sea tractor for you. The hotel was said to have inspired Agatha Christie's novel And Then there Were None and still puts on Thirties dinner dances every Wednesday and Saturday for which tails and tiaras are recommended. Rooms feature original art deco pieces, retro radios and more modern additions - delicious REN toiletries. Doubles from £275 including dinner and breakfast.
ANOTHER ART DECO GEM?
The world is your oyster at Whitstable in Kent. The Hotel Continental, 29 Beach Walk (01227 280280; www.oysterfishery.co.uk) on the seafront near the harbour is owned by the Whitstable Oyster Company. Doubles from £75. The company also owns a number of traditional fishermen's huts on the seafront. A Sea View family hut sleeping two adults and two children costs £300 for two nights at the weekend including breakfast served at the Hotel Continental.
On 2 January 1815 Lord Byron married Annabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall in Seaham - a coastal town between Newcastle and Durham. While there he wrote a number of poems including "The Siege of Corinth" and spent much of his time walking along the coastal path through Seaham Dene, now called Lord Byron's Walk, overlooking the wild, windswept stretch of sand. Today Seaham Hall (0191-516 1400; www.seaham-hall.com) has been restored and turned into a designer hotel with 19 individually designed suites and a Thai Spa. The rooms are divided into Cool, Hip, Escapist, Decadent, Sexy, Indulgent, Romantic and, the penthouse, Tops - in case you didn't get the message that this is a real treat. Doubles cost from £245 including breakfast Friday to Sunday, from £195 Monday to Thursday.
ON SCOTTISH SHORES?
The Three Chimneys (01470 511258; www.threechimneys.co.uk) on the Isle of Skye is more a restaurant with rooms. This renowned establishment, run by chef and owner Shirley Spear, occupies an old whitewashed crofter's cottage close to the sea, with views over the loch and mountains. Three years ago six designer suites were added in the House Over-By next door. These cost from £240 including breakfast taken in the Morning Room - from where you can spot seals basking on the rocks and fishing boats heading out to sea.
The Summer Isles Hotel (01854 622282; www.summerisleshotel.co.uk) in Achiltibuie is another Scottish bolthole, 10 miles along twisting country lanes from Ullapool. Overlooking the Summer Isles and the Hebrides across the water, this wild and unspoilt spot is perfect for a walking, fishing, bird-watching holiday or just soaking up the tranquillity and indulging in the freshly caught seafood - scallops, langoustines, crab, halibut, salmon and turbot. Doubles start at £119 including breakfast.
A RARE-BIT OF WALES
Wales has started to play catch up in the style stakes. Llandudno was previously more scary blue-rinse landlady than interior-designer territory. But Osborne House (01492 860330; www.osbornehouse.com) has been sumptuously refurbished and now has six luxurious, antique-strewn suites, all with sea views and romantic canopied beds. Rooms cost from £145, including breakfast.
On a hill above Llandudno is Bodysgallen Hall (01492 584 466; www.bodysgallen.com), a traditional country-house hotel set in 200 acres of parkland, with views of Conwy Castle and Snowdonia. Doubles from £175 including breakfast.
The Harbourmaster Hotel (01545 570755; www.harbour-master.com) stands in a line of Georgian-style houses on the quayside in Aberaeron on Cardigan Bay. They are all painted cheery colours - the Harbourmaster is a deep lavender. The hotel's maritime heritage is interwoven into the design with a subtle recurring motif based on a ship's porthole. All seven bedrooms (think exposed stonework and simple design) are named after ships built in the harbour during the 19th century - and all have harbour views. Doubles from £95 including breakfast.
A UNIQUE COLLECTION OF ITALIANATE FOLLIES
Break out and visit the place where The Prisoner was filmed. The Portmeirion Hotel (01766 770 000; www.portmeirion-village.com) on Wales's wild west coast is like nowhere else on earth. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis's "home for fallen buildings" is an amazing collection of Italianate follies, superbly located on the Traeth Bach estuary in north-west Wales. The five-star hotel itself is a handsome building, but the cottages are masterpieces. Double rooms start at £160 excluding breakfast; village rooms cost £140.