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Top 10 English Seaside Hotels

by Adrian Mourby (June 2017)

Top 10 English Seaside Hotels

Summer is finally upon us which means, if you are British, that you’ll probably be thinking of a trip to the seaside. This nation has a curious relationship with our storm-tossed coast. We love it and it in turn has reciprocated over the years by protecting us from many invasions that would have easily succeeded by land. It has inspired painters like Turner, composers like Benjamin Britten and writers like Iris Murdoch.

Were it not for George III, however, we British might not associate the sea quite so much with summertime. After all, in much warmer Rio de Janeiro no one swam in the sea off Copacabana beach until 1917 when doing so was finally made legal. When sea-bathing became fashionable in Brazil in the early 20th century it was because it was popular in Europe. And it took off in Europe partly thanks to the British king who had been told by doctors that sea water was good for the health. Thereafter the monarch and his family decamped to Weymouth every summer, when the water was slightly warmer. And because many people followed royal fashion in those days, the British began to think equate summertime with seaside.

As a result whole towns were created in the nineteenth century just to cater to our desire for the sea. Many have lost their appeal these days with cheap tourism on offer to places abroad that are guaranteed to be warm. Nevertheless some great seaside hotels have been left behind and they are all worth visiting. In fact nowadays we go to the sea less for a resort town than because of a destination hotel.

So here is my selection of ten hotels by the English seaside where you can explore this great British holiday phenomenon at your leisure this summer.


Showing below are all 10 records in "Top 10 English Seaside Hotels"

Hotel du Vin - Poole (Hotel)

Thames Street, Poole

Hotel du Vin - Poole, Thames Street, Poole, Dorset

The Hotel du Vin Poole stands tucked away behind the quayside that sends boats out to Brownsea Island. You’d have to know this august brick manor house was there to find it. Once found however it reveals itself as an ideal place to base yourself in this summer. Sandbanks, a lovely stretch of British beach is just three miles away and Poole Park (opened by the Prince of Wales in 1890) is just around the corner.

Like so many of the Hotels du Vin, the Poole venue is a striking old building converted with flair. It was built originally by Issac Lester (1718-78) a hard-working but sharp-tongued merchant who ran the the Poole end of a long trading route to Newfoundland. By 1776 Isaac felt he was wealthy enough to build a new family home though he only enjoyed it for two years before his death.

The Mansion House on Thame Street is a fine imposing building, luckily with parking to the rear (this quarter of Poole was built long before there were such things as motor cars) .On the grand staircase up to reception there is one of Gary Myatt’s superb Hotel du Vin murals, this one depicting sailors on shore leave meeting up with some saucy local ladies. Myatt has decorated most of the Hotels du Vin and his hyperrealism is a delight. I particularly like his Burke and Hare in Edinburgh and his cabal of Roman assassins in the private dining room of York’s Hotel du Vin.

Upstairs there are 38 bedrooms all decorated with that robust yet slightly arch Hotel du Vin style, this time with plenty of New England clapboard and various nautical touches. This is the most self-consciously maritime of the 17 Hotels du Vin, -even more so than Brighton- and it shows.

The bistro, in what was once old Isaac’s cellar is, like all HdV bistrots, decorated with what might be called instant nicotine-stain on the walls. The surf and turf menu is superb. You can also dine outside in the summer on a small terrace. All in all a splendid place to stay if you want to explore the Dorset coastline.

The Royal Hotel (Hotel)

Belgrave Road, Ventnor

The Royal Hotel, Belgrave Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Ventnor on the Isle of Wight is a pretty little town with a small beach and a Smugglers’ Inn sitting on the English Channel. It was of no significance at all until 1866 when the railways arrived and it became possible to cross Britain’s second largest island from the ferry port at Ryde in just 25 minutes. Suddenly Ventnor with its warm, fresh microclimate took off as a tourist destination, especially for those were recovering from consumption and couldn’t afford the mountain air of Switzerland. Charles Dickens – himself in rude health - took a holiday nearby when writing David Copperfield and claimed the views were “ only equalled by shores found in the Mediterranean.”

Even before the resort came to national prominence, there was a hotel at the top of the cliffs above Ventnor. The Royal was founded in 1832, and its name is supposedly derived from Queen Victoria, grand daughter of the famous sea-bathing king calling in to take tea. In the 1840s the Queen and her Prince Consort Albert built a family home on the island. Osbourne House remained her favourite home even after the prince’s death in 1861. Its presence gave tourism to the Isle of Wight an indirect royal endorsement.

The Royal was constructed from two solid three-storey townhouses with an archway for carriages running between them. That passageway has now been glassed over, making a conservatory entrance with the words “Royal” and “Hotel” on either side what looks like the coat of arms of St George. Inside, the hotel has 51 bedrooms, an understated modern bar and an overstated dining room with blue stripes and gold leaf that recalls the neoclassical 1830s.

Guests can walk down to the beach, take it easy in the hotel gardens or try something a little more exciting on a modern rib that the hotel has just bought. If you haven’t tried bounding round the British coastline in a rib then you do not know what it is to be truly wet but this high speed dinghy bouncing by at 45 knots is a perfect way to see the coastline of the Isle of Wight. The hotel even throws in champagne and salmon sandwiches to make your afternoon truly memorable.

The Old Government House Hotel & Spa (Spa)

St Ann's Place, St Peter Port, Guernsey

The Old Government House Hotel & Spa, St Ann's Place, Guernsey

Guernsey, with its warm climate, sandy beaches and scenic cliff walks has had a long history of tourism. People also come here to look at the old British fortifications from when we fought Napoleon, and the more recent German fortifications left over from their years of occupation during World War II. These days more than 100 cruise ships a year dock at St Peter Port, bringing an additional 100,000 daytrippers on to this holiday island.

There are many places to stay across the island but OId Government House above St Peter Port is one of the best. This imposing stone structure dates back to 1796 when it was the official residence of the Governor who administered Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark. The last Lieutenant Governor to live in as Government House was General Sir James Douglas who fought with Wellington in the Peninsula War. Since 1858 it has functioned as a hotel. Life was always gracious for visitors to Guernsey right up until 1940 when it was taken over as General Staff Headquarters of the victorious German Army who held the Channel Islands until May 1945. Adolf Hitler was convinced that British pride meant that the Channel Islands would be liberated before any attack was made on France so he poured men and concrete into the island. At one point there was one German soldier for every Guernsey civilian. The massive concrete bunkers never fired a shot in anger however, as the D-Day landings bypassed the Channel Islands entirely.

Today these massive coastal fortifications are worth visiting while staying at OGH (as it is known locally).You should also walk down to the harbour and think about taking a boat to the other islands, each of which have their own distinct charm .

La Sablonnerie, Little Sark, Sark, Isle of Sark

Sark is one of the most dramatic islands around the British coastline although it is actually nearer France than England.

You get there by ferry from Guernsey and soon as you step on to the small quayside it is like stepping back into an island in the 1930s. There are no cars, just pony-traps and bicycles. There is also the odd tractor but the law on Sark forbids more than one person hitching a lift.

There are lots of interesting laws on Sark: You’re not allowed to kill a seagull or cycle your bike down to the harbour. Anything found on the beach automatically belongs to the Seigneur who is the island’s feudal lord. He - or she - officially owes loyalty not to Parliament but direct to the descendant of William the Conqueror (who happens to be Elizabeth II).

Into this topsy turvy world came the writers Victor Hugo and Mervyn Peake Peake set his fantasy novel Mr Pye on Sark) and Victor Hugo who stayed above Dixcart Bay and named a cave that he visited after his son. Dixcart Bay is a small strip of sand and shingle lying below an old hotel (now closed) where the great French novelist passed several happy weeks.

From La Coupée, the razor sharp isthmus that leads to Little Sark it’s a 25-minute stroll through fields of vines into the woods that lead down to the beach. The trees are full of birdsong and butterflies and strewn with wildflowers, just as my father remembered woodlands from his childhood. Finally you emerge on to this perfect sandy cove where seagulls will rise up in alarm upon realising they’re going to have to share their paradise with a human.

The best place to stay on Sark is La Sablonnerie, a mere ten minutes walk south across La Coupée. It’s an idyllic quiet, low-rise hotel almost hidden inside a beautiful, lush garden with a charmingly old fashioned restaurant. After a day on what can feel like your own private beach the team of black-waistcoated waiters will be all ears to hear all about your it. This is another world – and a very relaxing place to spend a week or two.

Alexandra Hotel & Restaurant (Hotel)

Pound Street, Lyme Regis

Alexandra Hotel & Restaurant, Pound Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Lyme Regis was once a busy port on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast but almost continual war with France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries- and the lack of a natural deepwater port- led to its decline. It was rescued commercially by the new fashion for sea-bathing that was given royal support by George III who, from 1789, took annual recuperative trips to the British coast.

Keen to see Lyme rise again, this time as a sea-bathing resort, local landowner Thomas Hollis developed much of the semi-derelict town and created “The Walk”, a public promenade out to the old Tudor harbour (known as the Cobb). Hollis also built the Assembly Rooms at the bottom of Broad Street on the site of some abandoned warehouses. By the time Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis with her mother and father, in 1803 and 1804, Hollis’ attempts to create a resort were paying off handsomely. The Assembly Rooms where Jane liked to dance were perched romantically on the harbour wall with the sea breaking beneath them.

The success of Lyme Regis in Victorian times led to the building of many holiday homes and a few hotels here. Up on the cliffs above Lyme, the “Alex”, as it is known locally, actually predated all this development. It was built in 1735 as a home for the Dowager Countess Poulett and was later the residence of the Anglo-French aristoctratic Duc de Stacpoole. The house has superb views over the Cobb and a serene, tree-lined garden. No wonder in 1901 it became a hotel.

There are 24 bedrooms, a sweet little forecourt as befits the retirement home of a countess, and a freestanding chapel that is currently being restored. In the mornings there is nothing lovelier than the stroll down Pound Street to Broad Street and as far as the Cobb, although you’ll notice the climb on your way back. Jane wrote to her sister that Broad Street was so steep it was "almost hurrying into the water”.

At the Cobb itself – a wonder of Tudor engineering – take in the beached fishing boats and pause to reflect how this harbour wall found its way into two critical scenes in English literature, John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Lyme is the place for a literary seaside holiday.

Salcombe Harbour Hotel & Spa, Cliff Road, Salcombe, Devon

Salcombe is such a holiday place nowadays that it’s surprising to learn that it only took off as a tourist destination between the two world wars with the founding of the Salcombe Sailing Club in 1922. Originally Salcombe on the Kingsbridge estuary was a ship-building port with its own customs house. It’s estimated that between 1796 and 1887 at least 200 vessels were launched from the port. To have more space in which to work, the shipyards were extended by reclaiming the foreshore. This land eventually provided space for hotel development.

Despite the name of its spa hotel, there is no harbour at Salcombe. The award-winning Salcombe Harbour Hotel belongs to the 14-strong Harbour Hotels collection. The hotel offers everything you’d want from a harbour view, however with sailboats and yachts coming and going below on the estuary. The hotel’s Jetty restaurant has a great crustacean bar and menus created by award winning Chef Alex Aitken.

Make sure you get a room with a balcony and take time for a treatment or two in the newly refurbished spa. And do spend some time sunbathing on the roof terrace. Rather than a traditional seaside hotel, Salcome Harbour Hotel sees itself as a “coastal retreat” with the engaging marketing slogan “Chic Ahoy!” And don’t worry about parking at the bottom of that steep drive. There is a brand new rotating plate in front of reception that will turn your car round for you. Another innovation is a private cinema which can be booked at no extra cost. So make sure you bring your favourite dvds!

The Headland Hotel & Spa (Hotel)

Headland Road, Newquay

The Headland Hotel & Spa, Headland Road, Newquay, Cornwall

Opened in 1900, the statuesque Headland Hotel rises up above the Atlantic Ocean the lair of some wealthy eccentric. Not surprisingly the Headland was “cast” as Hotel Excelsior in the film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (1990). Angelica Huston played the Grand High Witch – despite Roald Dahl’s objections - and Rowan Atkinson played the hotel manager. During a break in filming Atkinson left the bath taps running in his room and flooded the floor below. When hotel staff banged on his door the actor replied, “Go away, I’m asleep!”. Evidently the flood wrote off much of the production team’s electrical equipment.

The hotel had a similarly dramatic start in life. While it was being built in 1897, local fishermen attacked the foundations because they claimed the hotel was being built on common land where they had dried their nets for generations. This incident became known as the Newquay Riots. Fortunately when this imposing hotel was opened in 1900 it was able to attract the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to stay and earlier objections were set aside.

Situated on an actual headland west of Newquay the Headland stands four square on the South West Coastal Path which makes it great for walkers. It’s also just above Fistral Beach, which houses Rick Stein’s Fistral restaurant so it’s good for bathers and gourmands too.

Cary Arms (Hotel)

Beach Road, Babbacombe, Torquay

Cary Arms, Beach Road, Torquay, Devon

The Cary Arms has the steepest drive down to a hotel car park that you are likely to encounter this side of an Austrian ski slope. On the way down you pass Babbacombe Cliff, a stunning Victorian house where Oscar Wilde fell seriously and dangerously in love his 'gay, gilt and gracious lad', Lord Alfred Douglas.

Fortunately no such danger awaits at the Cary Arms once you have successfully parked your car and found reception. This pub with rooms – and cottages – sits above Babbacombe Bay and is named after the Cary family, who have been a part of Torquay’s history since 1662 when Sir George Cary moved into Torre Abbey after the Restoration.

The hotel has an unexpected royal connection through Queen Victoria whose mother had a lady-in-waiting called Mrs Whitehead. In later life on the beach below the Cary Arms (where the car park is now) and in 1833 the young Princess Victoria, continuing the Hanoverian tradition of sea-bathing, visited Mrs Whitehead. The young Victoria came back twice as Queen to sketch the seashore, something that young ladies did when not dressing up to go swimming.

Later the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert brought their eldest sons -the Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred - here. The future Edward VII came again in 1878 while staying in Torquay. He sat on the grass below the Cary Arms and enjoyed a Devonshire cream tea. Unfortunately William Gaskell, the landlord at the time, ran out of clotted cream but other diners came to the rescue of the royal appetite by donating theirs and the reputation of the Cary Arms was saved.

Today the hotel has some chic tongue and groove bedrooms and an attractive range of cottages in the grounds. There is also a bell in front of the bar which guests are encouraged to ring if they see dolphins in the bay below. Not every hotel can boast that!

The Wentworth Hotel (Hotel)

Wentworth Road, Aldeburgh

The Wentworth Hotel, Wentworth Road, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

The Wentworth has stood here, opposite Aldeburgh’s rugged stony beach since 1920 when the Pritt family opened up this line of old town houses as a hotel. Today the manager is Michael Pritt, a descendant of the original owners. This a traditional seaside hotel of which Britain once had so many. It has all the old virtues of the English seaside, including quick and easy access to the beach across the hotel garden and seaview rooms. While not every bedroom faces towards the North Sea, all 35 have a copy of Kathleen Hale's A Seaside Holiday, the engaging 1952 story about Orlando the marmalade cat who takes his wife Grace and their three kittens to the sea. Here in the town of Owlbarrow they stay in an old beached ship. Kathleen Hale’s illustrations make it clear that Owlberrow is really Aldeburgh.

The book, now reprinted by the Aldeburgh Bookshop (a three-minute walk from the hotel) is, like the Wentworth Hotel itself a pleasant reminder of how seaside holidays used to be.

Red Lion Hotel (Small Hotel / Inn)

The Quay, Clovelly, Bideford

Red Lion Hotel, The Quay, Bideford, Devon

Clovelly is a small harbour village in Devon with a steep, pedestrianised cobbled main street, so steep in fact that the only transport is on sledges pulled by donkeys. The village is still owned by the Rous family, descendants of the Hamlyns who have been lords of Clovelly Court since 1738. The family also owns the village’s two hotels, the New Inn at the top and the Red Lion, 400’ below on the harbour. This large, eighteenth century “beer house” was – and still is - a meeting point for Clovelly’s sailors. In Charles Kingsley’s Westcountry novel, Westward Ho! it features as the birthplace of the mariner, Salvation Yeo.

The hotel has 17 bedrooms with 11 in the old whitewashed inn. These all have views either to the Bristol Channel or the small harbour. There are six further bedrooms in the Sail Loft, a recent outbuilding conversion.

The South West Coast Path National Trail runs at from the top of the village and the day’s walk from Clovelly to Hartland Quay is lovely, but you may chose to stay and just look at the old harbour and feed the seagulls. Why not? You’re on holiday.


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