‘I am convinced the sea air always does good,’ declares Henrietta Musgrove in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Austen often poked fun at the Georgian notion of the sea as a source of bountiful health and healing; in many respects, it was the eighteenth century’s answer to today’s wellness fad. And yet it’s believed she met her first love whilst staying in Sidmouth in Devon and it is in Lyme Regis that Anne and Captain Wentworth rekindle their romance in Persuasion. Even when viewed through Jane Austen’s cynical eye, the Georgian ideal of the seaside as a place of wellbeing, romance and possibility has never quite left us.
As coronavirus plays havoc with foreign holiday plans, perhaps it’s time we took some Georgian health advice and rediscovered the restorative qualities of the great British coastal break – it sounds a lot more romantic than stockpiling loo rolls, at any rate. Here are seven coastal gems that will ensure you make the very best of the great outdoors this summer:
Woolacombe Bay Hotel, Devon
It’s no secret that Woolacombe is one of Britain’s best surfing beaches – in fact, it’s arguably Britain’s best beach full stop. Devon’s three mile expanse of golden sand almost feels too spacious to belong on our shores but it does and you should go!
For direct access to the beach, there’s no beating Woolacombe Bay Hotel, built in the 1880s, where guests routinely wander in and out of the smart, Victorian atrium decked out in wetsuits, having just nipped onto the beach to catch a pre-breakfast wave. Beach showers at the edge of the grounds and a large, state of the art basement spa pool make it a surefire hit with surfers from the city who like to retreat to a slice of luxury after their dip in the ocean. Families are kept equally happy with an in-house cinema, play park, baby-listening, brasserie and the freedom to amble out of the hotel grounds straight onto the dunes.
Moonfleet Manor, Dorset
Children and dog-lovers will not want to leave this Georgian gem on Dorset’s Jurassic coast. Situated in Moonfleet – the famous setting of J Meade Faulkner’s smuggling novel, the hotel is perched behind the Chesil Beach sand bar, a stone’s throw away from Weymouth. You are so spoilt for day trip options here that it’s difficult to know where to begin – to the west, there’s West Bay, the setting for Broadchurch. To the east, there are the turquoise waters of Durdle Door and Lulworth cove. And that’s before we even mention the many Purbeck sights that inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series – from Ringstead Bay to Corfe Castle.
A weekend here feels more like staying with friends in a grand country house than it does a hotel: imagine if your artistic, aristocratic aunt was let loose on the decor of the family pile: it’s all Moroccan lanterns, velvet curtains and roaring fires. Children are encouraged to hunt for pirates and fairy doors around the hotel corridors while dogs can slump down next to one of the many open fireplaces after a hearty coastal walk. Toddlers and teenagers alike are kept happy whatever the weather with the giant games room decked out with trampolines and ice hockey tables. Failing that, there’s ‘the den’ where they can pet guinea pigs and feed the chickens, the indoor pool and the film nights. Grown-ups are equally well looked after with a first-class restaurant and spa. Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why so many of the guests keep coming back.
Raithwaite Estate, Yorkshire
Perfect if you’re feeling adventurous. The estate’s two hotels and several cottages lie in 100 acres of woodland. Ten minutes’ walk will get you to Sandsend’s award-winning beach, while a longer one will get you to nearby Whitby. Or you could try out the archery, clay shooting, coasteering (chucking yourself off rock faces) or other activities on offer. Dogs are welcome in some rooms (the hotel even supplies a list of local dog-friendly pubs and cafés for when you’re out and about). But if this all sounds too energetic, just park yourself in the spa. Or indeed in the Poachers Bar. Or the Brasserie restaurant, which the estate bills as ‘French beret meets flat cap’.
Fowey Hall, Cornwall
Fowey is one of the hidden highlights of Cornwall’s south coast. The little fishing town perched on the estuary of the river Fowey is famed for the colourful riverside houses that festoon the riverbank. The town is full of independent shops and restaurants that are worth venturing off the beaten track for. You can also catch the ferry over to Polruan which is less than one mile away on the other side of the estuary. I have very fond memories of family holidays here as a child but even without my nostalgic hat on it remains one of Cornwall’s most authentic fishing villages.
Fowey Hall, built in 1899 by Sir Charles Hanson, is the ideal base from which to explore this part of Cornwall. The sprawling manor hotel boasts a sundeck with a jacuzzi, a heated pool, bikes for hire, a zip wire and its own watersports centre – understated luxury for those who love the great outdoors. Grab wellies and nets from the door and off you go!
South Sands, Salcombe, Devon
This elegant beach-front hotel enjoys picture-perfect vistas over the Kingsbridge Estuary and out to sea. You can step from the restaurant straight down onto the sand and sit and watch the tide come in as you eat your dinner. Take the nearby ferry over to the stunning East Portlemouth beach or kayak down the estuary directly from the hotel. On rainy days, simply wile away an afternoon perusing Salcombe’s boutiques and cafés. Just make sure you return to your room in time for sun set – the views here are some of Devon’s finest.
Brudenell Hotel, Aldeburgh
Back in 2003, Artist Maggi Hambling put Suffolk town Aldeburgh on the map with her Scallop sculpture. Not that Aldebugh needed rediscovering – its iconic pastel coloured 19th century villas have been tempting holiday makers ever since British composer Benjamin Britten founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 which still runs today.
The Brudenell is a beachfront hotel in the heart of the town with a renowned seafood menu and sea view rooms that allow you to wake up to the Suffolk coast each morning. Its quiet charm is ideal for those wanting to escape the crowds that flock to the south coast.
Knoll House Hotel, Studland
City types will tell you to stay at The Pig on the Beach as soon as you breathe the words ‘Studland’ and ‘Dorset’ but, despite the rave reviews from excited foodies, I can’t avoid the feeling that it’s a little overhyped and overpriced. Nearby Knoll House Hotel neatly sidesteps the pretentiousness of The Pig and instead serves up spectacular views of Sandbanks and Old Harry rocks without the ‘boutique’ price tag. That doesn’t mean to say that you will forgo any creature comforts: it boasts a tennis court with arguably the best view in Dorset, a brand new bistro restaurant, an outdoor pool and is dog-friendly to boot.
Studland, where the hotel is based, is set apart from the busyness of Sandbanks on the other side of Poole Harbour – where Harry Redknapp and his footballing cohorts live. It’s also a protected area belonging to The National Trust, so you can wander through unspoilt dunes (sidestepping the designated nudist beach) or walk up onto the heath for panoramic views over Brownsea island and the harbour.
Karma Hotel, St Martins
If you love the Cornish coast but are sick to death of the crowds then why not find your own private patch of paradise on the Isles of Scilly? With a new helicopter service about to start from Land’s End, along with regular flights and a daily boat, this far-flung, sub-tropical archipelago has never been better connected. The white sands and clear waters of St Martins (arguably the island with the best beaches – although it is very hard to pick a favourite) make it well worth the effort and, at Karma Hotel, you couldn’t get closer to the beach if you tried. Dine on topnotch seafood and even treat yourself to a hotel picnic as you set off and explore the island by foot or snorkel with the seals.