“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside. I do like to be beside the sea! I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!” John A. Glover-Kind
It’s no secret that I love spending time down at the coast in Brighton and Hove. I’m extremely lucky that our very good friends have a weekend retreat in Hove and don’t mind having homeless visitors tagging along. This summer the teenager and I decamped from London and spent a week at the seaside.
After a gloriously hot weekend when we were all there on mass, the meteorology department didn’t get my memo that I was staying for seven days and rather than bikinis and suncream, it was umbrellas and boots! One night/day the storm was so bad that a months rain fell in less than twenty-four hours, the river that was running down Brighton high street even made the news! Don’t you just love the unpredictable British summertime……ummmm NO! There were some bright spells, so we just made the most of them, it does amuse me that preparing for a day out at the British seaside in August requires a bag filled with items for every predicament.
Enough of the weather, let’s focus on this beautiful, diverse multifaceted city located on the East Sussex coast. Iconic buildings, tourist attractions and oodles of heritage attract a mammoth amount of visitors every year. The lack of a fine sandy beach does not deter pasty skinned English folk from stripping off at the slightest glimmer of sunlight (believe me there were some sights) and trying to get comfortable on the famous pebbles. Tacky seaside wares are off set by the trendy and quirky boutiques in the lanes. Independent cafes, bars and restaurant vie for business as you wonder through bunting clad streets.
One off shops, vintage emporiums, jewellery stalls and an eclectic looking cinema lure you back time and time again, each time you spot something new and different. This is the place where you can be eating fish and chips with a wooden fork on the pier one minute and sipping a posh cocktail in the fine dining restaurant at the Hotel du Vin the next, anything goes or should that be everything goes in Brighton and Hove.
It’s really easy to get around too with an inexpensive fast and direct train service between Hove and Brighton, all day rider tickets on the buses that enables you jump on and off wherever and whenever, and of course everything is within walking distance depending on your energy levels!
What we did……..
We took many a stroll along the colourful beach hut lined promenade that is flanked on one side by the pebble beach and sea. Over five hundred of said beach huts line the promenade from the beginning of the Hove stretch to the Beyond the Peace Statue which marks the start of Brighton, each individually decorated and kitted out inside. Hove is more peaceful than neighbouring Brighton, lined with beautiful regency architecture and a wealth of lovely green spaces, pubs and restaurants. One of the striped pastel coloured beach huts near DJ’s Norman Cook’s (aka Fat Boy Slim) Big Beach Cafe is ‘The Little Beach Hut of Dreams’ where you can apply to be a Dreamer-in-Residence for the day but I was refused due to it (frustratingly) being fully booked!!
Hove Park is a huge green space in Hove that is extremely popular with local residents, dog walkers, runners and families. Covering almost forty acres this Green Flag park offers an abundance of recreational facilities and activities. Tennis courts, football pitches, a basketball court, children’s playground and adult play/gym equipment are all available. A miniature steam railway also operates at one side of the park.
Other attractions are The Goldstone, a huge rock with the shape of a human face is clearly visible in the stone is commonly believed to have been used by the Druids for worship and ‘Fingermaze’, is a giant fingerprint sculpture carved into the park and lined with stone and lime mortar. The park is also home to the lovely Hove Park Cafe (see below).
I took the teenager on a very blowy trip up to Devil’s Dyke on the open-top bus, luring her with the promise of a Sunday Roast. This National Trust site is popular with hikers, cyclists, hand gliders and perfect for kite flying and was very busy on the sunny Sunday afternoon when we were there. The panoramic views from Devil’s Dyke have been described as ‘the grandest view in the world’. Tales of how Devil’s Dyke came into existence cite the Devil as its creator and are all equally quite bizarre, but however it came to being nothing can change the fact that it’s a stunning area of natural beauty and offers the most amazing views across the surrounding countryside for miles (read more about Devils Dyke in my previous post The No Plan, Plan).
Stanmer House is a Grade 1 listed Palladiam style mansion on the North-East outskirts of Brighton. We took the train from Hove to visit this venue located in the beautiful grounds of Stanmer Park. Built in 1722, it has gone through various stages of renovation and different uses but back in 2004 it was purchased by private investors who renovated it one last time. Now used for weddings, conferences and private hire it is also open to the public offering dining with a daily specials menu and after a long walk up the never-ending drive we enjoyed a lunch in one of its sitting rooms, just off the bar.
The legendary Brighton Pier has stood the test of time since its construction in the Victorian era, always heaving with hoards of visitors come rain or shine. I’m not a big fan of fairground attractions and arcades but the views from either side of the pier along the promenades are awesome. The chips smelled amazing but in reality were pale and tasteless but traditional nonetheless!
The Brighton Wheel located on one side of the pier offers visitors panoramic views of the coastline and landmarks from individual glass pods. This attraction is scheduled to be dismantled next summer as the city’s newest attraction the Brighton i360 takes centre stage opposite the old burned out pier. Visitors will be invited to take a trip 162 metres up and experience 360 degree views across Brighton and the surrounding area, from the world’s first vertical cable car. Construction is already underway and Brighton i360’s beach building will house a brasserie, heritage tea rooms, an exhibition and a shop. Coming summer 2016!
Brighton Marina was a little disappointing to be honest with a high sea wall that encloses the boats and the view. High street food chains were the only dining options available alongside multiplex entertainment options. No quaint little harbour and tea rooms at this place I’m afraid, my advice give it a miss!
The Lanes are a labyrinthine of narrow streets awash with antique shops and dining options. The North Laines offers a paradise for shoppers and creative types. Grab a coffee, a gelato or a beer in one of the outlets and then browse your way along the colourful streets. It’s a great place for a quirky gift, a funny card, a vintage dress or even a piercing to tattoo. Rummage in Snoopers Paradise for a bargain or two or just take a pew for some people watching.
The iconic Royal Pavillion is located in Brighton’s cultural quarter. This exotic palace built as a seaside pleasure abode for the Prince Regent, George IV. This historic house has a colourful history and striking architecture that mixes Regency grandeur with the combination of Indian and Chinese styles. Minutes from the city centre and the North Laines, it’s situated within beautiful manicured regency gardens. I wanted a cuppa and quite possibly a scone in the Royal Pavilion Tearoom but you cannot access this facility without paying the admission fees for the Pavillion itself (ridiculous), so we went elsewhere.
Where we ate……
Small Batch Coffee Co. is hands down the best coffee in Brighton and Hove. Small Batch is a locally owned coffee roasting company, with seven locations across Hove and Brighton, who roast all their coffee (brought from farmers at sustainable prices) at Goldstone Villas in Hove. The coffee blows any high street chain coffee out the window and the food (well the cake) is tasty too, especially the Banana Bread with chocolate and the raspberry lemon sponge thingy….delicious! Unashamedly we went everyday and pretty much filled up the loyalty card! My favourite branch is the Seven Dials location which is situated in an old Barclay’s Bank branch complete with the coffee training lab and bathrooms in the old vaults, very quirky. The little Hove one is also cute and perfectly positioned on the way down to the promenade.
Brasserie Pascal in Hove is one of the three La Fourchette venues in the area, located just off the high street in Hove. Offering diners a menu that embodies classic and contemporary French dining, we visited on a hot Saturday afternoon for a late lunch. French ambience, A La Carte options, two or three course specials menus and an extensive wine list make this a popular choice for residents and visitors alike. There was a good choice for vegetarians too which always a bonus for me but personally I found our waiter a little arrogant which ruined my experience, but the Vin Rosé certainly helped! Ce La Vie right!
Hove Park Cafe is a lovely little cafe situated in Hove park serving delicious homemade cakes and good coffee. Hot and cold food made on site is also on the menu and judging by the queue it’s a popular cafe, with seating both inside and outside. Open for breakfast and lunch it’s the perfect spot for an afternoon cuppa and slice of something nice. It was good to see that they also offer a range of dairy free options so you can enjoy your favourite coffee made with almond milk too.
Devils Dyke Pub is a rustic affair with an enviable position as the only pub/restaurant at top of the Devil’s Dyke always ensuring a constant trade. Their Sunday Roast was adequate but not as good as the one I had there before but after a blustery open-top bus ride and an hour’s wait for food, we were hungry so options were limited! The pub has a certain amount of complacency as there is no competition, they are not geared up for the amount of trade they generate in terms of quality of service or food!
Stanmer Park catering is provided by Whiting & Hammond, a company started by a former hotelier and a chef back in the early 2000’s, who now have eight venues in their chain. W & H source all their produce from local suppliers offering daily specials as well as breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday lunch and Afternoon tea options. There is also a well-stocked bar including a range of craft beers and ales. As it was National Afternoon tea week and after 3pm I had a tea and scones while the teenager enjoyed a light lunch from the specials menu. A perfect place to take the family of all ages on a sunny day.
Bills Restaurant is hands down our favourite breakfast location in the UK (to date) but also a great spot for lunch and dinner too. We have visited many Bills locations but Brighton is a most-liked venue. With the added bonus of meeting up with my sister and her growing brood, we enjoyed another fab Bills experience, even the torrential rain didn’t dampen our spirits. Bills mantra of ‘From breakfast to bedtime and everything inbetween‘ is the perfect description of this shabby chic decorated chain of restaurants, which now has a presence on most high streets. What’s not to love, with good fresh food, delightful interiors, friendly staff and even a little retail space to take some of the Bill’s goodies home.
How things have changed, I was not a fan of the English seaside when I lived in the UK (except some parts of Devon and Cornwall) but Brighton and Hove have some kind of magical charm that entices you in, engulfing you as you cross the Surrey/Sussex border. If you are UK-based and find yourself at a loose end one weekend pop down and experience it for yourself, if you are visiting England make some room in your schedule for a visit 😉
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.