When the sun is shining, there’s no better place to be than the south coast: Johanna Payton samples a short Bournemouth beach holiday at the Hallmark Carlton Hotel
Once you shake off the obsession with sangria, gelato and “du pain, du vin”, there is so much to celebrate about a beach holiday in Britain. Ok, so we weren’t basking in tropical temperatures when we stayed in Bournemouth over Easter, but the sun did shine and the resort instantly bloomed, displaying its potential as a fantastic summer holiday destination.
The outdoor pool looked so inviting, even in March, surrounded by lush gardens and flooded by sea air
Just over 100 miles from London, we reached Bournemouth via a very pleasant drive down the A3 and M3. We arrived on a sunny evening in late March, enjoying the views of the New Forest and keen to get unpacked so we could take tea at sunset.
We stayed at the Hallmark Hotel Bournemouth Carlton on East Overcliff Drive. We were drawn by the promise of “fabulous history and splendid architecture with a dramatic cliff top seafront location” – but (after arranging the stay through Booking.com) we could have done with a heads-up on the fact there are two Hallmark Hotels next to each other. Google maps took us to the Hallmark East Cliff and, although we soon realised, it’s worth knowing as the car parks are for residents only (you face a hefty fine if you park in the wrong one).
Once we’d made our way to the right reception, we checked into a lovely – huge – room with double bay windows, a comfy king-sized bed and a fold-out single bed for our son. The hotel is being refurbished, so the scaffolding obscured our view (as did the builders in the morning!) but we were staying out of season and, once the work is done, I’m sure the views will be gorgeous.
The hotel is steeped in tradition. The classic dining room was bustling with dolled-up guests, so we chose to eat in the more relaxed bar area. Breakfast wasn’t included in our room rate, but we intended to make the most of the swimming pool before checkout, anyway.
My son (11) was more than brave enough for the slightly chilly indoor pool, but I relaxed in the hot tub where I could keep an eye on his Michael Phelps-esque activities. With the sun shining through the floor to ceiling windows, it was very easy to imagine how fantastic the hotel must be during a hot summer spell: the outdoor pool looked so inviting, even in March, surrounded by lush gardens and flooded by sea air.
The Carlton is directly opposite the cliff top and once we’d packed up, we left our cases at reception and set off to explore the beach.
A couple of minutes walk away, the East Cliff lift, a 108-year old funicular railway, whizzes you down to the sand and a single ride is just £1.40 for adults and £1 for children.
Sadly, since our visit, a landslip has closed the lift and engineers are still trying to determine if and when it will reopen. Let’s hope it can be saved as we loved nipping down to the beach that way and the lift operators were the chirpiest of chaps.
The beach at Bournemouth is big – there are seven miles of it – and sandy. The colourful beach huts add an eye-popping focal point and palm trees remind you that Bournemouth may be British, but it does enjoy its fair share of fantastic weather.
In high summer, it would be so easy to have a full-on beach holiday at the Hallmark Carlton, splitting your days between the beach and the hotel pools. It wasn’t warm enough for paddling in the sea during our visit, so we wandered along the 15-minute promenade walk to Bournemouth Pier where there’s an aquarium, the famous Pavillion theatre and a Rock Reef activity centre on the pier itself that kids of all ages will love (my son tells me he’s up for doing the zip wire, across the sea and landing on the beach, in the summer on a windless day – well, we all have our limits).
As my boy wasn’t in the mood for white knuckle activities on this occasion, we took the beach-bum option and sipped lattes at Hot Rocks surf restaurant and cocktail bar instead. The generous outdoor seating area was bathed in sunshine and we enjoyed the surf videos, echoed by the real life surfers catching waves right by the pier.
When at the seaside, it has to be fish & chips for lunch, and the massive Harry Ramsden’s was packed with eager eaters – we got a table straight away, but booking might be wise in summer.
Ours was a whistlestop stay in the sunny south coast town, but it really reminded me how brilliant beach holidays can be in this country. I’m looking forward to heading back, when there’s warmth in the sun and the sniff of Hawaiian Tropic in the air, to make the very best of a beautiful Bournemouth beach holiday.
How to get to Bournemouth without flying:
Drive to Bournemouth via the A338 (Wessex Way) from the North/East and the A35 from the South/West. From London, the most direct route is M3, M27 then A338.
Bournemouth railway station is served by South West Trains and has a regular service to Weymouth and direct services to/from London Waterloo.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the ground
Images: Johanna Payton/Hallmark Hotels