Brighton, in East Sussex, is the perfect weekend escape from London. Stay in a quaint guesthouse, let off steam in a club, breathe that blustery sea air and take a stroll along the prom
As a born-and-bred South Devon girl engulfed in the concrete jungle of central London, my gut tells me to head to the nearest beach whenever I need a change of scene. And in just over an hour from Victoria, with the view of picturesque green-belt countryside from the train window, I can feel at home again – in Brighton.
When alone, my favourite pastime in London-on-Sea is to spend the morning browsing second-hand bookstores in The Laines. As well as all the vintage and one-off clothing shops, there are some great literary destinations here and I often pick up a graphic novel for my father at Dave’s Comics on Sydney Street. After this, I will invariably get lost walking to the beach (the winding streets do something strange to my internal compass) and eventually plonk myself down on the pebbles to read through my new purchases with a bag of chips.
Most recently, I took my partner here for his birthday. Returning for my second visit, I booked us into The Twenty One (www.thetwentyone.co.uk), a hotel just off Marine Parade on the edge of Kemptown. It’s a star of a place, with just eight elegantly furnished rooms – and its owners, Matt and Andy, remind you of the true values of hospitality that are so lacking in today’s large chain hotels. I would love to spend every weekend there, looking out from the balcony towards to the sea, although I'm always tempted to return to the Artist Residence (www.artistresidence.co.uk). A sheer one-off, this nugget of budget bohemian chic is Brighton embodied. Covered from floor to ceiling with art, this trendy nine-room hotel is, quite literally, a work of art.
If you're looking for something more upmarket, the pearl in the city's hotel crown is undoubtedly The Grand (www.devere.co.uk/our-locations/the-grand.html). This beautiful white-washed Victorian castle takes centre stage on the seafront and boasts such luxuries as a spa, luxurious suites and stunning restaurant. A favourite treat for locals is taking afternoon tea in the Victoria Lounge.
Jamie Oliver’s laidback new restaurant, Jamie's (www.jamieoliver.com/italian/brighton), had been recommended to us by many people, but the queue was rather long so if you plan to go, book ahead. We retraced our steps to a place we had passed earlier in the day – Riddle & Finns www.riddleandfinns.co.uk). It was the perfect choice for a special occasion. Incredibly stylish and totally unique, it felt very right to be eating seafood specialities by the seaside. It’s not cheap, but every mouthful is worth it and the service was relaxed but impeccable. I can heartily recommend the chilli crab – just be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get messy!
My girlfriends and I are huge fans (as are any vegetarians worth their broccoli) of Michelin-starred Terre a Terre (www.terreaterre.co.uk). Deservedly the most famous veggie hangout in the UK, this place serves such amazing food that it's a fine dining destination in its own right. And as with any city, there are also plenty of fantastic chain restaurants offering reliable, global fare. The streets surrounding the pavillion are packed with evening activity and places such as Strada (www.strada.co.uk) and La Tasca (www.latasca.co.uk/brighton) can nearly always guarantee a table.
The great thing about Brighton is that it has something for everyone. On a weekend away with friends, I have toured the entertainments of the pier and partied until the sun has come up to the serious sound systems of clubs such as Audio and Honeyclub. There is nothing quite like wandering out from under the arches, blinking at the horizon and sitting on the beach to watch the sun rise. Brighton has an appeal that will never date, whoever you are.