Foodies, artists, nature lovers and eco-warriors love Bridport in West Dorset. Read on to find out why
If you're a foodie, Bridport will ring a bell… it is home to the original River Cottage where Hugh started his quest of local, home grown and foraged stuff. The area always had plenty to offer and things have only improved in the last few years.
Love food, love West Dorset!
West Dorset is blessed with some of the best weather in the UK. OK, it's not the French Riviera but then it's not as expensive either. It stands to reason that you'll find fantastic produce grown in the area and that chefs did not wait for celebrities to tell them to cook local. Take the Riverside (www.thefishrestaurant-westbay.co.uk ; two-course meal from £16.50) in West Bay, Bridport's harbour. Bang in the middle of this unpretentious fishing harbour, it looks like a large wooden hut sitting on the river Brit. Fish is a speciality, of course, straight from Lyme Bay and locals have been coming here for 45 years; again and again. Best recommendation.
Another good place to enjoy fresh seafood by the sea is the Hive Beach Café in Burton Bradstock. Not much to look at from the outside but the beach - with its red cliffs, views towards the Portland peninsula to the east and Lyme Regis to the west - is fantastic. These guys are committed to local and sustainable and from sandwiches to catch of the day, there's something tasty for all purses.
The Jurassic Coast
The coast is undeniably amazing - it's UNESCO listed as a World Natural Heritage Site. We're talking on a par with the Grand Canyon. Think Far from the Madding Crowd and its rolling green hills married to The French Lieutenant's Woman; waves and all. It's Jurassic because dinosaurs bones have been found in the area but don't go hammering the cliffs unless you want a hole in your head. There's plenty enough finds on the beaches.
Where to stay in Bridport
Bridport is far more than the beach. The town itself is an interesting mix. Take the old St Michael's trading estate with its community of artists; mix it with the town's history of rope making and its hard working folks, add a weekly market and a high street filled with shops and eateries. Well, you end up with a town where people like spending time. For a coffee, food or some music head for the Beach and Barnicott, my favourite for a morning coffee. For a cheap and cheerful, long tables and friendly faces try the Pizza Stables Bar behind the Bull Hotel. If you're in for a challenge, I'm told the Taj Mahal (www.tajmahalbridport.com) serve a curry with the Dorset Naga - reputedly one of the hottest chilli peppers in the world grown in West Bexington, a few miles down the coast. Or you could try their River Cottage rabbit curry…
The area has plenty of places to stay too. For a fairly conservative hotel with comfortable rooms, I can recommend the Bridge House Hotel (doubles from £98.00); friends of mine stayed there and loved it. Their restaurant and brasserie offer good honest food and the staff are really friendly. For something a bit more Mr and Mrs Smith head for The Bull Hotel (doubles from £70 (shower) £120 (bath)) and their posh wallpaper. If it's a B&B you're after, again there's plenty of choice. One of my favourites is Highway Farm (B&B from £85; Cottage sleeps four from £350) on the way to Lyme Regis. You'll be able to fish on their lake, walk around the surrounding hills or partake in one of Pauline's great value craft workshops. She knows the area like the back of her hand, loves it passionately and staying local is in her bones.
What to do around Bridport?
Walking on the hills and beaches around Bridport is a joy that draws ramblers and strollers to the area all year round. From the well known South West Coastal Path to villages like Symondsbury at the foot of the much photographed tree-topped Colmers Hill, there's plenty to choose from. For sweeping views over the area head for Golden Cap, highest point on the Dorset Coast with brilliant views towards the unique sandy strip of Chesil Beach and the heritage coast. A few miles inland, giving you sea and beautiful rolling countryside views - weather permitting of course - are Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill. Park at the bottom and climb up, it'll be worth it.
The eco-warrior can forget the car altogether and head for West Bay. A boat trip to or from Lyme Regis will let you discover the 180 million years old red cliffs - stunning in the evening light. There is also a Coast link bus so you can admire the views rather than concentrate on the road.
For more creativity, how about making a chair or carving a totem pole in a peaceful woodland setting with Guy Mallinson on the Devon border (www.mallinson.co.uk)? Bring your wellies because the rain won't stop him and get in quick as he's about to be featured with Monty Don on the BBC. Or you could follow the new buzz of learning about beekeeping and check Monkton Wyld Court and its numerous family courses like bushcraft or more adult offerings like… biodynamic gardening. What did you think I was going to say? Now, now, this is very much a family-friendly area where food, local and sustainable is not a new fashion, it's just the way it is. Enjoy!