Take a winter break in the quintessential English resort of Southwold and find out exactly why it’s nicknamed Chelsea-on-sea
If Hollywood were to replicate a perfect English seaside town on the silver screen, you can bet that Southwold would be it. Of course, the North Sea would have to be retouched from a briny green to a more palatable Caribbean blue. This Suffolk resort is famous for its string of candy-coloured and gloriously expensive beach huts, but even in the depths of winter Southwold is just brimming with seaside charm.
Often known as Chelsea-on-sea, Southwold attracts a certain standard of visitor. The population trebles from 1,000 residents during the week to over 3,000 at the weekend (not to mention a fleeting bushel of shiny Land Rovers). Cries of ‘Darling, didn’t know you were down this weekend; oh Bertie will be thrilled!’ vibrate through the salty air. But don’t let this put you off - a visit to Southwold is a rare treat.
Taking a wander down the main drag of the High Street, it takes just 15 minutes to know the town intimately, and it’s perfect for a potter. Curiosity shop windows are stuffed with gorgeously pointless treasures. Art galleries and designer boutiques offer the type of seaside souvenirs that require extra house insurance. Try the Black Olive deli for excruciatingly expensive (but damn good) pork pies and the rarest of olives. The Swan is the matriarchal host of Southwold, offering old world glamour at new world prices. The Crown Inn, a few doors down, is a little less stern, and ideal for those of us too daunted by the Swan. By wandering through the wrong door, we accidentally stumble upon the Adnam’s Wine Cellar and Kitchen Store, which is hidden away in the Crown’s car park. It’s a lucky find, and we enjoy a good hour sampling fine wine and local beer whilst simultaneously trying to work out why anyone would need opal-encrusted gherkin tongs.
There are plenty of places to satisfy your sea-air induced hunger and both local and organic produce feature heavily on menus. The gorgeously trendy Sutherland House restaurant even goes as far as stating how many miles the ingredients have travelled (although one slice of banoffee pie will ruin your carbon footprint).
Although we are braving brisk mid-December temperatures, a walk along the golden stretch of sand and a wink from the lighthouse and I’m smitten by this kooky little town. The colourful beach huts that line the promenade are decorated with names such as Bernard, Here’s Hoping and Lady Luck. Who would name a beach hut Bernard? Sally is far more appropriate.
It’s not a long prom and we soon arrive at the pier. The privately owned Southwold pier is a far cry from the garishness of Brighton and Bournemouth piers, but it’s cute and houses the hilarious Under The Pier Show, ‘A completely mad collection of homemade slot machines’ and is a must-see for anyone visiting Southwold. This wacky arcade is the only place in the world where you can ‘walk the dog’, ‘fly around the world in your armchair’ and have an ‘autofrisk’ where you get frisked by two mechanical rubber gloves (this was my favourite).
We are staying at a very nice hotel called The Randolph, situated in the neighbouring village of Reydon. As it’s located just outside the town, the Randolph is more reasonable than its Southwold compatriots, but this does not reflect in the quality or the service. The nineteenth century inn has recently been refurbished and the décor is all the bleached wood and fresh, neutral colours you come to expect from a modern hotel. Colourful photographs of famous Southwold views are on every wall, embracing its stunning location. The rooms are large and comfortable, and all come with country views. A good breakfast of local Suffolk sausages and bacon, eggs from the local farm, field mushrooms, no doubt from the local field, all finished off with proper toast, local butter and preserves. Alas, the coffee was from Brazil - damn, there goes my carbon footprint again! A leisurely stroll into Southwold takes no more than 15 minutes and it becomes apparent that we are ideally situated to work off the huge breakfast.
One of the highlights of the Randolph is the exceptional food. It comes at no surprise, as the owner, David Smith, is the ex-head chef of the Swan. He knows instinctively what works and what little extras his guests would appreciate (robes and bottled water in the bedrooms, warm breads and chilled butter in the dining room). Gravadlax with celeriac, tempura tiger prawns, a perfectly cooked rib-eye steak and a very nice lamb shank is just a sample of the well-rounded menu.
Southwold has proved itself as not just a fair-weather friend but one for all seasons. It’s a great place to enjoy excellent locally-sourced food, exquisite shops and the blessed lungful of salty sea air. The lack of amusement arcades, theme pubs and lilo shops discourage riff-raff and what you are left with is a delightful seaside town, which is clean, friendly and destined for Hollywood.