There’s so much more to Bournemouth than just the beach and ice creams
- By Rachel Blundy
Rachel Blundy discovers fine food, weather, accommodation and much more in a seaside town that blends the modern and traditional
The British certainly know how to make the most of a heatwave. On one sweltering weekend last July, 120,000 sunseekers headed to Bournemouth’s beautiful beaches and wolfed down no fewer than 40,000 ice creams.
My partner and I joined the mass exodus to the Dorset coastal resort, but, rather than roast ourselves on the beach all weekend, we explored what the town has to offer.
We stayed at the Park Central Hotel, three minutes’ walk from the seafront and 10 minutes from the town proper.
Our Signature Suite came with a sea view, its own lounge area and en-suite bathroom, and was spacious and tastefully decorated in a boutique style.
With two TVs and free Wi-Fi, we were fully catered for if the weather suddenly turned sour which, luckily, never happened. And despite being located by the pier, noise from our fellow holidaymakers was not a problem.
Breakfast was a choice of cereals and pastries or traditional full English, while dinner, at the hotel’s fine dining Crab seafood restaurant, was a more extravagant affair. I tried the sea bream with a crab, coconut and lime risotto, while my other half opted for the rib eye steak with chips, pastrami, beetroot and rocket.
I’m pleased to report we both cleared our plates. We ordered an assiette of desserts to share, but this time we had over-egged it and failed to finish.
Needless to say, all the food was delicious and exquisitely presented. The only downside was that those on a tight budget might find £15 to £20 for a main course a little on the expensive side. But for a one-off treat, it is definitely worth it.
Bournemouth seems keen to shake off any lasting impression of itself as an old-fashioned resort, striking a good balance between traditional and modern attractions. Our first stop was the Bournemouth Balloon (bournemouthballoon.com), which provides a bird’s eye view of the town and the English Channel. The £12.50 flight, which allows you to see up to 20 miles all around on a clear day, seems to be over all too quickly, so be sure to get your cameras out as you start the 500ft ascent.
Safely back on terra firma, we walked along the coast to the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery ( russell-cotes.bournemouth.gov.uk ). It’s free from October 1 to March 31, otherwise it’s £5.
The rooms are filled with works of art, including sculptures, from the mid-1800s to early-1900s, all collected by former town mayor Sir Merton Russell-Cotes and his wife Annie during their world travels. There’s everything from miniature tea sets to intimidating tribal masks.
The building itself is known as East Cliff Hall and was commissioned by Sir Merton as a gift to his wife. The couple lived in the house, which visitors can explore, from the beginning of the 20th century until their deaths in the 1920s.
The permanent art collection reflects tastes popular during Queen Victoria’s reign, but there are also more contemporary works on display for the gallery’s special exhibitions.
Having satisfied our thirst for all things cultural, we finally hit the beach for a two-hour surfing lesson at Surf Steps ( bournemouthsurfschool.co.uk £35).
The surprisingly still water meant we were forced to adapt our surfing into paddleboarding, which requires the same skills but also involves using a giant paddle to push you along.
Getting your balance can take a few minutes, but once you feel confident on the board it’s a great way to enjoy the sea. So, if you’re looking for a holiday closer to home this summer, Bournemouth ticks all the boxes for fun in the sun. Let’s just hope the great British weather plays ball again.