Lucy Kehoe

Secret seaside hotels to discover this summer

Secret seaside hotels to discover this summer
Jacob's Ladder, next to Sidmouth Harbour Hotel
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If you’re still feeling sceptical about traffic light holiday chaos, or – along with the estimated five million other UK citizens – are stuck with a Covishield jab and concerned a European escape might end at the border, never fear – Blighty has your back. Only a car (or train) journey away are sun-dazzled shores offering balmy sea breezes, ocean vistas, and golden-sand beaches to rival the continent. UK hotels have reopened with a celebratory atmosphere, and while they’re stuffed to the rafters, last-minute isolation orders mean cancellations are providing ad-hoc availability at the eleventh hour. Here’s our picks of the isles’ best places to stay for a seaside jaunt.…

The Brudenell, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Summer in Aldeburgh (pronounced as you would ‘Marlborough’) provides the best conditions for an adventurous dip on the East Coast. Between April and October, a few minutes of the chilling waves are just about manageable. Plunge in, hold your breath and then race up the shingle to find your towel. If you’re staying at The Brudenell, so much the better – sat on the Parade Road, there’s only a thin strip of tarmac separating you and the shingle from a hot bath back in your room.

This 19th-century property, like the town it sits in, is quaint, picturesque and a little bit ramshackle. Aldeburgh has long resisted the kiss-me-quick nostalgia of England’s Blackpools and Brightons. Instead, you’ll find a high street busting with boutiques, a tiny independent cinema and, like many East Coast towns, a proclivity for magnificent sunsets splaying out over the flat, empty land stretching to meet the North Sea. The Brudenell has 44 rooms, half of which look out across the waves, the other half towards the River Alde. Interiors compliment the vistas, with marine tones or soft, countryside florals. Spend a day walking to Thorpeness, meandering along the Sailor’s Path to Snape, and you’ll pass Maggi Hambling’s memorial to Benjamin Britten, a vast steel scallop shell wedged in the beach. Return to the hotel inland via the North Warren walk and arrive in time to join locals on the popular restaurant terrace for an excellent seafood dinner.

Rooms from £134 a night.

The Fishing Boat Inn, Boulmer, Northumberland

Beached on the rocks of Northumberland’s wild, rugged coast, this family-run inn was once a smuggler’s haunt, where the East Coat’s most unsavoury characters would meet to plan illicit landings. Now, it’s a cosy coastal spot with stretching views across the waves. Gone are the shadowy characters of centuries past, replaced by a friendly team running the bar and seafood restaurant (which benefits from quality Northern chips and a daily catch brought in by the town’s distinctive blue coble boats). Attached to the inn proper is a modern annex housing three rooms. All enjoy beach views from private balconies, and interiors of aquamarine and stormy grey shades that match the North Sea’s aspect.

Those tumultuous waves, they might be a little arctic for summer dips, but there’s more to the seaside than paddling – the mesmeric, surf-pounded, butter-gold beaches of Sugar Sands and Alnmouth are made for long, weekend walks, with the wind in your hair. It’s a landscape that benefits from a stormy sky and moody forecast, so an end-of-season visit plays to its benefit. The tiny fishing village of Boulmer is limited in activities, but castle ruins, daytrips to the Farn Islands and the historic hubs of Alnwick and Alnmouth are all easily accessible by car.

From £195 a night,

CABÜ by the Sea, St Mary’s Bay, Kent

Not quite a hotel, not quite self-catering, this niftily designed collection of wood-panelled cabins cluster in a private stretch of grassy land that’s squeezed between Romney Marsh and the English Channel. Ranging in size from one-bed romantic boltholes to three-roomed family huts, the airy cabins encircle a central house that dispenses all the necessities for a seaside escape: groceries, the weekend papers and, most importantly, a fully licensed bar. There’s a spa (sauna and outdoor hot tub) and heated pool on site, with chic deckchairs periodically placed around it for sun-basking. 

Also available is an outdoor kitchen which all guests can use, complete with barbeque and pizza oven. Huts are airy, with Scandi-influenced touches, including woodburning stoves and wood floors. Spend the day cycling along the sea wall on a leisurely ride, building sandcastles in the Kentish sands or exploring the wildflower-speckled foreshore, which is a site of special scientific interest. Further afield, there’s daytrips by car to creative Folkestone or artistic Dungeness.

From £250 for two nights.

Scarista House, Isle of Harris, Scotland

If seaside nostalgia isn’t your ticket, head to Harris (or more precisely Lewis and Harris). The British Isle’s third largest island boasts a measly population of just 20,000, making its white sand beaches, hidden coves and undulating dunes as different in character to the sun cream-soaked resorts of the mainland as they are in distance. Such wild, rugged emptiness demands a stay of equal remoteness, which is matched in Scarista House. There’s little around this wind-slapped Georgian Manse bar beach, sea and sky. Harris airport sits an hour and a half away, there’s no phone signal and televisions haven’t made it to the house. Days are spent walking in provided wellies up the island’s curving hills and coastal paths, circling the Callanish standing stones or visiting the Uig Sands. In summer, you can hop in a sea kayak, and venture along the island coastline. Then it’s back to the elegant Georgian interiors of Scarista for dinner, which is always suitably Gaelic in flavour. Expect set menus of quail with an Armagnac mousse, garlicky local langoustines and diver’s scallops atop an artichoke puree with a vivid salsa verde.

From £240 per night,

Roslin Beach Hotel, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Gazing over the Blue Flag sands of Thorpe Bay, the abundance of palm-printed fabrics, wicker furnishings and candy-toned touches at Roslin Beach Hotel puts to mind a balmy Riviera coastal escape. Take a sea view room with a balcony, and the gentle breeze ghosting through the window ups the impression. Rooms are spacious, with king-sized beds, luxurious bathtubs, retro touches like rotary-dial telephones and old record players, as well as copious sprays of fresh, fragrant flowers throughout the hotel. It’s all very Costa del Southend ­– the healthy result of a recent multi-million-pound refurbishment. Although a relatively busy road separates the hotel from the beach proper, the vast sandy crescent is less than a minute away – and offers the bulk of holiday activities. Top of the bunch are jumping on one of the hotel’s retro bikes for a cycle past Southend Pier or enjoying a spot of paddle boarding over the Thames estuary (book with Wind away balmy afternoons on the restaurant veranda enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail, before tucking into a seafood-packed menu at the Roslin Restaurant: think local skate wing doused in buttery capers and samphire, crispy beer battered cod or a refreshing house summer salad of lettuce, fennel, orange and tomato, with salty feta and sunflower seeds.

Rooms from £109 a night.

The George Hotel, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

All gussied-up Victorian resorts, rustic fishermen’s villages and rolling, green interiors, the Isle of Wight is the best of British summertime in miniature, pairing seaside nostalgia with quaint countryside. Perched on the north-west of the island, Yarmouth is its historical gateway: the first building that catches your eye on approach is Henry VIII’s artillery fortress. To its left sits The George, a 17th-century townhouse, once frequented by King Charles II. Today, this elegant stopover has been transformed into a weekend bolthole with continued royal connections – the landlord, Howard Spooner, is a friend of Prince Harry.

Inside, interiors play to the historic theme, pairing raucous pomp with original features. Dower portraits glare down haughtily from golden frames hung on Farrow and Ball-painted panelling. Rock’n’roll red velveteen armchairs wing a rickety original staircase. Rooms offset the formal silhouettes of four-poster beds with loud wallpaper, while original sash windows look down to the hotel’s petite private beach. The shoreline is accessed by passing through the hotel’s Italian-inspired gardens and its beach bar (a popular stop-off joint for the yacht crowd seeking sun-scorched lunches). Beyond the four walls, charming Yarmouth holds enough intrigue for a weekend of pottering – and it’s a just a 30-minute drive to find the other property with royal connections on the island. Head to Queen Victoria’s beloved Osborne House to spot the statue of Prince Albert the monarch deemed too ‘undressed’ to be seen in public.

From £170 per night.

Sidmouth Harbour Hotel & Spa, Sidmouth, Devon

Keen to pull on the hiking boots and trek the best of the UK coastline? A dalliance down the South West Coast Path (England’s longest) offers an alternative seaside experience for explorers with restless feet. Of all its 600-odd kilometres of coast-hugging trail, the stretch between Sidmouth and Seaton is one of the best, encompassing the wildflower displays at Branscombe’s cliffs, Beer’s striking geology, and breath-taking views across the Jurassic Coast throughout. This slice also features some of the most challenging terrain of the footpath, so get a good night’s sleep before starting out at Sidmouth Harbour Hotel & Spa. Straddling the red cliffs above the elegant Regency town, it’s an understated stay just a pebble’s skim from the sea. Rooms are smartly furnished in New England beach house style, with nautical-toned colours and airy bathrooms. Downstairs, there’s a spa with a heated indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and outdoor sun terrace where you can stretch limbs pre-walk with some sunrise yoga. Fuel up with dinner at the seafood grill and before you set off, ask hotel staff for a picnic to-go – they’ll happily oblige.

Rooms from £127 a night.