UK beach resorts are having a major resurgence. Stylist’s editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski and deputy editor Susan Riley visit three of the best places in Britain to brandish your bucket and spade
Watch dolphins play on The English Riviera
Heading back to my room at The Cary Arms, Devon, I instagrammed the view from my balcony – sunset, tranquil water, you know the drill. Within minutes someone commented: “THIS IS NOT IN BRITAIN.” Oh, ye of little faith, because Babbacombe Bay is one of Britain’s gems on a summer afternoon. Gulls swooping, jet skis zipping, boats bobbing and locals fishing. It’s scenes like this that make people move to the West Country – and even when you’re only there for the weekend, the contentment is catching.
Lording over this idyllic scene is The Cary Arms, an inn with rooms, a huge outdoor terrace and, as if to prove its ranking in the happiness charts, a bell you can ring when “dolphins come to play”. Since 2009 it’s had ten rooms (and latterly, three cottages), but beach huts and suites have just opened, taking the luxury up a notch.
Our duplex beach hut is like a quaint birdhouse on steroids: white clapperboard, blue roof and a porthole through which you can see the English Channel from your bed. A decked balcony out front gives you a bird’s-eye view of the comings and goings across the bay, with Oddicombe beach opposite, Babbacombe’s cliff railway on one side and Devon’s dramatic red cliffs on the other.
The view means this is a popular lunch spot, but residents have their own terrace, so you’re not crowded. The vibe is wonderfully relaxed. Dogs are welcome (there’s a daily dinner special for them), which only makes you like the place more.
A boutique, glass-walled spa is set to open in winter, but until then Torquay’s seafront is only a short drive away. We headed to the nearby village of Cockington – mentioned in the Domesday Book and full of charming thatched buildings – for a walk followed by scones, clotted cream and jam from one of its two tea rooms.
Alternatively, hole up at The Cary Arms and feast. Naturally, we stuck to fish: mussels, crab, hake… all fresh, perfect and washed down with an Italian red from the Sassi region to remind us of a recent trip there. Not that we needed to fake a holiday vibe. Far from it. Not here.
Beach Huts at The Cary Arms from £375 a night based on two sharing, with breakfast (chicretreats.com)
Wake up to yoga on Cornwall's clifftops
Tipping off the edge of the Cornish coastline, staying at The Scarlet can feel like you’ve reached the end of the Earth. Not in a bleak and dystopian way – more like you’ve left all the noise and nonsense behind you.
Overlooking Mawgan Porth, a 25-minute cab ride from Bodmin Parkway station or five minutes from Newquay airport, The Scarlet is built into the cliffs. A gate leads down to the beach, a walk on which will send your soul soaring upwards in any weather. It’s ideal for some selfish restorative time, helped by their dedicated yoga breaks that are designed to deepen your practise or simply quiet a whirring mind.
The three-night break includes everything from private classes (I sampled vinyasa, scaravelli and yin yogas), to meditation and an Ayurvedic consultation. At mine, I learned I had pitta constitution and vata energy – scarily accurate descriptions that had me taking notes of the herbal and dietary advice prescribed afterwards.
Next was a four-hour “spa journey”: a rhassoul body treatment designed to open pores, then a tailored treatment followed by a steam/swim. It’s all hugely nurturing. So much so, as you’re finally delivered to the Deep Relaxation Room (where tent pods swing in darkness) and covered with a blanket, you very nearly give your therapist a hug.
Because yoga aside, relaxation is the greatest gift here. There are tented treatment rooms, squishy cushioned chill-out spaces, a glass-fronted swimming pool with steam room, and an outdoor natural spring pool with twin hot tubs – all in view of that ruggedly beautiful Cornish coastline. The food is also a total treat. One night for dessert the chef served up white chocolate mousse in a honeycomb sphere surrounded by soft, squishy praline sponge and ice cream. If that doesn’t rejuvenate you, there’s no hope.
A three-night yoga break at The Scarlet starts at £795 per person, based on two sharing.* For more information, call 01637 861861 or email email@example.com; book trains with GWR (gwr.com)
Follow the cool crowd to Margate
After the opening of the brilliant Turner Contemporary Gallery in 2011, Wayne Hemingway’s Dreamland theme park last year and having received 15 years of funding to transform derelict and unloved buildings, Margate has become the seaside destination. Particularly for vintage-loving hipsters burnt out by city living and looking for an affordable, waterside retreat.
Ninety minutes by train from London, the hipsters have brought with them gourmet coffee shops, intimate and authentic restaurants (Hantverk & Found has a fantastic daily changing menu of fresh fish dishes), and vintage boutiques that sit happily alongside original pubs. We loved The Lifeboat Ale & Cider House – it’s traditional and cosy, thanks to a wall of tapped cider boxes, live music and a roaring open fire.
The town doesn’t boast any five-star hotels as yet, but The Reading Rooms, a luxury B&B of just three rooms, satisfies those with luxury leanings. Like much of Margate, it’s discreetly hidden, a Georgian townhouse with no hint of signage, so it’s with a touch of nervousness we bang on the door. Once inside and up an unpainted staircase, we enter a surprisingly elegant, huge double room that’s far too romantic for two old friends away for a boozy night by the sea. Breakfast is served in our room, at a creaky antique table overlooking the square below, so we pull back the shutters and tuck into smoked salmon and scrambled eggs still dressed in our white waffle robes.
Margate’s regeneration is still a work in progress. Many buildings stand derelict and there are only a few stylish roads, which can leave you wondering if the town’s headlines have been a little premature. But for a weekend of art, good food, fresh sea air and stylish, vintage living, this seaside sojourn is worth the train fare.
Rooms at The Reading Rooms start from £160, based on two sharing (thereadingroomsmargate.co.uk)