How do you like your beaches — unfurling ribbons of sand, sprinkles of shingle or with a Japanese-style carpet of pebbles? If it’s sand, what shade is your favourite: pink, golden, bone-white or black? And do you prefer the ambience to be Robinson-Crusoe-deserted or with plenty of opportunities for people-watching?
The UK has thousands of spectacular coastal miles that come with more choices than a barista’s coffee menu, so no matter what your style there is a stretch that ticks all your boxes. If you’d like to refine the search to focus on sightings of wildlife, you could try the Llyn peninsula, where appearances from seals and dolphins are so regular as to become — whisper it — almost boring. If it’s top-drawer fish and chips you are after, Whitby reckons there is no better place to shake your salt and vinegar than under the shadow of its gothic abbey. While for those after high-adrenaline surfing and sheer cliffs for cobweb-clearing walks, it has to be Cornwall.
We have found stylish hideaways such as the Driftwood and Atlanta Trevone in Cornwall that come with the ultimate status symbol, a private beach. Or you can step off the mainland and sail to the Isle of Wight for a stay at a grand Arts and Crafts manor, or catch a ferry to Colonsay where a classic Hebridean welcome awaits in the hotel’s bar — it doubles as a second living room for the island’s 135 permanent residents.
We’ve also suggested boutique bolt holes in fashionable resorts such as Southwold where you might bump into Ed Sheeran and the like. And for yet more starstruck connections, we have beaches in Norfolk and Dorset that have upstaged the actors in award-winning films. All you need is a little sun cream and you can get your seaside party started.
1. The Beach at Bude, Cornwall
The terrace of this boutique hotel is Cornwall at its most convivial, permanently packed with bright young things in slip dresses and neon board shorts. Even so, the crowd isn’t nearly as cool as the view. The hotel overlooks Summerleaze beach, a glorious evocation of those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer. As you tuck into an alfresco lobster lunch you will see fishing boats drifting along the River Neet, kids splashing about in its tidal pool and parents chilling on deckchairs in front of pastel-coloured beach huts. And surfers, lots of them and always sucking in their six-packs. Rooms have a New England-inspired breeziness; leave the window open and the waves will serenade you to sleep.
A garden-suite bathroom at Gara Rock in Devon
2. Gara Rock, Devon
Salcombe is wonderful, as long as you don’t mind having to park two miles from your hotel and queueing for everything, for ages. If you want the same golden sands and grassy cliffs without the crowds, punch East Portlemouth into the sat-nav instead. On the other side of the estuary, the tangle of narrow lanes to reach Gara Rock is a nightmare to negotiate and effectively renders the three rugged smugglers’ coves beneath the hotel the private territory of hotel guests and a few intrepid hikers. The same levels of exclusivity apply to the hotel’s laid-back seafood restaurant, spa and cinema. Bedrooms come in sea-salt colours, with modern rough-wood panelling, roll-top baths and sisal rugs.
The Cary Arms, on Babbacombe Beach
3. Cary Arms, Devon
Babbacombe Bay is one of Devon’s sweetest spots: guarded by distinctive rust-red, pine-clad cliffs that slide into a pink-sand cove lapped by an aquamarine sea. It’s so enchanting, this place brought a smile to the famously unamused Queen Victoria. It hasn’t changed much since her day, and that’s the secret of its success. So there’s often an optimist dangling a rod from its dinky stone pier in the hope of catching mackerel, although the battered Brixham fish and hand-cut chips at this 19th-century inn’s restaurant is as fresh and much less effort. The decor is confidently uncool: exposed stone walls, beams, seafaring memorabilia and tablecloths with deckchair stripes. The eight bedrooms and six beach huts have a lighter touch, decorated in crisp whites and creams, enlivened by a splash of red or blue with yesteryear touches such as sticks of rock and decanters of complimentary sloe gin.
57 Nord, Highlands
4. 57 Nord, Highlands
In some parts of Scotland residents have inherited as much as 30 per cent of their DNA from the Vikings. There is one picturesque pocket outside Plockton, however, at the point where Loch Duich, Loch Alsh and Loch Long converge, that is 100 per cent Scandi chic. 57 Nord comprises Sky House and Hill House (which opens this summer) and is a masterclass of minimalism with views of lochs, the 13th-century Eilean Donan castle and the Kintail mountains. The adults-only cabins are a five-minute walk to the bay, a 15-minute drive to the sandy perfection of Ashaig beach on Skye and not much further to Sandaig beach, immortalised in Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water and still an odds-on bet to see otters.
Rye, East Sussex
5. The George in Rye, East Sussex
This is one of our favourite south coast hotels so we are delighted that after a three-year refurbishment, it finally reopened this month. The 16th-century inn sits centre-stage in Rye’s impossibly pretty medieval high street, with a brick and beam Georgian bar that defines cosy; elegant sitting rooms with wood-panelled walls; antiques and oil paintings; and bedrooms that notch up the romance. Go for Versailles-grand with upholstered sleigh beds, sparkling chandeliers and freestanding silver bathtubs, or American clapboard cuteness with slatted duck-egg walls and beds with built-in book-shelves. The grazing marshes and reed beds of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and the nearby two-mile-plus stretch of Camber Sands are winners.
A bathroom at Port Hotel, East Sussex
6. Port Hotel, East Sussex
There was a time when you’d never be more than 3ft from a Zimmer frame in Eastbourne. These days you’re always within sight of a chalkboard bearing the word “artisan”. The town is buzzing with trendy cafés and restaurants, while the Towner and Volt art galleries have upped the creative ante. It was only with the arrival of the 19-bedroom Port Hotel last year though that Eastbourne’s stock as a cool destination reached critical mass. Interiors are Scandi-inspired (of course), with an open-plan social space that has cork floors and a fluted blond-wood bar. The restaurant specialises in sharing plates and you’ll appreciate the sun-trap terrace for a cocktail after a hike over Beachy Head to the Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven.
7. The Waterfront, Norfolk
This boutique bolt hole in Wells-next-the-Sea is aptly named — when the tide is in, it’s about 10ft from the front door to dipping your toes in the water. But even when it isn’t you’ll be mesmerised by the vast flat sands rippling towards a distant dot of sea. The beach never feels crowded, is scented by heavenly Scots pines, lined by ridiculously quaint beach huts and within easy reach of excellent takeaway platters from Wells Crab House. Rooms at this adults-only base are in restful milky shades, but do make it downstairs for your sundowner G&T; there’s something truly magical about seeing Norfolk’s expansive sunsets from the Waterfront’s terrace.
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight
8. Haven Hall, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight provides an addictive dose of nostalgia, with seaside promenades, Victorian pleasure piers, sailboats silhouetted on a clear horizon and sunshine (it records about seven hours more a week than the UK average). And then there’s the 70 miles of coastline, from surfer-dude Compton Bay to sandy, swimmable Sandown as well as Chilton Chine. The hotel comes with award-winning terraced gardens and a heated pool that overlooks the cliffs and 14 bedrooms decorated with William Morris fabric, antique furniture and original fireplaces. There’s a helicopter pad for fast-lane arrivals and a beach hut for when you want to slow the pace.
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
9. Beadnell Towers, Northumberland
Northumberland’s seafood shacks, cliff walks and castles clinging to craggy rocks may put you in mind of Cornwall, but when you hit the beach you’ll know it isn’t. Northumberland’s wide, wild stretches come without the sardine-like crowds that can mar sunbathing down south. The best is probably Bamburgh, a sweep of sparkling sand that sashays for nearly two miles and has the town’s medieval castle as a suitable backdrop for summer photos, while the northern lights provide clickbait mood lighting for winter snaps (well, sometimes). This 18th-century grade II listed mansion has nautically smart interiors, overseen by a former Hotel du Vin designer, who has pulled off the neat trick of making glamour family-friendly. It is a five-minute stroll to Beadnell’s pier and rugged white beach, which you can mix and match with the five-mile drive to Bamburgh.
Kiloran Bay, Colonsay
10. The Colonsay, Argyll and Bute
Colonsay may only be small (ten miles by two) but it is fringed by beaches as white as Rylan’s teeth — and apart from Kiloran’s arc of alabaster sand, it’s usually easy to find a spot where it’s just you, some guillemots and possibly a passing dolphin. Your hotel is a classic Hebridean hideaway, a whitewashed inn with wood-burning stoves surrounded by sofas. Upstairs, the nine unpretentious bedrooms modestly defer to the views of the harbour or neighbouring Jura. Similarly, the chef doesn’t concoct fancy sauces but allows the spectacular seafood to shine. Best of all the locals treat the bar like home; stay a week and you’ll probably meet most of the 130 or so permanent inhabitants.
A room at The Harper, Norfolk
11. The Harper, Norfolk
The bar serves negronis, the TVs are Netflix-enabled, the spa has vegan products and a hot tub and, naturally, the mood board is Scandi-influenced. All of these are reasons why this new boutique hotel in an old glass-blowing factory in Langham has instantly become a favourite with well-heeled couples and families. The original flint and brick features are now complemented by delicate bespoke glass pieces, wood-burning stoves, mismatched furniture and modern art. Borrow a bike and head off to the “champagne coast”, as north Norfolk’s wispy, whimsical stretch is known hereabouts. Holkham beach is an hour or so by pedal power, 25 minutes in a car, and famous for its turn in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love.
A room at the New Inn, Isles of Scilly
12. The New Inn, Isles of Scilly
Contradict Dumbledore at your peril. Hogwarts’s all-powerful prof — or at least Jude Law, who plays the character in the new Fantastic Beasts film — adores this archipelago’s azure waters and pristine beaches. In fact, the actor has recently become a patron of the Isle of Scilly charity, The Island Haven, which supports the local community. Also getting a red-carpet premiere this year is the New Inn on Tresco. After an A-list facelift this much-loved pub’s 16 bedrooms have been revived in plum and bracken to contrast with turquoise tongue-and-groove and bobbin furniture from Alfred Newall, an Arts and Crafts-influenced designer. The inn is a five-minute drive from Pentle Bay, which fans such as Law will tell you is easily as beautiful as any beach in the Caribbean.
Poolside at St Brides Spa Hotel in Pembrokeshire
13. St Brides Spa Hotel, Pembrokeshire
Whether you’re a walker or a wader this unstuffy resort will work for you. On a headland with uplifting views on to pretty Saundersfoot Harbour and Carmarthen Bay, the impressionistic allure of the dune-backed Coppet Hall beach is five minutes on foot and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is on the doorstep for hikes over limestone cliffs to red sandstone bays and volcanic headlands. Bedrooms come in 50 shades of blue and are decorated with furniture and artwork by local artisans. The spa sticks with a marine theme too; products are laced with seaweed, which is excellent for soothing sunburnt skin.
Lobster dinner at the Ship Inn, Fife
14. The Ship Inn, Fife
The beach at Elie is a locals’ playground. At low tide every second Sunday in summer, the townsfolk don expertly ironed white flannels for beach cricket. The best perch from which to spectate is the beer garden of this East Neuk institution, which sits right by Elie’s seawalls. Order the fish and chips or seafood landed in nearby Pittenweem and you’ve definitely backed a winner. The rooms will also bowl you over: six little havens, all spritzed in cream and marine hues with white shutters on the windows and views out to the North Sea and Fife Coastal Path to Bass Rock.
A room at the Swan, Suffolk
15. The Swan, Suffolk
Southwold comes with plenty of famous associations: George Orwell wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter at his parents’ home on the high street, while Ed Sheeran lives nearby and could be one windbreaker along on its sandy beach or ahead of you in the ice-cream queue on Britain’s only 21st-century pier. If you’re bored by sleb-watching, try Covehithe, a stone’s skim to the north, and watched over by the ruin of St Andrew’s Church. Either way make this 17th-century inn on Market Place, 150 yards from the beach, your base. Its renovation neatly sidestepped seaside soundbites and landed a classy contemporary look instead. Pops of stick-of-rock pink top the posts of the tester beds and bold furniture comes in super-charged teals and taupes.
A suite at Chewton Glen in Hampshire
16. Chewton Glen, Hampshire
The grand old lady of the New Forest is more usually associated with walks through ancient hunting forests, but she’s only a short, shady stroll through the Chewton Bunny ravine from a time-warp coast — to your right is Highcliffe Beach, home to a grade I listed gothic castle; to your left there’s fossil-hunting at Barton on Sea, directly in front there’s the prospect of a chilly dip in the English Channel with the Isle of Wight’s Needles as your compass point. A stay at the 300-year-old manor spans the centuries, from afternoon tea and croquet on the lawn to sharing plates by the TV chef James Martin and on-trend activities such as axe-throwing. Rooms also tick off all tastes, from those laden with antiques to state-of-the-art treehouses with hot tubs.
West Bay, Dorset
17. The Ollerod, Dorset
Beaminster was the inspiration for Emminster in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and the sleepy market town remains Hardy-esque. This caramel-stoned hotel is the town’s oldest building, having started out life as a medieval priest’s house. Its oak beams, inglenooks and mullioned windows keep it characterful, while the charismatic owner — Silvana Bandini, formerly at the Pig hotels — has introduced the contemporary, with a modern British restaurant and a glamorous cocktail bar. Hold those cosmopolitans, though, because the Jurassic Coast beckons. Hike the 11-mile Brit Valley Way to Bridport Harbour at West Bay, best known as the golden backdrop for the ITV drama Broadchurch, or take the car for a 30-minute spin to Lyme Regis, which effortlessly upstaged Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Kate Winslet in Ammonite.
The Albion Rooms in Margate, Kent
18. The Albion Rooms, Kent
If you like your seaside as gritty as an unsoaked cockle, you’ll be drawn to these provocative rooms from the rock band the Libertines like a goth to a flame. The red, black and gold of the Libertines’ jackets provided the design motif; the band members’ anarchic nature added the humour — there’s a painting of Jesus hidden inside a wardrobe and a tile mosaic in the bathroom that reads “you pissed it all up the wall”. Of course, the hotel is in Margate, a Victorian gothic drama of a destination that is basking in a cultural renaissance thanks to Tracey Emin — the artist’s triumphant return to her home town has encouraged a flurry of art gallery and hipster café openings, as well as cool places to stay. Nothing matches the permanent main exhibition, though: the epic skies and endless bay views that inspired JMW Turner to pick up his paintbrush.
A sun deck at the Driftwood near Portscatho, Cornwall
19. Driftwood, Cornwall
The Roseland peninsula is where people from Padstow go on their days off. They love how the lush soft folds of the southern coast inveigle themselves into beaches and the area’s excellent restaurants. The understated nautical chic of the Driftwood, just north of Portscatho, fits right in, with 14 light-filled rooms and sophisticated dining from Olly Pierrepont, who learnt his trade from Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Simon Rogan at Fera. That checking in gives you access to a private beach is just the icing on the cake — in Pierrepont’s case, a dark chocolate and banana tart. St Mawes is a 15-minute drive away, and closer still is Porthcurnick, a remote sandy cove that is home to the Hidden Hut, one of the best beachfront restaurants in the county.
The pool at Slieve Donard, Co Down
20. Slieve Donard, Co Down
This red-brick pile in the Scottish-baronial style offers a ringside seat for one of the world’s most prestigious and prettiest links golf courses. The 36 holes at the Royal County Down Golf Club are so good they turn Tiger, Rory et al misty-eyed. Fortunately, the hotel has a pampering spa for those who consider golf a good walk spoiled. There’s no dispute over the town’s beach, thankfully — the ribbon of golden sand here is a beauty, overlooking the moody Dundrum Bay and framed by the Mourne Mountains, which inspired the soulful song that took their name.
Portrush Whiterocks beach, Co Antrim
21. Antique House, Co Antrim
Portrush is a magnet for fashionable weekenders from Belfast looking for a buzzy café scene that slides into memorable dinners and late-night drinks. Equally appealing are the town’s trio of beaches — wave to the resident pod of porpoises from pretty West Bay or stroll on the creamy 1.5-mile lick of icing-sugar-fine sands at East Strand; the latter merges into Whiterocks, where surfer dudes strut their stuff. You can also strike out along the breathtaking Giant’s Causeway and take side trips to photogenic villages such as Bushmills. The stylish rooms and French-toast breakfasts of the Antique House B&B will set you up for long days of exploration.
Whitby harbour in North Yorkshire
22. White Horse & Griffin, North Yorkshire
Whitby provided Bram Stoker with much creative ammunition for Dracula, explaining why there are always a few goths trying not to smile while taking selfies at the town’s sinister ruined abbey. Curiously, Whitby is also a quintessentially cheery English seaside resort, with a cracking sandy beach sandwiched between tumbledown fishing villages and locals who will tell you that they have the best fish and chips in the country (our favourite outlet there is Royal Fisheries). For lots of creaky character, stay at the White Horse & Griffin, a 17th-century coaching inn, which has ten cosy rooms named after well-known Whitby ships and their skippers.
The view from a room at Atlanta Trevone Bay, Cornwall
23. Atlanta Trevone Bay, Cornwall
This quintet of holiday homes — sleeping between four and ten a hop away from a private rocky beach for early-morning skinny-dipping — are being renovated for a July launch. They are also on nodding terms with the much-loved, sandy Trevone Bay — where designer swimwear rather than birthday suits are the norm — and two miles from Padstow for when you can’t be bothered to cook. It would be a shame, though, not to eat in at least once, given that the open-plan Neptune kitchens are fitted with hand-forged Lacanche range cookers (the French answer to an Aga) and a design vibe more Hamptons than Helston. For the bedrooms think chequered marble floors, Fermoie fabrics and bathrooms with roll-top tubs and views over atmospheric Trevose Head.
A room at Blaithwaite Estate, Cumbria
24. Blaithwaite Estate, Cumbria
Cumbria may be synonymous with lakes, but it is also in possession of an extraordinary — and often empty — coastline. At Bowness-on-Solway you’re more likely to find cows than crowds tipping their faces towards the sun, and its lovely beach offers heartwarming views over Solway Firth and marks the start (or end) of Hadrian’s Wall. It’s just as serene further south at St Bees, which is also where Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk begins, although the three miles of sand and shingle here mean you won’t be in a hurry to pull on your hiking boots. Between the two, the Blaithwaite Estate has 250 acres and camping and glamping pitches that also come with those fabulous Solway Firth views.
A bay on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd
25. Llyn Peninsula Escape, Gwynedd
It’s fairly under the radar, so you might not know the Llyn peninsula (it juts into the Irish Sea beyond Snowdonia). What you’ll find when you arrive is a frothy, 30-mile length of long-extinct volcanic peaks and grassy hillsides dotted with Iron Age forts. This rustic cottage is an effortless shimmy from the shingle beach at Trefor, and has cwtchy (Welsh for cosy or welcoming) interiors featuring an earthy palette of pinks for its rough plaster walls and cosy furnishings. Within the same complex, Bert’s Kitchen Garden is a first-rate café that instantly solves any catering headaches.