It’s been a stay-local, explore-your-own-backyard type of summer, but the problems of overcrowded beaches and booked hotels in the most popular UK towns and resorts have been well documented.
Here are five of the best alternative destinations — where sublime scenery, superb food and gorgeous slumbers abound, but a weekend visit won’t require booking four months ahead.
Like Brighton? You’ll love:
Incredibly, the Parisian-looking sweep of Lord Street in Southport was an inspiration for a young Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. Staying here as a young man, the future Napoléon III (nephew of the great man himself) based his designs for the boulevards of the French capital on this beguiling North-West seaside town. You’ll never struggle for room on the beach, one of the biggest in the country with the Irish Sea disappearing beyond the horizon at low tide. The pier is a beauty, the second longest in the UK after Southend. There’s a retro amusement arcade where you swap your currency for Fifties pennies to play pinball and one-armed bandits dating back to Edwardian times. Superior slumbers await in the Art Deco era cinema, now the Vincent Hotel (thevincenthotel.com, doubles from £97 B&B) which has an excellent brasserie and is five minutes from the beach.
More info at visitsouthport.com. Trains from London to Southport from £71 return (avantiwestcoast.co.uk)
If you like Devon you’ll love:
THE LLYN PENINSULA
Push on past Snowdonia for an extra hour and you’ll reach the most quintessentially Welsh part of Wales. Patched and quilted fields, dog-tooth mountains, white sand beaches and adherence to the native tongue (Welsh is very much the first language). The walking is terrific: there’s none better than the five-hour stretch of the Wales Coast Path that takes you along the cliffs to the summit of Mynydd Mawr. Along the way you might spot seals and peregrine falcons. Afterwards, drive to Plas Bodegroes; a Georgian manor house with one of the finest restaurants in Wales serving sublimely spruced-up local comfort food such as chargrilled Welsh black beef with wild garlic mayo. Rooms boast antique furniture, Egyptian linen and fine views of the meadows beyond (doubles from £120, bodegroes.co.uk).
More info at visitwales.com. Trains from London to Pwllheli from £88.60 return (avantiwestcoast.co.uk)
If you like the Cotswolds you’ll love:
The countryside is every bit the equal of the Cotswolds, but this pretty Shropshire town is, quite simply, one of the UK’s greatest foodie destinations. The choices are immense but on no account should you miss tasting the piscine pleasures on offer at The Fish House (thefishhouseludlow.co.uk) such as oysters, smoked mackerel and dressed crab, and the modern British delights at Mortimers (mortimersludlow.co.uk) like pressed duck with pastrami and celeriac. Work off the calories with a climb up to the tower of St Laurence’s church with vistas across the Clee Hills, and pay your respects to the region’s most famous son, poet A E Housman (author of A Shropshire Lad) who rests in the graveyard. Stay the night at Dinham Hall (dinhamhall.co.uk, doubles from £115 B&B), a Georgian mansion with 13 rooms bedecked with chandeliers and ornate mirrors.
More info at Ludlow.org.uk. Trains from London to Ludlow from £89 return (tfwrail.wales)
If you like Bath you’ll love:
Time to put to bed put the greatest urban myth of this city on the Welsh border: contrary to popular belief, it’s no longer legal to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow from Chester’s walls. Anyhow, the chances are you’ll be too busy soaking up one of the prettiest historic cities in Europe. The Rows are unique Tudor-era covered arcades which stretch around Chester’s main streets — one of the earliest examples of multi-level shopping. The Roman amphitheatre is one of the largest in the UK, formerly the location for cock fighting and bull baiting, while Chester Zoo houses Asiatic lions and black rhinos. Dine at Da Noi (danoichester.co.uk) where Valentina Aviotti creates delicate Italian dishes such as pecorino flan with red onion jam, rosemary and pancetta. Bed in for the night at the Grosvenor Hotel (chestergrosvenor.com, doubles from £162 B&B), a Victorian wedding cake of a hotel by the Eastgate Clock, with paintings from the late Duke of Westminster’s personal collection and seriously glitzy dining courtesy of Simon Radley’s eponymous restaurant — which has held a Michelin star for over 30 years.
More info at visitcheshire.com. Trains from London to Chester from £68 return (avantiwestcoast.co.uk)
If you like Stratford you’ll love:
BURY ST EDMUNDS
Charles Dickens wrote that this bucolic Suffolk market town was “a handsome town of thriving and cleanly appearance”. Over a century on and the compliments still apply. Slap bang in the centre of town are the huge Abbey Gardens which contain the remains of the 11th-century Abbey of St Edmund, once one of the biggest monasteries in Europe. More diminutive is The Nutshell. At a mere 15ft by 7ft, it claims to be the smallest pub in Britain. Take dinner at Pea Porridge (peaporridge.co.uk), a rustic space for chef Justin Sharp’s creations including Berber black pudding with stuffed squid, samphire and romesco. Dickens himself and, some time later, Angelina Jolie, have both stayed at The Angel hotel (theangel.co.uk, doubles from £170 B&B); a handsome coaching inn with free-standing baths in the rooms and killer cocktails in the Wingspan Bar downstairs.
More info at visit-burystedmunds.co.uk. Trains from London to Bury St Edmunds from £54.60 return (greateranglia.co.uk)