Like many of us, journalist Vicky Smith has embraced the staycation in 2020, but Bognor proved itself to be a surprisingly strong contender when it comes to showcasing the British seaside at its best
I first went to Bognor Regis 19 years ago when I arrived as a student. Having spent my entire life in London, to say my relocation to an old-school beach resort town in West Sussex was a culture shock – with its faded pier, gigantic Butlins and older-than average population – is an understatement.
While I never quite got used to the fact that the main high street was deserted from 5.30pm onwards, I did get used to the eccentricities of life in a British seaside town, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with with everything about my new coastal home.
Being by the beach was a joy, the surrounding South Downs countryside breathtaking, and my mates and I lived in a big old house about 20 seconds from the sea. It’s fair to say that by the time I left three years later I was a convert, and if anyone uttered a bad word about the mighty BR, I was poised and ready to defend it.
And then I came back home, restarted city life, and didn’t give it much of a second thought. While I’d become Bognor’s biggest fan, I never really anticipated it would be somewhere I’d return for a holiday. But I was wrong.
Fast forward almost two decades, and I found myself driving down familiar roads once more, heading for a Great British Seaside Break in my old stomping ground. This time, however, it was all looking a little different.
We were heading to Felpham, a pretty village that’s a two-minute walk along the seafront from Bognor, to stay at the Beachcroft Beach Hut Suites, four brand-new standalone ‘huts’ set on the promenade.
‘Felpham is a gorgeous village teaming with cute 16th-century pubs and rows of pretty cottages’
My only previous experience of Felpham had been going to get my hair done there before our graduation ball circa 2004 at a salon with sun-bleached posters of women sporting 90s perms.
My 20-year old self failed to see beyond my freshly coiffed locks at the time, but if I had, I’d have seen a gorgeous village teaming with cute 16th-century pubs, rows of pretty cottages, and handsome thatched roofs poking out above ancient stone walls.
I felt suitably ashamed at my previous lack of interest in Felpham’s postcard-perfect rural village charm as we drove through the main street towards the seafront, but it was quickly forgotten when we reached our destination.
While the design of these ‘beach huts’ is certainly informed by the traditional wooden shacks you find down on the shingle, that’s really as far as the similarities go. The striking structures are a knock-out, standing proud on the promenade overlooking Felpham’s wide pebble beach and sparkling blue water beyond.
Inside, the look is bright, breezy and seaside inspired, with retro artwork, a porthole (and floor-to-ceiling windows) looking out to the sea and driftwood-esque flooring, plus there’s a mini Smeg fridge (containing a complimentary bottle of rose wine), a Nespresso machine, and a decanter of sloe gin waiting to be poured.
It’s all very stylish without appearing twee, and provides a perfectly judged hit of nautical charm – just enough to thrill even the most dedicated city dweller without making them feel like a fish out of water.
The self-contained nature of the suites is ideal for a socially distanced stay, but they’re also part of a hotel, and you can use the facilities there should you wish – the restaurant offers up a stellar breakfast, served with a smile by the fabulously friendly staff, or you can book in for dinner if you’ve had your fill of fish and chips.
The hotel also provides beach hut guests with breakfast and lunch hampers packed with beautiful fresh produce, meaning you don’t have to leave at all.
In fact, it’s easy to take advantage of your surroundings without really moving a muscle, but I was determined to retrace my steps from years before, and if you’re after a similar dose of seaside nostalgia, I can report that Bognor itself has changed very little since my uni days.
If you’re in the market for crazy golf, chips on the pier, and spending too much time and money attempting to manoeuvre pincers around a brightly coloured stuffed toy in a glass case on the pier, you’re in luck.
Slightly further afield, Chichester is a must-visit, with its breathtaking cathedral, high-end boutiques and great selection of places to eat and drink, while a little further still (but no more than half and hour’s drive) is Arundel, a real-life fairytale complete with its own castle. Day-trip wise, you’re pretty spoilt for choice round these parts.
The real charm for me, however, still lies by the sea, and the seven-mile-long stretch of seafront you walk out onto from the suites provided ample opportunity for breathing in the briny air, braving a paddle, and gazing out at the changing tides – as enjoyable now as it was almost 20 years ago.
Beach Hut Suites start from £237 B&B per night based on two adults sharing (they can also accommodate two children and are dog friendly). Festive Dinner, Bed & Breakfast packages, from £640, include a three-course dinner and afternoon tea and can be booked over a weekday and weekend in the lead-up to Christmas (Saturday nights include live musical performances). See beachcroftbeachhuts.co.uk
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