If a seaside holiday in Britain is part of your plans this year, you will be following a path carved out by those in the 19th century. Here are some of the finest examples of Victorian coastal escapes that still give you a flavour of the era.
Grand Hotel, Brighton
The 20th century would ensnare this 201-room marvel in a rather darker fame than that which enveloped it in the 19th. The IRA’s 1984 attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher during the Conservative Party conference saw a bomb rip through its fabric, with five lives lost. But the Grand (grandbrighton.co.uk) – immediately repaired in the wake of the blast, and significantly refurbished subsequently – traces its tale back far further than that traumatic October morning. It opened its doors in 1864 as a haven for a sophisticated clientele sunning itself on the south coast (facilities included the UK’s first hydraulic lift outside London) – and it has maintained its poise ever since. Double rooms start at £105.
Royal Hotel, Weymouth
The Dorset town was a holiday resort long before Victoria's ascension – popularised by George III's regular visits in the late 18th century to breathe deeply of its restorative air. Its main hotel (bespokehotels.com) emerged from this time. It opened in 1773 as Stacie’s Hotel (named after the owner, Mr Stacie), but was rechristened as the Royal after hosting the king and his family – a 22nd birthday party for Princess Amelia, George’s youngest daughter, was held in its its ballroom in 1805. But as Weymouth grew thanks to its regal connections, the property was deemed insufficient. It was demolished in 1891; its successor appeared in 1899. This second Royal Hotel is pure Victoriana, piled high of red brick and Portland stone. Historic England calls it a “forceful building”. Doubles for £89.
Grand Hotel, Scarborough
Another Grand affair (britanniahotels.com), up on the North Yorkshire coast, this Scarborough landmark was the largest hotel and the biggest brick structure in Europe when it appeared in 1867. Its design was creative, nodding its head to the numbers of a calendar year – four towers to represent the seasons, 12 floors (months), 52 chimneys (weeks) and 365 rooms (days). Renovation has since cut that final statistic to 280, and, nowadays, the Grand is more inexpensive bolthole than luxury retreat (double rooms from £29). But it still stands tall on the seafront – and its Grade II-listed status is merited.
Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick
This luxury retreat (knockinaamlodge.com) on the flank of Dumfries and Galloway – all but at Scotland’s south-west tip, 100 miles west of Gretna – offers a delightfully Scottish take on the Victorian age. It was built as a hunting lodge for local landowners in 1869 – and is said to have hosted Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower in the run-up to D-Day (there is no record of them in the guest book, but the two men are thought to have met at the property to plan the Normandy landings over the civilised ritual of afternoon tea). Both eras may be visible in the embers of the fire in its lounge. Doubles from £380.
Pierremont Hall, Broadstairs
Perhaps the prettiest of the Victorian resorts at the north-east corner of Kent – although Margate, to the north, and Ramsgate, to the south, may disagree – Broadstairs has a direct link to the queen of the era. A stately home pitched just inland from the beach at Viking Bay, Pierremont Hall has little to do with the Victorian era – it was constructed in 1785 – but everything to do with Victoria herself. The future-monarch stayed in it several times during her summer visits to Broadstairs with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, between 1826 and 1836 (that last holiday being, of course, in Victoria’s final year as a princess). It was sold in 1896, becoming a school (and later, a safe haven for the town, sheltering its citizens in its air-raid shelter during the Second World War). But it has been carefully restored in recent years, and can now be hired as a wedding venue (pierremonthall.co.uk).