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Why a novel seaside hotel in Bognor Regis is perfect for an off-season escape

Beachcroft Hotel in Bognor Regis
The Beachcroft is 'arguably Britain’s most British hotel,' says our writer

Manuel – all melancholy moustache and black dickie bow – is serving us supper. Across the dining room, Basil Fawlty is bent over some better-dressed guests like an obsequious daddy longlegs. As our prawn cocktails are deposited before us, the children enquire after the Siberian hamster. “Si, is good,” Manuel tells them. It is currently keeping cosy in the oven. And we all, immediately, fall hard for this hotel.

Positioned right on the pebbles of Felpham beach in Bognor Regis, The Beachcroft is arguably Britain’s most British hotel. For no apparent reason (who needs one?) the bar is done up like a cottage – roof tiles and stained-glass windows above the spirits. A fire crackles on the flat-screen TV, near a framed portrait of a chihuahua, and the swimming pool is decorated in 50 shades of Seventies brown. Along with Fawlty Towers-themed dining experiences, “psychic” nights are a staple. A couple at the neighbouring table have been coming several times a year for decades. It’s that sort of place – like coming home to a mythical version of the British seaside.

Beachcroft Hotel in Bognor Regis
The hotel is right on Felpham beach

Manuel serves us a suitably nostalgic menu – pork belly, rump of lamb – but here’s where the dedication to realism flounders, because it is all unexpectedly delicious and delicate. By breakfast the next morning – where the buffet is basic, but the full English fab – the actors have moved on, replaced by the hotel’s usual staff, who are most un-Fawlty Towers in their warmth and friendliness. Bognor, after all, is the spiritual home of the great British beach knees-up. Butlin’s, in fact, is right next door. This is a major draw for my offspring, who rank the resort among the seven wonders of the world.

Bedrooms in the main hotel are traditional and simple, but the four “beach hut suites” are real havens. A pebble’s throw from the main hotel, with just a cycle path between private deck and beach, our suite has a cosy bunk room for children, a luxurious shower room, a sitting room from which folding glass doors open onto the ocean, and a master bedroom on a mezzanine above, from where you can sprawl under your duvet and watch the waves through a porthole window.

Beachcroft Hotel in Bognor Regis
Bedrooms in the main hotel are traditional and simple

It’s all very nattily decorated too: a Smeg mini fridge, kettle and Nespresso machine in matching retro reds. Art deco seaside posters on whitewashed walls. Wine in the fridge, buckets and spades on the bunks, a yoga mat rolled by the deck and a telescope on the coffee table, for evening stargazing. On our second evening, a knock at our door heralds a delivery of excellent fish and chips from the kitchen, wrapped in gingham fabric and a wicker basket.

Beachcroft Hotel in Bognor Regis
In the summer, you could roll in and out of the sea from these suites

In the summer, you could roll in and out of the sea from these suites, the children feral on the beach as you read on the deck. But an off-season break is full of subtle surprises. For starters, the sun rises at a reasonable hour. Waking before the rest, the dog and I walk miles down the near-empty beach, watching the horizon turn blood-red over the waves. Later, the children borrow the hotel’s vintage-style bikes and wobble down the promenade, past pensioners with poodles and plucky swimmers in bobble hats. We lick delicious ice creams on the terrace of the Lobster Pot – a fantastic independent café just next door. Bognor, as a sizable number of people inform us – is Britain’s sunniest town. The winter sun is a wonder. Squint – more, still more, again – and you could almost be on the Californian coast.

Darkness arrives earlier off season too, and the hotel has made a feature of this, organising “dark sky walks” though local adventure company Pied A Terre Adventures. A half-hour drive from the hotel, we walk across the South Downs’ international dark sky reserve and through time, covering the Ice Age, Roman roads and Charles II hiding in an oak tree. Our guide points out constellations that inspired Harry Potter characters (such as the Dog Star, Sirius). Did you know that the “twit-twoo” sound is actually made by two Tawny Owls, not one? The females call “twit” at the males, who reply “twoo”. The children are gripped; the dog in heaven too.

Endless walks aside, the beach hut is furnished with canine bed, toy, bowls and biscuits. It is his happy place. Which is fitting, I suppose. As we pack the car to leave, he makes a break for the beach. We all turn towards the sea and scream his name: “Baaaaaaaaaaaaasiiiiiiiiiiil...”

Essentials

Two adults and two children can stay in a Beach Hut Suite for £580, including breakfast, fish and chip supper and a scheduled Dark Sky Walk.

Clyde Road, Bognor Regis PO22 7AH (01243 827142; beachcroft-hotel.co.uk)