Beachside lodges, golden sands, contemporary art, excellent seafood, dog-friendly restaurants – plus e-bikes and a pier-to-shore zip-wire to ramp up the pace
“Look at those sheep up there.” I point high above us at two objects which appear to be clinging to the cliff edge. “They’re rocks,” says my short-sighted partner. In fact, we are both wrong. The cashmere goats were brought to Bournemouth to graze and manage vegetation on the clifftop naturally.
They’re just metres from our dog-friendly Bournemouth Beach Lodge located on the seven-mile stretch of golden sands. Any closer to the beach and we’d be dipping our toes in the sea from our decking. As it’s midweek, all our neighbours are silver travellers and, like us, accompanied by their dogs.
The decking is a sun trap so while we laze on the deckchairs during a surprisingly sunny week in April, our wire-haired fox terrier, Cammie, maintains a watchful eye on the beach comings and goings. Direct access to the beach is wonderful.
The six-berth lodges are surprisingly spacious thanks to clever design. There’s plenty of storage space and a well-equipped kitchen. Steep narrow steps up to the mezzanine bedroom are a little challenging, particularly with Cammie under my arm. Pull-out beds are available in the lounge.
Walk or take the land train into town – zip-wire optional
The first morning we head west along the beach, stopping at the American-themed Prom Diner for an English breakfast. The land train (free with your lodge key) is about to leave from Boscombe Pier so we hop aboard and Cammie enjoys the wind in her face as we chug along the prom, the sea shimmering in the sunlight.
We alight at Bournemouth pier and watch the surfers as we stroll to the end. Thankfully, the world’s first pier to shore zip-wire is closed so we return to shore on foot. The ubiquitous candy floss and enticing aroma of churros and doughnuts are all around, so we resist no longer and stop at a kiosk in the pretty Bournemouth gardens.
Admire art at GIANT & Russell Cotes galleries
At the top of the Lower Gardens, I pop into the GIANT Art Gallery in Bobby’s department store, and admire contemporary works by nine feminist artists from the 1970s to the present. Entrance to the artists-run gallery, which opened in 2021, is free. Exhibitions change frequently. Meanwhile, Cammie amuses herself in the ball-pit of the store’s doggy department – and almost makes off with some dressing-up bunny ears.
Even more impressive is the Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, a 15-minute uphill walk from here. The lavish Victorian seaside villa houses an impressive collection of furniture, art, classical sculptures and artefacts which hotelier Cotes and his wife, Annie, collected during their extensive travels. Meanwhile, Cammie (and partner) content themselves with delicious carrot cake from the cafe and a nose around the gardens.
Step up the pace on an e-bike
Beryl is my companion the following morning. I hire one of the Beryl company’s pay-as-you-go electric bikes – there are 1,200 scooters, pedal and electric bikes to choose from. After a few glitches unlocking my e-bike, which customer service sorted brilliantly via the app, I head along the scenic but busy and slightly slippy sandy prom towards Hengistbury Head nature reserve. It’s a breeze cycling there. Thankfully, the return into the strong wind is made easier by the surge of the electric motor.
Smashing seafood & smashed avocado
All that cycling means I’m hungry so we head over to the Urban Garden, which overlooks the Lower Gardens, and enjoy a chicken poke bowl on the relaxed decking with its wrought-iron chairs and pretty hanging baskets.
Dinner that evening at the trendy Nici hotel, given a £20 million facelift last year, is fabulous. Bold flamboyant Miami-style decor and a buzzy vibe are a far cry from Bournemouth’s traditional hotels. King scallops, jumbo king prawns and lemon sole are delicious but the cajun swordfish and lemon meringue are disappointing. Dogs are welcome in the restaurant.
The fish and seafood at the sustainably-focused Green House the following evening excels. As dogs aren’t allowed, we dine in a heated cabin outside on superb hand-dived scallops, melt-in-the-mouth line-caught salmon and delicious cod Kiev with lobster bisque. Bespoke wooden furniture is sustainably sourced and 60,000 bees live on the roof.
A day out in Christchurch
On our final day, we drive to picturesque Christchurch, situated between the rivers Avon and Stour, where we are treated to views as far as the Isle of Wight and enjoy a tour around the 11th century Priory and Castle ruins.
We amble along the River Stour to the Captain’s Club Hotel & Spa for lunch and are treated to attentive service and a wonderful platter of sea bream, salmon, monkfish, cod and scallops in the two AA-rosette riverside restaurant.
If you’ve time, Highcliffe Castle, three miles away, is a fantastic example of the 18th-century romantic style of architecture. A tour of the mansion tour is fascinating but it’s closed to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays.
Before returning home, we have poached eggs on smashed avocado and sourdough toast at the Urban Reef Restaurant overlooking the sea near Boscombe Pier.
It’s been a wonderful five days. Friends remarking on my sun tan look amazed when I tell them I’ve been to Bournemouth.
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