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Bournemouth, you are really spoiling us

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Sunday Mirror

Quinoa. And pheasant. Two things you don’t often see separately on a seaside cafe menu, let alone together. But then, as we found out on our girls’ weekend away in Bournemouth, this town isn’t your usual resort.

That’s not to say you can’t get wonderful fish and chips, sticks of rock and enjoy traditional bucket ‘n’ spade fun on the seven miles of sandy beaches here – but my hardworking friend Anne and I had come for an unashamedly indulgent break. We wanted to spend time gossiping, doing little more than getting pampered and enjoying the finer things. So much so that when we got off the train after a pleasant journey through the New Forest, we were secretly delighted it was drizzling. More time to spend indoors, over lunch.

The Japanese Garden at Compton Acres PHOTO Team Gemini

The Japanese Garden at Compton Acres PHOTO Team Gemini

While we waited for the shower to pass, we tried those adventurous food options at Compton Acres. It’s in fact 20 acres of privately owned gardens, hugging the coastline around Poole Bay. Each separate garden is a mini trip around the world, from the Italian formality of topiary and fountains, to exotic woodlands, and the stunning Japanese koi pond, with stepping stones, vibrant azaleas in Spring and a vintage authentic teahouse.

Ah, tea. The cafe is, as another satisfied customer confirmed, every bit as good as posh London restaurants like the Ivy or the Wolsely. Lunch was indeed delicious  and unusual with other exciting combinations including cheese fondue with garlic, quiche with a spinach and nutmeg crust  – it’s a long way from your average ‘caff’ toastie.

For the purposes of research, after our long walk around the grounds, we headed back to the cafe to try their homemade cream scones – lovely.

Anne and I had made the four-star Highcliff Marriott hotel (bournemothhighcliffmarriot.co.uk, 01202 557702, double bnb from £145) our seaside sanctuary. It’s a stately Victorian house overlooking the beach, offering luxurious accommodation with a fitness centre, health and beauty rooms, sauna, steam room, spa bath, indoor and outdoor heated swimming pool.

By now, the rain had turned to such a storm it was causing huge waves to lash against the nearby pier, so we were glad to get into our large and comfortable hotel room. We turned the cosy armchairs to the windows, and watched dramatic sea views from the warm and dry.

Later, I got wet with a dip in the indoor swimming pool, then relaxed with one of the best massages I’ve ever had, using Decleor products.

New last year, Canvas hosts live music and serves delicious cocktails PHOTO Charlie Raven Photography

New to Bournemouth last year, Canvas hosts live music and serves delicious cocktails PHOTO Charlie Raven Photography

All that water can play havoc with a girl’s hairdo. So if you have a big night ahead – a birthday or hen party, or any other function where you want to look your best – then I recommend hairdresser Terry Steventon. He’s been a Bournemouth fixture for over 11 years and can translate a catwalk look into something a real woman can manage. Like Terry says, getting your hair done is the cheapest form of cosmetic surgery. In terms of turning damp frizz to damn fine, he’s your man.

Now looking our best, we wanted fine dining, and we didn’t even have to leave the hotel for it. The Highcliff Grill is their multi-award-winning bar and restaurant, specialising in sustainable fish, and their chef has 2AA rosettes.  We enjoyed a ‘wow’ meal from starters – gin-cured salmon, goats cheese fritters – to finish, with chocolate fondant and passion fruit sorbet and their own take on a banoffee pie being our faves.

If you’re younger or have more energy than us and want to stay out later, there’s an over-21s loft bar, Canvas, a short distance away that serves up trendy cocktail and live music.

By the morning, the weather was bright and sunny, perfect for a stroll to admire the hotel’s wedding gazebo that overlooks the bay, the Oceanarium with its new penguin enclosure, and the rainbow of huts on the beach. We gave the place a reluctant goodbye before being dragged back to reality.

Bournemouth, you’ve really spoilt us.

TRAVEL FILE

Compton Acres (comptonacres.co.uk, 01202 700 778) adult ticket £7.95, concessions available.

Terry Steventon (terrysteventon.co.uk, 01202 589756)

Canvas (canvasbournemouth.com,  01202 556113)

GETTING THERE

Travel for  £15 adults & £5 kids to over 170 destinations. South West Trains off-peak day return offer until 30 April booked in advance. Go to southwesttrains.co.uk/promotion for more.

GOOD TO KNOW

The Highcliff offers wellness and luxury packages with spa treatments as well as dinner, bed and breakfast options.

ADRENALIN HIGH

You can zipline from Bournemouth Pier right onto the beach (weather permitting). See www.rockreef.co.uk/pier.

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