TELL people you’re going to Blackpool and you get one of two reactions – a “Can I come?” from people who fancy the fun of England’s most famous seaside resort, or a sniffy shrug from the more snobbish element.
I’m in the former camp, having gone a few times as a child and been enchanted by the lights – but what’s Blackpool like before the Golden Mile starts shining? The Cliffs Hotel is a great base from which to research this important question, being perched on the seafront, with views of beach, waves and promenade. A Baroque-style building dating to 1921, its combination of red brick and yellow terracotta ensures this 163-bedroom hotel stands out in a town where the accommodation is often less than fascinating.
WINING AND DINING
With 300 covers the weekend we were there, it’s no wonder the management has worked to find a way to keep things moving without sacrificing quality. The answer is waiter service for the main course, which invites you to select from a quartet of mouthwatering dishes from head chef Ben Anker, and a buffet set-up for starters and dessert. And that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet – perfect for the piggish (ahem). For the main event, I tried the chicken and ham hock pie with suitably luxurious veggies on night one, and the next evening went for a steak and ale casserole. Locally sourced ingredients mean it’s all rather sumptuous on the tastebuds, with the vegetarian options every bit as enticing as the meat dishes. Wine of the week was an Australian Invenio Shiraz picked to complement all the mains, and rather nice it was too. Breakfast is full English at the table, with Continental options also available in the buffet area.
The interior of the hotel isn’t as architecturally interesting as the exterior but the cavernous art deco staircase is a great way to spy on fellow guests. The 163 en-suite bedrooms start with singles, while the bigger rooms can accommodate as many as six people. There’s no in-room wi-fi but there is a free connection in the public areas – the elegant café is a great place to take the old tablet for a workout, as you sip a tasty hot or cold drink and nibble on nachos or an indulgent cake. If you want a workout of the more physical kind, there’s a bijou health club and a dinky pool. And if you fancy a pamper, the beauty spa offers everything from Indian Head Massage to Reiki. Evening entertainment comes in the form of – get ready, this is very Blackpool – bingo and cabaret. We didn’t bother with the bingo after learning that fat ladies, Maggie’s den and the like are no more (fanatics moan that it slows the game down), but we did take in some of the cabaret acts, such as male-female duo Oxygen. We were treated to great voices, fun gags and a dancing grandad (apparently not part of the act).
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Hey, it’s Blackpool. The tower offers views far and wide, as well as the ballroom below, best known these days from Strictly. The structure is a blaze of light as evening falls – we happened to bump into a bunch of techs leaving post-midnight, who had a gadget that changed colours according to our suggestions. We felt like gods. In front of the Tower, there’s a more recent addition – the Comedy Carpet comprising paving stones decorated with the best gags and catchphrases of variety stars such as Les Dawson’s “Knickers, Knackers, Knockers”. The Pleasure Beach has all the fun of the fair, and the recently restored Winter Gardens are home to 12 venues, including the Opera House, Madame Tussauds, and Blackpool Dungeon. And seeking a brief break from the brash brilliance, we took the seafront trams to nearby Cleveleys, for super-fresh fish and chips, and on to Fleetwood, whose very own Pharos lighthouse stands not surrounded by sea, but in the middle of the street.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
More budget, definitely, but excellent at what it does.
Free toiletries, brewing-up facilities, Freeview TV – and the tram stop outside makes getting into town easy if the weather is less than tropical.
Comfortable, welcoming, organised – perfect for a weekend or weekday break that won’t break the bank.
• The Cliffs Hotel, Queen’s Promenade, Blackpool, Lancashire FY2 9SG, tel: 08448 115585, from £85 per night for a double room with weekend breaks from £99 per person, for two nights dinner, b&b (www.cliffshotelblackpool.co.uk)