Brighton is more accessible from Scotland than you would think thanks to cheap easyJet flights to Gatwick and hassle-free rail links from the airport. That, and the uber cool reputation of “London by the sea”, made it an attractive destination for my wife and me, especially staying in the ostensible grandeur of the classic, grade II listed Mercure Hotel, with its Victorian sea front facade.
Budget or boutique?
There aren’t many budget options within striking distance of the shore in high-season and the four star Mercure is no exception. But it is ideally located opposite the famous shingle beach and within a mile of all the top attractions. Going up the grand entrance steps and through the revolving doors I had a real sense of anticipation. Sadly I was immediately disappointed as the reception area was gloomy and tired looking, despite the sweeping Regency staircase and chandeliers.
The receptionist was very friendly and welcomed us warmly. She directed us to one of the Mews rooms through the labyrinth of narrow corridors to the unflattering extension at the back of the hotel. With an overwhelming aroma of damp for company, we waited an eternity for the only (very temperamental) lift to come. We were told it was awaiting replacement.
My first impression of our room was how vast it was. It had a kingsize bed dressed with crisp white sheets, a bobbly brown nylon sofa (probably old and saggy enough to have seen some action from the mods back in the day) opposite a flatscreen TV and a small wardrobe without doors. The walls were as uninspiring as the view from the windows, painted chewing gum grey with not a single picture or decoration for adornment. There was a perfectly adequate bathroom (including an over-bath shower), but again it was tired and in need of updating.
Wining and dining
Instead of trying out the hotel’s new restaurant menu, we decided to go across the road to the Belle Vue Brasserie, part of the British Airways i360 complex. With executive chef Steven Edwards, winner of MasterChef: The Professionals, this is one of Brighton’s newest and most exciting places to eat.
The menu is simple and boasts fresh, local ingredients. I had the chicken with truffle mash, seasonal greens and jus. My better half opted for the fish pie. Both were exceptional, bursting with flavour.
After a good night’s sleep in our comfy bed we were ready for our breakfast, and were not disappointed by the hotel’s restaurant, which overlooks the sea, despite the previous evening’s culinary excellence. The hot buffet with the usual breakfast selection was very tasty.
Worth getting out of bed for
Even though the weather was drizzly we couldn’t wait to go up the newly opened British Airways i360 – the world’s tallest moving observation tower designed by the people behind the London Eye. Once inside the space-age, 80m-wide circular pod, we marvelled at the 360-degree views as it gradually rose up to its apex of 138m. I even treated us to a glass of bubbly from the on-board bar as we enjoyed the 25-minute ride.
For a unique designer shopping experience you must head to the famous Lanes. There narrow vennels with tiny premises sell everything from luxury jewellery and homewares to designer clothes and artisan food. It’s also home to chocolatier to the stars, Choccywoccydoodah.
Another unmissable attraction is the Royal Pavilion, the extravagant Prince of Wales’s party palace, prior his succession to the throne as King George IV. Built in 1786, this amazing confection of Regency exotica has to be seen to be believed.
White fluffy dressing gowns and slippers are provided in the room. Always a winner with me!
An ideally situated hotel for all the main tourist attractions, comfy beds and a hearty breakfast.
Prices from £95 for a double room. Mercure Brighton Seafront Hotel, 149 Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2PP, 0844 815 9061, www.mercurebrighton.co.uk
EasyJet flies to London Gatwick from Edinburgh with prices starting from £22.99 per person, www.easyjet.com