Travel: Roker Hotel, Sunderland

You can scan the horizon with a telescope in your bedroom.
You can scan the horizon with a telescope in your bedroom.
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Do Not Disturb – Scotland On Sunday

Sunderland might conjure up several pictures for you. It was once known as the greatest shipbuilding town in the world – as well as one of the most successful teams in the top-flight of English football – but both those accolades have long since faded. However, the spectacular vistas sweeping down the east coast of Wearside have meant a new soubriquet has attached itself to the area and it is now known affectionately as the Roker Riviera. Taking in the bays of Roker and Seaburn, these miles of blue-flag beaches are breathtaking and about as far from the industrialised notion of the northeast as it is possible to get.

Budget or boutique?

There's a real boutique feel to the Roker Hotel.

There's a real boutique feel to the Roker Hotel.

There’s a real boutique feel and the hotel claims that no two rooms are the same. Our large seafront room had the most spectacular view of Roker Bay. Although, given that it also looked directly over the car park, it was unfortunately – but necessarily – obscured most of the time by the net curtains. First thing in the morning, however, it was quiet enough to allow us to sweep back the curtains and watch the sunrise from our luxurious queen-size bed.

Wining and dining

The Poetic License bar has its own gin distillery and the bar runs regular tastings. There’s also an Italian Farmhouse restaurant – serving Italian classics – and the Let There Be Crumbs tearoom, which is perfect for that indulgent afternoon tea – well deserved after a long seafront walk.

Room service

The room has great little design touches to reflect the seaside setting. And some not so little – in our room one wall was almost entirely taken up with a colourful vintage travel poster. We also had steamer-style trunks and scaled down searchlights, as well as a telescope to help us scan the horizon. The bathroom had a corner whirlpool bath and separate shower. However, those of us with older eyes would appreciate a little more lighting above the double sinks.

Worth getting out of bed for

The bay is popular with weekend sailors, jet skiers and even surfers (when the conditions allow) and there is a large Marine Activities Centre nearby.

Millions have been spent in upgrading the seafront, making it family friendly with wide paths for buggies, cycle paths and pedestrian-only walkways, for those romantic beachside strolls.

There is a Riverside Sculpture Trail, taking in the final stretch of the sea-to-sea (C2C) cycle route, that blends Sunderland’s industrial heritage with the stunning landscape. It has a variety of sculptures, from steel stick figures pushing boulders uphill, to The Red House – an amazing cottage and interior carved from sandstone. It also has an accompanying murder mystery story. The route passes the National Glass Centre, which is well worth a visit, before going into the centre of Sunderland itself. The Museum and Winter Gardens there is apparently one of the most visited in England.

Nearby is the Stadium of Light, the home of Sunderland AFC, which is named after the miner’s safety lamp. For those of you not of a masochistic bent, it hosts rock concerts during the close season.

If you wanted to look up rather than out, then time your visit to coincide with the annual Air Show (usually the last week in July). Held over the seafronts at Roker and Seaburn, it is the biggest free airshow in Europe and regularly attracts more than two million spectators. Residents are rightly proud of it and encourage everyone to visit then to see the spectacle.

Little extras

Given the onsite distillery, the wooden sign to hang outside your door saying “too much gin last night, do not disturb” must come in very handy.

Guestbook comments

The hotel is popular with wedding parties but, aside from arrivals and departures, you’re really not affected by them and the hotel remains a tranquil seaside location.

Executive rooms with a seaview cost from £110 (room per night for two people). Breakfast is an additional £16 per person. Roker Hotel, Roker Terrace, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear SR6 9NB (0191 567 1786, www.rokerhotel.co.uk)