To drive from London to sea-side town of Lyme Regis, on the Devon-Dorset border, under torrential rain is certainly not ideal but at least it's an excellent introduction to the dramatic scenery ahead. Though I have to confess when we turned into the small cobbled yard once stabling four horses now the Alexandra hotel's car park, I had had more than my fill of emotions and the only thing I wished for, was to close my eyes and sleep for a million years.
Picking on our mood the calm and friendly receptionist took us for a soothing tour of what was once the semi-retirement residence of the 1st Earl and Countess Poulett and in doing so, she made us step into another world. One that mixes Georgian elegance and style with the informality and brilliance of modern designs.
The original buildings date from 1735. In 1982 David and Nina Haskins, hotelier from Somerset bought the Alexandra, it remains in the same family ever since now run by mother and daughter. The hotel gardens which procure the backdrop for the conservatory dinning room and the large breakfast room, gently slop down to Lyme Bay and the famous Cobb. There is nothing to disturb
the views between the hotel lawn and the bay with its Jurassic coast cliffs. The spectacle is simply stunning. No wonder why so many special occasions are celebrated here.
This was an occasion for us too, our booking coincided with partner's birthday who is young or old enough to recall vividly moments of his childhood, a trilobite found while on a family holidays "somewhere along the coast". As luck would have it, part of England’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beaches around Lyme Regis are among the best on the ‘Jurassic Coast’ to begin a hunt for fossils or as a member of staff remarked if the weather didn't ease, the town fossils shops are well stocked and definitely worth a visit.
In term of exploration, right then, inside was taking priority. Up a flight of stairs, on the landing from the corner of my eye I spotted a period armchair restored with impeccable taste in modern material. On reflexion what might attracted my attention may not have been the chair but a laptop set there for the clientèle to use, though rooms are equipped with free and fast internet.
The hotel rabbit warren of corridors in most circumstances would have been annoying but like in every other areas, here too attention has been paid to details, to make every stay as comfortable and relaxing as possible. Sensors lit the corridors when movement is detected a neat and ecological trick which is going to appear on the top of my wish list next time I book anywhere.
Our pink bedroom one of the Hinton's with sea view and a cosy corner was not large however the clever use of colours, the abundance of natural light and lots of personal touch gave it a palatial and airy feel. The impression was greatly helped by the stupendous panoramic views over the harbour all the way to the cliffs. The chocolate fossils acted as magic wands helping to dissipate the last trace of the car journey.
Bathroom are equipped with a large shampoo and conditioner gel, only the rest being miniatures, taking waste into account just as it should be but not omitting comfort and practical aspect, bathrobe, hair-dryer were at hand. The professionalism of the staff and the high quality of service doesn't stop at reception, the room hot drinks and biscuits are replaced without having to ask, in the evening the beds are turned down and next day's forecast left on the bedside table.
After a visit to the local fossil shop and its museum to learn about Mary Anning, her significant finds including Ichthyosaur and many other dinosaurs specimen whose names are too impossible to recall. We took a brisk walk on the Cobb soaking in, and often by, the sea air while taking in the spots made famous by fictional characters. The French Lieutenant Woman and Louisa Musgrove heroine of Jane Austen's Persuasion lived through their dramas on these very stones. It was time for dinner.
Dinner at the Alexandra is a rather formal affair, a three course meal preceded by cocktails. The cocktail menu is worth the detour. Even if the budget doesn't stretch to dinner, a drink in the old fashion bar is a must. The cocktails list is long and enchanting, there is a selection of Gin and Tonic which shows eccentricity and class and would have made Bertie Wooster proud.
The award winning restaurant is in the conservatory, each table dressed with white table cloth faces the garden and its views. On that night some of the staff seemed to be in training, there was flying spoons and knives which would have made for a rather good circus act.
All the products are sourced locally, their provenance as detailed in the documentation with a synopsis for each type of food from fish or chutney. Ian Grant, Head Chef previously worked at London's Park Lane Sheraton. There is something about his food that screams "The kitchen is Chef's kingdom" the dishes may not be all bells and whistles, there is no mucking around to show how clever he is, but all the products sing in harmony through their unadulterated taste.
Slightly surprisingly fish and seafood share the menu equally with meat and vegetarian dishes. Though the lemon sole was the most popular that night, I opted for the Seared Bay Scallops for starter and a Duo of Local fish as a main and local cheeses plateau thanks to its simplicity and the perfection in the cooking, it was all very enjoyable. After dinner, guests are invited to move to the garden or the bar for coffee.The next day started with haddock poached egg, a buffet of pastries and fruits jams. An identical philosophy applies here, though very busy, the staff takes the morning opportunity to chat with the guests. Our waitress took the time to collect the granola recipe from the kitchen for my benefit. No wonder some people return year in, year out and include The Alexandra in the family calendar for special celebrations.
When guests step in The Alexandra at Lyme Regis, they step in a different world, one of timeless luxury and class, one that gets the little things right and is difficult to leave behind. Though the hotel provides all the mod-coms it is unlikely that extensive use of the internet will be made during the stay. This is a place to relax, enjoy the scenery, the local products, the fossil hunts, the door to the "real world" will fling open soon enough.
Doubles from £115, including breakfast. Four-course set dinner £36 not including drinks. Weekend Rate: only Half Board tariff is available with a minimum stay of 2 nights at peak times
DISCLOSURE: I visited the Alexandra Hotel as part of a self-drive trip both meal and accommodation were paid for by the Hotel. I received no remuneration other than food and accommodation and all opinions are my own