Proving that the great British seaside loses none of its charm in winter, we head to the south coast's mecca of festive fun. Words: Alex Fisher
Firstly, I am going to fess-up; Brighton is my hometown. I was born and bred in this funky, cosmopolitan city, and I have always been grateful for this. Why? I just love the open-minded, creative people it attracts. Whether it’s Fat Boy Slim opening a beach café, Chris Eubank touring the town in his Hummer or Caroline Lucas being elected as the UK’s first Green MP, you can’t argue with the fact that Brighton has character. My dad always told me it was the pink pound that gave the town style, but I think it goes back to the Prince Regent and that magnificent folly palace. I just wish they’d paint it turquoise again, instead of the more demure cream colour the council have now settled on.
Brighton is a city of celebration and festival. The people of this town know how to party. They’ll dress up and parade the streets at the drop of a hat; from the glorious floats of Pride to the Children’s Parade, which opens the Brighton Festival. It’s a wonderful place to visit in the festive season. And the added magic of this city is that, as it’s sandwiched between the rolling Downs and the sparkling sea, if the party gets too loud, you can just wander to the shoreline and listen to the water lapping on the pebbles, or hop on an open-topped double-decker and head to the hills.
7PM THE COAL SHED
There’s been a lot of talk about a little restaurant just off West Street called The Coal Shed. Considering its proximity to London, Brighton has historically lagged behind on the food front, lacking a Michelin-starred restaurant and sparse in the area of fine dining. However, this is starting to change. This relaxed eatery has a reputation for truly fantastic steaks and innovative recipes. We try their delicious scallops with gingerbread, followed by a tender and flavoursome steak. The Christmas menu includes lobster bisque, brown shrimp arancini and calvados cream to start, and roast venison with salsify and orange for mains. Three courses cost £45 and a glass of Ridgeview fizz, a local vineyard, is £8.50. Booking is advised (01273 322998, coalshed-restaurant.co.uk).
10AM THE OPEN MARKET
Tucked between London Road and The Level, The Open Market is one of the lesser-known shopping havens of Brighton. Having undergone a major refurbishment last year, this Aladdin’s cave of wonders now houses more than 50 local food producers and makers, and offers craft workshops along with the occasional concert. We head here to do some Christmas shopping. This year there are a number of events taking place, including a Made in Sussex Christmas Fair and a Fairy Tale Fair, which offers crafted, vintage & retro stalls for those seeking some Christmas gift inspiration (01273 234047, brightonopenmarket.co.uk).
2PM ICE SKATING AT THE PAVILION
There is nothing like an outdoor ice rink to get you in the mood for Christmas, and no better setting than directly in front of The Royal Pavilion. Buoyed by mince pies and festive treats from the many food stalls at the Open Market, we walk to the royal palace, where we don our skates and wobble on to the ice. Beginners are welcome, and there are supportive ‘penguins’ and a safe pen for children (and adults) trying to find their balance. After I’ve fallen over for the fifth time, we retire to the bar for a quick hot toddy. The rink is open from 7 November 2015 to 17 January 2016. Tickets are £13-£10 for adults and £8.50-£7 for children. Book in advance (0844 847 2352, royalpavilionicerink.co.uk).
11AM ARTISTS OPEN HOUSE
At Christmas, artists and makers across Brighton and Hove turn their homes into galleries and invite the public in to view and buy their work. This grass-roots festival has grown into a local institution and gives Christmas shoppers a chance to buy some unique gifts, meet the makers and support small, creative cottage industries. Products range from jewellery, ceramics, textiles, paintings, sculpture, printmaking and photography. The Artists Open House runs weekends from 21 November to 13 December. Find the Open House Christmas brochure at aoh.org.uk.
1PM AN ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS LUNCH
We head to reputedly the country’s best vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre, for an alternative Christmas lunch. Even if you’re not vegetarian, it’s nice to take a break from meat eating and try the wonderfully inventive recipes this renowned eatery has to offer. This year’s festive menu has Potsticker truffle and Grana Padano gnocci to start, followed by Santa Soubise, which is blasted buckwheat basted Roscoff onion bunged to the brim with hazel herb onion caramel nut mince served with cranberry juice kraut. For dessert, try the Figgy Pudding with Rumtopf Rummy Rumble. Go prepared for a foodie adventure! The festive set menu is £33.50 for three courses and a glass of fizz (01273 729051, terreaterre.co.uk).
3PM TIME TO REJUVENATE
There are a number of spas and beauty salons in Brighton, but one of my favourites is The Treatment Rooms. Tucked away between the Theatre Royal and The Dome, it’s an oasis of calm among the storm of shoppers, carol singers and street performers outside. Surprisingly spacious inside, once you go up the stairs to change into a robe and slippers, you instantly unwind. I recommend a luxury rose facial or an aromatherapy salt glow massage, and a cup or herbal tea in the fragrant relaxation room before returning to the fray (01273 818444, thetreatmentrooms.co.uk).
This iconic hotel righton the seafront has recently refurbished most of its bedrooms. With floor-to-ceiling windows, Egyptian cotton bed linen, complimentary toiletries and a stunning new spa, it’s the perfect place to stay for a luxurious festive break. Rooms start at £110 for a double. 0871 222 4684, grandbrighton.co.uk
A Room with A View
This boutique hotel overlooks the Palace Pier and the Wheel. Beautiful rooms, great cocktails and fantastic food. Doubles start at £79. 01273 682885, aroomwithaviewbrighton.com
The Artist Residence
A funky, eccentric boutique hotel with an innovative cocktail bar and breakfast room. Many rooms are decorated by different local artists. Doubles start at £75 01273 324302, artistresidence.co.uk
HOW TO GET THERE
Parking is limited and expensive and you don’t really need a car to get around, so train is the preferred way to get to Brighton. It’s an hour by rail from London and half an hour from Gatwick Airport. There is also a direct rail link from the Eurostar Service at St Pancras. National Express coaches regularly service the city. For more information, go to visitbrighton.com