The best places to eat, stay, shop and visit in the South West

Christchurch Harbour Hotel

Most epicurean escapes serve as a delicious base from which to explore, summoning guests home for supper each evening with a swoon-worthy menu and quality cocktail collection. But at this chic coastal retreat there’s a good chance you won’t find reason to leave in the first place, says Kathryn Lewis

Moored on the banks of Christchurch Harbour, a stone’s skim from Mudeford Quay and Avon Beach, you could easily wile away an entire afternoon navigating the wine list on Harbour Hotel’s sunny terrace. Remarkably, that would be a shame, as paddle-boards and kayaks, a casual second dining joint, and a palatial spa and pool are all to be indulged in before dinner at the Upper Deck Restaurant.

VISIT FOR chef patron Alex Aitken’s smart cookery. Blurring the line between hotel with restaurant and restaurant with rooms, the swish dining room is a destination in itself.

A starter of twice baked cheese soufflé – all cloud-like centre, gorgeously chewy crust and molten moat of mature parmesan – prove the experienced chef’s handle on the classics. While dessert in the form of velvety iced banana parfait with flame-licked caramelized bananas and crunchy candied hazelnuts confirm his clutch on the contemporary.

DON’T VISIT FOR timeless tradition and Great British seaside grandeur. Top 40 tunes, long drinks and a throng of under 30s create chilled Ibiza vibes on the terrace.

WE LIKED the European-standard service from the faultless front of house faction. Water glass empty? It’s already being filled. Forgotten your toothbrush? It’s on its way. Not a fan of beans? Consider the blighters banished from your breakfast.

Oh, and the matched cocktails on the dessert menu. Obviously.

Insider's tip

Much of the fish and seafood on Alex’s menu is sourced from the waters in which you’re enjoying evening vistas. Missing out on the fresh haul would be a serious foodie faux pas.

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