Heading for the UK soon? Consider adding to your itinerary a city where you can soar in a flying saucer while sipping bubbly, buy all you need to slay a vampire, and meet a Cinderella made of chocolate.
Sue Petrie, British Airways’ Commercial Manager for Southern Africa, says the coastal city of Brighton has an enticing blend of character and attractions that go far beyond its famous hard sweets.
“It’s a remarkable place: steeped in history, but also very contemporary, with a modern and multicultural outlook. It has everything from fine dining to walking routes and good transport. It’s a fascinating mix of the heyday of Britain’s post-war seaside holidays and very modern ‘Cool Britannia’ aesthetic.”
Petrie suggests flying in to London Gatwick Airport, which puts you within an hour’s scenic train travel of Brighton. Once there you can ascend British Airways’ i360 tower, the world’s tallest moving observation tower, rearing 162 metres into the sky. Visitors enter a curved-glass pod that looks like a high-end flying saucer, which smoothly slides up the tower and provides magnificent views of Brighton and the South Coast.
It’s the brainchild of the team behind the London Eye. In the i360 pod, the Nyetimber Sky Bar serves award-winning sparkling wine from the nearby Nyetimber Vineyards, as well as other locally-produced tipples like Harvey Brewery’s Gold Bier and Wobblegate Apple Juice.
Just offshore of the i360, like the bones of a sea-monster, the remains of the city’s original pier jut up from the sea. The West Pier has a storied history and remains one of the UK’s most photographed landmarks. Each December, thousands of starlings migrating from Scandinavia to Britain perform mesmerising formations, called murmurations, over the pier at dusk.
A little further east, the newer, intact, Brighton Palace Pier is a landmark of the city, a fairground and amusement arcade extending hundreds of metres into the English Channel. It’s packed with roller coasters, carousels and other attractions, and side-shows and concessions where you can win a stuffed animal or buy fish and chips. At night it’s lit up like an ocean-liner that’s run aground.
Other attractions in Brighton include The Lanes, an enticing warren that’s a mix of 400-year-old fishermen’s cottages and Regency architecture. Dozens of shops invite exploration, including chocolatiers (try Choccywoccydoodah for gobsmacking chocolate creations like Cinderella and her entire entourage of animal helpers), jewellers, pubs and eateries.
Drop by The Lanes Armoury and you could snap up an authentic “Vampyr Slayer Kit” from 1830 (it includes a pistol with silver bullets, an ebony stake, crucifix, garlic garland and holy water) for £6 475 (R110 000), or a 16th Century Samurai sword for £4 750 (R80 500).
Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Duke Street exudes an unmistakable old-book smell and radiates a love of the printed word that’s almost a physical presence. There are still more books in the shop’s cellar, reached by descending a wrought-iron spiral staircase. The owners welcome visitors who linger while browsing classic novels, poetry, biographies and books on philosophy, history and more.
Nearby is the Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside palace for King George IV, who was advised to take dips in the sea for his health’s sake. The king’s presence in Brighton helped transform the fishing village into an epicentre for Britain’s moneyed socialites. Nobody could accuse the architects of restraint: the palace is a confection of minarets, domes, towers and spires combining Indian and Chinese design as interpreted by the architects of the day.
Inside, the opulence and exorbitance continue. For a look at just how high on the hog the king and his posse lived, browse the menu of a dinner he hosted for Grand Duke Nicolas of Russia in 1817, prepared by chef Antonin Carême: eight soups, eight fish dishes, forty entrees, eight main courses, eight roasts, thirty-two desserts, and so on. Some of the displays of food stood more than a metre tall.
You’re unlikely to encounter such extravagance at Brighton’s restaurants nowadays, but there are plenty of eateries to suit your palate and wallet. Petrie suggests the West Beach Bar & Kitchen at the i360 , or the Salt Room in the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel.
While there’s a wide variety of accommodation to suit budgets and tastes, from those of blinged-up oligarchs to frugal backpackers, South African travelers with an eye on the exchange-rate who still want comfort and convenience can book into No. 27 Brighton, a bed-and-breakfast in a meticulously restored and furnished Georgian townhouse. Hosts Wayne and Diego offer prosecco on arrival, splendid breakfasts, thoughtfully equipped rooms and plenty of advice for visitors.
For a pint of good beer in a local pub, try the Black Dove which serves craft beers from around the world and has an ever-changing roster of events in its basement, including comedy, life-drawing classes and live music.