BC Business Magazine
Window seat in…Brighton
I’m perched on a pyramid of pebbles under a bright blue southern England sky raked with thin, wispy clouds. A few chocolate-coloured waves are frothing their way towards me, while electronic chirruping from nearby amusement arcades and the vinegar-drenched aroma of fish and chips percolate the air. Welcome to Brighton: a one-hour train ride from London, it’s the region’s favourite seaside escape.
Of course, it’s not quite the Caribbean. Stone-studded sands and ice-cold ocean are standard here, so arcades and piers are on hand to encourage visitors to stick around. As a childhood Brit, my family vacations to similar seaside “resorts” like Clacton and Great Yarmouth were sugar-fueled whirls of helter skelter rides, Punch and Judy shows and greasy, newspaper-wrapped lunches. Thirty years on, not much has changed.
Crunching across the ankle-breaking beach, I weave towards the skeletal remains of the West Pier. Once a magnificent Victorian confection traced with filigree ironwork and bristling with top-hatted promenaders, accidental fires (the locals tell a different story) have reduced it in recent years to a derelict rookery for starlings. Luckily, the town has another boardwalk on sticks nearby that couldn’t be more alive.
Brighton Pier is the seafront’s clamorous, white-painted focal point. Clomping along its wood-built walkway, I pass screaming, ice-cream-covered toddlers and their frazzled, zombie-eyed parents. I also avoid several fortune-telling caravans (“Your future life finally revealed!!!”) plus an intimidating gaggle of frightening fairground rides: the slow reveal of rickety, old-school rollercoasters seems to have been replaced with giant catapults designed to trigger projectile vomiting.
Lured by its winking lights, rattling slots and £5 jackpot payouts, I slip into a coin arcade like a high roller from Vegas. Within minutes, I’ve lost all my spare change – rolling a penny into the moving mouth of a maniacally laughing clown is not quite as easy as it looks, even if you’ve got a “system.” Before losing my shirt, I wrench myself outside and make for dry land. Not just for tourists, Brighton turns out to be one of the south’s most appealing towns.
Ducking into the labyrinthine Lanes area, I’m soon lost in a tangle of backstreets lined with the tiny fishing cottages Brighton was originally built on. Now colonized by Indie boutiques, rambling antique stores and chatty Fair Trade coffee shops, its narrow thoroughfares are teeming with suntanned Brightonians out for the afternoon. Detached from the resort’s noisy visitor attractions, it’s like a cool second town just a few metres from the brash holiday resort.
Emerging unexpectedly onto a main road, I stumble on the site that started all this resort nonsense. Built by the playboy Prince Regent as a fashionable 18th-century vacation home – he apparently pioneered the idea of the dirty weekend – Brighton Pavilion is a bizarre, jaw-dropping palace of minarets and onion domes. It’s gauche interior is no less subtle, complete with acres of gold leaf (think Liberace on acid) and a faux Asian theme created by someone who’d clearly never been closer than a Chinese takeout to experiencing the far east.
Of course it’s this kind of kitschy razzmatazz that drew me back here. After downing a swift beer in a shady old Lanes pub, I amble back towards the dusk-lit pier, now frozen by a stiff, sea-whipped breeze. Strings of little lights trace the outlines of the buildings now as exhausted families meander back to their B&Bs. Entering the half-empty amusement arcade, I narrow my eyes and face down the big-mouthed clown with a final pocketful of ammo.
Can’t miss: Brighton & Hove Albion
Forget Chelsea, Manchester United and all those teams that actually win stuff by joining some real soccer fans – supporters of heartbreaking sides with no hope of trophies – at a Seagulls match. Since the lads are in League One (two divisions below United), you can expect a glamour game against the likes of Oldham, Scunthorpe or Tranmere Rovers. Tickets from $40. seagulls.co.uk
Cool eats: English’s of Brighton
Among some surprisingly diverse restaurant choices, this opulent 150-year-old seafood spot on the edge of the Lanes is a Brighton landmark. Greasy seaside fish and chips are replaced here with delectable local oysters, lobster and Dover sole. Mains from $25. englishs.co.uk
Best bed: Drakes Hotel
Like a laser-whitened tooth among the paint-pealed B&Bs, this luxurious Georgian townhouse has 20 chic suites with high ceilings, hardwood floors and stylish modernist furnishings. Grab a front room for sea views from your bathtub. Rates from $200. drakesofbrighton.com
One thing we need:
Giant beach parties. Local lad Fatboy Slim hosts occasional and highly anticipated DJ-fueled dance fests here.
One thing we don’t need:
Sugar-hyped kids. These screaming attention hogs need detox centres where they can come down after all that pop, cotton candy and Brighton rock.
Not exactly Hawaii, expect sunny afternoons up to 25 degrees Celsius – but keep your sweater handy for evening beach strolls.