I won’t lie. There was a small sigh of relief as we entered our Bournemouth boutique hotel. More Bognor than Bilbao, this South Coast town is not always celebrated for its attractive architecture and the Green House Hotel is sandwiched between a Sixties’ block of flats and a red-and-white concrete abode named (rather ambitiously?) the Celebrity Hotel. Perhaps this is all deliberate – the build up makes first impressions of this stay all the more memorable.
Large conifers hide the hotel strip beyond, and sports cars fringe a palm-dotted front lawn with soft grey steps lead up to a gleaming, white mansion. For one of the most eco hotels in the country, the Green House Hotel’s grandeur is impressive. Our delight only grew stronger as we were led to our room via a beautifully restored Victorian staircase, decorated in a soft leaf-print wallpaper. (Not these, but a lot of the wallcoverings were designed exclusively for the hotel by Royal College of Art students which put paid to our hopes of buying them for our own home.)
Up to the second floor and across to the far side of the hotel and we had reached Silver Birch, our home for the next two nights. With below-freezing weather in store, the room was going to be the real clincher. I could barely contain my excitement on entering a room perfectly proportioned for an indulgent, lazy weekend with Mr Smith. Open plan, half of the room is dominated by an organic cotton mound of a bed, while the other gives centre stage to a stand-alone Victorian bath. It was also spotless (vital for relaxing, given mild OCD tendencies) and cosy (vital for romance, given the temperatures outside). Having dreamed about the roll-top bath all week, it was very tempting to stay put for our first night. But we felt we should at least give Friday night in Bournemouth a try and, more importantly, we were starving and although room service is 24/7, the room had no minibar.
Despite my previous comments about the surrounding architecture, the Green House Hotel is in a pretty good spot. Two minutes’ stroll and you are on the seafront, gazing along a seven-mile stretch of sandy beach. Closing my eyes and ignoring the February chill ripping through my soul, I could just about imagine stepping out in a floaty summer number and ambling barefoot through warm sand in search of seaside cocktails. But in reality, with stomachs rumbling and hands numb, we hurried towards the town centre and dived into the first restaurant we came across.
There are some atmospheres you just can’t find in London, and this was one. A grand piano hosted a silver fox blasting out his piano rendition of Bryan Adams while a waiter in black tie ushered us to a candlelit table. The restaurant was full of the celebrating and celebrated of Bournemouth, all dressed to the nines, guffawing the night away with full glasses, platters of seafood and red faces. ‘This is amazing!’ I whispered to Mr Smith, in the way that you do when you’re an outsider really excited to be at someone else’s ‘normal’. With two AA rosettes the Crab at Bournemouth is said to be the best seafood restaurant in town, and I’m not going to argue. Having popped out for a quick snack and some drinks, we couldn’t resist a full-blown feast.
After a lie in, a warming bath and locally sourced (and also very tasty) breakfast, we decided to head into some of the surrounding countryside this part of Dorset is so famous for. The area is a mecca for GCSE Geography case studies: Durdle Door, Old Harry Rocks, Purbeck Hills, Swanage Bay, Chesil Beach. The lure of a geeky trip down memory lane aside, we were both excited at the prospect of cliffs, sea breezes and a pint of local cider. Our ‘since we’re by the sea, perhaps the sun will poke out’ hopes sadly didn’t manifest, but the West Country cider provided more than the necessary warmth.
Back at the hotel we walked straight into the warming and excitable atmosphere of a wedding, giving us the perfect excuse to go the whole hog when it came to drinks and six-course tasting menu at the Arbor Restaurant. With bridesmaids and pageboys hiding from merry parents and a flushed bride and groom having a romantic moment in the garden, we settled in at the bar to start our night of beautifully prepared and responsibly sourced food and drink. A bottle of English sparkling wine in (which could almost have been champagne) and I was declaring the Green House Hotel the most wholesome and relaxing place to spend a Saturday night in the whole of Dorset. And when it comes to Bournemouth, frankly, this place is a lifesaver.
Slightly sore heads tempted us back to the beach on Sunday morning. With the sun breaking through dark grey clouds it was just as beautiful as it would be in summer. Bournemouth has hosted leisure seekers for more than a hundred years and in some ways, with its deck chairs, promenaders and piers, that morning it felt unchanged. Until we stumbled into a jazz-filled seafront bar where Bournemouth’s media set were getting stuck into some punchy Bloody Marys.
Environmentally friendly hotels so often fall into two camps – the corporate and efficient hotel room with as little soul as it has carbon, and the preachy hippy with so much eco-chat that you spend the whole time scratching at your hairshirt and walking on eggshells. Not so here. The Green House Hotel is genuinely better for its subtly delivered organic and responsible credentials, and it leaves you feeling all the better for it.