x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brighton breezy

This seaside city offers fresh air as well as a wealth of good cafes and restaurants.

Brighton has been a holiday resort and popular day trip and weekend destination since the 18th century. In 1783 the Prince of Wales, later the Prince Regent and then King George IV, first visited Brighton after his doctor advised him it would be beneficial to his gout. His patronage continued until 1827, and has left its architectural mark in the magnificent Regency architecture seen along the seafront and in the Royal Pavilion, a fabulous palace built in Indo-Saracenic style with onion domes and Chinese interiors, in the centre of town.

These days, a weekend in Brighton is still an escape to fresh air and fun - there are excellent restaurants and cafes, miles of (pebble) beach and plenty of activities for children, including rides, amusements on the pier and beachfront playgrounds. Summer sees cinema on the beach and the Brighton Festival, but there is an underlying energy and creativity to this city (partly the result of two universities and a well-regarded arts scene), which means that there is always something going on. At just £17 (Dh97) for a return ticket from London by train, Brighton is worth at least one day of your time.

Brighton has a huge range of accommodation, but much of it is overpriced and sub-standard. The Myhotel Brighton (www.myhotel.com; 00 44 1273 900 300), is a super-modern, 80-room pad in the centre of the fashionable and historic North Laine shopping area. A standard double costs £94 (Dh536), including a buffet breakfast; online discounts are available for advance bookings. For a little more Regency flavour, head to the 19-room Hotel Una in Regency Square (www.hotel-una.co.uk; 00 44 1273 820 464) where rooms and suites are named after rivers around the world and the design is unique but clean-cut. Double rooms cost from £115 (Dh400) including breakfast. The Brighton outpost of the Hotel Du Vin chain (www.hotelduvin.com; 00 44 1273 718 588) is a French-style hotel and bistro in a grand, Gothic-style building close to the seafront. It has 34 rooms, two junior suites and a loft suite. Doubles cost from £170 (Dh970) excluding breakfast; loft suite from £245 (Dh1,400).

Starting at Brighton Station, walk down Queen's Road, stopping perhaps at Taylor St Baristas (www.taylor-st.com) for a delicious caffeine hit in this smart and relaxed coffee shop. Then cross the road and stroll down Church Street, walking through the Pavilion Gardens to East Street, and out onto the promenade. Spend an hour or two walking along Brighton Pier before heading westwards along the promenade and back into town through East Street, arriving at the Lanes, the city's oldest shopping area.

Brighton's residents are laid-back, and while away hours over their laptops and notebooks. Grab a table at Taylor St Baristas or the Dorset (28 North Road) with its old-fashioned, French-style ambiance and indoor or outdoor seating, and you'll be making conversation in no time. For a more down-to-earth experience, as well as excellent locally caught fish, head to Bardsley's of Baker St (www.bardsleys-fishandchips.co.uk), run as a family business since 1926. Sit back and enjoy your fish, fried or grilled, with a giant pile of tasty chips and a cup of tea.

Brighton is famous for its vegetarian food, and two stalwarts of the scene are Terre à Terre at 71 East Street (www.terreaterre.co.uk; 00 44 1273 729 051) - try a tasting plate from £35 (Dh200) for two, including drinks - and Infinity Foods Cafe at 50 Gardner Street (www.infinityfoodscafe.co.uk; 00 44 1273 670 743), where a large seasonal organic salad costs £5.15 (Dh30).

For north African food, visit Mascara at 101 Western Rd (www.mascara-restaurant.co.uk; 00 44 1273 278 185). Amid low tables and lanterns, try kemia, a selection of broad bean, bhabaghanoush and hummus dips with pita bread (£5.50; Dh31) followed by tagine barania, stewed lamb shank with chick peas, aubergine and fresh coriander (£13.50; Dh77). Two new restaurants next door to each other on Black Lion Street are Jamie's Italian (www.jamieoliver.com; 00 44 1273 915 480), where the line-caught grilled mackerel with mango and lime salsa costs £10.95 (Dh62), and Pho (www.phocafe.co.uk; 0044 1273 302 403) which serves a delicious menu of Vietnamese soups, noodles, spring rolls and salads. Try cold prawn ricepaper rolls (£3.75; Dh21) and a large steaming bowl of beef pho (soup) served with fresh beansprouts, chilli, coriander, lime and basil (£7.45; Dh42).

While so many of Britain's cities have identikit high streets, Brighton has an alternative feel thanks to its boutique shops all concentrated in the centre of town. The Lanes, close to the seafront, are a tightly knit maze of pedestrianised streets. Its shops sell everything from sweets to guns and souvenirs. The North Laine is a collection of more than 300 small shops where you can find everything from vintage clothing to ethnic homewares. Snooper's Paradise in Kensington Gardens sells antiques and second-hand clothes.

Other tourists. Summer brings huge crowds to Brighton, so head there in September or June.

If you can brave it, take a dip in the sea - it looks cold because it is - then, do what countless thousands have done before, and stroll along the pier (www.brightonpier.co.uk; entry gratis) before appreciating the fantasy conjured by the Royal Pavilion (www.royalpavilion.org.uk; £9.50; Dh54). For yet more culture, the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is home to an eclectic collection including 20th-century art and design as well as touring exhibitions (www.brighton.virtualmuseum.info; entry gratis; closed on Mondays). Make a date for two seasonal events: the Brighton Festival (www.brightonfestival.org) in May, an ever-growing collection of comedy, theatre, dance and music and literary events, and the Brighton Art Fair (www.brightonartfair.co.uk), which takes place from September 16 to 19, showcasing and selling work from hundreds of local painters, printmakers, photographers and sculptors. @Email:rbehan@thenational.ae