With almost indecent haste, autumn is already upon us in this turbulent, extraordinary year of 2020.  

I travelled down to the south coast , with my small bubble of travel enthusiast friends , on a mission to explore the beautiful and varied east Dorset coast and its three principal towns Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, finding out why they are well worth a visit in September , October and beyond into the winter months. We were of course also looking to briefly escape the lockdown life we’ve all experienced over the last six months. 

The travel and tourism industries have taken a battering during the Covid 19 crisis but here I hope to suggest ways everyone can help a little by shining a light on the towns’ best cafes and restaurants, the most exciting attractions and activities, the most scenic walks , stunning scenery, fascinating but little - known museums and galleries and of course the amazing fifteen miles of sandy beaches and rugged coastline.

All the following outings and journeys were conducted safely and at a social distance, with the genuine intention of supporting local businesses while seeking out the best value -for- money experiences or indeed highlighting the many ways visitors can enjoy themselves for free. 

Following a chilled few days in Christchurch we moved a few miles west to the relatively sprawling and more famous coastal town of Bournemouth which in pre - Covid times is bustling and busy and hosts a number of well attended high profile annual events like the summer Bournemouth Air Festival and Christmas Tree Wonderland.  We understand that both will be returning in 2021 but we still found a town and seafront full of energy and hope, steadily emerging from Lockdown. We were thrilled to hear that the 10th Arts by the Sea Festival would be going ahead at the end of September with a  mixture of live and digital performances , presentations and installations. 

Bournemouth's spectacular Arts by the Sea Festival is set to wow at the end of September

Our little group of intrepid travellers split up in terms of accommodation , a few going to the genteel 4 Star independent Miramar  with its rolling lawns and unique en-suite rooms  and the rest luxuriating at the Marriott Highcliff Hotel on the west cliff , with its extraordinary cliff top views , a number  of deluxe cottage rooms and indoor swimming pool. It also houses the highly rated Brasserie Blanc whose menus ignite your senses with delicious home-cooked French cuisine.  This beautiful restaurant, bar, brasserie and terrace are open all day every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Both these two fantastic hotels are perfectly located to access the long sandy beaches in minutes, and this is where we spent a glorious chilled afternoon in the autumn sunshine, the iconic Bournemouth Pier in the middle distance. The brave amongst us swam in the bracing waves, all indulged in an obligatory ice cream from one of the reasonably priced kiosks dotted along the seafront. 

Even in these unusual times of pandemic we found a lot of Bournemouth’s many bars, cafes and restaurants open for business and we were welcomed with friendly service in safe but fun environments wherever we went. (However, it is worth checking websites for changed autumn and winter opening times). 

The front of the glorious Hotel Miramar in Bournemouth

Lunch time trade was brisk on Urban Garden’s  spacious terrace , with its fantastic views across Bournemouth’s iconic Grade II Listed Victorian Gardens while in the centre of town vibrant Sri Lankan restaurant The Coconut Tree serves up explosions of flavours in delicious vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes as well as an extensive array of cocktails! Sea front dining at Westbeach is a treat while the Prom Café and Prom Diner both provide delicious competitively priced snacks, meals and drinks for all the family right by the sea. Alfresco coffee, food, yoga and music can still be enjoyed at Picnic Park Deli during September.

The Russell–Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, with its panoramic views of the bay, is always worth a slot on the schedule – one of our group is a real fan - but if you’re in the area before the 27th September a visit is essential. The blockbuster exhibition, “Beyond the Brotherhood: The Pre Raphaelite-Legacy” has been extended post Lockdown and features borrowed masterpieces from Tate Britain, The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Academy. We particularly loved the works on display from the Lord of The Rings and Games of Thrones, whose art direction was variously influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement. A delicious cup of tea in the café and a browse in the imaginatively stocked gift shop rounded off a delightful morning at the museum.

In the Pier Approach area of the seafront , the Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf course brought out the competitive spirit in all of us and we were told that the Zip Wire at Rock Reef  , running from Bournemouth Pier to the beach is a sure fire adrenalin hit. The Oceanarium, with its links to The Marine Conservation Society and variety of sea creatures including penguins, turtles and beautiful tropical fishis perfect to entertain and educate us all, while the Big Wheel offers fantastic 360 views of the sea and countryside. 

Getting around Bournemouth was super easy by foot or bike. We signed up to The Beryl Bike scheme - these jolly green community bicycles can be found throughout the conurbation - across Poole and Christchurch too. On our many rides along the seafront and around town we spotted a lot of community and public art including the murals of The Selfie Wall Trail, floor art inviting us to Leave Only Footprints while the amazing Upside Gallery  can be found decorating the 10 concrete  metre supports of a flyover in the Central Gardens. 

We will be coming back to Bournemouth very soon! 

A view onto Bournemouth Beach from the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum




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