Back in the days when staying in the UK rather than jetting off abroad was still very much in fashion, the words: “We’re off to The Cumberland” filled me with unimaginable glee.
As a young child, I remember packing up my small rucksack – probably with all things non- essential such as Lego bricks, teddy bears and an ET doll – placing a bucket and spade over my arm and happily skipping out of the house in the knowledge we were off to Bournemouth for our annual holiday.
The Cumberland was one of Bournemouth’s many Jewish-owned hotels at that time, alongside the Majestic, Langham, Normandie, East Cliff Court and The Ambassador. Each ran their own Shabbat services and offered real heimishe food, from chicken soup and kneidlich, chopped liver and gefilte fish to copious amounts of salt beef, latkes and roast chicken. I’m too young to remember, but my parents still like to recall the time one guest so engorged himself with the generous portions on offer that he had to be carried out of the dining room by the waiters.
From days spent lounging on the beach and building sandcastles to playing mini golf in the Lower Gardens, visiting the aviary, listening to live music from the bandstand or trying our luck at the Peeks of Bournemouth Teddy Bear stall, Bournemouth was something of a family tradition.
It was one passed down through generations ever since my grandparents first met at the Trouville Hotel on the West Cliff decades earlier. Today the Jewish-owned hotels of my childhood are long gone (excepting the Normandie, which still opens briefly for festivals), but Bournemouth remains as popular as ever for families opting for a staycation over destinations abroad.
With that in mind, I couldn’t help but smile and feel a sense of pure nostalgia when I was recently offered a stay with my husband and three-year-old daughter at none other than The Cumberland. Now owned by Oceana Hotels, The Cumberland (rated three-star) has been restored in recent years to its art deco glory, as seen in its extremely stylish foyer, bar and dining room areas on the ground floor.
There is an outdoor heated swimming pool, while guests can also make use of facilities at two neighbouring hotels – the Oceana Day Spa at Cliffeside and a heated indoor pool, sauna, mini gym and squash courts at the Suncliff.
All 107 bedrooms have also been modernised and offer sea views and balconies. We were a little disappointed there was no air conditioning, something of a must when visiting during the hottest weekend of the year, but fans are available to guests on request.
The hotel’s Mirabelle Restaurant offers a comprehensive choice for breakfast, as well as a three-course prix fixe menu for dinner, while the Ventana bar is a great place to enjoy a lighter menu and drinks in the evening. For parents with youngsters, The Cumberland is also the perfect choice in terms of location.
The East Cliff beach is just a five-minute walk away from the hotel although, if you prefer, you can pitch up your deckchairs a little further along Bournemouth’s seven miles of award-winning golden beaches. We decided to stretch our legs and make our way towards Bournemouth Pier and beyond, passing the oldest municipal beach hut in the world, which was built in 1909.
Over at the west cliff, we also caught sight of a little ivory wedding marquee, where the UK’s first ever beach wedding took place in 2012. As we neared Bournemouth’s historic pier and arcade, we were amused to see ice cream was not only on sale at a multitude of seafront kiosks (apparently a staggering 75,000 ice creams are sold each year), but also beachside from the special ice cream boats – something of a plus for a toddler who is too busy constructing sandcastles to leave the beach for refreshments.
While many top attractions are within walking distance, including the town centre, Bournemouth International Centre, the Oceanarium, Pavilion Theatre and Bournemouth Gardens, help is also at hand for tired legs thanks to the land train that regularly runs along the entire course of the seafront.
We opted to take it all the way down to Alum Chine, where there is a great adventure playground for little ones and a family-friendly beach. To our daughter’s delight, there was even a traditional Punch and Judy show.
Vesuvio, located right on the beachfront, is a charming contemporary Italian restaurant and has plenty of vegetarian options and a children’s menu. Another great Italian we discovered was Pinocchio’s in Poole Hill, though if you want the truly traditional seaside experience, you have to of course experience the “world famous” fish and chips at Harry Ramsden’s, just past Bournemouth pier.
Away from the beaches and restaurants, there’s always plenty to amuse visitors – and best of all, much of the entertainment is free. If you are visiting this weekend, there’s still time to catch the Kids Family Fun Festival, which offers magic shows and face painting, while from 28 to 31 August, visitors can enjoy the Bournemouth Air Festival, including displays from the Red Arrows.