Travel feature: Christmas shopping in Brighton
Brighton is a gift hunters paradise, finds Tom Marshall
Christmas is looming on the horizon and if you’re anything like me, the thought of all that gift buying is enough to bring you out in a cold sweat.
It’s the same every year. A frantic last-minute dash around the West End, charging through crowds to buy the same old stuff, while vowing to never, ever leave it this late again.
For once I’m sticking to that commitment, having started my shopping spree in style at the present hunters’ paradise of Brighton.
I’ve visited the seaside city dozens of times, but never before in the run-up to the big day. Now I’m wondering if there’s a better time to go.
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We caught a train after work on a Friday and by 8pm were sitting for dinner at Indian restaurant The Chilli Pickle in Jubilee Square.
We were making a weekend of it, staying at the Grand, a large Victorian hotel that dates back to 1864, in a seafront spot between Brighton Pier and the atmospheric wreck of the West Pier.
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There is a touch of faded splendour about the place, although the faded aspect may soon disappear because a �6million overhaul is underway, the first major works since the refit after the IRA bomb attack in October 1984.
All 201 rooms will be refurbished and a seafood restaurant and luxury spa built.
Brighton is a compact place and its main shopping districts, the confusingly named Lanes and North Laine, area short stroll from the seafront, close together to either side of the Royal Pavilion.
We started off in the Lanes, a historic maze of winding alleyways noted for jewellery and antiques.
First stop was Baroque Bespoke Jewellery, tucked away in one of the smaller alleys, which had some elaborate and exotic creations by its in-house goldsmiths, including a large octopus necklace that would require an adventurous wearer.
From there we headed to Pecksniff’s, an independent perfume and cosmetics store that was packed to the rafters with sweet smells.
If your budget stretches to it, alas, mine didn’t, for about �300 they offer bespoke fragrance gift certificates.
When cashed in, their “architects of scent” spend three weeks perfecting the perfume to the specifications of the customer, who also gets to choose the bottle and name.
One chap settled on Slimy Simon, apparently.
We also stopped in at retro emporium Dollydagger Boutique, which sells all manner of new but vintage-styled clothes and curios, picking up a 1950s wind-up tin robot with a neat box that looks like the poster for a B-movie.
We made our way to the North Laine for a lovely lunch at Temptation Caf�, which serves an incredible sticky toffee pudding, and boasts an equally impressive knitting display, including a scale woollen model of the Pavilion, which is all the handiwork of friendly owner Peter Allinson.
Then we got back to business. The North Laine is a charming cornucopia of independent stores, overflowing with stylish and offbeat boutiques stocking all manner of clothes, homeware, gadgets, wacky imported sweets and fancy foodstuffs.
It’s a great place to visit and suddenly even the experience of Christmas shopping actually felt like fun.
It was still tiring work, mind, so it seemed only fair to end the afternoon with a relaxing massage at the nearby Treatment Rooms.
Dinner on Saturday was at Proud Cabaret Brighton.
Styled like a 1920s speakeasy, it’s clearly a hit with the hen party crowd.
For �35 you get a three-course meal and an evening of entertainment which is great value, although unfortunately the catch seems to be the food.
My pumpkin soup starter was watery and tasteless and my br�l�e dessert little better, although a tasty filo pastry with goat’s cheese main, served with pak choi and pine nuts, went some way towards making up for the shortcomings.
The performances were a little lacklustre. I didn’t need to see a woman spinning multiple hula-hoops, while taking off her clothes – twice, or a man plate-spinning from his crotch, once, but at least the cocktails were top-notch.
We stuck around for most of the Sunday to spend more time in the North Laine and enjoy some of the sights, including the seafront, the pier and the Pavilion, which I never tire of visiting.
I could spend hours in its stunning banquet hall, listening to the enthralling audio guide.
We also went for a whirl on the temporary ice rink in the Pavilion’s gardens, and toured Brighton Museum’s fascinating exhibition on fashion brand Biba and its founder Barbara Hulanicki.
There is, of course, plenty more to do if you can find the time between blowing your hard-earned cash on presents.
But you’d struggle to find a better place for that.