On one of the hottest day of summer last year, my husband and I rode on our motorbike to Sandbanks in Dorset for a day at the beach. The night before I had googled "best beaches in UK" and the name had come up at the top of the search, so I was intrigued.
Sandbanks is a small peninsula on the south English coast: on the east side there's the beautiful sandy beach while the west side faces the Poole Harbour (one of the largest natural harbours in Europe). From the tip of the peninsula you have views of the harbour and Brownsea island (a National Trust protected island famous for its wildlife), which you can reach with the local ferry boat.
Sandbanks is the fourth most expensive place to live in the world, so the land is mainly occupied by stunning luxury homes worth millions of pounds.
When we arrived at the beach the next day I couldn't believe it: hot weather, sandy beach, clear blue water...it was beautiful! I loved it so much I suggested we should make it a summer tradition to drive down to Sandbanks every year...
Then this year I was approached by FBJ Hotel Group and invited to visit Harbour Heights - a boutique four-star hotel in Sandbanks - to review their restaurant and rooms, an invitation that as you can imagine I was very happy to accept.
The hotel is blessed by a great location overlooking the Sandbanks Peninsula, the Poole harbour and Brownsea Island, so it's the best place to stay if you visit this part of the country. If you are just visiting for the day, you can still enjoy the outstanding views from the terrace of the Harbar Bistro, the award-winning restaurant of Harbour Heights which serves seasonal produce, locally sourced and freshly produced.
We booked the hotel for the first August weekend, when summer wasn't yet a long distant memory (it's now practically autumn over here!)
We left London on Saturday morning and arrived at Harbour Heights just before lunch time, in time to drop our bags at the hotel and walk to the beach for a few hours of sun-tanning. In the afternoon the wind picked up, so we headed back to the hotel to check in into our room.
Harbour Heights is a relatively small hotel with only 38 rooms, which gives the place an intimately and cozy feeling. The check-in and out process was swift and quick and the service from the concierge was great throughout our stay.
Our large en-suite room had a comfortable king size bed and floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the wonderful views. The room also featured a flat screen TV, Internet access, a working desk area, a lovely Spa bath (which we immediately tested!), two bathroom sinks (one for him, one for her...I wish I had these in my home!) and air conditioning.
There was a plate of fresh fruit in the room, which was a lovely welcome present for a warm summer day. In my opinion the room would improve massively with a few little touches, like having coffee/tea or mini-bar in the room, as well as bathrobe / slippers and beauty products in the bathroom. At the end of the day, these are the nice perks of staying in a nice hotel and something you would probably expect from a four-star establishment.
Our double bedroom was on the first floor and had a balcony facing the harbour! What a beautiful view to wake up to in the morning, I absolutely loved it!
All guests at Harbour Heights Hotel also have complimentary use of the Haven Spa at the Haven Hotel, which is part of the FJB group and is located on the Sandbanks peninsula (about 5 minutes' drive from Harbour Heights). So before dinner I spent a few hours in their gym, pool and steam room (while Sandy waited for me on the terrace), before going back to our hotel for dinner.
We dressed up for an aperitif on the terrace and the weather was warm enough to wear a summer dress and sandals. We watched the sun go down over the sea and it was just perfect! The glass of Chinkapin Brut Rose (2010) from English Oak Vineyard in Dorset was the perfect drink for the occasion.
For dinner we moved inside the Harbar Bistro, which was awarded 2 rosettes by the AA Restaurant Guide, and we spent the next few hours eating fantastic dishes and drinking a bit too much Sauvignon Blanc from Yealands Estate in Malrborough, New Zealand.
I'm just joking...there can never be too much Sauvignon Blanc! ;)
And how amazing is it to eat a great meal, drink a few glasses of a lovely wine and then having to just climb a few stairs to your big comfortable and incredibly quiet room?!
Living in London you come to appreciate things like hearing the sea waves in the distance instead of the trucks driving past your bedroom window...but I'm digressing, so let's go back to the review of our meal.
We started with a Truffle Goat's Cheese Mousse with Pea Puree, Pickled Girolles, Herb Salad and Grilled Tiger Prawns with Thai Salad. Both were really nice, the mousse was delicate white the prawns had a slight spicy kick.
As a main course I ordered the Confit Arctic Char, sourced from a local Dorset supplier, and served with Crab & Dill Chickpea Cake, Fennel Puree, Charred Courgette and Fish Cappuccino. The char is a great fish which shares the characteristic richness of salmon, though it has white flesh, and it paired well with the chickpea cake. I don't love fennel and I generally dislike foam, but I have to admit the whole dish worked very well.
My husband had the Poussin with Thyme Polenta, Sweetcorn Puree, Sweetcorn & Girolles Salad and Chicken Jus which was a colourful and flavoursome dish. I don't like polenta, but my husband thought this dish was great.
Dessert was an amazing Chocolate and Hazelnut Terrine with Mixed Berries. My husband and I voted it our favourite dessert of 2014 (so far)! ;)
What a dinner! We were pleasantly full and tipsy afterwards, which is always a nice way to end a Saturday night.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of the...rain! Yes, it was the weekend that tropical Storm Bertha battered Britain, so we had to change our plans of hitting the beach again and instead drove back to London after a lazy lie in bed. The bed was so big it was hard to get off it, you know... ;)
Breakfast was a tiny bit disappointing (I always have high expectations about hotel breakfast buffets), so we skipped the buffet and ordered from the menu: Eggs Royale for my husband and a Full English Breakfast for me. They were good, but after the amazing dinner we had the night before I was expecting something more over the top for breakfast, so I think there is room for improvement there.
Luckily the worst of the storm hit Dorset on Saturday night, so by the time we finished breakfast the sun was making an appearance again! We left the hotel and drove by the sea and on Evening Hill to take a few photos of the harbour, before waving goodbye to beautiful Dorset. Until next summer...
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Harbour Heights Hotel and Harbar Bistro. All opinions are my own.