A place to sit...
Whether it’s gently lapping in a Mediterranean cove, crashing onto Sussex shingle or anything in between, I am never happier than when walking the water’s edge or warming up in a shore side café, be it a tiny shack, a stand, a cottage, even a looming hotel or prefab.
So, in gratitude for all the tea, the hearty breakfasts, the comfy seats and perfect views, I am dedicating this page to the best ones I’ve known and the memories made in them.
1. The Bluebird, Ferring, West Sussex
The first time I saw the Bluebird, we didn’t go in, New Year’s Day brunch still heavy in our stomachs despite the bracing walk.
Sun glinted on surf and the queue snaked down the path by the pastel painted beach huts. The lustre of a blue-skied bank holiday, even in January, is enough to bring everyone out, unfurling from their Christmas hibernations, stretching and blinking in the sunlight.
This wasn’t our day. I knew that. But still my eyes gazed longingly at the blue and white cladded cottage with its sea views across the cobbles.
The next time, we’re invited, we can’t make it. And the next. It begins to feel like we will never get there, like it’s forbidden territory, a metaphor for all the things we cannot reach.
But finally, nearly a year on, our time comes. A crisp winter Saturday.
As we step inside, warmth greets us along with
the smell of bacon.
It is buzzing and beachy and perfect. The coffee is good and the breakfast even better (with a flexible choice of every possible combination of delicious items).
Chatter mixes with the scraping of church chairs as they’re pulled around reclaimed wooden tables. And dogs. There are dogs of all shapes and sizes, lying under tables and surprising you with poked out noses as you walk past.
It becomes a tradition, an institution. This place we thought we would never get to. Any time a birthday falls on a Saturday, you will find us there, eleven of us, drinking steaming hot tea, a stripy candle stuck into a sausage and the whole café joining in when we sing Happy Birthday.
2. Carmen's Patisserie, Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Does this place even still exist? I don’t know. But I include it with a huge dose of nostalgia. It was probably the first time I understood how utterly wonderful it could be to while away time in a beach café; the salty air mingling with steam and the smell of cooking.
We started going to Carmen’s Patisserie when the owners of our hotel went away and the hired staff stopped getting up for breakfast. It didn’t happen immediately. They phased it out gradually over a few days, removing items from the menu in twos or threes until there was only bread and coffee left.
Perhaps they thought that, this way, we would hardly notice on the fourth morning when we came downstairs to find the dining room in darkness, chairs on tables and the smell of coffee only remarkable in its absence.
We did notice, but we didn’t care. We just headed across the red dirt track to Carmen’s.
How can I describe Carmen’s? It was like eating breakfast in a highly congenial rain forest. The cool morning air smelt damp and sweet above the aromas of spicy Oaxacan chocolate and ground coffee; the clicking of cicadas the perfect percussion for the pssstch of the coffee machine.
The building itself was half hut, half hothouse and had been squeezed into a gap in the lush greenery and palm trees. The floor was made of stark wooden planks and many of the walls were simple screens of green gauze with the odd wooden support and bamboo divide making it into three cosy rooms.
Tropical greenery wound its way through the palapa roof and colourful lizards scurried up the outer screens, showing off feet and tummies through the netting. Lively birdsong competed with the transistor radio. Battered wooden chairs were scattered around a number of tables covered in locally crafted cloths. Customers browsed at the book collection on old wicker bookshelves before sitting down to enjoy the best breakfast in town.
It took about thirty seconds for us to fall in love with the place and after that there was no going back. Or rather, there was no end of going back. We drank milky coffee, ate pastries and read as the Pacific Ocean crashed onto the beach beyond.
3. Louisa Bay - Broadstairs
Less a café, more a coffee stand with tables.
But tables overlooking our favourite hideaway Broadstairs beach.
And real mugs you could take down to the sea and wedge into the sand as you read and relaxed.
We went there for breakfasts of bacon baguettes, and afternoon cuppas. Really that’s about it. It couldn’t offer much more. But that was enough. That and a perfect curving sandy beach which all but disappears at high tide.
There are bits of down to earth reality, like the concrete sea wall dotted with graffiti. As if to say, ok, life’s not perfect. But look... look over here - it is still very beautiful. The sea glimmers on the concave shore, the smooth sand damp, tan and shell-dashed; and the first smattering of beach huts sitting pretty on the wide coastal path that hugs the jutting out cliffs.
4. Inchydoney Beach (Lodge and Spa), Co.Cork, Ireland
This is no cutesy tea room, but when you have vast stretches of perfect glossy sand in every direction, maybe you don’t need to try too hard. Any lack of character in the building is thoroughly overcompensated by the stunning views.
We’ve lunched in the downstairs pub many times, but my favourite memory was made one Christmas Eve.
After a crisp winter beach walk with family beneath deep blue skies, we climbed the steps back up to the hotel, planning to grab a tea in the café. Irish hotels close over Christmas, meaning it was all but deserted. As we walked into the echoing reception, a lone staff member informed us the café was closed, but they could serve us tea in the lounge upstairs.
The lounge. A vast space with a wall of windows overlooking the sea. We had the entire place to ourselves and the silence, while a little ghostly, was strangely soothing after the clamour and noise of Christmas preparations. We adults sank into sofas with a view while our children ran amok, weaving in and out of the scattered easy chairs and plinking at the grand piano. Random notes and jarring chords richocheted around the huge room like some experimental concerto. Ten minutes later, steaming tea appeared along with a cake stand laden with freshly baked scones of every description.
It felt slightly unreal, like a dream sequence. Rather like having snuck into someone’s seaside mansion while they were out. It was the kind of experience you simply cannot create.
I loved every minute.