Bask in glory of Britain’s Gold Coast

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iol travel aug 15 weymounth bay AFP File photo: Britain's sailor Ben Ainslie speeds along on Weymouth Bay in a Finn class practice race during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

London - After Ben Ainslie’s victory in the Olympic sailing at Weymouth last Sunday, the Jurassic Coast might just have to be renamed the Gold Coast. OK, that’s unlikely, but picturesque Weymouth Bay, which sits plum in the middle of the Jurassic Coast, should surely be known for ever as Ben’s Bay.

Weymouth is an ideal base to explore the 95-mile stretch of the South Coast from Exmouth in Devon to Studland in Dorset. Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001, it includes stunning Chesil Beach.

The opening of the £3.5 million new Weymouth Sea Life Tower, which soars 175ft above the shoreline, has further enhanced Weymouth’s reputation as a coastal destination. From the revolving observation deck, visitors have a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the Jurassic Coast.

Also in Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole offer miles of award-winning golden-sand beaches. There’s a beautiful harbour and bustling quay at Poole and, thanks to an artificial reef, surfing in Bournemouth. On the town’s East Cliff you’ll find the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum or, for a more contemporary experience, visit Poole’s Lighthouse, where you can enjoy music, theatre and film along with visual art exhibitions.

The Bournemouth Eye helium balloon provides jaw-dropping views along the coast from 500ft. For more sedate entertainment, try 17th Century Lulworth Castle or the Poole Museum and adjacent Scaplen’s Court.

If you fancy yourself as the next Ben Ainslie, Cottage Lodge, a 17th Century five-star B&B at Brockenhurst in the New Forest, is offering a special two-night break. It includes a sailing cruise aboard a modern, 45ft Jeanneau yacht to the Isle of Wight, with lunch or dinner on board.

When in 1845 Queen Victoria first set eyes on her private beach at Osborne House, her holiday pile on the Isle of Wight, she wrote: “We have quite a charming beach to ourselves.” Now, you too can bathe like royalty as the beach has just been opened to the public for the first time.

English Heritage has returned the original wooden bathing machine to the beach. It ran down a ramp into the sea and from there Victoria - her modesty preserved - would emerge in her swimsuit. Magnificent Osborne House is open to the pubic and you can rent the Pavilion Cottage, the former Royal Naval College cricket pavilion, which has direct access to the Queen’s beach.

Nearby Portsmouth, from which the Isle of Wight is accessible, has a rich naval history. Later in the year you will be able to combine a tour of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, with a visit to the Mary Rose Museum, which will tell the fascinating history of the Tudor ship that sank in 1545. The museum is scheduled to open in late 2012.

Brighton has always enjoyed a bohemian reputation and has been the setting for movies as diverse as Brighton Rock, Quadrophenia and Mona Lisa. The iconic Grand Hotel on the seafront has been refurbished and should be open for those looking to spend a weekend in this quirky resort in December 2012.

In keeping with its arty boho vibe, Brighton hosts an eclectic rage of festivals. From September 22, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery will be hosting a special exhibition dedicated to the Biba fashion house and its creator and designer Barbara Hulanicki. The Brighton Photo Biennial will take place from October 6 to November 4, and Brighton Pride parade and party will take place on September 1.

Clifford Musgrave, who rescued the Royal Pavilion from wartime disrepair, summed up the town perfectly: “The atmosphere of Brighton is more than any other English town like a continental city, with a spirit of elegance and gaiety, and the promise of delight.” - Mail on Sunday

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