Ooh la la! Seeking some continental ambience? Look no further than the Paris of the Sefton coast – Southport.
Yes. I’m not just using lashings of poetic licence when it comes to equating Southport with the French capital.
A plaque on a wall at the end of Lord Street declares that the exiled Prince Louis Napoleon loved the tree lined thoroughfare so much that when he was finally allowed back to France, voila!
He created the broad tree lined French boulevards we know today. So there. Paris just wouldn’t be half as impressive were it not for this northern destination.
While Blackpool is the gaudy show-off, Southport has hidden depths. Sure, the joke is that you have to walk a mile or so before you can dip a toe into the sea but there’s still a cool beachy vibe about the place and plenty of attractions to keep everyone from little kids to sulky fashionistas amused. And that means it has plenty of out-of-season appeal.
Parisian chic: The Vincent Hotel's Penthouse Suite
I bet you can’t buy a £720 pair of Balenciaga trainers in Blackpool, but you can in Southport if you call in at the huge Flannels store in the town centre.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can also snap up six sticks of seaside rock for £2. As the tourist board might say, “there’s something here for everyone”.
The one thing that often lets your usual northern seaside location down is the lack of decent hotels. Sure you can lay your head down in Mrs Bloggs’ guest house for £60 a night and be woken by the clatter of feet heading downstairs for breakfast served on the dot at 9am, but it’s nice to have the option of a proper hotel.
Southport has a few, including The Vincent on Lord Street and The Bliss Hotel which gave us the luxury of a sea view. It’s billed as the “first” Bliss hotel in the UK and as such is unique as there are no others! But maybe soon. Our superior double had everything we needed. It’s an unpretentious, welcoming place to stay, quiet and comfortable and in a great location. What more could we want?
The Bliss Hotel.
Things to do in Southport
First stop was The Atkinson Museum and Art Gallery which is on Lord Street. Loved the Captain Pugwash exhibition in the museum and also the displays relating to the town’s heyday as the centre of elegance, all limousines, satin gowns and opera glasses.
There’s a stunning painting by Fortunino Matania, an artist chosen to capture all this glamour for the purpose of promoting it on railway posters throughout the UK and if horses are your thing, a entire display dedicated to the legendary three times Grand National winner, Red Rum, who trained on Southport’s sands. Check out The Atkinson’s website too if you fancy taking in a show as it has a great theatre on the site.
Another not-to-be-missed cultural experience can be found at the British Lawnmower Museum, off the beaten track on Shakespeare Street. Crammed into four small rooms above a lawnmower (what else?) shop are the grass cutters of yesteryear.
“You must listen to the audio” said the guy who took our £3 entrance fee. “It lasts about half an hour” he added. Cue that “trapped by crap commentary” feeling. But hey! Who knew the history of lawn mowers could be so fascinating? And to be in close proximity to “Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous” including those owned by HRH Charles and Diana, Richard and Judy, Paul O’Grady and Hilda Ogden is not to be missed.
Previous visitors have included everyone from James May to Grand Prix record breaker Louis Hamilton. Eat your heart out Paris!
Wayfarers Parisian Style Glass Victorian Shopping Centre in Southport.
Don’t visit Southport without a mooch around the shops. From vintage stores in the Victorian arcades to the aforementioned Flannels, you can get some serious shopping done here.
Browse around Wesley Street behind Chapel Street where you’ll find quirky, colourful independent shops along a bunting lined street while the independent shops of picturesque Churchtown and Birkdale are just a short ride away
Eating and drinking
Remedy on Lord Street is just the place to head to if you want a light lunch. We had fantastic service from Caitlin who rocked up with steaming mugs of freshly ground coffee and paninis stuffed with fillings of our choice. Falafel and homemade hummus for me and chorizo sausage for my other half. If you’re partial to whiskey and cocktails, then head down here for the evening and enjoy the buzzing vibe.
Southport's Peaky Blinders Bar packed full with people.
For evening drinks we headed to Peaky Blinders, which in spite of its naff TV theme (OK I’ve never seen the show but isn’t it something to do with brutal murder?) is really good. A great selection of proper ales is on offer and the vino is a few notches above “pub wine” plus it’s rammed.
So too was the Kalash Divine Indian where we had dinner. Not your average “one sauce fits all” Indian so often the late night call for the drunken seaside reveller, this is an Indian restaurant with plenty of thought and love put into their menu.
Highlights included a starter of Khajoor Bharu Aloo Tikki, little spiced potato patties enhanced with moorish tamarind and mint, Achali Neelgiri, £16.95, an elegant and fragrant dish of monk fish in a green herb curry and Kadhai Paneer, £7.95, a soft Indian cottage cheese in a ramped up chilli and coriander gravy. Everything is presented with care and tastes heavenly. It’s not called divine for nothing!
There's a wide range of delectable dishes at Kalash Divine Indian, Southport.
As seasides go, Southport has a lot to offer, from shopping to curiosities to good food and more than a little va va voom!