It has picked up various titles including the UK’s “hippest city” and “the happiest place to live in the UK”
I was there to drive the latest compact SUV from Jeep, the brand that is the byword for off roaders. The Compass is not something you’d use for tackling the tough stuff. You’d have to look at Jeep’s bigger beefy brutes like the Grand Cherokee or Wrangler for that but it certainly looks the part and fitted in well in the streets of Brighton. Beforehand I wondered why we’d been taken to the seaside resort to try something which might be more at home in the countryside, but it soon became clear.
Jeep’s marketing people say the Compass is aimed at people who enjoy life and like to have fun, along with freedom, adventure and passion. That pretty well sums up the attitude to life in Brighton which is renowned for its diverse communities, quirky shopping areas and large cultural, music and arts scene. People have lived there since the Bronze Age but it was only when roads improved and the railway arrived in the mid-19th century that the place really took off as a health resort for bathing in the sea and as a boarding point for boats across the Channel to France.
It became even more fashionable in the Georgian era when the Prince Regent, later King George IV, spent much of his time there soaking up the atmosphere. In fact, he spent so much time there, he had built his own royal palace, the Royal Pavilion. It is a remarkable building which dominates the area with its Indo-Gothic architecture and stunning Oriental interior.
Another building in a similar style and worth a look is the Sassoon Mausoleum. The place is a bit livelier in its latest incarnation as a chic supper club and thankfully the bodies it once contained have been reburied elsewhere.
There so many fabulous places to eat – almost on every corner. Locals gave me many recommendations including a great cocktail bar, The Plotting Parlour, and a hugely popular restaurant on the sea front is Riddle & Finns. Also there you’ll find another new eatery called Murmur which has already made it high on the target list for foodies.
Brighton is easy to get about and it’s flat if you stay beside the sea and very healthily bracing to walk along the very long promenade. You’ll see many of the major attractions built in the Victorian era, including the Grand Hotel, the scene of the IRA bombing which almost claimed the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the Conservative Party conference in 1984.
There’s the classic frontage of Brighton Pier behind which are a funfair, a host of eateries and arcade halls. Not far away is the skeleton of the West Pier which closed in the Seventies but was then completely destroyed by fire in 2003.
Alongside it on dry land is the latest Brighton landmark, the 162 metre high
i360 tower, Britain’s highest observation tower outside London – taller even than the London Eye.
Also worth a look and a trip on is Volk’s Electric Railway which runs along the inland edge of the beach from Brighton Pier to Black Rock and Brighton Marina. It was created in 1883 and is the world’s oldest operating electric railway. It’s been running a limited service for a while to allow Heritage Lottery works to take place but it’s hoped it’ll be fully operational with restored carriages by Spring.
We headed out of the city on our test drives and came on a couple of great places to visit.
Ridgeview Wines is north of Brighton in the South Downs National Park and has been at the forefront of the recent evolution of English sparkling wine production. They’ve been making wine for just twenty years but now produce a quarter of a million bottles which are sold around the world and served at prestigious events.
Sadly, as we were driving we could only taste and spit but from what we sampled you could tell they were superb.
For lunch we stopped at a wonderful pub further west along the coast about ten minutes from Chichester near the village of Sidlesham. The 350 year-old Crab and Lobster is something of a hideaway down a narrow lane on the banks of Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. With a menu including starters like Salt and Pepper fresh Squid and Selsey Crab and Tiger Prawn Cocktail and mains such as Beer Battered Loin of Hake and Fillet of Cod with Pancetta and Cockle Cream they served up some of the best pub grub I’ve ever tasted in a fabulously friendly atmosphere.
Alan Douglas, Motoring Journalist & Broadcaster
Ridgeview wine : www.ridgeview.co.uk
Crab and Lobster : www.crab-lobster.co.uk
Malmaison : www.malmaison.com/locations/brighton
Plotting Parlour : www.theplottingparlour-brighton.co.uk
Riddle and Finns : www.riddleandfinns.co.uk
Murmur : www.murmur-restaurant.co.uk