Luxury & boutique hotels
Dorset, United Kingdom
When to go
Summer’s a shoo-in, with Dorset among the UK’s top five sunniest counties. May is wonderful for seeing the coastal-path flowers at their height. Winter can be forbidding for serious Jurassic hikes, but among the gentle beaches and resorts, the off-season coast is a treat.
PlanesBournemouth International Airport (www.bournemouthairport.com) has links with Glasgow | Dublin | Shannon and New York | as well as many European cities. There’s a shuttle bus that connects the airport to Bournemouth railway station (www.yellowbuses.co.uk).
BoatsThere are passenger ports at Poole and Weymouth, with connections to France and the Channel Islands.
TrainsFrom London, the South Western Main Line runs down to Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth; or there’s the West of England Main Line, which passes through Sherborne. Go to www.nationalrail.co.uk to plan your journey.
AutomobilesNot a single motorway carves through Dorset; from London | take the M3 to Andover or Winchester | then it’s A roads all the way.
TaxisThe number for the main taxi rank outside Bournemouth railway station is +44 (0)1202 556166. In Bridport, we recommend Beeline Taxis (+44 (0)1308 425555); in Dorchester, Pete’s Cabs (+44 (0)1305 251122).
In Dorset each gastropub waiter worth their locally sourced salt will rattle off the life story of every ingredient on your plate. With more farms than you can shake a hoe at, a fortuitous coastal perch and a hearty array of home brews, this southwest outpost is the destination for country cuisine.
Known for Abbotsbury rock oysters, Wolfeton cider and Blue Vinny cheese, and of course, Moore's Dorset Knob biscuits and Piddle brews – stop sniggering at the back there…
Here portion control is regarded with as much dubiety as Creationism. Hearty rabbit pie, haddock casserole, whole mackerels in gooseberry sauce and slabs of meat may turn up on your plate, followed by hedgerow-fresh berries, Dorset apple cake and a very fine cheese plate – seconds, please.
• Immortalised by poet William Barnes and made to a hallowed recipe, Blue Vinny ('blue veins' in West Country patois) has been the pride of the region for more than 300 years. Only Woodbridge Farm produce it, which is well worth a pilgrimage for cheese devotees; they also make delightful soups and chutneys.
• Lyme Bay's pillowy scallops are a joy to bite into. It's no surprise that Dorset's – and perhaps the world's – finest crab and mackerel festival is held at this coastal spot in July, and Mark Hix decided it was the spiritual home of Hix Oyster & Fish House. Need a nightcap? Cider brandy, mead and fabulous fruit liqueurs are found at the Lyme Bay Winery.
• Dorset's craft breweries are legion. We recommend electing a designated driver and blazing a boozy real-ale trail. Start in Bridport, home to Palmers and Art Brew Barn, then head west and loop round the Royal Standard Inn near Nottington, the Dorset Brewing Company in Crossways, the Brewhouse and Kitchen in Dorchester and Dorset Piddle Brewery in Piddlehinton, before returning back to the hotel all the cheerier.
Stay at The Pig – on the Beach, the seaside incarnation of epicurean fave The Pig. Its micro-seasonal menus are excellent, and suffused with hyper-local ingredients, but we'd be happy with just a plate of their famed pork scratchings.