At The Bull Hotel, an 1850s coaching inn (standing on the site of an earlier 16th-century inn) in food-fabulous Dorset, Regency elegance is meted out with a modern eye for detail in a relaxed setting. Stripped wooden floors and well-chosen antiques partner bold-print papers and fabrics in a vintage-chic decorative scheme that's guaranteed to win hearts and minds. Perfect for a relaxing weekend exploring the Jurassic Coast; good value and very family-friendly, too.
11am, earliest check‑in, 3pm but occasionally flexible by prior arrangement.
Double rooms from £98.10, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
The Bull Hotel has a bright and beautiful Victorian ballroom with a minstrels’ gallery that can be used for wedding parties of up to 110 people.
At the hotel
Courtyard, games room with a DVD player and DVD library. Space for bicycles to be parked. In rooms, deluxe bed, flatscreen TV, black‑out blinds, free WiFi, robes, Bramley toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
The Red Four‑Poster Room (104) will kindle romance with its vividly hued walls, gorgeous bed and vintage roll‑top bath. The Palm Double (201) is a Master Room with bold palm-printed wallpaper and lamps with palm-tree stems. The three Family Rooms (301, 108, 106) have unique details and vivid wallpapers, and couples can get very cosy in the Snug Rooms' cabin-style beds.
Kites, jelly shoes and frisbees for the beach.
Two-night minimum stay at weekends.
Very welcome. Family Rooms have bunk-beds and space for a cot; there's a £30 charge (a child a night) for an extra bed for all other room types. There's a kids menu with trusted favourites and table football in the Ostler Room.
On fine days, outside in the former stableyard; on cold ones, by the fire.
Vintage English weekend wear.
The neutral‑toned restaurant is informal enough to make you feel as though you’re dining at a friend’s house – a friend who’s extremely handy in the kitchen, mind. Chef George Marsh's seafood‑focused menu has netted press plaudits aplenty, and is on offer till 9.30pm.
Venner Bar (open from Wednesday to Saturday, and occasional summer and bank-holiday Sundays) is named after a 17th‑century perpetrator of the Monmouth Rebellion who was involved in a shoot out in the Bull; but today the only shots you’ll hear are the ones being poured at the bar. On Friday evenings there are free canapés to kick off the weekend with at 6.30pm; arrive on time, these can go fast. Last orders run till late.
Lunch is on offer between noon and 3pm, dinner from 6.30pm to 9.30pm in the restaurant. Check with the hotel before you head out for an appetite-building ramble, as times can vary. The Venner Bar serves from 5pm till late.
The full restaurant menu – plus anything bespoke that the chef can rustle up – is on offer during normal kitchen hours.
From London Heathrow, the drive will take two and a half hours. Bournemouth airport is the closest, around an hour's drive, or fly into Southampton, an 80-minute drive from the Bull.
The nearest main station is Dorchester, a 25-minute drive from the hotel. From London Waterloo, the journey will take two and a half hours. Axminster and Crewkerne stations are both under 30 minutes away.
Driving from London will take around three hours. The A35 will assist your journey west. Limited parking is available. If you don't get a space, there's an alternative car park down the road.
Worth getting out of bed for
There are seasideandcountryside walks aplenty from Bridport: go for a breezy walk on the beach; inland, follow the Brit Valley Way, which starts at West Bay. Otherwise, enjoy gently ambling through town and wobbling from gastropub to antiquarian bookshop to tearoom. You're at the official gateway to the Jurassic Coast, so fossil hunters are occasionally rewarded with rock-bound treasures uncovered along the strand. To see the spectacular coastal and countryside views with ease, try a electric bike tour with an experienced local guide from Jurassic Electric. And every summer, Bridport’s annual Food Festival punches well above its weight, gathering top-notch regional producers, chefs and farmers together for a celebration of all things edible.
The Stable, a restaurant in the coaching inn behind the hotel, is a casual affair, with stone‑baked pizzas, pies and 57 varieties of cider on offer. In Lyme Regis, Hix serves up the very best fresh fish in a charming seasidey setting; you’ll need a reservation. On Saturdays and during school holidays, Bridport’s Electric Palace provides family‑friendly meals, although it’s no longer the proper brasserie it once was.
Have lunch or cream tea at the Hive Beach Café in Burton Bradstock, an alfresco favourite with award‑winning ice creams and smashing seafood. Bella’s at 7 South Street in Bucky Doo Square serves delicious home-made cakes, soup and sandwiches. Stop at Rachel's in the centre of West Bay, a kiosk serving fine sea fare such as chowder, crab salads, prawn platters.
Beach & Barnicott is a grade II‑listed gastropub in Bridport and a fine place for a cosy drink – with good food, too.
‘When I am president of the world,’ said Mr Smith, gazing about him as we stood before the open fire waiting to check into the Bull Hotel in Dorset, ‘all hotels will look like this.’ The Bull Hotel was bought by Richard and Nikki Cooper in 2006 (‘It was all a bit Fawlty Towers before then,’ confides one local shopkeeper) and they’ve worked swiftly and successfully to restore a beloved (and grade II-listed) building to its former Georgian glory. Downstairs, the lobby, bar and gastropub restaurant are replete with stripped floorboards, wood-burning stoves, and wood panelling adorned with the duck egg/sage hues so typical of Farrow & Ball. Modern furniture, with a hint of the 1970s, provides the requisite contemporary injection.
As soon as we get to inspect the bedrooms, we see that, in here, Nikki and Richard have given themselves a freer, more extravagant hand. Cole & Son and Manuel Canovas papers feature on accent walls, setting off the shiny Philip Hunt furniture, Frette bedlinen and silk-canopied four-poster beds. And there are vintage mir rors, chests and wardrobes from Parisian fleamarkets and the antiques shops with which Bridport and its outskirts are liberally sprinkled. Beautiful roll-top baths – in our case set on a wooden platform in the bedroom – hit just the right note of louche decadence for a romantic weekend away. The bathroom itself had a huge shower, and was stocked with Neal’s Yard toiletries. Other bedroom goodies include a flatscreen TV and Tivoli radio. (Mr Smith and I can’t quite decide whether staying in a hotel with better shampoo and electronics than you have at home makes you feel impossibly decadent or impossibly inadequate, but we conclude it’s a good conundrum to mull over while we test them all out.)
In the morning, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day in Bridport. The Bull’s windows are pushed up and the French doors opened, leading those who fancy breakfasting alfresco onto the suntrap of a courtyard. We linger for so long over delicious bacon, eggs and all the trimmings that we decide just to pop round the corner to the excellently named Bucky Doo Square before lunch. There, after a cup of tea in the Beach & Barnicott, with its eclectic mix of clients – from cheerful Aussie hikers to a grumpy old man who may have grown out of the Georgian panelling itself – we find Bridport Old Books. This wonderful second-hand book shop comes complete with an owner whom we witnessed gamely trying to explain Shakespearian sonnets to a teenager. Hearts warmed, we sauntered back to the Bull for lunch.
We’re aware that Bridport is rapidly becoming the foodie’s destination of choice: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s nearby River Cottage has helped to spotlight the region’s plentiful farm-and-sea-fresh produce. What we didn’t realise was that the Bull employs chef Matt Cook, formerly of Marco Pierre White’s Talkhouse in Oxford. I have never been so pleased to arrive anywhere this hungry. Dinner is divine: little throaty moans of pleasure emanate from Mr Smith as he polishes off mash, gravy and sausages with more actual-factual meat in them than in most supermarkets’ entire meat and poultry aisles. He assures me that similar noises could be heard from my side of the table as I tucked into beef medallions that barely needed chewing and delectably crispy potato rösti that, after a lifetime of oven-parched offerings in lesser gastropubs, were a breath of oxygen-rich fresh air. Ditto the next day’s home-cured gravadlax lunch, and dinner of locally dived scallops and iced strawberry soufflé.
We justify our gargantuan appetites with a slow-paced afternoon utilising one of the Bull’s more personal touches, which is that they will drop you off and pick you up at a number of the local walks in return for taking their pet spaniel, Lulu, with you. Mr Smith not only loves dogs but also windswept seaside walks. So, we spend some happy hours striding across spectacular parts of the Jurassic coast.
For our follow-up hike, after surrendering Lulu to a better Bull couple (one with energetic, stick-and-frisbee-throwing children), we hit West Bay’s pebble beach, which is bracketed by sandstone cliffs on one side and old-fashioned pubs and fish ’n’ chips kiosks on the other. Walking back, we pass an elderly lady in her garden, who overhears me comment to Mr Smith on the gorgeous hot-pink flowers by the wall. ‘They’re wild gladioli, dear!’ she trumpets gaily. ‘You can’t buy them in the garden centres.’ She trowels up a cluster of corms and thrusts them into my hands. ‘They’ll spread!’ she reassures. ‘And that,’ says Mr Smith after we’ve thanked her and resumed our walk, ‘is why we have to move to the countryside. Londoners rarely bother giving people in the street a smile. Here, they give you flowers.’
On our final day, Lyme Regis is on our agenda. It’s altogether lovely and, although I don’t accrue any additions to my garden, it deserves a special mention for having been a favoured summer haunt of Jane Austen back in the day – and yet not sporting even a single ‘Jamsfield Park’ tearoom or gift shop devoted to selling Elizabeth Bennet tea towels and Colin Firth swimming trunks.
There’s a slight chill in the air when we get back to the hotel, and the Bull has drawn itself close round its flickering fires. We curl up on the sofa in the bar, listening to the murmurs of contented diners from across the passageway, and I suddenly realise that although Bridport is in essence a seaside town, the Bull will be just as good as a cosy winter retreat. The thought that I won’t have to wait until next summer to return draws the sting out of our departure. The Bull Hotel is so charming, friendly, thoughtful and relaxed – it’s not just the food that makes you sigh with pleasure – we very much hate to leave. But we must. As Mr Smith reminds me, I do, after all, have gladioli to plant.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in The Bull Hotel’s Guestbook below.
The rooms were beautifully done for a pub hotel. The staff were incredibly helpful, even when the bar and restaurant were busy. There was a great atmosphere in the hotel, including a fun hidden cocktail bar through the ballroom and the outdoor area for drinks in the sun. The location was ideal for exploring the Jurassic coast whilst still being in the buzz of Bridport. Our room was the Snug Room, advertised as a small cosy room - it certainly was and beautifully done. We adored it.
White tablecloths and super smart ambience. This is a relaxed, cosy pub with a great atmosphere and good grub.
Stayed on 10 May 2019
We tend to prefer boutique hotels to big chains, and this is a great boutique hotel! It has a unique feel, very friendly and helpful staff, nicely decorated and spacious rooms and a great restaurant. The location is right in the middle of old town Bridport. Bridport itself is also a great, friendly and cheerful town, which adds to the appeal of the hotel. There are other really good restaurants closeby, like the Olive Tree, that are worth trying. Highly recommend it!
Stayed on 24 Aug 2018
Location of the hotel in Bridport was great for exploring the Jurassic Coast. The cocktail bar is a hidden gem. Staff are friendly and the decoration of the hotel and courtyard were both very nice. West Bay is great for a morning stroll along the beach and over the cliff and has some great food places to relax after.
Too much peace and quiet if you are in a downstairs courtyard room – you can hear every footstep and noise from the room above. Beds are pretty hard. Food is OK but not amazing. Parking is tight and busy so can be stressful.
Stayed on 30 Mar 2018
Our three-night stay was absolutely wonderful, with tasty breakfasts and we also had a fantastic lunch and evening meal with them. Great and really friendly staff. We got a complimentary room upgrade and it was a truly lovely room. We would highly recommend this special hotel. Interesting local market, and some other wonderful local pubs and great food. West Bay is worth a visit.
Not one for the young at heart, as there is limited nightlife, but this was absolutely fine by us!
Stayed on 23 Mar 2018
On arrival we were greeted with such a warm and a delightful welcome. Our room was so beautiful and the breakfast was lovely, with so much to choose from. I will point out that we would most definitely visit the Bull Hotel again. Thank you so much.