Review by Fiona Duncan, published 30th July 2009.
After a career in hotel management in London, Africa and the Caribbean, Kathryn Haskins has finally got her hands on the place she coveted the most: her mother's. For 25 years, Nina Haskins ran this venerable Lyme Regis establishment her way, decorated to her taste. Now she's retired, and Kathryn has taken over.
"All traces of my time swept away," laughs Nina, who still works in reception. "But I quite understand. I think Kathryn's done a great job and the fact is that younger as well as older people love it now."
You can see why. The new-look Alexandra has an immediately welcoming yet fresh and airy feel, just right for the riveting view over which it presides. Now there are polished, stripped wood floors, Farrow and Ball paints, cool armchairs and fun handmade lampshades in the large entrance hall, the pretty all-white conservatory, the comfortable sitting room and the gracious, if awkwardly shaped, panelled dining room located in the original house, built in 1735 for Dowager Countess Poulett.
Lyme Regis itself, and the view in particular, are of course the reasons why Kathryn has always loved the Alexandra. Whether relaxing in the bay window of our room, feet up on footstools, or on the garden deck, it's hard to tear our eyes away from a scene that includes an azure expanse of Lyme Bay, a long chunk of Jurassic Coast and the famous harbour wall, the Cobb. It's a view that's equally thrilling on a sunny day or a stormy one, when the waves crash over the top.
My friend Jane, who loves the place with a passion, took me for a walk around the silent town after dinner. We happily re-enacted scenes from The French Lieutenant's Woman and Persuasion on the Cobb (with, I must say, uncanny accuracy), then headed along the pristine beach, recently reconstructed with imported sand from France.
Passing pretty Regency houses, we turned into the high street, packed with particular shops. Is Lyme Regis suffering in the recession? "Retail is down somewhat, but hotels here are all up on last year," reports Kathryn. There are definite signs that people, forced to stay at home, are discovering the delights of their own country, and in the Alexandra they have a more than decent base from which to do it.
We did have some gripes. In the new but mostly tiny bathrooms I wouldn't have bolted the shower gel dispensers to the wall and in the bedrooms (oversized headboards, bold Romo wallpapers, striped blinds) I would have been more generous with the drinks (tea but no coffee, no bottled water). And the food, though locally well thought of, was a disappointment, despite a menu that trumpets its right-on list of local producers. "More Grossman than local," said Jane about her Provencal vegetables. "And more fish n' chips than Japanese," said I about the great slab of battered cod described as "tempura". But those niggles aside, Lyme Regis now has a fitting and fun place to stay.
Pound Street, Lyme Regis (01297 442010; www.hotelalexandra.co.uk) Doubles from £115 per night, including breakfast. Ground rooms for guests with disabilities.