Long gone are the days of Kiss Me Quick hats and soggy chips on the pier; coastal resorts in the UK and Ireland are cultivating a fresh image based on the foundations of great food, contemporary art and luxury guesthouses. These five holiday hot spots prove you don't have to go far for an inspirational spring break.
Considering how small Cardigan is, it packs a considerable creative punch. The town that was once a hotbed of denim production was the original inspiration behind the clothing brand Howies and is now having a denim revival thanks to cult selvedge brand Hiut. As a cultural and heritage hub, it spans centuries; the 900-year old castle reopens in the spring complete with luxury accommodation and plot-to-plate restaurant, while down at the River's Edge you can often catch the likes of Cate Le Bon and Gruff Rhys in some of the most intimate, picturesque surroundings you're ever likely to hear them. Book a geodesic cabin at Fforest Camp for an outdoorsy experience with a stylish wholesomeness, or stay in one of the Granary Lofts if creature comforts are more your thing - they overlook the estuary on the fringes of the town. Wood-fired pizzas, local ales and live music are a must down at the Pizza Tipi and a bracing walk along the award-winning Poppit Sands is the best remedy for the morning-after-the-night-before.
You're a bit late for the gold rush on the beach that headlined 2014's Folkestone Triennial, but the tri-annual arts festival has been pivotal in heralding the town's creative resurgence. Folkestone's public art program is a big enough draw in itself - a year round open-air exhibition of works by leading contemporary artists, including Mark Wallinger and Tracey Emin, is reinvigorating the coastal landscape. Download a map from here and wander along the seafront for some unexpected inspiration. Sleep soundly at the Rocksalt - a restaurant-with-rooms, which is renowned for seasonal cooking, inspired by fresh local produce. If eating with your hands is more akin to your image of a seaside holiday, then head next door to posh chippy, The Smokehouse or tuck in at Big Boys Burgers, which more than delivers on the greasy-finger front. The Creative Quarter is home to the best of Folkestone's budding indie scene of galleries, cafe and stores; for 20th Century vintage keepsakes and rare garments, Rennies defies temptation.
Tracey Emin's hometown had been suffering from something of an image crisis, but lately Margate has emerged as an off-beat alternative to the more conventional seaside resorts within a high-speed train ride from London. Its creative heritage is huge - Emin aside, the town can also lay claim to inspiring some of the best known works of J. M. W. Turner and TS Eliot. It's still gritty and faded in parts, but this is being countered by a resurgent cultural and creative scene spearheaded by independent businesses and buoyed by the opening of the Turner Contemporary in 2011, and the reopening of vintage amusement park, Dreamland, later this year. In the town centre, shop for vintage frocks at Madam Popoff, pristine 50s garbs from Betty B's, a rummage around Breuer Dawson can result in scoring some authentic 1930s workwear and for interiors, lose yourself in Junk Deluxe. While Margate still has its fair share of chippys and tearooms, the GB Pizza Co. serves amazing homemade pizzas right on the seafront. And incase you're in need of some classic seaside kitsch, a quick pop into the Shell Grotto should readdress the balance. The beautifully stripped-back Reading Rooms B&B is the perfect place to end your visIt in simple luxury.
Inis Meáin, Ireland
For a spring break by the sea without a fish and chip shop or amusement arcade in sight, take a ferry to Inis Meáin. The most underdeveloped of the three Aran Isles off the coast of Galway Bay is as rugged, remote and brutally beautiful as you're likely to find. What you don't expect to find is something as striking and design-led as the The Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites. Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam are the islanders-turned-hotel owners, who celebrate honest, slow food and holistic luxury, drawing on Inis Meáin's natural resources for inspiration. Scandinavian-style suites come with unobstructed views of the fresh and wild landscape and little exploration kits provide you with all you need to navigate the island at your own pace. The idea of provenance runs deep here; the Inis Meáin Knitting Company celebrates the island's centuries-old tradition of producing knitwear through reviving the techniques and standards that make their knits among the best in the world. Pick up some original Aran knits at their factory store, and then round off the day at the island's only pub.
Island of Skye, Scotland
If you're clamouring for solitude come spring, there's nothing like reconnecting with nature to recharge the batteries. The allure of Skye lies in its remoteness, and the acres of unspoilt landscape have proved furtive ground for architectural imagination as humble blockhouse buildings get reinvented for creative travellers seeking out inspirational boltholes. The Cabin has a contemporary Nordic feel and comes with some of the most spectacular views of the sea. Couples can experience life on a croft at The Blackshed - a pine-clad, concrete floor cabin with a stylishly restrained interior. The Michelin-starred The Three Chimneys is just a short stroll away and as one of Scotland's best restaurants even Madonna (allegedly) couldn't muscle her way in here at short notice. Book early and opt for their Taste of Skye menu for an overview of the island's finest produce. As small as Skye is, there's an industrious vein running through it that relies upon natural resources; Skyeskyns is one such company, which produces luxury sheepskin, leather and wool garments by traditional tried-and-tested methods.
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