Surprised by Southampton - a Titanic weekend on the coast
- Credit: Pete Bill
With the staycation being such a thing nowadays and certainly preferable to a 15-hour delay at an airport or queuing in traffic jams at Dover, I managed to persuade my husband to fuel up the Fiat 500 and come on a little Southampton adventure with me.
Having never visited the city before, the thing that really struck me was how vibrant it is... lots of funky restaurants and cool bars and a brilliant shopping centre with all my favourites including John Lewis, Krispy Kreme and Lego. Yes I know that says a lot about my shopping habits. So refined!! And you don't have them everywhere so I was happy.
We stayed in four-star boutique hotel Ennio's, just outside of the centre, steeped in history yet modern and luxurious with only 10 gorgeous rooms to choose from. In case of extreme heatwave (or peri-menopause) the air con is absolutely top notch, and our room was stylish and contemporary. The building formed part of the old city wall and the ruins of a church provided a characterful view out of the window.
It's a converted Victorian warehouse which was designed by the Scottish-born architect John Geddes and is where first-class passengers on the Titanic stored their luggage prior to departure. In days gone by, the sea came up to its foundations allowing boats to unload their cargo directly into its cavernous interior.
Downstairs is an authentic Italian restaurant which is perfect if you want to eat somewhere on your doorstep, and it doubled up as our breakfast venue. Faced with a huge selection I went for the poached eggs with spinach and my husband had a full English which he said was up there with the best he'd tasted.
With a couple of days to spend in the city, we opted for a mix of activities to experience, starting off with The Seacity Museum, which tells the story of the people of Southampton, their lives and historic connections with the sea including its most famous and tragic ship.
We loved The Titanic Story exhibition, exploring the impact of the disaster on local people, with more than 500 households losing a family member in the tragedy. We discovered how many people worked on board and the huge variety of jobs the crew carried out.
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The centre-piece of this gallery features a 1:25 scale, interactive model of the Titanic, showing the intricate layout of the vessel, and were moved by the installation portraying the faces of the crew who lost their lives in 1912.
We didn't need any excuses to try on costumes like those worn by the crew, and I had a go at 'stoking a fire' (not a euphemism) but found out I was really rubbish at it.
Dinner was at Mango Thai Tapas, a lovely little independent eatery and cocktail bar which prides itself on being the UK's original Thai tapas restaurant. We chose a tasty selection of small dishes alongside a chilli chicken stir fry with sticky rice. My absolute favourites were the butterfly prawns which I woke up craving the next day. All of the food was perfect alongside drinks and very moreish. Also had vegetable spring rolls, crispy pork and spare ribs.
The customer service was exceptional, and there were lots of alcohol-free options so I can still feel like a grown-up (I take every opportunity I can!). Hats off to cocktail bar manager Chloe Barton and her team, it really was a fantastic evening with spectacular food in a welcoming atmosphere. Well worth a visit.
Southampton's newest family entertainment experience is very much back to the old school, and we needed no excuse to spend a few hours there on our second day.
High Score Arcades is packed with more than 60 games from your misspent youth, including Space Invaders, the world's largest Pac-Man, those things you whack with a hammer, Pinball Paradise and plenty of opportunities to show off my driving skills (or lack of them).
In the evening we headed for The Artsy Lounge, an experimental café and cocktail bar in the heart of Southampton, offering Mediterranean cuisine in ambient surroundings. There was a lovely quirky fresh vibe with an excellent range of food and a great choice of non-alcoholic options. I would head straight here for their halloumi skewers if I were ever back in Southampton.
It really was a perfect couple of days break in a city I would not have necessarily thought of visiting except for one thing. I do miss being licked on the nose at four in the morning and our ginger boy trying to climb inside the Dyson fan before sunrise. It's great to be home...
Find out more at visitsouthampton.co.uk
Ideas for your stay
ennios.co.uk/ - prices from £145 per night in a double room including breakfast
seacitymuseum.co.uk - Opening times: Monday to Sunday, 10am-4pm (Last entry 3.30pm). Adults: £9.50 Children: £7 (Under 16s)
southamptoncityartgallery.com/ - free to visit
Opening times: Monday to Friday 10am-3pm (Last entry 2.30pm), Saturday 10am-5pm (Last entry 4.30pm). Closed Sundays
highscorearcades.co.uk/southampton from £9.95 for an hour’s session