Peter James, the crime author, reveals his favourite haunts in Brighton, the setting of his Roy Grace novel series
Brighton’s unique in that it’s got a quite dramatic coastline on one side, and only a few miles north there is the South Downs national park (0300 303 1053; www.southdowns.gov.uk) and some of the most stunning countryside in England. The city itself also boasts some stunning classical Regency and Victorian architecture, but at the same time, you only have to walk along some of its twisting old alleys and lanes to imagine yourself back in the 18th century. Last but not least, it’s got a dark underbelly to it which I first discovered when I read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock as a kid – and that’s, in large part, why I set my Roy Grace crime novels there too.
Anything special I should pack?
Take something to wear on the beach, be it some flip flops or sandals. It would be a shame to visit and not at least go for a walk by the sea, and if you’re feeling brave, even dip your toes in the water. Take a Brompton bicycle too – there are now some great cycle lanes the length and breadth of the city.
What’s the first thing you do?
I love to go for a stroll along the Undercliff Walk which goes right the way along from the Brighton Marina (01273 693636; www.brightonmarina.co.uk) to the Black Rock area. I love walking there in the winter on a stormy day when the tide is literally smashing over the breakwater; it’s just so incredibly atmospheric. I also love going down to Brighton Pier (www.brightonpier.co.uk) which I still think boasts the best fish and chip shop I know anywhere in the world. The views from the pier are fabulous too – I have fond memories of going fishing at the end of the pier as a boy.
What’s the best place to stay?
As much as I like The Grand Hotel (0118 971 4700; www.grandhotelbrighton.info), I’d recommend the Hotel du Vin (08447 364 251; www.hotelduvin.com) which is absolutely gorgeous. I love the atmosphere of the place, and the rooms are beautifully decorated with a real attention to detail. They also serve terrific food in the restaurant downstairs.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
I like to go to Bohemia (01273 777 770; www.bohemiabrighton.co.uk), which I reckon is the best bar by far in Brighton. It’s in the Lanes, has got various levels and boasts a trendy rooftop bar which is a great place for a glass of cool white wine in the summer.
Where is the best place for lunch?
I really like English’s (01273 327980; www.englishs.co.uk), an old traditional seafood restaurant with an outdoor dining area too. Whenever I eat there – I usually opt for the lobster salad – I feel like I’ve travelled back in time to a Graham Greene novel.
And for dinner?
There’s a very nice, very stylish restaurant at The Grand Hotel called GB1 which I can wholly recommend. It opened last year and everything I’ve ever eaten there, be it oysters or sole, has been terrific.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
Everyone one should go the Royal Pavilion (03000 290900; www.royalpavilion.org.uk) , with its extraordinary oriental appearance, and North Laine (www.northlaine.co.uk), with its funky artisan-style shops. The Old Police Cells Museum (01273 291052; www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk) is also well worth a visit – Brighton started life as a smuggling village and has a long criminal history – as is the Penny Slot Machine Museum. At certain times of the year, you can also take a tour of the sewers, which is absolutely fascinating.
What should I avoid?
If you’ve got any sense, you’ll stay away from the bit of London Road between the bottom of Trafalgar Street and St Peter’s Church, a rather grungy, dodgy sort of area.
What should I bring home?
There is a funky, quite unique tailor’s called Gresham Blake (01273 609 587; www.greshamblake.com) where you can pick up quirky cufflinks and other fun inexpensive gifts. You could also get some whelks or cockles down on the seafront. Last but not least, a stick of Brighton Rock.
Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?
Bucharest, which could have been the most stunning place if Nicolae Ceausescu [Romania’s former Communist dictator] hadn’t destroyed half of it, and if it didn’t have a mayor who is said to be corrupt. It could be an amazing place but not right now.