Sacre Coeur - La Rosa
Local secrets - Whitby, England
My boudoir - sorry, room - in La Rosa Hotel is brimming with recycled curios. Strewn around me are vintage lamps, cherubs, vases and a cabinet filled with antique treasures. There are hand-made chocolates and toiletries, peacock feathers that ask to be stroked, and velvet drapes. It’s a room to inspire love or naughtiness. Indeed it is called ‘Sacre Coeur - Where Romance is Sacred’.
Am I in Paris? Or a hip cove in London’s East End? Neither - as it happens, I’m high on a cliff in the seaside town of Whitby, North Yorkshire, and the sea is visible from my spot under the blood-red quilt on my bed.
La Rosa is one-of-a kind, full of themed rooms for creative, artistic types. It’s a place to come and celebrate life’s passions - or shelter from its storms. Even breakfast is a novelty: it’s delivered with a quiet tap, so that when you open the door, all you see at your feet is a plump picnic hamper, bursting with homemade goodies.
‘Most of the staff are friends who have come together to create a unique therapeutic environment,’ says owner Amanda Boorman. Well, that it is. And it seems fitting that I owe my stay in La Rosa to a recommendation from my brand-new ‘friend at the other end’.
I found him through Tripbod.com, an online travel service that enables independent travellers to access the unique, local experiences that can so enrich a journey.
If you want to see a place through the eyes of someone who lives there, and if ‘off-the-beaten-track’ is your mantra, you’ll love the concept: the site is manned by vetted local hosts from around the world (currently representing some eighty countries), who offer à la carte experiences in their neck of the woods for a modest fee. They can also offer, via email, detailed trip itineraries. Or if you’d rather, you can post your own request via the fun-sounding ‘Make My Day’ service.
The site, which launched in 2009, is the brainchild of Sally Broom, herself a keen traveller. ‘The idea evolved from an initial realisation that when you travel and you have a local contact it makes all the difference to your trip,’ she says.
After perusing the site - an Ali Baba’s cave of covetable experiences - and keen to feed a growing passion for all things coastal and UK, I book a half-day cycle ride on North Yorkshire’s little- known Cinder Track, followed by an ‘insider’s’ walk around Whitby with local host Jules Brown. He’s a Rough Guides author, so I reckon I’ll be in good hands.
When I arrive at Scarborough train station, he’s there to meet me. He drives me to the hotel too, a thirty minute journey. (He does this at no extra cost.) It’s dark when we reach Whitby, and he kindly points me in the direction of possible dinner haunts. First impressions? Well, the town’s charms will be revealed in full tomorrow. As for my host, he’s cheerful, considerate and clued-in. Phew.
Next morning, we ride along the 34-kilometre Cinder Track with rented bikes from Trailways, an outfit that sits right on the trail. Running parallel to the coast between Whitby and Scarborough, it’s a stunner: the sea views are magnificent, and the trail is flanked by wildflowers, gentle hills, sheep and woods. On a sunny Friday morning, we are the only cyclists on it. ‘Even in summer, it never gets crowded,’ says Jules, as he stops to gallantly pour me a cuppa from a flask of tea.
I feel as though I’ve got my money’s worth before lunchtime, so I’m thrilled when he manages to find us a café-cum-gallery that serves gluten-free bread in its sarnies: Swell (by name and nature) in pretty Robin Hood Bay, with a beachfront terrace.
The afternoon, post cycle ride is a cornucopia of un-touristy delights: there’s Falling Foss, a hidden waterfall in Sneaton Forest, and the lovely, tranquil Sandsend beach. In Whitby, sure, the promenade is heaving with visitors, as are the gothic-looking Abbey ruins. But Shepherd’s Purse, a health-food cum clothes emporium is a find, and up a side street is Java, my host’s favourite café and a low-key local hangout.
Jules has another ace up his sleeve: he introduces me to his friend, leading Yorkshire artist Emma Stothard. She’s also co-owner of Greens, a restaurant which sources most of its food within a ten-mile radius. So, after learning about her work - she sculpts in wire and willow and exhibits far and wide - I finish the day with a plate of seafood and a glass of Pinot Grigio. Oh, and a toast to the traveller-gold that is Tripbod.com
- To book an experience with Jules Brown (or another Tripbod host) or to find out about becoming a host yourself, visit www.tripbod.com
- For more info on La Rosa Hotel (and campsite) visit www.larosa.co.uk
- To enquire about bike rental (or self-catering railway carriage accommodation) visit Trailways www.trailways.info
- For info on Yorkshire artist Emma Stothard: www.emmastothard.com
Jini Reddy. Follow Jini on Twitter @Jini_Reddy or visit her website www.jinireddy.co.uk