24-hour room service: Royal Bath, Bournemouth

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The Independent Culture
ONLY ONE resort in Britain, so it is claimed, can boast more than one five-star hotel. Visitors to the town of Bournemouth can choose between the Carlton and the Royal Bath. The frontage of the latter is currently under wraps as it seeks to trump the offerings of the competition. But beyond the high-class scaffolding, how regal does one feel staying at the Royal Bath?

Last weekend was unusual: the hotel was the venue for the annual Xerox finance division knees-up, and I have never seen so many Escort XR3s in one place before. But a contingent of young guns from Slough could not alter the fact that this is a Victorian venue in every sense. On Saturday afternoon, the faded-elegant lounge was replete with the requisite retired colonel. While the weather raged outside the huge south- (and sea-) facing windows, inside you could hear a monocle drop.

Unlike some more, er, modern establishments, tradition runs deep. In public rooms such as the bar and the much-praised Oscar's restaurant, for example, there is a dress code - strictly no jeans after 7pm. The irony is that for all its refined clientele, the Royal Bath is part of the Greenall's Brewery group. The Xerox boys demonstrated that they could, indeed, organise a party in a brewery-owned hotel.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

Beds: up to seven feet wide, with seven-inch deep mattresses by Mattison's of Ipswich. Non-smoking rooms? None. "We don't have specific non-smoking rooms," says the hotel. "We like to think our housekeeping is so good that we don't need it. We also have a special spray that eliminates tobacco odour."

The best key lets you into the ground floor Edward Suite, which has a private door to the extensive garden. The least favoured are "inland" rooms, overlooking Russell Cotes Road; you pay extra for either a sea- view or a town-view.

Freebies: This Valentine's weekend, red roses and chocolates in every room; normally, fruit and flowers.

Not freebies: You can buy a Royal Bath towelling robe for pounds 27.

Temperature: "We're Victorian," says the hotel, explaining that anyone who wants to be warmer or cooler will need to call Housekeeping.

Bathroom: A piping-hot bath takes seven minutes to run, during which time you can survey the Bronnley White Iris toiletries - including talc and bath salts as well as all the usual smelly stuff.

KEEPING IN TOUCH

Television and radio - both emerge through the TV, which has the five terrestrial channels plus a range of Sky stations and MTV. The radio selection is limited to BBC Radio 2, 3 and 4 plus the local 2CR station; none of that noisy Radio 1 pop music or 5 Live sport nonsense.

Fax or Internet: Only if you bring your own laptop, and plug it into the ISDN socket if needed.

Phone: A three-minute call at national peak rates costs pounds 1.20.

Switchboard: I called on three occasions at different times of the day, and the average wait was only two seconds. On one call, I had to wait five seconds, and the telephonist apologised for the delay.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

At the Bath Hill Roundabout, Bath Road, Bournemouth, Dorset BH1 2EW (01202 555555).

Transport: Trains converge on Bournemouth from many parts of the country, but the station is way out of town.

Time to an international airport: 15 minutes by cab to Bournemouth, but the only international destination is Dublin. Heathrow is a two-hour drive away.

Time to Waterloo International: Five minutes by cab to the station, then 100 minutes on South West Trains.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Rack rate: A double room, including English breakfast in bed, is pounds 155. The Edward Suite costs exactly twice as much.

I'm not paying that: Then sign up for a Leisure Break Sunday Night Special, where two people pay a total of pounds 75 for dinner, bed and breakfast.

Still too much? Check in to the YMCA across the road, and indulge in afternoon tea in the lounge for pounds 9.25.

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