Dowager amongst the Victorian clutter

HOTEL DE PARIS, Norfolk

The name, and more particularly its pronunciation in a slightly quizzical Norfolk drawl, sums up the Hotel de Paris - dee Paree, if you please. If not the queen of hotels, then she is a dowager standing out among the Victorian clutter on the seafront in Cromer. Like a much-loved aunt, or an old liner that has so far escaped the scrapyard, she is wilfully enjoying the graceful decline that comes with age.

Boldly placed at the centre of the seafront, opposite the time-battered pier, the Hotel de Paris resonates with a sense of grandeur that perhaps reverberates from the royal residence, just inland at Sandringham.

All the beautiful Art Nouveau touches are still in place in the spacious lobby, (as are some of the original staff, judging by appearances). The 20th century has (so far) failed to crush the delicacy of detail, with elaborate twirls of wood and plaster above, preposterously neo-Roman mosaics below.

I paid pounds 22 for a single room, which was the oddly crooked shape you sometimes get when travelling on your own - a room that is a cross between an L and a K. It was comfortable enough, with a television that you didn't have to put 50 pence in to coax it into life, and the makings of what Indian hotels call bed-tea.

The slouch who stays abed misses out on the goings-on in the lobby. Sipping your tea in bone-china cups, you can eavesdrop on the staff recalling the last significant event at the hotel, the day a couple of Easters ago when the BBC radio car broke down in the car park and had to be taken back to base by the AA.

Sitting back in a venerable armchair, listening to the North Sea berating the pier, you would not be in the least surprised to meet Agatha Christie or some mischievous young Royals. And, best of all, it is almost as cheap as that bed-and-breakfast down the road.

Hotel de Paris, Jetty Cliff, Cromer, Norfolk NR27 9HG (01263 513141). From pounds 22

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