Stay The Night: The Cottage, St Margarets Bay, Kent

You can while away the hours absorbed in the Channel views at this splendid house on the cliffs outside Dover. Kate Simon did

A secluded millionaires' row on the cliffs overlooking St Margarets Bay, just outside Dover in Kent, is the setting for The Cottage.

The quaint name is an inappropriate choice for this splendid six-bedroom early 20th century detached house, spacious enough to take a party of 12, with its grand terrace offering one of the best views in Britain – across the English Channel to France.

Those views are reason enough to stay here because any visitor will be drawn constantly to admire them, from the terrace on sunny days – the large table could host breakfast, lunch and dinner, too – or, when the clouds close in, from the armchairs in the lounge positioned to look out through the large rear windows. When you can glimpse the French coast, wonder at the different lives over there, and watch the mesmeric to-ing and fro-ing of the cross-Channel ferries, it's hard to tear yourself away.

Hence, this is a much sought-after neighbourhood and has been a favourite over the decades with the great and the good – Noël Coward, Ian Fleming and Peter Ustinov all called it one of their homes. Today, the actress Miriam Margolyes is a local resident. For me, it has a more special connection: the beach below was a favourite of my mother's when she was a child growing up in nearby Deal in the 1930s, before the Second World War forced the family to evacuate to the rather less attractive Potteries. If things had been different, this could have been my childhood playground, too.

The rooms

The Cottage has comfortable high-quality furnishings in the communal areas and bedrooms and features individually chosen ornaments and art, retaining the air of someone's home rather than a holiday rental proposition. The shabby front porch, entered if you approach from the higher road, does little for first impressions, and is quite at odds with the luxurious decked terrace that focuses the rear of the property on the sea and France beyond. Similarly, the posh country-house styling of the lounge and dining room is out of kilter with the modern kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen, with its large Rangemaster, fridge-freezer and dishwasher, looks attractive and well equipped at first sight, but you'll soon be frustrated by the lack of working areas and storage space and the absence of electrical power at the island worktop where most preparation takes place.

The food and drink

There is a shop in the village but for substantial provisions you'll need to head towards Dover or Deal. Posh eats can be found down the road at Wallett's Court Hotel (with superior Sunday lunch menu at a reasonable £19.95 for three courses), where there's also a bar and a spa. Shelly's Tea Room and the Coastguard Pub and Restaurant are other local favourites.

The extras

The games room beneath the kitchen has table football, and there's a piano to play in the dining room, plus three Freeview TVs, DVD and radio with CD player. In the garden, the lawned area is small but has some play equipment and there's a barbecue to use. Beyond the property, head down to the beach, the starting point for Channel swimmers, or take a bracing walk along those famous white cliffs. South Foreland Lighthouse is nearby, the first to use an electric light and the place where Marconi received the first international transmission from France in 1899. Local attractions include the new visitor experience, "Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkirk", at Dover Castle, and you can see the armchair where Wellington died at Walmer Castle. Other activities available include golf, cycling, horse riding and sailing. Take your passport if you fancy a very manageable day trip to France. (Beware, if you get a signal on your mobile phone at the house, it will roam on to a French provider – it's really that close.)

The access

The property is accessed via steps from the roads above and below, making it no good for wheelchair users. A word of advice: arrive on the top road and cart your clobber down the 16 steps – when you leave, move the car to the lower road so you can take it all down again, 27 steps this time. Children welcome. Pets allowed.

The bill

Three-night breaks start at £925, seven-night breaks from £1,207.

The address

The Cottage, St Margarets Bay, Dover, Kent (0845 268 0788;