B&B and beyond Crown house @ No 20, Scarborough
Scarborough might not have a Turner Contemporary or a Jerwood Gallery, as Margate and Hastings respectively can boast, but it does have one weapon on its side: Barbara Firth, the owner of its most decadent B&B. There's a seaside-y feel throughout Crown House, with striped blinds and a sandy colour scheme. It's homely, despite the overall Victorian elegance, with free slices of homemade cake left out under glass cake-cloches, and fresh milk supplied in little flasks. Barbara will even chill wine, swap your duvet for a heavier/lighter one and give you a lift to a local restaurant.
The grandeur may still tend to come with rough edges in Scarborough but the town's elegant old buildings are ripe for turning into boutique B&Bs. Crown House shows exactly how, and a stay here is the main reason many guests visit the town. The sights are a bonus, often discovered only after Barbara evangelically shoos you towards Scarborough's hidden riches.
Set in a grand Victorian pile just back from busy Filey Road (the traffic didn't bother me, but pack earplugs if you're a very light sleeper), Crown House's two bedrooms are big, with high ceilings, huge windows and deep carpets. Both are luxurious. The larger Cream Room has a superking (or twin) bed, with en-suite bath and shower, while the Pink Room has a kingsize bed and en-suite double shower. The decor is light and contemporary, with a subtle New England feel.
Eaten around one large table, breakfast is a civilised occasion. Help yourself to organic yoghurts, fresh fruit salads and cereals while Barbara delivers supplies of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, tea and whatever else you fancy. There's no menu – Barbara prefers to ask what guests like and make it – but possibilities range from an all-locally-sourced full English to Yorkshire smoked kippers or kedgeree. Everything that can be is homemade – from bread and granola, to marmalade.
Barbara used to work as a human resources manager for Nestlé, so her people skills are well honed. There's nothing corporate about Crown House, though. In the B&B business since 2006, Barbara is all warmth and welcome, as passionate about her guests' comfort as she is about putting Scarborough back on the map. "I'm here to share my enthusiasm for the area if guests want that, but I don't get under their feet," she says.
It's a five-minute walk to the Esplanade above South Cliff Gardens, from where there's a soaring view around South Bay to Scarborough's dramatic ruined castle (01723 372451; english-heritage.org.uk). Directly below the gardens is the town's grand 19th-century Spa, now a concert and events venue (01723 376774; scarboro ughspa.co.uk) and, between that and the castle, a harbour-side row of "kiss me quick" shops, cafés and arcades, with a gorgeous jumble of former fishermen's cottages creeping away up the hillside behind. Beyond the castle's headland is the wilder, more surf-friendly North Bay.
Walk around the harbour, beaches and grand Regency and Victorian buildings, eat ice cream and fish and chips and visit the Rotunda Museum of Geology (01723 374839; rotunda museum.org.uk) or Alan Ayckbourn's former stomping ground, the Stephen Joseph Theatre (01723 370541; sjt.uk.com) where he previews most of his plays, and you'll easily while away a weekend here. Further afield, Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay, Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve (01262 851179; rspb.org.uk/bemptoncliffs) and the North York Moors National Park (01439 770657; northyorkmoors.org.uk) are nearby.
The tiny Eat Me Café (01723 373256; eatmecafe.com) is a cosy, candle-lit bistro serving home-cooked, locally sourced food on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Typical main courses of Thai curry or beef with herb dumplings cost around £8. For a more sophisticated experience, the Green Room (01723 501801; thegreenroomrestaurant.com), just around the corner, is open on Friday and Saturday evenings, serving mains (around £15-£20) such as seared sea bass with Whitby kipper croquette, steamed mussels and poached duck egg. And don't miss Francis Tea Rooms (01723 350550; bit.ly/TeaRms). Slip into a wood-panelled booth and order a pot of loose-leaf tea and a teacake before delving into the vintage shops opposite.
Crown House @ No 20, 20 Filey Road, Scarborough, North Yorkshire YO11 2TU (01723 375401; crownhousescarb orough.co.uk). Doubles from £90, B&B, singles from £75. The whole ground floor can also be hired as a two-bedroom self-catering apartment, from £420 for three nights.