Everytime I come to Whitby it’s enshrouded in mist. It’s as if it wants to keep some of its seaside secrets safe from the rest of the world. Just in case we might arrive with notions of wanting to change it. Luckily, the owners of recently opened La Rosa Hotel have no intentions of trying to change their rightly beloved Whitby. They have just added to it with a unique style and sense of fun that befits the town which it overlooks, from its Victorian cliff top terrace.
The Hotel is the latest venture of the owners of nearby La Rosa campsite. Here, a selection of glorious vintage caravans are decorated with treasures emanating from years of bric-a-brac hunting. It seems apt, therefore, that such lovers of playful kitsch would choose the former favourite hangout of Lewis Carroll as their new place to host guests. Just like his most famous story, La Rosa an inviting, fun and seductive wonderland.
First stop the tea room, with one large wooden table to sample the ‘Mad Hatter’s’ tea. Antique red velvet curtains, a ship’s piano, eclectic paintings, silver cake forks, a séance lamp and china tea sets are just a few of its many curiosities. Centre stage is a huge wall hanging from an old shooting gallery, saying “Our true intent is all for your delight”. No truer words.
I stayed in the Lewis room, the only one specifically dedicated to their most famous resident. Whitby’s other claim to fame is Dracula, so the Stoker room is also a must. I lay back on the antique brass bed, covered with black and gold eiderdowns, and took in the seascape through the two large windows. Virtually unchanged since its Victorian heyday, the waves pound at the clifftops, with the Abbey ruins perched up above, providing the ideal setting for La Rosa’s sense of theatre. An old writing desk, stack of battered suitcases, telescope, game of solitaire, and a display cabinet full of Carroll’s own possessions, the perfect props.
All the bathrooms have Wonderland chess-set black and white tiled floors, Victorian roll-top baths and mirrors galore. There was no shower but then this was not a ‘get-in, get-out’ sort of bathroom. Warm and rich in its décor, I luxuriated and lingered in natural rose and lavender bubbles for as long as I could.
La Rosa is not, however, a theme hotel for Alice wannabees. It is simply a magical melange where every painting, lamp, bedspread, rug, and teacup has been sought out, restored and adored. Individuality is what La Rosa is all about. With only eight rooms (and an apartment sleeping six), they take pride in meeting individual needs. Instead of tellies, you can request a ‘media hamper’ with ipod, dvd player and a selection of movies or music. Breakfast is delivered in a hamper to your room, with the most delightful collection of treats. Nuts, honey and yoghurt, served in a china cup, a cheeseplate, orange slices, and pink candystripe bags full of grapes and fresh bread rolls.
The love of hospitality oozes from every rescued piece of gorgeousness at La Rosa. I took an evening walk around the town, stopping for superb smoked Whitby haddock at award-winning bistro, Green’s. However, I found that the magical, almost childlike charm of La Rosa quickly enticed me back up the clifftop steps, guided by its red fairylight illuminations blowing in the wind. It was like being welcomed back into the unquestioning arms of a mother with a great big story book, full of surprises and delight.
La Rosa Hotel, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Cost: Double room with balcony, seaview and breakfast £85 per night. Private hire of whole hotel including tapas dinner, £45 per head (for 22 people)
Getting there: National Express East Coast train to York and bus to Whitby, (all included in National Express train ticket price). From £16 single. nationalexpresseastcoast.com
(This article was first published in The Observer, 11 January 2009)