This makes an exceptional weekend break – if you like ships, the comings and goings of harbour life, and don’t mind an industrial presence. Harwich’s waterside is not that pretty, but it is a slice of real life.
The Pier stands out for its blue and white front – if it reminds you of a Venetian waterside palace, you’re right – it was designed to evoke a grand waterside residence of the Grand Canal. It was opened in 1864 to put up passengers leaving Harwich for mainland Europe.
On the ground floor you find a contemporary waterside bar-cum-bistro. It’s packed with locals and tourists enjoying fish and chips, fish pie and daily changing special dishes posted on a blackboard. Write your order on a notepad and take it to the bar. It’s comfortable, it’s well lit, the food is reliable and people have a jolly time here.
Hotel guests check in at the bar and when we visited the staff took our bags to the room – a pleasant change. The bedrooms are better than you’d expect for the price – and as standard, superior and deluxe are only separated by £10, think of paying this small amount extra and book the biggest available. The beds are good, the colour scheme is ‘seaside’, and all the essentials are provided – enough storage, nice chairs, mirrors, a desk. Six of the rooms have sea views including the large Mayflower suite (£170 when we last checked). It was from Harwich that the Mayflower set sail for the New World in 1620, with a local man steering.
The owners of the Pier are the Milsom family, who run two well-known local establishments, Maison Talbooth and Milsoms, as well as Kesgrave Hall in Suffolk – a new addition to Charming Small Hotels. They are hands-on and the team running this place seem close knit and happy.