The Guardian, September 4, 2012
1 Lyme Townhouse, Lyme Regis
It doesn't have much in the way of sea views (rooms four and five are the ones to go for) but this Grade II-listed townhouse is beautifully situated within minutes of the beach, Broad Street shops and some of the best of Lyme Bay's restaurants (Mark Hix's seafood joint is a few minutes' walk). The rooms and suites are pretty cool too (white walls, wrought iron beds, rain showers, Georgian fireplaces, retro furniture). You get breakfast in bed delivered to the door in hampers – a morning picnic of warm savoury flans, Dorset cereals and toasted Townmill breads (if you don't fancy it, you get £10 knocked off the room rate). For the best views in town, go for afternoon tea on the garden deck at the Alexandra Hotel next door.
• 1 Pound Street, 01297 442499, hotel1lyme.com. Doubles from £95
No 27 Bridport
A tall Georgian townhouse, tucked down a side street off Bridport's main drag, Juliet Lewis's B&B is more homestay than hotel. Breakfast is served in her sunny kitchen conservatory; you can help yourself to tea and coffee, or wander into the garden and meet the chickens. The rooms are very Farrow & Ball: floors, walls and furniture painted in shades of grey, olive and duck-egg blue. The Shaker room – the largest of three – has a king-size bed, views across rooftops to the countryside and a high-spec wetroom. The twin-bedded Attic Room shares a bathroom with the Green Room (an ideal set-up for families). Wake up to homemade bread, fresh eggs and proper orange juice. No television, but lots to do in this busy market town: just around the corner The Bull Hotel has two decent restaurants.
• 27 Barrack Street, 01308 426378, no27bridport.co.uk. B&B from £85 per double (or £75 if you stay two nights)
The Abbots House, Charmouth
The raw material is medieval, built by the Abbot of Forde Abbey and, thanks to Nick and Sheila Gilbey's diligent restoration, still sporting vintage oak panelling, beams and flagstones. The three romantic rooms however have at least one foot in the 21st century – all offer grown-up bathrooms with contemporary roll-top tubs, walk-in-showers, armchairs and bathtime televisions. The Gilbeys used to run a restaurant, and their foodie breakfast menu includes smoked haddock and pea fishcakes or warm Dorset apple cake. In the garden, you might see Nick's Swiss model railway in action. The house is an easy walk from Charmouth's fossil-rich beach and there is a good local restaurant at the White House Hotel up the road.
• 01297 560339, abbotshouse.co.uk. Doubles from £100 a night (minimum two nights)
Roundhouse Hotel, Weymouth
On the curved end of a classic Georgian terrace set between the harbour and the promenade – Eva Buschmann's funky little hotel stands out from Weymouth's crowd of standard guesthouses (big on knicker-bocker nets and plastic flowers). The decor is, let's say, individual: carved beds, splashy art, lots of bling and bare plaster, silver furniture and vivid fabrics; in one room an open-plan shower cubicle sits on a corner of what looks like pink Astroturf. Since most of the five rooms have a dual aspect, it has some of the best views on the seafront – boats on one side, beach on the other – hence the relatively high prices. Downstairs, a cosy little bar serves drinks and light suppers.
• 1 The Esplanade, 01305 761010, roundhouse-hotel-weymouth.com. Doubles from £105-£175
Heathcote House, Milborne St Andrew
Owner Kate Guilor grew up in a guesthouse and she clearly knows her stuff: every corner of her Grade II-listed, village B&B is immaculate, sparkling, decked with greenery and collections of blue and white china. The rooms are a perfection of soothing colours, pretty wallpapers and a touch of the old colonial. And breakfast is a treat of local produce and fresh fruit from Kate's garden (figs, gooseberries or pears poached in cinnamon). On the through road between Dorchester and Blandford Forum (note the traffic can be a little noisy during the day) the village is handy for the likes of Maiden Castle, the Cerne Abbas giant or, in September, Blandford's mega Dorset Steam Fair.
• 01258 837219, heathcotehouse.co.uk. Doubles from £95 per night
Bindon Bottom, Lulworth
The place was a nightmare of cranky plumbing and 1970s carpet when Clive and Lisa Orchard first took over the former Graybank B&B two years ago. A complete revamp has created five light, fresh rooms with small but smart bathrooms and views across fields to Hambury Tout – a pudding-basin Purbeck hill which takes you up and over to rocky Durdle Door, one of Dorset's natural wonders. You are minutes away from Lulworth Cove (and its excellent Dandelion Café Bistro) but far enough away to avoid looking at the crowded car park. Just behind is Bindon Hill – in case you are wondering where this large Victorian semi got its peculiar name.
• Main Road, West Lulworth, 01929 400256, bindonbottom.com. Doubles from £85 per night
Urban Beach, Bournemouth
More urban than beach, this well-run boutique hotel is five minutes' walk inland from Bournemouth's Boscombe Pier. No sea views then, but lots of brownie points for style, substance and great value. Decorated in a neutral palette – chocolate, caramel and cream, leather and oak – the rooms come in various sizes ranging from a generous single to a wow-factor double deluxe. They all have natural-stone bathrooms, downy bedding, Wi-Fi; and there's a bit of a Japanese thing going on here and there. A big plus is the friendly Urban Reef bistro-bar with its relaxed surfy vibe, outdoor deck and sensibly-priced food. The breakfast choice includes smoked herring, Dorset pork and leek sausages and a Bloody Mary.
• 23 Argyll Road, 01202 301509, urbanbeach.co.uk. Small doubles from £97, king doubles from £138, singles £72 (but check for last-minute offers)
The Old Post Office, Swanage
On the cliffs above Swanage, the Ballard Estate was a first world war barracks that has evolved into a small community of hut-like bungalows on a private road. In its midst, the Old Post Office is what it says, except it's been completely rebuilt by antiquarian bookseller David Bishop and his artist wife Rowena. They offer two cosy rooms with mini verandahs and lots of little extras (bath robes, wine glasses, hot water bottles, fresh milk). In her homely kitchen, Rowena cooks eggs, bacon, and herby potatoes on an Aga the colour of a pillar box; there are two giant ginger cats (Ronnie and Reggie) and a brood of egg-laying hens in the garden. On sunny days, breakfast is served outdoors. And you can wander around the corner to Ballard Cliff, take the coast path to beautiful Studland Bay, or the 15-minute seaside walk into Swanage.
• 4 Ballard Estate, 01929 422041, oldpostofficeswanage.co.uk. Doubles £75 a night
Number 5, Shaftesbury
In one of Dorset's oldest towns (think medieval abbey meets Thomas Hardy), Trevor and Kate Toms' 18th-century townhouse B&B is relatively new (they opened in Spring 2012). He's a cabinet maker, she's a textile designer, and their eye for detail is writ large on the modern-meets-traditional décor: pewter and gunmetal paintwork, white walls, wood floors, slipper baths, big sash windows overlooking Shaftesbury's Trinity Church. The guest rooms are in the basement – but both are light and spacious (one peeks at the walled garden). After a farmers' market breakfast in the Georgian dining room explore Blackmore Vale, the downs of Cranborne Chase or pop round the corner to Gold Hill – the near-vertical cobbled street made famous by a 1970s Hovis advert directed by Ridley Scott.
• 5 Bimport, 01747 228490, fivebimport.co.uk. Doubles from £85
Outside the seaside towns, Dorset's heritage coast offers very little in the way of places to stay with sea views – particularly in lonely spots like this one. But Wendy and Peter Cartwright's 1920s house has views to die for. Looking out across Portland and Weymouth Bay from a tiny hidden, hamlet between Ringstead and Lulworth, it faces south-west – perfect for sunsets. The rooms are simple and rustic with a hint of Scandinavia. In one, you can take in the view without getting out of bed; the other opens on to its own little seaview terrace. The gardens are big and beautiful (Wendy is a garden designer), offering a sanctuary of woodland and wildlife, Italian courtyards, green oak, pebble paths and Purbeck stone sloping down to the sea.
• Holworth, 01305 851503, marren.info. Doubles from £95-£115 (minimum two nights)
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk