I SPENT many happy childhood hours in Morecambe - and never set foot outside the Pleasure Park.

Annual youth club trips to the Lancashire resort were spent entirely on the Cat and Mouse roller coaster, the log flume and in the fun house. After a day on the rides we got back on the coach, and saw nothing outside the fun park gates.

In recent years however I've re-discovered Morecambe, and have a soft spot for the little seaside town. Its bay, spanning the south Lake District, is stunning, with a sweeping view of Cumbrian mountains like a watercolour painting. And the sunsets wouldn't look out of place in the Mediterranean.

With its dramatic seascape, smart promenade and winding streets, Morecambe blends natural beauty with seaside charm. Dominating the skyline is the splendid Art Deco Midland Hotel, shimmering in sunlight like an ocean liner.

In its heyday Morecambe attracted holiday-makers from Yorkshire mill towns, many retiring there. It was, of course, known as "Bradford On Sea".

But for three decades the town suffered a run of bad fortune. It lost two piers, in 1977 and 1992, and a theme park attraction in Happy Mount Park closed shortly after opening in 1994. The closure of the outdoor pool and Frontierland followed.

Regeneration has restored the town's charm. Highlights include the Winter Gardens, a listed Victorian variety theatre, once home to seawater baths and a ballroom, and the location for 1960 film The Entertainer, and the Eric Morecambe statue commemorating the town's famous son. I recommend a browse around the Old Pier Bookshop, a delightfully chaotic labyrinth of second-hand books, a stroll through Happy Mount Park, filled with family attractions, and a frothy coffee in The View, a seafront 'soft rock' cafe selling vintage nick-nacks and vinyl.

Morecambe's cultural history unfolds in a charming, recently-opened heritage centre, housing a colourful mural of the town and archive displays, including images and memorabilia from bathing beauty contests held in Morecambe from 1945 to the 1980s. There's also a nod to the late, great Victoria Wood, who lived at nearby Poulton.

The town's crowning glory - and a jewel of the North West coast - is the Midland Hotel. Curving gracefully along the promenade, it's an Art Deco gem, with original interior design and Eric Gill artworks.

Built in 1933, the hotel's glamorous guests included Noel Coward, Coco Chanel and Laurence Olivier. It also appeared in an episode of TV's Poirot.

After its closure in 1998 it stood in disrepair for nearly a decade until a £7 million restoration by Urban Splash led to a re-opening in 2008. With beautifully restored features, not least the grand spiral staircase dominating the central circular tower, it has a chic, authentic Thirties feel; Wallis Simpson wouldn't look out of place reclining on the terrace in sunglasses and linen slacks.

In keeping with the historic ambience, the colour scheme of the 44 boutique-style bedrooms reflects old cine-film scenes from Morecambe. Our spacious room on the roof terrace was stylish and relaxing, with subtle lighting, a corner sofa and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach.

From the large terrace were spectacular panoramic views of the coast, and inland mountains on the other side. A hot tub completed the indulgence.

Dinner was in the Sun Terrace Restaurant, which more than lived up to its name. As we dined, overlooking the bay, the sea was bathed in a glorious sunset.

The menu is contemporary cuisine with British classics, with produce from Lancashire, the Cumbrian countryside and fresh from the Irish Sea.

I started with mackerel, while my partner enjoyed Morecambe Bay potted shrimps with a spicy kick, and for a main course I had seabass with asparagus and he had steak and chips. We ended with a fabulous cheese board, the mini Chorley cake was a nice touch, and cocktails in the chic Rotunda bar.

Next morning we headed to nearby Middleton Sands and the pretty village of Heysham, after tucking into a Sun Terrace breakfast. The menu included a full vegetarian breakfast option, with non-meat sausage and bacon, a rare treat for this veggie.

Morecambe may have a reputation as a sleepy seaside resort, but it has the best hotel on the North West coast and one of the UK's most stunning coastlines. Walking and cycling routes start at Morecambe Bay, offering dramatic vistas and a guided walk across the sands. Neighbouring areas, including Lancaster and the edge of Cumbria, where the Lakes meet the sea, offer outdoor pursuits, watersports, castles, historic houses and theatres.

Victoria Wood was inspired by an "ancient waitress" in a Morecambe teashop to write her much-loved Two Soups sketch. Alan Bennett based his play Sunset Across the Bay on memories of holidays spent in Morecambe with his parents - he once said he may have been conceived in a boarding house there "sometime over the August Bank Holiday of 1933".

And Eric Morecambe, dancing on the prom, continues to bring sunshine to his old hometown.

The sun certainly shone during our trip, illuminating the golden sands and the town's Victorian architecture. The rickety old Cat and Mouse ride seemed a world away.

The Midland Hotel, Marine Road, Morecambe. Call (01524) 424000 or visit englishlakes.co.uk

For more about Morecambe go to visitlancashire.com