BLACKPOOL'S most famous hotel has been dubbed a 'retirement home' which 'smells of cabbage' by a London travel critic.

The Observer newspaper sank its teeth into the town's tourist trade in a snooty two-page article prompted by the new air link-up with the capital.

The Pleasure Beach's show (dismissed as a 'tragedy on ice') theatreland, and the town centre's shops where all on the receiving end, while a cabbie was quoted describing Blackpool as a 'hole'.

But the worst savaging was saved for the four star Imperial Hotel, where hack John Arlidge stayed -- for free.

"It's the smell that hits you first," he whined. "A cocktail of boiled cabbage, chips, beer and Superking Lights.

"The Victorian beach-front hotel may have been grand once but it now appears to be run by graduates of the Basil Fawlty school of hotel management."

His rant didn't end there. He condemned the menu as 'worthy of heritage protection', moaned about 'dome of melon followed by coq au vin for dinner', and said it was all washed down with 'cocktails that look, and taste, like fabric softener'.

"With its new lime green and orange makeover and guests, many of whom look older than the hotel itself, I feel like I am checking into a cross between the set for an Aussie soap opera and a retirement home," he flourished. But the Imperial's general manager, Howard Lewis, refused to rise to bait. "The Observer doesn't get a great readership, it's not exactly one of the biggest Sunday papers," he said.

"I take it with a pinch of salt. It's just him trying to be clever with words.

"He didn't really get a representative view of the property. We put him up in a suite complementary for two nights. He didn't speak to anyone when he was in the property."

And he was at a loss as to the food, management and decor references. "You wondered by the end of the piece if he'd stayed in the same hotel," he mused.

Arlidge did find a few good words for the town -- he looked forward to the opening of the Pleasure Beach's Big Blue Hotel and the architecture of Blackpool Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Grand Theatre.

He also praised the food at the September Brasserie -- but objected to an impromptu routine by a fellow diner, comic Jim Davidson.

Is John Arlidge in the right or has the London journalist been drinking too much fabric softener? Is the Imperial the jewel in Blackpool's hotel industry or a fading relic living on past glories?

Let us have your views -- write to the liveliest letters page in town:

c/o The Citizen, 13/13a Clifton Street, Blackpool, FY1 1JD.