I spent a very nice seasidey weekend at the gorgeous Gallivant Hotel on Camber Sands in Sussex, a chilled-out beachside haven that’s straight out of the Hamptons.
You can’t be stressed at the Gallivant. You just can’t. From the moment we arrived after a frazzled session on the M25 we were immersed, in a soothing sea-like way, into the cool whites and blues of this retro bolthole on the Sussex coast. The glasses of local sparkling wine that the lovely staff thrust upon us helped a bit too.
A former motel on the edge of the Camber Sands, the Gallivant has had a makeover since its bucket-and-spade holiday days, and is now all pared back floorboards, whitewashed driftwood art and big fluffy beds, with tons of natural light flooding in. You have to walk down some strangely dark grey corridors to get to each of the twenty rooms, but that does make their lightness and airiness even more appealing. We stayed in a smallish but cosy room that was perfect for two, but there are bigger Beach Hut rooms available – these have comfy sofas and little garden decks that are great if you’re after more space or if you’re bringing a dog. All of the rooms feel calming, clean and distinctly coastal, and little touches like retro phones, rubber ducks in the bath and mini pots of cookies add a sense of personality and charm.
The feather in the Gallivant’s cap is most definitely their Beachfront Bistro. Wow. Head chef Trevor Hambley is a bit of a genius. We started with scallop tarte tartin, which was so nice I made prolonged happy noises throughout – a blissful concoction of buttery flaky pastry cuddling rich meaty scallops, all with a hint of sweetness from roasted endive.
An amuse-bouche of the Bistro’s signature fish soup was delicious, but the tiny cup was definitely filling enough – it would overwhelm if served in larger quantities. All the courses were matched with wine – the Chateaux Beaumont Bordeaux in particular perfectly complemented the main course of lamb from the nearby Romney salt marshes, served with salsa verde and a rich tomato drizzly thing. Beautiful.
To finish, the pièce de résistance: a whole pear tarte tartin for the two of us to share, which was huge, vanilla-spiced, crisp and caramelly on top and served with fat glasses of Somerset cider brandy. I heroically ate most of my share and then had to have a little lie down. The cosy atmosphere of the restaurant is just as special as the food, and warm little candles soften the cool hues of the delightful decor.
The next day I had recovered from my deep food coma sleep, so we headed to the beach. The Gallivant, rather heartbreakingly, isn’t right on the sea but over the road from it, which impaired my desire to walk straight out onto the sand from the hotel with no shoes on. Luckily it’s only a three minute walk to Camber Sand’s golden beaches and beautiful dunes. So I coped.
Even better than the beach for exploring is the nearby town of Rye, a five minute drive from the Gallivant and an absolute delight, stuffed with cute antique shops, cosy old pubs and delightful little secret cafes, all with a fishing village feel.
We didn’t do much during our stay except eat ourselves silly and partake in a spot of beachcombing, but for outdoor lovers there’s no shortage of nice things do nearby – go kitesurfing on the windy waves, explore the bleak but beautiful shingled beaches of Dungeness or go for a bracing walk on the salt marshes. Whatever draws you here (just the tarte tatin is reason enough), the Gallivant is the perfect place to cocoon yourself in.