The seaside resort town of Eastbourne on England’s south coast is often touted as the sunniest spot in Britain. Clare White luxuriates in the best of the region with a stay at The Grand Hotel, the five-star hotel affectionately known as The White Palace, which commands breathtaking views of the sea and dramatic cliffs at Beachy Head.
The Grand Hotel at Eastbourne first opened its doors in 1875 to a Victorian public in love with the English south coast seaside. As you step through the doors you are transferred back to that time, with an opulent setting of high ceilings, ornate paintwork, hanging pictures and glittering chandeliers. Infact the beautiful hallway was used to broadcast live concerts during the interwar years – every Sunday night was “Grand Hotel” night on the BBC – and nowadays, to keep some of this wonderful tradition alive, a tea dance is held on the last Sunday of each month in this same space with up to 100 tables. Music plays a big part in the history of the hotel — Debussey composed his symphony ‘La Mer’ in suite 200 back in 1905.
The friendly staff, dressed in traditional uniforms greet guests as if old friends and upon arrival it is immediately apparent that the hotel has a relaxed family atmosphere with a delightful mix of both couples and family groups of parents, grandparents and children.
The bedroom suites are tastefully decorated, with antique furnishing and chintz fabrics on swagged curtains and bedspreads. Some have separate sitting rooms, but all the bedrooms are on a large Victorian scale – this also means that the hotel offers special access rooms. The rooms with sea views look down onto a sweeping drive and garden that sits at the front of the hotel with public gardens across the road giving the appearance of a garden all the way down to the sea.
To the west of the hotel is the South Downs National Park including Beachy Head which you can see from the Hotel, and the beautiful Seven Sisters cliffs are just beyond. To the east lies Eastbourne, a fun seaside town with Art Deco style apartments and Victorian villas. The town is not only famous for its tennis tournament (the last on the women’s tour before Wimbledon), but also for its long stretch of golden sand with a restored traditional British pier, complete with nostalgic shove-halfpenny amusement arcades. Other highlights include a bandstand concert hall on the promenade, theatres with West-end shows, cafés and ice cream parlours, and the international Towner Art Gallery.
This is a five-star hotel, with five-star spaces. The hotel’s large lounge is yet another big, beautiful grand room alongside the bar. Complete with super staff and an excellent cocktail maker, the room feels very comfortable and friendly with other holiday-makers reading, playing games or chatting about what they have been doing that day. From here, the room opens up onto the terrace, with steps down to the outdoor pool (there is also an indoor pool for the winter and on days when the sun is not playing along), the temperature of which is a very pleasant 30 degrees. With its sun-loungers and umbrellas, this is a slice of Cannes in the south of England.
Dining is in either the Ballroom-sized Garden room, which is also used as the breakfast room and where wonderful British food is brought to the table under silver cloches, for drama and to keep the food hot — all part of the fun, or in possibly the prettiest dining room on the south coast the Mirabelle Restaurant, which sits in one corner of the hotel. This restaurant is run separately with its own staff and award-winning head chef, providing fine dining with a modern European menu including such dishes such as seared scallops with smoked salmon and avocado ice cream.
Once you have settled in, exploring the local countryside is a must. You can even hire a vintage open top Rolls Royce driven by a traditionally-dressed chauffer.
Two of the competing ‘loveliest villages’ on the South Downs way (the hundred mile country walk from Winchester to Eastbourne) are very near by—Jevington and Alfriston. The former is the home of the Banoffee pie, where it was invented by chef Nigel Mackenzie. And the latter has the first ever National Trust property to be purchased — Alfriston Clergy House. Both villages are as perfect as any English county village could be. Alfriston has no street lights and at night the three local inns have candles burning in their sixteenth century windows, making the village look quite magical.
If you feel energetic, it is possible to walk the 13 miles between Alfriston down to the sea at Cuckmere and along the Seven Sisters cliffs to Eastbourne. There is an equally lovely route inland that is shorter – about ten miles. You will be rewarded with some of the most stunning views in the south of Britain and there is always the outdoor pool waiting for you at the Grand Hotel with an afternoon tea on the terrace when you return.
The only quibble with a stay at The Grand is the need to go home again. So for a relaxed weekend getaway or longer seaside stay with a touch of Victorian grandeur, why not embrace the best of our British seaside towns with a stay at The Grand Hotel – Eastbourne does claim to be the sunniest place in Britain, after all.
The Grand Hotel is an Elite Hotel and a member of ‘Small Luxury Hotels’ consortium. Rooms start at £240 per night and £700 for the Penthouse Suite. Afternoon tea is from £26 per person and on the last Sunday of the month guests can be entertained by Shelley van Leon and the Palm Court Strings Orchestra at just £29.50 per person.