Down by the dunes of Camber Sands, The Gallivant hotel is a motel conversion turned sophisticated seaside stay, with a Hamptons air and touch of Shaker style. Guests can get cosy in a cabin (of sorts) or step out into the hotel's manicured garden from their room. Climb aboard for superlative south-coast dining – including a breakfast Bloody Mary station – and a prime location steps away from the shore.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £175.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include a lavish Continental breakfast (including muesli and granola, pastries and breads with home-made jams, fruit, porridge, fresh juice and coffee), and tea and home-made cake at 4pm.
The hotel's An Evening With dinners are prepared by renowned guest chefs or hosted by local vineyard owners. Tom Aikens and Fleur McCree have taken the reins in the past, so it's a must-try gastronomic fête. Home-made cake and tea are served every day from 4pm to 5pm too. If you've had enough sand between your toes, spend an afternoon in a deck chair in the coastal garden.
At the hotel
Coastal garden and shingle garden, spa, larder, library of books and DVDs, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms, flatscreen TV, DVD player, digital radio, coffee- and tea-making facilities with fresh milk, pantry and minibar, free bottled water and Bramley bath products. Luxury Garden Rooms and Garden Rooms have direct access to the coastal garden, and a small alfresco dining area outside their back door.
Our favourite rooms
Check into a Luxury Garden Room, for doors that open out onto a quiet leafy patch and a small private seating area. Generously sized, these rooms have oak floors, a rolltop bath tub big enough for two and a large selection of books and intriguing knick-knacks – we love the vintage swimsuits displayed on the walls. It also has one of the hotel's famously packed minibars. The Deck Rooms are Hamptons-esque spaces with a very private terrace and stylish, shore-inspired decor.
You’ll find the one-room Beach Hut in the corner of the coastal garden; book in advance to indulge in treatments in the cosy treatment room of this pampering hideaway. Choose from a range of massage, facial and body scrub treatments, including the Karma De-Stress massage, Beach Bum Himalayan Salt Scrub, and the Skin Fuel facial; made-in-Britain ethical Wideye products are used in all treatments.
Blue, white and taupe to blend in with your coastal surrounds; beach-proof shoes suited to a hilly ramble.
A minimum stay of two nights is required for weekend stays.
There are four pet-friendly bedrooms, available on request and subject to availability. There's a £25 a night fee for small dogs, £35 a night for larger dogs. Really big dogs like Dobermans and German Shepherds aren't allowed (even if they ask nicely). See more pet-friendly hotels in East Sussex.
The hotel does not accept toddlers or younger children, but babes up to 18 months and children aged 12-and-older are welcome.
Almost all (95 per cent) kitchen ingredients are sourced within 10 miles of the hotel, making its food miles pretty negligible. And some of the furniture was made by a local wood-recycling business.
The beach may be obscured by grassy dunes, but by the window is best.
Breton stripes beneath your windbreaker.
The dune-facing restaurant is kitted out in cool coastal style, tactile throws are draped over rustic wood chairs, and there's a healthy helping of Scandi design too. Chef Oliver Joyce heads up the kitchen of this renowned beachy outpost, where fresh catches are cooked to perfection, and 90 per cent of ingredients are sourced within 10 miles of the hotel. Try the Dover sole or – if you're staying from mid-May onwards – the Romney Salt Marsh lamb. Breakfast is a lavish affair, with home-made granola, decadent panna cotta, banana bread, compotes, and pastries, and Buford Brown eggs cooked to your taste. A 'recovery station' with perennial Bloody Mary trappings is a welcome sight for sore heads. When the sun's shining, tables spill out onto the terrace.
The hotel's wine list is so abundant it has its own legend to help you navigate the selection of English cuvées, international reds and whites, and pudding and cheese pairings. In winter months you can sip your libations by a roaring fire. When the weather's fine, there are a handful of tables on the outdoor decking, or nab a deck chair in the shingle garden.
Breakfast is served between 7am and 10am on weekdays (starting at a leisurely 8am on weekends); lunch is on offer from 12 noon to 2.30pm; and dinner starts at 6pm and runs until 9.30pm.
Room service for snacks and drinks only, but guests can raid the Larder of Guilty Pleasures – a grown-up tuck shop – if they feel peckish. Cuvée, wine, beer, home-made brownie bites, chocolate, crisps and nuts sit in this Aladdin's cave of snacks.
The Gallivant is by the dune-covered beach at Camber Sands, a 10-minute drive out of Rye and close to all the action of 1066 Country.
The closest major airport is London Gatwick, an hour and a half away by car. There’s also the smaller Lydd, which is five miles away. Private planes can land at Lydd.
Rye station is three miles away. From here, Southeastern (www.southeasternrailway.co.uk) trains go to Ashford, where you can pick up either the high-speed service to London or the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com).
You need a car to be able to get into Rye easily. From Ashford, it’s a half-hour drive along the A2070; from London, the M20 should come in handy. There’s free parking.
Reach Rye Harbour by boat and you’ll be about 10 minutes from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Strand Quay has plenty of antique shops to keep bargain-browsers busy. Across the street from the Gallivant is Camber Sands beach, a dune-studded shore with long grass and golden sand. Learn to kite-surf, windsurf, horse ride and fish; the hotel can help with equipment hire. Ramblers can ramble along the High Weald Landscape Trail and 1066 walk, which both start at Rye. Take a brisk walk through Romney Marsh (around an hour's drive away) and Dungeness Nature Reserve, which has bird-watching shelters and leads to a pebbly beach. Rye is a great spot to pick up antiques, tuck into fine Sussex dining and down a pint of local ale.
A good gastropub is never far away in these parts: try pot-roast pheasant at The Globe Inn on Military Road, or rack of Romney Marsh lamb at Ypres Castle Inn on Gun Gardens. Head up to the restaurant at The George In Rye for a cosy afternoon tea by the fire or Mediterranean-inspired dishes in the brasserie. The Linen Fold at the Mermaid Inn dates from the 12th century, and is where to go for some olde-world charm. To sample the spoils of the surrounding countryside and sea, try the Standard, whose menu stars Romney Marsh lamb and Dungeness crab, and you should take your fish-finger sarnie up a notch at Tatner's Kitchen – the scampi sub is a local favourite.
Calorie-packed cream cakes and great coffee await at Fletcher's House on Lion Street and Apothecary on East Street. The Fig has a chic modern look with industrial lighting and black walls; the enticing menu has Peruvian corn-cakes, beetroot and goat's cheese loaf with smoked salmon and other healthily indulgent dishes.
Rye's twisty-turny streets hide some friendly traditional boozers – we like the Globe Inn Marsh, a vision of rustic cosiness which is renowned for its generous ploughman's lunch and long list of Sussex wines, artisanal gins and craft ales.
The Gallivant Hotel has just had its busiest weekend on the Monday we arrive, thanks to a quirk of the weather. It’s suddenly sunny: the first breaths of spring after the seemingly never-ending winter. People blink at each other behind scarves as they pass on the adjacent three-mile stretch of golden beach, shaking off the winter torpor.
Camber, home of said sands, is tiny: a Pontins holiday resort, some caravan parks, and a few rows of modest houses all facing out towards the sea. The Gallivant is tucked around the bend as you approach from Rye. If it looks like a motel, that’s because it use to be one. This squat cluster of low-rise rooms – wooden exterior bleached by the sea – sit around some cacti and a carpark. But step through the front doors and the motel vibes are quickly dispelled.
All the action at the Gallivant takes place in its elegant lounge. A roaring fireplace in a central chimney is surrounded by velvet armchairs and sheepskin throws. The light filters through linen blinds in an adjacent games room, with quizzes and chess boards, and big bookcases filled with faded cookery and travel books.
Bring your furry friends: the dog treats are plentiful and dog beds are on hand. We may be only aspiring dog-owners, but Mr Smith and I enjoyed the dog-watching in the lounge, not least the Jack Russell who was a wicked hand at chequers.
By this time it’s early evening and we’re thirsty from the drive. A passing barman seems overjoyed to take a break from restocking bottles at the bar to make us martinis. He tells stories about the gin, made by Chapel Down distillery in nearby Kent, while misting the glass with a twist, and seems genuinely sad to go back to the bottles. The rest of the drinks menu is local and seasonal, featuring gin and tonics, pear bellinis, and English fizz in champagne saucers, but I bet they’d find a way to make you anything you wanted.
Dinner is served in a restaurant with only a handful of tables, surrounded by lush indoor plants. The Gallivant has won awards for its local sourcing and the presentation is unfussy; a starter of smoked salmon is accompanied by a wedge of lemon and a little homemade horseradish, while the pan-roasted cod sits on a toasted almonds and purple broccoli, with soft buttered potatoes on the side.
Dessert is simple and satisfying. The salted caramel tart comes with a scoop of yoghurt sorbet from nearby Northiam dairy and the poached rhubarb comes from Kent. Our fellow diners are couples escaping from the city, babymooners and relaxed country types. We catch drifts of their chatter over the eternal muzak: a single track of inoffensive dinner party jazz that morphs into Balearic chillout by breakfast.
After dinner we crave entertainment. Luckily there are no rules against taking your booze away from the bar. In summer the Gallivant makes up picnic hampers on request, or supplies a chilled bottle for sundowners in the dunes. The days might be brighter, but it’s still winter outside, so we take our beers to the room and make use of the bathtub, with its Bramley bath wash, and stretch out on the bed across oceans of duvet. You can’t see the beach from the hotel – a mountain of sand is in the way – but crack a window and you can hear the waves crashing at night.
The Gallivant has a menu of spa treatments available, but the staff don’t always respond to emails, so call ahead if you want to indulge as the slots do get booked up. We spend our days exploring the area, including nearby Dungeness: Britain’s only desert. It’s where the film director Derek Jarman saw out his last days in a black wooden cottage surrounded by a garden of poppies, valerian and plants native to the shingle. The Dungeness estate traditionally restricts building on the pebble dunes to the size of previous houses. Architects, revelling in these limitations, have furnished the landscape with rubber-covered residences and glass fronted huts. One, ‘the experimental station’, has been refurbished from old government buildings into little dwellings. It looks like it belongs on the moon.
Returning to the Gallivant, we’re encouraged to come to the lounge for complimentary tea and cake – a daily event. Cafetieres, a handsome ceramic teapot and plates of fudgy brownies and pale almond cakes weigh down a trestle table. For an hour, we warm up after a day exploring the windswept countryside, before retreating to the room to relax before dinner. Teatime seems to epitomise this place: homely and understated, bringing guests together for a moment in the day to smile at one another in agreement. This must surely be one of the best hideouts on the Sussex coast.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in The Gallivant’s Guestbook below.
The location and bar area were wonderful.
The bathroom was very tired and needed maintenance. The corridors had a strange smell (likely just needed airing). The restaurant service requires polishing - a little slow at times and orders being mixed up.
Stayed on 31 Oct 2019
The location, just next to beautiful Camber Sands beach. The staff – they really make the place. Dinner – the quality of the food was good, and the afternoon cakes – always a winner.
Stayed on 24 Aug 2019
The hotel is beautiful throughout, with some lovely touches and the staff are without exception very friendly and helpful. I love that it is dog friendly too. Our room was beautifully decorated and the garden and private terrace were absolutely gorgeous. The bed was big and really comfortable and the linen was of exceptional quality.
A very large room; considering the price, the room wasn't huge and the shower was small. Also, don't expect a full English breakfast. The room includes breakfast but don't be fooled, only continental is included.
Stayed on 9 Aug 2019
The superb staff, the comfortable, clean rooms and the pleasant area to sit, read and chat in the evenings.
Stayed on 10 Jun 2019
I loved how friendly and helpful the staff were. From check-in to check-out, they were very attentive and accommodating. I booked a stay to recharge and the hotel was perfect for some R&R. I have a plant-based diet and the restaurant staff had spoken to the chef before I arrived to ensure they could offer me meal options. The food was delicious and I've already recommended the hotel to friends.
Stayed on 5 Jun 2019
The best thing about the Gallivant was the fantastic, friendly and helpful staff which gave the hotel a wonderful atmosphere. The staff were unobtrusive but aware of guests' needs. The bed was very large and comfy and the location, just a short walk from the beach, was lovely. The Beachhut spa treatment was excellent with, yet again, a top quality therapist on the staff offering wonderful treatments. Food and wine selection was excellent too.
The Gallivant is not on the beach and doesn't have beach views so don't expect that! The hotel is quirky, needs a bit of updating in places and there was ongoing work happening when we stayed. Included breakfast is continental, and top quality, so don't expect a full English.
Stayed on 3 Apr 2019
The feel of this place is incredible; it's luxurious yet approachable, so laid back, and the interiors are beautiful. Staff are so happy for you to laze about in the lounge drinking coffee and reading. And all the produce is of a beautiful quality, so you can rely on good wine, homemade cake and local fish dishes.
Palatial rooms. We adored our room, but I imagine some people would think it too cosy. Our shower wasn't great, that was my only disappointment. We were in a cabin room.
Stayed on 1 Jan 2019
The food! We stayed at The Gallivant for a night to get out of London, just looking to relax. We didnt know what to expect from the food but we were really blown away. It was delicious, and the manager gave us excellent wine pairings. There was even a Bloody Mary station on the breakfast bar. We also booked massages in the adorable massage hut outside, which were excellent. The beach is just a 5 minute walk over the road from the hotel too! The hotel doesnt have a sea view because of the bank, but once you hop over the bank youre right on the sand, and its a beautiful beach.
There isnt much nearby. Rye is quaint and has some fab little restaurants and cafes but its a 10 minute drive away. Also our room was pretty small and the bathroom fairly basic - perfectly fine for a night or two though.
Stayed on 23 Nov 2018
Loved the tasteful decor and welcoming staff. The log fire in the lounge area was very inviting and we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the Gallivant.
Things to do nearby as quite remote but eovdrful location for peaceful, refreshing winter walks along camber sands.
Stayed on 20 Nov 2018
We loved the laid-back friendly atmosphere making you feel at home more than in a hotel. There is a lovely courtyard area for eating, especially good on a warm summers evening or just relaxing with a bottle of English fizz in the afternoon. Close to the beach once you've climbed the beautiful sandy dunes, although possible to access with a little walk along a quiet road first. Recommend climbing up the dunes after dinner to look at the sea and early morning on the beach when it's virtually empty - quite a magical feel. Good for children and dogs and a romantic break. Can recommend the squid starter for lunch at the George in Rye, in their pretty courtyard.
Don't expect large rooms or aircon (we stayed in a deck room), although we did manage to get a fan.
Stayed on 26 Jul 2018
This is a nice place: the people, the rooms, the food, the wines, the bar, the service, the location, the dinner, the breakfast - all good! The people are all nice, and the service reflects the people. The food is very good, the wine list is huge - perhaps a bit too big. It's a very dog-friendly place. Personally that's not a plus for me, but I can understand that it may be important to others. The hotel is right across the road from the dunes of Camber Sands - which speaks for itself. The beach is a short walk away.
Don't expect big-hotel, franchise-type "service", these guys are much better than that.
Stayed on 29 Jun 2018
The staff were extremely welcoming and attentive, the recent makeover has worked very well and the rooms are absolutely lovely. The food is very very good, top quality, great flavours and not overly expensive. Great gin selection with a barman who knows his stuff. If you don't like your stay, it's got nothing to do with the hotel or its team.
To be disappointed.
Stayed on 25 May 2018
Fantastic location. Facing the sand dunes of Camber Sands and on National Cycle Route No. 2, making it easy for us to cycle to the hotel. Wonderful restaurant featuring locally sourced produce and some great English wines.
Complete quiet. It was a former motel and faces a busy road.
Stayed on 4 May 2018
The beautiful room with garden access and a lovely sea breeze. The location just across from the sandy beach. We relaxed immediately. Lovely long walks on the beach and into Rye. Great food and drinks in the stylish bar and restaurant. The service was so attentive. Can't wait to go back.
Lots of choice in the dinner menu – it is small but very good. Much to do nearby.