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 and a prime location steps away from the shore.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £209.13, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates include: Breakfast; elevenses; a complimentary glass of wine at the English wine bar; three course a la carte dinner; morning Pilates and yoga classes.
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 (in some rooms), free filtered 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 therapeutic facials, de-stressing massages and finishing-touch mani-pedis, using luxurious products by Bee Potion, Dermalogica and Nailberry L'Oxygene.
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. Breakfast served from 8am to 9:30am.
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 only accepts children aged 13-and-older.
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 Jamie Guy 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 will be delivered to your room so you can saunter off to the dunes or have it in the garden or come to the Dining room and enjoy it there. Fresh coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries baked that morning, yoghurt and the choice of something prepared individually for you by one of the hotels chefs.
The hotel's wine list is so abundant it has its own legend to help you navigate the selection of English cuvées, and international reds and whites. 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 everyday between 8am and 9:30am; lunch is on offer every day from 1pm to 2.30pm; and dinner starts every day at 7pm and runs until 8.30pm.
Room service for breakfast, 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, 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.