This East Sussex boutique hotel is one of the most inspiring coaching-inn conversions we've seen in Southern England. The George in Rye’s high ballroom walls are hung with a diverting bird-patterned wallpaper; the chairs clad in monochrome Florence Broadhurst textiles. Its decor makes for love-at-first-sight stuff, and it's neatly placed in the quietly charming, pottering-pace coastal town of Rye.
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A seasonal pre-dinner cocktail each in the bar or restaurant
11am, but flexible, subject to availability and a charge. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £125.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates don't usually include breakfast spread with Sussex-sourced treats (£15 a person); à la carte picks available too. One-night bookings for Saturdays incur a £50 supplement.
Let the George organise you tickets to one of the world-class gardens nearby, or book some in-room pampering treatments with one of the therapists from the nearby Aveda spa.
The hotel is happily back after a fire in 2019 closed it. The makeover is ongoing, so reopening will start with 27 rooms at first, then a further nine in June and the remaining five in September.
At the hotel
Courtyard garden, private dining and screening room, in‑room spa treatments, free WiFi, bike hire. In rooms, flatscreen TV, Vi‑Spring bed, free bottled water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, Frette linens, marble‑edged (or roll-top) bath, rain shower head and Ren toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Each room is unique, so you’re bound to have your own preference; some are vibrantly hued, some have patterned accent walls or elegant panelling, some have a fireplace and some rest in the eaves. All have personal touches, be it a collection of Penguin classics, fresh flowers, artworks and antiques. There's no lift, so some rooms aren't ideal for guests who have trouble climbing stairs.
A bucket and shade for the glorious beach at Camber Sands, plus an eye for an antiques bargain – Rye is renowned for its one-off outlets.
Lavender‑filled pillows and luxurious bottles of wild fig oil imported from Florence make evenings-in even more relaxing.
Welcome. Cots (£10 a stay) can be added to Superior rooms and above, and Junior Suite 31 has a fitted double bed (£20 a night for 2–12 year olds) in a cubby with a TV. Breakfast is an extra £10 a guest and babysitting can be arranged with advance notice.
Babies and up – children of all ages welcomed.
Junior Suite 31 is the family room at the hotel, which has a fitted double bed for £20 a night (for 2–12 year olds, breakfast an additional £10 a night). Otherwise the Superior rooms and up can fit a baby cot for £10 a stay.
There isn't a creche, but babysitting can be provided during the day given prior notice.
The best beach for children is at Camber Sands, a long stretch of golden sands a short drive (or cycle ride) from the hotel. Ask staff to point you in the direction of family friendly activities, such as riding, crazy golf and sailing.
Children are allowed in the restaurant at all times. There's a dedicated children's menu, and staff are happy to heat up milk and food and organise packed lunches. There are light snacks available via room service available around the clock.
Staff are happy to arrange a registered nanny or babysitter. Please give as much notice as possible.
No need to pack
There are high chairs in the restaurant, as well as a baby-changing room nearby.
Every room has a TV, and there are DVD players available on request, plus a selection of child-friendly DVDs. Baby massage lessons for parents are available on request.
Keeping a building hundreds of years old in good nick is no easy feat, so the owners deserve the kind of rousing toast given back in the day in their Georgian ballroom for their efforts to do so. Any modernisation has been done sympathetically and with a light touch. And through a ‘guest check-out scheme’, where a pound donation is added to each guest’s bill, and if they decide to pledge more, the hotel will match it. The list of charities that have benefitted is heartwarming to see, covering air ambulances, the NSPCC, cancer research, wellbeing for locals, hospice care, the RNLI, providing food for the homeless and bringing communities together through cooking lessons. Plus, there are local artists hanging on the walls and finds from local shops displayed proudly throughout. While in the kitchen, ingredients hail from fishermen, fruiterers and bakers nearby and along the coast.
Nestle in a corner at either end of the long banquette, or outside in the Garden Courtyard on balmy evenings.
Laid‑back layers; something a little smarter for dinner.
The brasserie‑style Dining Room has been expanded with Paul Gordon (who won acclaim at Qualia in Australia) the head chef responsible for the hotel’s traditional English cuisine using local and seasonal ingredients.
Sip on a Rye Smile whiskey cocktail or glass of Sussex wine amid the George Tap’s attractive mish‑mash of wooden tables, benches and chairs; it stays open until the last guest leaves.
The George Tap bar stays open until the last guest goes to bed.
Light snacks available 24 hours; from 7am to 10pm, you can order from the restaurant’s menu.
The George in Rye sits on the historic city’s quaint-as-can-be High Street, among listed houses that sit at various points on a timeline stretching back centuries. To reach Mermaid Street just take a left then another left.
Of the four London airports you could fly into, Gatwick is the closest at just a 90-minute drive away. Heathrow and Luton are both two hours by car and Stansted is the furthest at two-and-a-half hours. And, honorary London hub Southend Airport is a two-hour drive away. There are no direct trains from London, but there’s just one change at Ashford and you’ll be in Rye in around 90 minutes, maybe less.
Rye station is closest, a tiny two-minute drive away or a five-minute walk if you have the stamina for it… From here, you'll be able to reach Ashford International and the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) in 20 minutes. Eastbourne is a 50-minute journey direct and you’ll chug along the scenic south coast.
Finding a parking spot in the town’s gorgeous yet often un-accommodating streets can be a trial. Especially so, the more cobbled and hilly they are. Parking on the High Street is limited to two hours, so it’s best to offload your luggage and stop at Cattle Market carpark, less than a five-minute walk away (£2 for 24 hours, multiple tickets can be displayed at once) – take note, it’s closed overnight on Wednesdays and for the town’s market on Thursdays, but other carparks will be operating. Once you’ve figured all that out, Rye itself can be explored on foot – the incline up Mermaid Street being the biggest, yet still quite minor, challenge you’ll face – but there’s much to see in the surroundings too. A car will come in handy for trips to Camber Sands’ dunes and exploring the High Weald or the Kent Downs, both designated Areas of Natural Beauty. And, some of Britain’s best vineyards (Chapel Down, Balfour Hush Heath Estate, Biddenden) are close by, so a designated driver might come in handy. From London follow the M20 or A21 and you’ll arrive in just under three hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
Browse the antiques shops along the Strand Quay, or stroll down to gorgeous Camber Sands with a bulging picnic hamper packed for you by the George in Rye. Ramblers will enjoy the High Weald Landscape Trailand 1066 Walk, both of which start at Rye.
There’s a lot of choice food-wise in pubs sequestered in hidden corners of Rye’s cobbled maze of mediaeval streets. Unsurprisingly, seafood is plentiful, with the Standard setting the bar high. Its baked devilled Dungeness crab pot with sourdough soldiers is not to be sniffed at, nor, either, are the Romney Marsh lamb chops with potato croquettes, braised lettuce, peas and bacon. Cosy up by the fire on wintery days or nab one of the wooden huts outside when it’s mild. The most satisfying views from the crown of Rye’s hilly streets can be found in the garden at the Ypres Castle, whose well-curated local brews are matched only by the generous cheese boards, cured meats from Moons Green charcuterie, and handmade pork pies. A more extensive pub-grub menu can be found at the Ship Inn (+44 (0)1797 222233) at the bottom of Mermaid Street, where dishes range from the traditional (onglet steak; IPA-battered fish and chips)) to the less expected (Bloody Mary cured salmon with crème fraîche, sorrel and celeriac remoulade). Just outside the town’s mediaeval gate, Landgate Bistro (+44 (0)1797 222829) has an excellent menu of classic and contemporary British dishes. Savvy diners will love The Gallivant on New Lydd Road in Camber Sands (+44 (0)1797 225057), where grill-focused grub is made with sustainable, free-range and organic ingredients (meats are locally farmed, and only non-threatened species of Rye Bay fish are used).
There’s no shortage of cafés and tearooms in Rye, but you’ll be magnetically drawn to the cream cakes and savoury temptations at Fletchers House on Lion Street (+44 (0)1797 222227).
Considering I’d just slipped a disc and had promised to cycle over the Alps the following Monday, our stay at the George in Rye needed to live up to expectations. That, or my pathetic squeals of pain would reverberate through their towel cupboards and kitchens and onwards to those very edelweiss gorges. Thankfully, the hotel has a reputation for being comfortable and traditional, yet stylish – thanks to being touched by the hand of film set designers. Just what the doctor ordered.
Mrs Smith drove under an ancient fortified Old Town gate, dropped me outside the George, unloaded the bags and told the staff that on no account was I to carry anything. Humiliating verbal castration upon arrival. Great. While she searched for a (rare) parking space, my bag-heaving receptionist was very sweet. I asked if I could store my bike in the garage, which was of course fine. I tried to explain that cycling was good for my back, to assuage my guilt at the exercise/laziness contradiction. She really didn’t mind. But the poor disbelieving Shakespeare-lookalike barman-cum-bag-wallah nearly herniated himself with Mrs Smith’s make-up and a year’s supply of fluorescent Lycra.
The first thing we noticed about this 18th century coaching inn was that the new owners seem to have achieved what few proprietors of these ancient public houses up and down the country have: a modern, redesigned interior that is still sympathetic to the original character of the building. It’s not just that the black tar encrusted beams have all been sand-blasted clean, or that the sticky red paisley carpets have given way to the original flagstone tiles. It’s that no detail, from the nickel-coated plug sockets to burnished copper radiators, has been overlooked. Tightly packed with long sofas, chairs and beams, the George rises above the seagull-echoing street in a warren of little floors. Our room is extremely light and well planned, rendering it utterly inviting, helped in no small way by soft-touch scented pillows and hot-water bottle cosies. The bathroom has a Victorian-style bath cum shower, and is Aveda-product equipped, while soft-blue wood panelling lends a gently nautical air. As soon as she opened the ‘G’-branded wooden box to find an incredibly varied selection of teas, Mrs Smith immediately set to work preparing that most British of refreshments in celebration.
The owners, Katie and Alex Clarke, have links with set design and prop buying, making for a tasteful but vibrant and diverse decorative scheme: psychedelic Beatles prints sit alongside pockmarked beams and distressed leather. On our way to dinner, we nosed our way into the beautiful airy ballroom as it was being prepared for a wedding. The high walls are hung with a diverting bird-pattened wallpaper, and the chairs are clad in monochrome Florence Broadhurst textiles. It is decor that makes for love-at-first-sight stuff.
Chef Rod Grossmann’s menus create bold but well balanced flavours. Local produce is at the fore, and starters such as dressed crab and smoked duck are quite something. The wine we chose was English: Sandhurst Sussex Pinot Noir – what an extraordinary revelation. Having tasted no better Gevrey Chambertin from Burgundy itself, it instantly became an all-time favourite.
We weren’t the only ones feeling celebratory, don’t forget. And, as many of the bedrooms lead straight to the ballroom’s heavy doors, that night, as we climbed the stairs in a pleasant post-prandial daze, a growing din of wedding-reception disco filled us with dread. But, thanks to some extraordinarily good soundproofing, Mrs Smith, with her owl-standard hearing, was able to restrict her deadly talons’ nocturnal tasks to clutching the crisp bedding.
Next morning, at a slobbish 10.30am, we took breakfast in our slightly small but excitingly bouncy bed. I went all full English; Mrs Smith purred as she lapped up home-made yogurt and raspberry compote. Later, while she pottered about Rye, buying fudge and millinery just up the High Street, I went for a cycle, and found the landscape around Rye flat, windy and abundant in sheep. I attempted to ride along Camber Sands, but couldn’t. I sank. Children laughed at me; adults pointed. But the incredible light on the beach, glistening on sand and glittering on waves, made up for my public humiliation.
Having wound my Lycra’d way back through bobbing poppies and pea fields stretching into the horizon, I was looking forward to bar snacks and bitter. A superb lamb burger, sticky caramelised chunky chips and a fresh local pint did the trick, and I happily read the papers on the enclosed, decked courtyard of the George. Luckily, no one appeared to derive too much amusement from my hairless thighs.
Smiles were more forthcoming during our visit to the nearby pampering palace, the Rye Retreat, however, where Mrs Smith had booked me in for a full-body massage and facial. Having only read of such things in sneaked teenage glances through mum’s copies of Cosmo, I was a tad nervous, and desperate to let all the nice ladies know that I fancied girls. They didn’t seem to care, and Karen, my masseur and face-scrubber, soon put me at ease. I came out smelling of tangerines and lemon sorbet. The back was in a dreamy state and Mrs Smith was warbling something about fantastic bum toners; life was pretty good.
Rye – you made converts of us. OK, this East Sussex spot may present more-than-ample kitsch bric-a-brac window-sniggering opportunities, and maybe its one-way system is a little annoying to first-time users, but the charm and romance of this ancient fishing town is undeniable. And, if it is trying to shrug off its unfair bucket-and-spade image, then the George in Rye will help its cause no end. And as for my slipped disc – well, our weekend worked a treat on that, too.