Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…tiddely-om-pom-pom. Especially one as lovely as the 7-mile long, award-winning, Camber Sands; the far-out tide, long stretches of golden sand and mighty dunes attracting dog walkers, joggers, horse-riders, early morning boot camp classes, and brave swimmers, even on the breeziest of days. This East Sussex gem is just over an hour’s train from London, so perfect for a weekend jaunt, with the Ashford International Eurostar interchange opening the area up easily to the rest of Europe.
The Gallivant, a 20-room hotel with a touch of The Hamptons, is just across the road from the beach. A comfortable, welcoming abode, perfectly located to explore the area’s coast and town offerings. A short drive away, the medieval Rye, is all cobbled streets, winding up to St Mary’s church and back down and around, through shop-lined allies, and past characterful pubs and tea shops, serving cream teas, fish ‘n’ chips and hearty British fare. The surrounding countryside is all gentle hills, green, green grass, dotted with Romney Salt Marsh lambs, vineyards, orchards, wheat fields, and even a small olive grove. It’s not referred to as The Garden of England for nothing.
The Gallivant restaurant is taking full advantage of the produce on offer, with virtually all fresh ingredients (around 95%) sourced within 10 miles of the hotel, working with the local farmers and fisherman to secure great quality items. Their recent accolade, a Three Star Sustainability Award from The Sustainable Restaurant Association, is testament to this. This beach-side bolthole is also the only hotel in the UK to list only English sparkling wines on its menu; quite rightly championing some of the superb bubbles this country has been producing for a relatively short space of time. One such winery, Gusbourne Estate, has been winning over critics since it released its first vintages in 2010, with an ever-growing cabinet of awards for its efforts.
Its estate in Appledore village dates back to 1410, but only in 2004, when it was taken over by Andrew Weeber, did it start planting vines. Now over 40 hectares of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes are hand harvested at Gusbourne’s Kent grounds every autumn, a further 21.9 at its site in West Sussex, gently pressed in whole bunches, and, using traditional methods, matured to vintage champagne standards. The results are wonderful; better than many of the internationally-renowned champagne houses sporting our supermarket shelves. You won’t find Gusbourne at your local Waitrose and the like anytime soon; it’s sold purely via select independent shops and direct, and has no plans to change this.
A new partnership between The Gallivant and Gusbourne seems a natural one, both sharing the ethos to make the most of local ingredients. For visitors, it’s a wonderful way to get to know Kent’s fantastic food, wine and scenery, with lovely, beach-y rooms to fall into after, as a small group of friends and I discovered on an early autumn visit.
We arrived on a Friday to darkness and drizzle, supped on a welcome sloe gin next to a roaring fire, dumped our bags, freshened up, and reconvened in the bar. A flute of Gusbourne Blancs de Blancs slipped down with ease as we perused the five-course tasting menu with matching Gusbourne wines, we were shortly escorted through to the restaurant to try.
A beetroot and salmon first, with the Gusbourne Guinevere Chardonnay; a fantastic confit wild duck leg and pistachio terrine, scraped clean and accompanied by Gusboune’s mighty fine Pinot Noir. Much to the table’s collective delight, the Pinot was topped up to join us on our third round: a tender, flavoursome, Romney Marsh lamb rump. Certainly the best lamb dish I’ve eaten this year. A brief dalliance with a madeira for the chocolate delice, then back to Gusbourne with its Brut Reserve for a platter of South East England cheeses. As the rain continued to fall, and a while after the restaurant had emptied itself of the evening’s full capacity of diners, we made our way along the corridor, past the Larder of Guilty Pleasures (an honesty cabinet of sweet and savoury treats), to our respective rooms.
Waking up to the sound of seagulls might just be one of my favourite things; the promise of a nearby sea and perhaps even the hint of some sun. Despite the feast from the night before, we tucked into a generous selection from the buffet of homemade delights – do make room for some of the house banana bread – before heading out to clear skies for a stroll along the beach. Cobwebs thoroughly blown away and cheeks injected with a healthy glow no blusher could emulate, we returned, checked out and hopped in a taxi over to Gusbourne Estate, to find out more about the lovely wines we worked through so easily through the night before.
The Gallivant Gusbourne Wine Package includes a private tour of the vineyard and factory, a talk-through the processes and a tasting of the collection, something not usually made available to the public. I left wanting to buy shares in the company; my suitcase two bottles of wine heavier, excited to crack them open and introduce them to friends. Back to Rye, for a brief sojourn, then an afternoon train to London. The weekend was over before we knew it; the fresh air, fine fare, and newfound love for the Kent countryside lingering for much longer.
The Gallivant Gusbourne Wine package, priced from £430, includes: 2 nights accommodation in a small room; glass of Gusbourne served on arrival; tea and homemade cake at 4pm each day; Gallivant continental style breakfast each morning;dinner from A La Carte on 1 night; 5 course tasting menu on other night; transport to and from Gusbourne; tour of the vineyards and tutored tasting. Rooms at The Gallivant for B&B are from £95. www.thegallivant.com www.gusbourne.com