Gallivant’s logo is: eat, sleep, beach. And it does exactly that plus a little bit more. This is laid-back luxury, New England or Hamptons style. With a touch of Scandi.
Gallivant is a little bit like the Tardis. It’s not just that it opens out into a much bigger space once you enter through the front door. It’s also that its rather plain exterior belies its positively gorgeous interiors. My room was all pine floors, weather boarded walls and a huge bath (you can close it off with some rather clever sliding doors if you want a bit of privacy). There is attention to detail everywhere. There are plenty of books on the shelves, there are wonderful decorative touches (I particularly liked the 100 year old knitted swimming costume framed on the wall) and some of the details are pretty quirky too. The fridge is full of lovely surprises and a cupboard above reveals not the usual nuts and chocolates but four canisters, each with their own very specific purpose: one is chargers of various types, another is for sleeping well, another for hangovers and the last is called intimacy – I’ll let you work that one out for yourself.
And so the beach. Camber Sands stretch for five miles of golden sands and you find them by climbing over the dunes at the front of the hotel. The day I was there, there were only a rider and her horse on the beach, otherwise it was completely empty. Mind you, it was January. While a summer visit would make sense, a visit out of season avoids the crowds and you really do want all that glorious sand and sea vista to yourself.
The restaurant is a lovely open space with a log fire in winter and sheepskins on the chairs. The kitchen is so focused on localism, they actually give you a map showing where the ingredients come from – virtually everything from within a 10 mile radius. And if you think it’s good, they also give you the phone numbers so you can go and buy your own. So the meat comes from two local farms, game is shot on the nearby Hole Park Estate, fruit and veg come from the farms around Rye, the fish from the local fishermen and the wine from some of Sussex and Kent’s award-winning vineyards. The quality shows on the plates (and in the glasses) and this is inventive, high class cooking from the roast pigeon breast with Jerusalem artichoke puree to the cod, butterbean and chorizo cassoulet. Last year they won Sussex restaurant of the year and it’s not a place where you’re going to want to fast. But they have just opened their spa.
Now, if you’re looking for an all-singing, all-dancing spa with dozens of pools and saunas and therapists, you’re in the wrong place. This is a hand-made kind of place in this as in so many other respects here. Gallivant’s spa is called the Beach Hut and that’s just what it is. At the back of the hotel’s “sea garden” it looks just like a beach hut but once inside you find yourself in a very different kind of treatment room – all rough-hewn wooden walls and fairy lights.
The products are, like everything here, very local and exclusive to Gallivant. Produced by Wideye, the products come from Rye (five miles away) and are ethical, organic and eco-friendly with no nasty chemicals. They feel and smell lovely. They have just the one beach hut and just the one therapist (Billie) but she offers a variety of treatments including massages, scrubs and facials.
I opted for the Bamboo Massage. This is something I’d seen on spa menus before but never actually tried and, really, was not quite sure what to expect. But in fact in some ways it follows the pattern of a traditional massage – except it’s all done with bamboo. Why? Billie tells me it’s got two main features. For one, bamboo is anti-bacterial and it encourages the minerals in the oils (a mix of thyme, eucalyptus and bergamot) to penetrate the skin more deeply.
For another, the pressure is even, firm, regular and strangely cooling. At first it can be quite strong if the bamboo rolls over a tender spot but because there is such a smooth rhythm you relax very quickly and it does the trick. Mostly it is rolling but bamboo has more tricks up its sleeve than that. There are squeezing, tapping motions and something that resembles hacking (no not your email account, the chopping action you find in Swedish massage).
In fact, it was all so relaxing I almost nodded off. Maybe I did – can’t be sure – but the treatment then morphed into the Regular Rehab Facial. More lovely Wideye products cleansed, smoothed, toned and nourished my skin (in fact, it drank everything up instantly, according to Billie!). There was a facial massage and, while I soaked up the mask, she gave me a neck and shoulder massage. Bliss.
The Gallivant, Camber Sands, Rye. For more information, visit www.thegallivant.co.uk.
For more information about Wideye and their products, visit www.wideye.co.uk.