The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne


My arrival in Eastbourne got off to a memorable start. The taxi driver who picked us up at the station to whisk us away to The Grand seemed like a jolly sort, ready to extol the virtues of the various pubs and restaurants roundabouts; “There’s The Victoria, that’s very good…run by a London sort, but can’t hold that against it…there’s The King’s Head, a sort of traditional boozer really, and then there’s The Mariners, which is on TV every Christmas…” Being a London sort myself, I saw this as an opportunity to curry favour and show off my knowledge of local mores, “Ah, that’ll be because of all the fighting, I suppose.” The driver noticeably stiffened. Then, through clenched teeth, he uttered the words, “No, it’s because of the decorations.” “Ah.” Welcome to Eastbourne. The reason why the Countess and I were down in one of the country’s most renowned seaside resorts was a simple one. We had been watching too much Downton Abbey and the Countess had expressed two simultaneous desires; namely, spend some time living like the Grantham dynasty, and be by the seaside rather than that stuffy old mansion. With this in mind, there was really only one place to go, The Grand. The first thing that you realise upon seeing the hotel is that it really is redolent of another age in hospitality and hotels. If you’re into chi-chi boutique places with six rooms then this is likely to leave you cold, but if you’re into extravagance on the grandest of scales then prepare yourself for the sort of experience that is practically extinct elsewhere. From the wedding cake-white exterior to the sumptuous dining rooms and suites, everything here is vast, conceived on the sort of scale that would leave investors sweating into their balance sheets today. The main dining room alone could comfortably seat the population of a small town, and then some. We were indulged with a tour, and were given some fascinating insights into the life, past and present, of this grandest of grand dames. Debussy composed part of La Mer here while on the run from his wife with his mistress. The likes of Churchill, Elgar and Charlie Chaplin had all visited. The BBC Concert Orchestra used to perform live from here, and the tradition is partly maintained in the way that the Palm Court Strings Orchestra accompany afternoon tea on the last Sunday of every month. “We’re very big on tea here,” our guide confides, with the knowing air of one who knows exactly how scone should be pronounced. For many, the highlight is going to be the famous fine dining restaurant, Mirabelle. Sister of the now defunct Mayfair establishment, it offers a more formal experience than the main restaurant (jackets or tie obligatory), but under head chef Gerald Roser, the cuisine here is anything but stuffy. A sensational starter of seared scallops with cauliflower puree and raisins is followed by an equally delectable fillet of Scottish beef with oyster mushroom ragout; the whole shebang is presented in a suitably old-school style (silver cloches at the ready, lifted with theatrical aplomb), but there’s a faintly tongue-in-cheek quality to the impeccable service that makes it all a bit more relaxing than you’d expect. Everything that you’d want from a five star hotel is here in abundance. The spa, complete with indoor and outdoor pools (the latter a treat for a slightly warmer time, though it looked very tempting) is well-appointed, and an excellently administered scalp massage offered a blissful half-hour or so. The only question, really, is whether you’ll want to venture from the creature comforts of The Grand into Eastbourne itself. The Countess and I did at one point, to sample the dual delights of a beer festival and a bonfire procession, and soon found ourselves embroiled in some bally-hoo that involved a pint of 13% cider called, aptly, ‘Suicider’, wild behaviour on the beach from people dressed as pirates and far too much loud noise. It was all rather different, even entertaining, but the Countess soon turned to me, a look of faint despair on her face, “We must go back to The Grand, immediately. It is inconceivable that anything bad, or indecent, could ever happen there.” Reader, I quite agree.

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