The Gallivant on the sweeping East Sussex coastal resort of Camber Sands, just a short distance from the idyllic harbour town of Rye, is unrecognisable to its former status as a 1960s roadside motel and now attracts foodie travellers from far and wide, looking for a relaxed-yet-hip, pooch-friendly beach escape just a 90-minute fast train journey from London.
Each of the 20 rooms (tiered as Cosy, Garden and Deck) are stylishly furnished in tasteful nautical tones. Our Hamptons-inspired Luxury Garden room featured a blissfully comfortable Hypnos king size, dressed with crisp high thread count white sheets, set within a reclaimed handmade driftwood frame and surrounded by bookshelves ready for bedtime reading. Cute retro touches include rotary dial telephones. The bathroom area was meanwhile cleverly open-plan, with a glamorous roll top bath which can either be a feature of the living space or screened behind sliding doors, while a separate shower cubicle was stocked with Bramley toiletries.
Our four-legged friend was delighted with her wicker basket and fleece, and also approved of the French doors opening onto our own private decked seating area. Although there aren’t sea views on offer, the garden rooms face the long, part-gravel, part-lawn garden featuring tumbling meadow flower borders and inviting striped deckchairs. The Gallivant’s mini beach hut spa is located within the tranquil gardens so simply robe up and venture down the garden path. Other appealing in-room touches include a beach bag and a ‘Gone to Beach’ sign for when you’re heading out and wish your room to be serviced, while you are invited to borrow flip-flops, wellies or beach towels. You can even order a luxury picnic to enjoy on the dunes.
Although The Gallivant don’t offer a room service menu, there are plenty of reasonably priced mini-bar and snack items such as Joe & Seph’s gourmet popcorn, along with tea and coffee making (Tea Pigs and Nespresso) with fresh milk available at reception. There is also complimentary daily tea and homemade cake for guests, served in the lounge bar from 4.30pm, a hospitable and thoughtful touch, not least if you happen to have just arrived. A freshly prepared coffee and walnut cake with a strong brew proved the perfect pick-me-up and a chance to mingle with fellow guests.
Adorned with framed vintage bathing costumes and black and white photographs of yesteryear Camber Sands bathers, the light conservatory-style dining space opens onto an alfresco decking area for the summer months, and is easily transformed into an appealing breakfast space come the morning, with a tempting buffet table serving fresh fruit, local cheese, homemade granola, breakfast muffins and banana bread.
Cooked to order hot dishes are extra and include avocado toast with poached eggs, a full English or vegetarian breakfast. Hot drinks and juices are set out on the bar for guests to help themselves to, while there is even a novel Bloody Mary station if you require the hair of the dog. If you wish to dine in the company of your pooch request the banquette dining section to the corner of the bar.
With excellent dinner, bed and breakfast packages, we opted to dine at The Gallivant’s acclaimed restaurant on both evenings (unusual for us) being seriously impressed by a menu all about seasonality and low food miles, from fish and seafood straight from the coast to East Sussex cheeses and bread from Rye’s artisan Lazy Baker. They also pride themselves on a wide range of English and locally produced wines, while for non-drinkers the bar stocks all varieties of Seedlip, something they could perhaps make more of by offering a mocktail menu.
A starter of tender lobster salad with artichoke hearts, radish and garden peas was finished with a light dressing and truffle shavings, while a main of Romney salt marsh lamb rump was served perfectly pink with a sticky, well-reduced jus. I opted for the Sussex line-caught pan seared sea bass with a panzanella of heritage tomatoes and sourdough croutons. Move over traditional fish and chips. Desserts were equally beautiful in their skilled simplicity, from a caramelised lemon tart with milk ice cream to a rich, airy chocolate mousse dusted with sweet dukkah. Yes, that sea air certainly conjures up an appetite, and at The Gallivant you can take full advantage of it.
To counter this, the hotel offers pilates or yoga classes on Camber Sands beach every day at 9am, a complimentary service for guests which encourages you to immerse yourself in your surroundings and get plenty of fresh air in your lungs. Afterwards, you’ll be invigorated enough to walk the 3 mile stretch of sandy beach and explore the idyllic town of Rye where the cobbled streets and patchwork of picture-perfect period architecture, housing antique shops and tea rooms, is sure to enchant.
The National Trust managed Lamb House, the red brick former home of American novelist Henry James, is well worth a visit, being where he composed his famous ghost story, The Turn of the Screw. Rye is in fact something of a mecca for ghost hunters, foremost of which is Mermaid Street, where the Grade II listed Mermaid Inn stands, famed for its spooky sightings, just as well they don’t allow dogs inside or the pooch would have been howling. Personally I was happy to retire to my slick, ghost-free residence after a full day’s gallivanting – but whatever floats your boat. My haunt of choice is The Gallivant.
The Gallivant, Camber Sands. New Lydd Road, Rye, TN31 7RB, East Sussex. 01797 225057. For more information and reservations please visit thegallivant.co.uk.