The Gallivant is the perfect hideaway for a cool beach break by Camber Sands on the south coast. The hotel is beachy-chic and sits just behind the sand dunes that lead onto the golden 5-mile swathe in East Sussex, famous for its soft sand, kitesurfing and proximity to the ridiculously picturesque town of Rye. Previously a 1960s motel, The Gallivant is now stylish and boutique, set back from the beach on the winding coastal road. The drive across the Romney marshes to reach this peaceful getaway makes it feel far more secluded and remote than it is, just a few hours by car from London (or 7 minutes from the nearest train station, Rye).
It’s arguably one of the best beaches in the UK (and my personal favourite). On warm weekends mid summer crowds flock to swim and sunbathe in a setting that’s more French beach than English seaside. But visit on a weekday or out of season and you’ll have it pretty much to yourself, save a few dogs, their walkers and some colourful kites flying ahead of the brave boarders out on the grey sea. The Gallivant is the place not just to sleep down here but also eat, and very well. It’s a quirky one-storey hotel with 20 rooms, though I wouldn’t have even guessed it had 20, in the sleepy village of Camber that was originally just a handful of fishing dwellings. The interior is limed wood, driftwood, bleached wood, wood panelling with marble and lots of comfortable furnishings. It’s classy, cool and completely serene with sandy shades, soft greens and lots of plants. To keep it really peaceful, it’s a children-free hotel, though you can bring the dog along (and Camber Sands is open to our furry friends year-round).
I stayed in the Luxury Garden room, with French windows that opened up onto a sweet private deck and into the coastal gardens. The bed is enormous, the free-standing, roll-top bath luxurious over the autumnal weekend visit and the ‘monsoon’ shower ideal following a cold sea swim. There’s a rolling wall between the bedroom and bathroom to open up the space for social baths, even more perfect, with a bottle of English sparkling on ice. England’s finest Gusbourne Estate is local to The Gallivant, just 10 miles away and was the first of very many fine bubbles, wine and cocktails we were to enjoy during the stay. The bedroom is impeccably decorated and the bathroom stocked with locally made, organic products. It’s certainly a place concerned with sourcing and celebrating everything local, from beauty to food to decoration, though inspiration points to The Hamptons shabby-chic, implied by some of the room names.
Last summer a new chef stepped up to plate, though the Gallivant has for a while been considered a go-to restaurant in the area. The menu is focussed around being fresh, local and healthy with lots of seafood and fish. It doesn’t have to travel far; Newhaven black bream, Hastings hake and mackerel, lobster from Dungeness, Rye Bay Dover Sole. I had Oysters Rockefeller on the shell, buttered, herbed, crusted – divine. There is, of course, always Romney Marsh lamb on the menu, a much sought after lamb for the unique environment in which the animals are raised on the salt marshes. The meat is tender with little fat and flavoured with herbs and grasses like samphire, sorrel and sea lavender giving a sweet flavour to the lamb. I digress… In short, it’s delicious and The Gallivant serves it up beautifully. The veggies are mostly local, too. Right now, Sussex penny bun mushrooms, local spuds, dulse for the butter. Puds are the best of the British classics, tastefully plated and incredibly hard to choose between.
The icing on The Gallivant cake is the free daily yoga and pilates sessions held at 8am and 4pm each day, on the beach if the weather is fine. Ours was a moody, grey afternoon so we took a yoga class in the Summer House with Katie, who was brilliant. She offered us the option of a restorative class or a more dynamic flow; we chose the latter, followed it up with a plunge in English Channel at high tide before heading in to warm up by the fire with a glass of Chapel Down. There really couldn’t be a better combo of activities nor a better setting for it. The Gallivant also has a mini spa which is located in a completely charming beach hut in the garden. Massages, facials, manicures and pedicures are on offer, meaning there’s even less reason to leave the little haven.
The dining room, the private dining room, the sitting room and snug are fashionably decorated and are warm and inviting. Fishermans lamps, framed vintage swimming costumes, driftwood and topical marine books decorate every room of the hotel, along with other non-nautical paraphernalia for everyone to enjoy – magazines, board games, more books… There are experiences to join such as tours, workshops and meditations. And we haven’t even stepped outside of the hotel yet. Climb over the dunes and turn left for a beautiful walk along the miles-long sandy beach. This way you’ll find the kitesurfers and windsurfers. Turn right and after 30 minutes-or-so walking you’ll reach the medieval town of Rye with its winding, cobbled lanes crammed with listed buildings, quaint pubs and even a castle. I’d recommend the ancient inns of The Mermaid and The Olde Bell, which are said to be connected by a secret passageway.
I’m raring to get back to the restaurant, and soon. Recently whelk fritters, pickled mussels, curried monkfish and braised cuttlefish with nduja have graced the menu. It’s inventive and inspiring – (I must do more with what’s local at home) – and judging by how good everything tasted on my last visit, I’ll go back with an open mind, an excited palate and high hopes.
After dinner the bar beckons, low-lit by lamps and romantic, intimate on a blustery, dark evening. The barman was quite the pro and, while concocting a damn good Manhattan using a special American bourbon Blanton’s, shared some invaluable cocktail mixing secrets. I didn’t actually take a look at the cocktail menu, though I’m sure there’s a decent one, as we chatted booze and he riffed on a few classics. The Gallivant’s wine list has to have a mention. There are more English wines on the menu here than anywhere in the world. “And so there should be”, they say, “We are in the heart of English wine country”. It kicks off with a description of the 13 English wine estates that have been carefully picked and the distance from where the Gallivant is to each winery. English ‘champagnes’, both white and pink, make up the sparkling list (no French bubbles here) followed by six whites, two rosés and four reds, all English. There’s an option to do tastings, either by selecting three small glasses to enjoy by yourself at the bar or at one of the hotel’s tasting events held once or twice a week. Then again, guests can enjoy a glass of English bubbles at 5pm on the house every afternoon at The Gallivant’s cocktail hour. There are also a couple of English pudding wines to try (and an extensive international wine list if you want to spoil the fun!).
Prices this autumn start at £313 per night for two sharing. It always includes breakfast (which I can’t believe I didn’t mention until now but is another of the hotel’s stand-out attributes), a three-course dinner, morning elevenses, English wine at 5pm and free classes. It’s a children-free hotel and guests must be older than 16 years. It’s also worth noting that on weekends there’s a two-night minimum stay.
New Lydd Road