Johanna Payton ducks out of London for a no-fly visit to the gorgeous Gallivant Hotel in Camber Sands.
Living in New York has always appealed to me – and it’s not all about the skyscrapers and hustle of city life. I’m very attracted to the idea of popping out-of-town on a two-hour drive to the Hamptons.
There’s just something so delicious about hitting the beach, and taking in all that sky, within a couple of hours of leaving the office.
So when I heard about the Gallivant Hotel in Camber Sands, a swish-but-relaxed property on the Sussex sand dunes, billed as a Hamptons-style experience for Londoners, I was all kinds of in.
As advertised, the Gallivant was incredibly easy to reach from London. I was travelling with my teenage son, and we hopped on the train from St. Pancras, heading towards East Sussex: we reached Rye station within 75 minutes.
From Rye, it was easy enough to book a taxi (there are plenty of local numbers listed on a board outside the station) – but if you wanted to be super-organised you could find a number ahead and book a cab on the last leg of the train journey, from Ashford International.
The Gallivant is a 10-minute drive from the station and, upon arrival, we were greeted with smiles and attentive-yet-informal service – exactly the kind of welcome we enjoy.
With an American motel-style layout, the upscale beach hut theme runs throughout the gorgeous Gallivant. Our room was like a luxurious chalet with elegant nautique decor in cool coastal colours, a huge and ridiculously comfortable bed, a freestanding bath and direct access to the pretty garden.
Little extras, including Bramley toiletries, fluffy dressing gowns and a branded beach bag, make your stay even easier.
And, if you need an extra helping of ‘pamper’, the Beach Hut in the garden contains a mini spa, where you can enjoy anything from a Beach Bum Body Buff and Polish to a Skin Fuel Facial.
As we checked-in after 8pm, we headed straight to the restaurant for dinner. In spite of the super-cool location (in the shadow of the Camber dunes) and beautiful accommodation, the food at the Gallivant hotel in Camber Sands is, without doubt, the highlight.
The chef’s philosophy is simple: wherever possible, ingredients are sourced from suppliers within 30-miles of the hotel. Look out for meat from the local marshes, Sussex seafood and fruit and vegetables from the surrounding farmland.
(Eco-warriors might also like to know that much of the hotel’s furniture is made by hand from recycled wood by local craftspeople.)
We savoured our supper: succulent heritage tomatoes with mouth-watering mozzarella and prosciutto; pigs cheek croquette with celeriac remoulade; 35-day-aged rib-eye steak with Nightingale asparagus (from nearby Tenterden in Kent) and plaice served with sea vegetables and pink fir potatoes, buttery seasonal greens on the side.
When you’re 14, you can get away with a pudding (indulgent dark chocolate mousse with cherry and pistachio)…I’m not sure what my excuse was, but the vanilla panna cotta served with fresh strawberries and wild fennel sorbet blitzed my taste buds into next week.
Being looked after by the fun, friendly and down-to-earth Gallivant team was the icing on the cake: my son was massively impressed (and this is a guy who grew up on a travel diet of helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon and private dining on Tuscan vineyards).
Post-dinner, you can relax in the bar area, chill in the lounge and, on winter nights, there’s a cosy nook to curl up in.
After a sumptuous sleep in our peaceful quarters, we awoke to blue skies and renewed appetites (our passion for food knows no bounds).
The bright restaurant was flooded with light, but sun worshippers can eat outside on the decked patio area if they wish.
Breakfast somehow managed to challenge dinner in the taste stakes. You can help yourself to fresh local fruit juices and the generous breakfast buffet table is crammed with yoghurt, jam, local honey, vegan bircher museli (seriously delicious), homemade granola, fresh fruit (including Kent cherries) and (much to my son’s delight) homemade walnut and banana bread.
And, after all that, we still managed to find room for one Gallivant Full English and avocado & poached egg on toast, freshly cooked to order.
‘Walking it off’ shouldn’t even be optional here: the hotel is situated directly opposite the spellbinding Camber Dunes and the five-miles of sandy beach beyond.
After so much sustenance, we decided to follow the hotel’s directions on the scenic route to the beach, a 45-minute stroll up a sandy public footpath that crosses the dunes, winds around the golf course, takes you along the river Rother, opposite Rye harbour, and then out onto the majestic stretch of golden sand.
Dogs and kids love it here (and the Gallivant hotel in Camber Sands welcomes both) – and no wonder. We paddled in the sea, collected shells and climbed the dunes. The beach seems endless and somehow secluded, but it’s patrolled by lifeguards (during the summer season) and there are lots of signs to help you navigate your way around.
I perhaps shouldn’t mention that we managed to cram in a casual portion of fish and chips (send help) from the Oasis cafe, less than five minutes’ from the beach, but it is good to know that you can wash off sandy feet in the foot bath and access public loos there.
Our whistle stop visit was at an end (no time to explore Rye’s medieval centre, the Old Town at Hastings or the Dymchurch railway) and we jumped back in a taxi to the station.
But that’s the great thing about this no fly holiday destination on the south coast: it’s easy to pop down for the night from London, and the warmest of welcomes at the Gallivant Hotel in Camber Sands, which really does offer a home-from-home, tempts you back to the beach for a longer stay.
Forget the Hamptons. We’ve got our own chic, seaside playground to gallivant in.
How to get to the Gallivant Hotel in Camber Sands without flying
From London St. Pancras station, Southeastern Trains run services to Rye (with one change at Ashford International) around every 30-minutes.
From the town of Rye, the Gallivant is a 5-10 minute taxi ride.
If you’re driving all the way, take exit 10 from the M20 and follow the A2070 towards Brenzett and Rye until you reach the A259. Continue on the A259 for 6.6 miles, then turn left onto Camber Road. The hotel is located on the left as you enter Camber, across the road from the grass beach car park and Camber dunes.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Pictures: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground