A Grand Weekend in Eastbourne
As I sauntered along the elegant King’s Promenade towards the pier with a gentle breeze fluttering over the waves and the cornet in my hand melting in the sunshine, I paused a while to admire the colourful carpet of flowers on display and listened to the tunes from the bandstand as the soaring seagulls squawked over my head.
Eastbourne, known as the Empress of Watering Places, is an excellent example of a Victorian resort, which continues to attract over 4.5 million visitors every year and offers an intriguing glimpse into fascinating history.
In 1849 the railway was connected to the town and tourism began to develop in earnest when the promenade was built, and the pier opened to much fanfare in 1872. To this day, the pier and the 1930’s seafront bandstand are among the most popular attractions. As the music drifts over the promenade from the bandstand those strolling by cannot resist taking a seat and joining in the toe-tapping and spontaneous applause, and I was easily persuaded to do my bit.
In 2014, Eastbourne Pier, the 144-year-old Grade II listed building, was severely damaged by fire. Fortunately, two-thirds of the building was saved, including the outer pavilion, and it is still possible to walk the entire length and, as usual, it always attracts the vast majority of visitors, keen to take in the panoramic views across the ocean.
A breath of sea air usually awakens the appetite, and I headed for Harry Ramsden’s, located on the corner of the Grand Parade and Terminus Road. Selecting an outside table and sinking into a comfy chair I savoured a tasty luncheon of fresh fish ‘n’ chips with mushy peas accompanied by a chilled glass of Brancott Sauvignon Blanc. Harry Ramsden’s has been serving our national dish since 1928, and the service is excellent.
To work off those calories, I made my way to Seven Sisters, the undulating cliffs, which are remnants of dry valleys eroded by the sea. With binoculars at the ready a stroll along Beachy Head, the spectacular chalk headland rising to more than 160m is just the ticket. It is possible to spot Kittiwake, Herring Bull, Rock Pipit, Northern Fulmar and Feral Pigeon and the dense clifftop scrub supports breeding Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and White and Lesser Whitethroat.
One of the most popular events in Eastbourne is ‘Airbourne’, the world’s biggest and free seafront air show, which is usually performed in August. I joined the crowds thronging the beach, and the sky was awash with the red, white and blue formations of the Red Arrows, displaying their union jack tailfins and whizzing overhead as the onlookers, in their thousands, all cheered in celebration.
Feeling a tad weary after my excursions, I made my way to the only five-star hotel by the sea in Sussex. The Grand Hotel on King Edward’s Parade is an imposing property and a striking example of elegant Victorian architecture located in a prime position on the seafront. Known as ‘The White Palace’, the hotel was built in 1875, and it dominates the shoreline.
Guests from the past include Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Ernest Bevin, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Alexandra, Charlie Chaplin, Elgar, and the composer Debussy, who completed his enchanting symphony ‘La Mer’, during his stay in 1905.
From 1934 to 1939 orchestras broadcasted live on the BBC every Sunday evening from the Grand’s Great Hall, which was once the venue for Dennis Potter’s drama ‘Cream in My Coffee’. These days, traditional afternoon tea is served in the Great Hall, and I succumbed to the temptations including fresh scones oozing with fruity jams and thick fresh cream, a selection of dainty sandwiches and assorted pastries. As expected of a five-star hotel, the service is first class.
Hotel accommodations include rooms and suites with plush furnishings, luxurious fabrics and soothing décor. The Penthouse Suite, which features a private lift, is a tranquil and relaxing space and offers the utmost privacy. The floor to ceiling windows flood the interior with natural light and afford sweeping views across the English Channel, and the lounge area is spacious and comfortable with soft carpeting and luxurious drapes, and it’s the ideal spot for a pre dining cocktail.
The bathroom features a large walk-in shower, and there is a free-standing bath for those keen to sink into frothy soothing Molton Brown bubbles after a long day of exploring the resort. I opted for the hotel spa and selected the ‘Ultimate Ocean of Dreams Ritual’, which is a two-step treatment beginning with an invigorating full-body scrub followed by a relaxing lavender full body massage with hot stones placed on my back. It was 85 minutes of bliss!
For an outstanding dining experience, the hotel’s elegant Mirabelle, named after its famous sister restaurant in London’s Curzon Street, is recognised by The Independent as one of the UK’s top 50 best restaurants and regularly features in the Good Food Guide. Menus change weekly and focus on modern European dishes served with flair and panache. I ordered the Buccleuch beef fillet cooked with blue cheese and served with a bottle of Château Latour 1987; the flavours were sublime.
Up with the larks following my comfortable slumber and devouring a sumptuous breakfast in the Garden Restaurant, I took a dip in the gorgeous outdoor pool and selected a comfy lounger to relax in the sunshine and plan my day.
For those of us who love nature, a trip to the South Downs, Britain’s newest National Park will not disappoint. The area covers 627 square miles, two-thirds of which is in Sussex, and where visitors can view some of the most varied and stunning English landscapes.
For a more sedate morning’s exercise, the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club is ideal. Founded in 1887 when Queen Victoria celebrated her golden jubilee and following patronage by her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, this traditional member’s club, located within the South Downs National Park, caters for all levels of handicap. The scenery is glorious, and the courses are maintained to the highest standards.
For a relaxing afternoon, the Towner, a contemporary art museum located on College Road, features a unique programme of major exhibitions of historical visual art in addition to extensive contemporary pieces. The internationally renowned collection of approximately 4000 works includes examples of modern British art.
For an evening tipple and a delicious meal, I headed for the Crown and Anchor, on Marine Parade, which attracts locals and visitors alike. The menu featured a delightful slow-cooked lamb shank oozing with real ale gravy and served alongside my half-pint of Greene Kings India Pale Ale, and it was simply scrumptious.
Whatever you decide to do, rest assured that you will certainly have a grand weekend in Eastbourne.
For more information on the Grand Hotel, visit grandeastbourne.com or call on 01323 412345.
Resort images courtesy of Visit Eastbourne
by Rebecca Underwood
The Grand Hotel
King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21 4EQ
t: (0)1323 412345 e: email@example.com
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