Travel: A grand stay in Eastbourne
- Credit: Archant
A fine old Victorian resort, Eastbourne offers majestic architecture, theatre, art and wild places. Rebecca Underwood reports
Saunter along elegant King’s Promenade towards the pier as a gentle breeze flutters over the waves and the cornet in your hand begins to melt in the sunshine. Pause to admire the colourful carpets of flowers and listen to the tunes from the bandstand as the soaring seagulls overhead add their own raucous accompaniment to the melodies. Welcome to Eastbourne, the Empress of Watering Places - a fine example of a Victorian resort that continues to attract more than 4.5 million visitors every year.
Things to do
Eastbourne offers visitors an insight into the boom in British seaside resorts. In 1849 the railway was connected to the town and tourism began to develop. 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 town’s most popular attractions. As I did my own promenading, the music drifted over from the bandstand, and fellow strollers could not resist taking a seat and joining in the toe tapping and spontaneous applause.
On July 14 last year, the 144-year-old Grade II listed pier was badly damaged by fire and is still undergoing restoration. Fortunately, two thirds of the building was saved, including the outer pavilion and it is possible to walk the entire length and enjoy the panoramic views it offers across the English Channel.
Get along this month on August 13-16 and you will be able to watch the world’s biggest and free seafront air show, the nattily titled Airbourne.
The sky will be awash with the red, white and blue formations of the Red Arrows. A Vulcan XH558 will also be taking part and the Royal Air Force will be displaying the spectacular agility of the jet Hawk T2, a pair of which will be whizzing overhead as onlookers, in their thousands, whoop it up.
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A walk along the cliffs will take you to the undulating formation known as the Seven Sisters - remnants of valleys eroded by the sea, while the infamous Beachy Head is a spectacular chalk headland rising to more than 160m. The cliffs provide nesting ledges for many sea birds including kittiwake, herring bull, rock pipit and northern fulmar while the dense cliff top scrub supports breeding stonechat, corn bunting, yellowhammer and lesser whitethroat.
For more 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 there you will see some of the most varied and stunning English landscapes.
For a more sedate exercise and an excellent round of golf, consider the nearby Royal Eastbourne Golf Club, founded in 1887 when Queen Victoria celebrated her golden jubilee and following patronage by her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. This traditional members club, 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.
Art lovers should head to the Towner. The contemporary gallery on College Road features a unique programme of major historic visual art exhibitions in addition to an extensive contemporary collection. The internationally renowned collection of around 4,000 pieces has much modern British art, including extensive display of works by Sussex painter Eric Ravilious - famous for his depictions of the South Downs.
The Congress Theatre, a short walk from the Grand Hotel, presents many West End productions including Annie, (running from August 10-15) and The Songbook of Judy Garland which opens on August 19 for four nights.
The sea air usually awakens the appetite, in time honoured fashion, so head for Harry Ramsden’s on the corner of the Grand Parade and Terminus Road. Select an outside table, sink into a comfy chair and savour a scrumptious luncheon of fresh fish and chips with mushy peas. Harry Ramsden’s has been serving our national dish for over 75 years so you can rely on excellent service and a mouth-watering menu.
The outstanding buffet luncheon at the Green Almond on Compton Street, behind the Grand Hotel, is another winner. This charming vegetarian farm house style bistro serves a delicious variety of dishes with options for vegans and gluten intolerant diners; and the desserts are heavenly. The luncheon buffet offers good value with a choice of a small or large plate - a good option for families. The menu changes daily, according to local fresh produce.
The finest place to stay in Eastbourne is the Grand Hotel, a striking example of elegant 19th century architecture. Located in a prime position on the seafront, the building, known as The White Palace, was constructed in 1875 and dominates the shoreline.
Guests from the past include Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Sir Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Ernest Bevin, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Alexandra, Charlie Chaplin, Elgar, and Dubussy, who completed his enchanting symphony La Mer, during his stay here in 1905.
From 1934 to 1939 orchestras broadcasted live on the BBC every Sunday evening from the hotel’s Great Hall. It was later chosen by Dennis Potter for his naughty weekend drama Cream in My Coffee. Today, traditional afternoon tea is served in the hall with temptations including fresh scones oozing with fruity jams and thick fresh cream, dainty sandwiches and assorted pastries. If you wish to work off those calories, practice your dance moves with the live resident jazz band on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
As expected of a five star hotel, the service is excellent and the room accommodation features plush furnishings and rich fabrics with ultra comfortable beds and plump pillows.
After breakfast, guests are welcome to take a dip in the indoor pool or the spacious outdoor pool, where you can select a comfy lounger and relax in the sunshine. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served with aplomb in the elegant Garden Restaurant. The menus feature traditional British dishes with a contemporary flair and are inspired by local produce selected from Sussex farms. >>>
Dinner, bed and breakfast at the Grand Hotel costs from £120 per person per night based on two adults sharing a deluxe ‘inland’ bedroom for two nights or more on Sunday to Thursday (Special rates apply on Friday and Saturday).
Travel tip: Southern Railway’s direct service takes less than 90 minutes from London Victoria.