Oh I do like to be beside the seaside….! Yes, even in the darkest, deepest depths of an English winter.
Let me tell you – there is no sweeter sight than a freestanding tub, big enough for two after a hellish drive in the sleet and snow. Which is exactly what greeted us as we pulled up to The Gallivant – a heavenly motel-style dreamboat on Kent’s pristine beach, Camber Sands.
As it happens, we’d stayed here years ago for a wedding but since then they’ve had a swish makeover, turning what was already a lovely spot, into a destination retreat for some serious R&R.
We were staying in a Luxury Garden room which was full of the most delightful little touches to make our stay as comfortable as possible. We’ve already mentioned the extra-large freestanding tub which takes centre stage in the room (it can be hidden behind sliding doors if you need some privacy, but where’s the fun in that?), but we also loved the full sized Bramley bath products, separate waterfall shower and fluffy gowns. Around the super king-size bed, shelves are heaving under a selection of books and the Nespresso machine, digital radio and well-stocked bar area left us wanting for nothing.
Double doors open up onto a small deck with table and chairs which would be a lovely place for morning coffee in the warmer months. As it was we made our way from there, along the windy path which takes you directly to a toasty hut where we stripped off and prepared for an hour long ‘Karma De-Stress’ full body massage. And de-stress we did thanks to our therapists rhythmic hands working in a fragrant blend of WiDEYE aromatherapy oils. This mini-spa (let’s be honest, it’s a re-purposed beach hut with festoon lighting draped from the ceiling) only has one treatment room so be sure to book ahead.
Suitably settled into the pace of our beachside abode, we ventured into the main building for tea and cake which they serve daily at 4pm. Enticing nooks with comfy sofas beckoned, all dimly lit and oh-so-relaxing. Board games and design-led coffee table books helped while away the time until we could return, spruced up for dinner.
We sidled up to the copper-topped bar where we found a very healthy selection of English wines by the glass. But really, what’s a British staycation without a mouth-watering menu. The Gallivant does not disappoint with almost everything caught locally from the choppy seas across the road. Case in point – the Dungeness spider crab, served here with refreshing pink grapefruit, radicchio and fennel salad. Celeriac cream with green oil and mustard leaf was the most gloriously thick warming soup – like a hug from an old friend on a cold day.
Moving on to mains, the fish stew with morghew potatoes, swiss chard and saffron aioli made me weep with food envy. Whilst my poached brill with braised chicory, red wine poached salsify and cocotte potatoes was just the elegant sort of dish I craved. (Is it just me or don’t you think it’s a crying shame to slip into the sort of food coma which comes about from a boring meat and two veg, supersize portion we’re so often served in hotels? Especially if you’re only staying the one night!) Dessert was exceptional – a salted caramel tart was given such complexity with a dollop of yoghurt sorbet and candied strips of lemon peel. Utterly divine.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, who should I spy across the dining room but a girl I’d spent a week with at the FX Mayr clinic in Austria. Turns out these chic retreats have a habit of attracting the same crowd it seems. To celebrate our reunion, we retreated back into the snug area after dinner and sunk a couple more Old Fashioned’s (never have I seen a cocktail made with such love) in front of the roaring fire. Seemed rude not too.
The next morning we woke up to the most glorious sunshine and fuzzy heads that insinuated we’d had one too many the night before. Luckily the bright breakfast room which is decorated with vintage swimsuits was on standby with their bloody mary recovery station and full English breakfast.
Whilst it was still freezing, there was nothing that could stop us from going for a bracing walk on the beautiful beach. The only thing we were missing was a dog – which if you do happen to have one, The Gallivant are very happy for you to bring along.
Before heading off we’d highly recommend exploring the ridiculously pretty, historic town of Rye (The Gallivant will provide maps!). Thankfully we unknowingly stumbled upon their number one attraction – Knoops. A hot chocolate shop may not sound like a destination worth seeking out but you’d be wrong. This crazy little old fisherman’s hut is modest enough that you could easily walk past, but inside the wall is lined with chocolate varieties (with tasting notes) from your approachable milk, right through to a 100% single-origin dark chocolate from Madagascar with no hint of sugar.
Hot chocolate warming our hands (and our cockles), we made our way past countless antique shops, old-fashioned sweet shops and no end of pun-named shops – ‘Pocket full of Rye’ anyone?
All in all, we’d say this was a complete dream of a weekend and proof, if ever it was needed, that a beach stay needn’t be saved for the summer months.