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Review: The Gallivant, Camber Sands


Any hotel that lets you feast on first-class seafood for days on end is a win in our books, but The Gallivant’s Beach Bistro is not the only selling point of this chilled beach-side haven. From kitsch design details to locally sourced wine and the wondrous Camber Sands just across the road, it has everything you need for a dash of relaxed weekend escapism.

Room service

The Gallivant is set just off the road in the heart of the Romney salt marshes and at first glance, it looks a bit like a 1950s motel. A one-level building, it is flanked by palm trees and shrubbery and the interior features upcycled driftwood furnishings and an easygoing grey and blue colour scheme. It’s New England chic meets Catch Me If You Can; think cute nautical details (you can actually buy the hemp bags and "Gone to the Beach" door signs on display) and a distinct retro air.

Last July the hotel opened two new deck rooms, which is where we stayed. These come with double doors leading onto a private terrace with two wooden deckchairs, a lantern and a smattering of greenery. It’s a great way of making the room feel much larger and we wasted no time in cracking open a bottle of Cava in our secluded patch of late afternoon sunshine.

The design aesthetic here is boutique-y and cool in a relaxed, understated way. I liked how the whitewash flooring and pale, neutral hues were broken up by playful statement pieces such as a low-hanging lamp and a bright orange reading chair underneath a bookshelf stocked with well-thumbed classics like Swallows and Amazons. The bedside table came with an old-school alarm clock and DAB radio and - my personal favourite - a black rotary dial telephone. Over in the bathroom, the walk-in rainforest shower is a bonus, replete with White Company toiletries, shutters and fluffy robes.

Food and drink

Gourmands are in for a treat at the Gallivant – the food at its Beach Bistro really is exceptional. Run by Ben Fisher of Tom Aikens and The French Laundry fame, it has 2 AA rosettes and trots out a stream of adventurous dishes, many of which are sourced within a 30 mile radius of the hotel. It's a popular spot, and the fact that locals in the area flock to it as eagerly as hotel guests tells you all you need to know about the quality of grub here.

We sampled the tasting menu, starting with a creamy tarte tartin made from Rye Bay scallops and honey roasted endive. A zesty fish soup came next, sprinkled with crispy croutons and gruyere, followed by Dungeness gurnard fillets with minestrone and gnocchi and Winchelsea salt marsh roast lamb with salsa verde. The chefs here aren't afraid of a challenge and yet the food isn't pretentious. It's just beautifully presented and portions are filling enough to leave you wanting a little bit more, which is just as well when there are six courses in the running.

As well as locally sourced fish and meat, the drinks are also drawn from the surrounding area. We tried a great citrus-y glass of Brut and zesty Flint Dry white wine from Chapel Down in neighbouring Kent, and the Beach Bistro's signature Pear Tarte Tin was rounded off in style by a slug of 5 year old Somerset cider brandy.

Like the rest of the hotel, the Beach Bistro is thoughtfully designed, and a great place to hang out come dinner or breakfast. Speaking of which, breakfast is a heartening prospect here, with French toast and soft-boiled eggs with Marmite soldiers among the highlights. Grab a table by the glass doors at the front for the best view - during summer, these open up onto a terrace. If you're really passionate about food, it's worth checking out The Gallivant's programme of coastal cookery courses.

Out and about

Camber Sands is just a stone’s throw away from the hotel and no trip would be complete without a wander along the miles of dunes and inviting shoreline. It’s flat here and wonderfully expansive, so you can drink in some lovely views out to the ocean or watch as the occasional stoic swimmer ventures out into the waves.

More adventurous souls may want to try their hand at kitesurfing; The Gallivant runs taster courses as part of its weekend deals. The surrounding Romney salt marshes, the birthplace of smuggling in southern England, are ripe for exploration but it’s also worth heading to the nearby town of Rye (a thirty minute walk from The Gallivant) for its quaint and eclectic smattering of antique shops, second hand bookshores and delis.

Make sure you head up to the 13th Century castle for a great snapshot of the brightly coloured fishing boats lining the estuary below. Stock up on a couple of bottles of English wine on the way home at the Chapel Down Winery, renowned for its fine, crispy whites.

This place is unique because

It's a boutique hotel that manages to be genuinely relaxed. There was a wedding on the weekend that we stayed (see here for more on Gallivant weddings) but there was none of the fluster or chaotic-ness you’d normally associate with this kind of event. Everything was handled smoothly and calmly, and the wedding party didn’t overshadow the other guests.

With just 20 rooms, The Gallivant is also small and its intimacy adds to the laid-back feel. Dogs are welcome and the staff have time to check in with you and see how you’re getting on.

If we could change one thing…

We’d bring a pair of wellies. You’ll be itching to get out and about on the Camber Sands but traipsing a trail of sand through the lobby, not to mention your room and your car, is not the greatest look.

Getting there and away

The Gallivant is just an hour and a half’s train ride from central London, making it an ideal destination for a weekend break. Buy tickets from St Pancras International to Rye from £11 return at southeasternrailway.co.uk and southernrailways.com. More details on how to get to The Gallivant by car can be found on its website thegallivanthotel.com

Rooms at The Gallivant start from £115 B&B, go to thegallivanthotel.com or call 01797 225 057



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