Roger St Pierre experiences a transformed EastbourneLike other towns dotted along England’s South Coast, Eastbourne has been steadily reinventing itself. For ‘geriatric’, now read ‘young and trendy’.
The place once scorned as being ‘Zimmer Frame City’ now has two universities and a burgeoning student population, a thriving artistic community, an abundance of stylish places at which to eat and drink, plus concomitant property prices. The froth is now as much on the coffee as it is on the wave-pounded shingle beach.
Some things are unchanging, though, and the Sussex town’s 152-bedroom, 5-star The Grand Hotel at the end of the graceful promenade and under the imposing chalk cliffs that crest at lofty Beachy Head – remains the Grande Dame of classic seaside resort hotels.
The experience has been very much enhanced by a massive refurb undertaken by its current operators, Elite Hotels, whose other three properties are the palatial Luton Hoo, in Bedfordshire, the gracious Tylney Hall, in Hampshire, and the countryside haven of Ashdown Park, in Sussex, like The Grand – making for a formidable calling card.
The Grand more than justifies its imperious name tag. Nicknamed ‘The Wedding Cake’ by the locals, this dazzlingly white painted Victorian architectural masterpiece opened its doors in 1875 and since then has welcomed scores of the rich and famous. It was here, in suite 200, in 1905, that Debussy composed his symphony ‘La Mer’. Other notable guests down the years have included Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and King Constantine, King of the Greeks – plus, in latter days, an impressive swathe of multinational companies who have been lured away from next-door Brighton for their major corporate events. Between 1924 and 1939, the Grand Hotel Orchestra broadcast live on the BBC from the hotel’s Great Hall every Sunday Night.
Most impressive of all the hotel’s 17 fully equipped conference and meeting rooms is the monumental ground floor Compton Room, which can accommodate up to 300 guests in a truly dramatic room when laid out theatre style. Stunning stained-glass floor-to-ceiling windows line the room, allowing natural daylight to stream in and highlight the impressive white stucco pillars.
Also suitably grand for large events, the Jevington Suite has a lounge with bar, a reception area and four syndicate rooms while the Silverdale Room has a banqueting capacity of 200. Spreading over three floors, the Devonshire Suite provides exclusive use of the Compton, Jevington and Silverdale facilities, which combine to provide one of the most prestigious self-contained conference venues in the South of England.
The grandeur starts at the front door with the lobby opening out into a magnificent high-ceilinged room featuring gilded pillars, glittering chandeliers, high-backed chairs and a welcoming roaring log fire. The Guestrooms – 23 suites, 30 junior suites and 99 rooms – are appropriately magnificent, with the Presidential Suite featuring a four-poster bed and a spacious lounge that affords magnificent views.
An outstanding spa, with eight treatment rooms, a steam room and a sauna; both indoor and outdoor pools and a recently enlarged gym feature among the facilities, along with expansive and fastidiously maintained gardens, tennis courts, cliff top walks and access to stunningly beautiful countryside. Eastbourne is a gateway to the glorious South Downs National Park.
Eastbourne today boasts four theatres, a major art gallery and attractive shopping streets featuring boutiques and speciality stores, as well as a selection of the high street majors. Café society is thriving here.
Once known as ‘The Empress of Spa Towns’, Eastbourne benefits from an unusually sunny and dry micro-climate, making it an ideal destination for team building outdoor pursuits and such activities as paragliding, mountain and road biking and a whole gamut of watersports.
It is host to a mass of events, including one of the major international tennis tournaments, the Feastbourne food and drink festival that showcases local produce and Airborne, the largest free airshow in the world, while the town’s Sovereign Harbour Marina welcomes 3,000 visiting yachts a year.
Back at the hotel, the inner self is catered for with the two rosette award-winning Mirabelle Restaurant and the slightly less formal Garden Restaurant.
In a fast-changing town that already attracts some four-million overnighting visitors a year, The Grand stands as a beacon of quality, style and sophistication.