‘Tis the season to be jolly, and this East Sussex seaside resort knows just how to help you celebrate, discovers Kelly Beswick
Eastbourne's stunning coastline
Why we went
As Londoners born and bred, we know that nowhere embraces the seasonal spirit quite like our great capital, but boy can it get busy! With this in mind we decided to get far from the madding crowd, so to speak, and head to the charming East Sussex seaside town of Eastbourne. Not an obvious Christmas destination, I know, but one that my research suggested would more than rise to the occasion, providing us with that warm, fuzzy festive feeling, but minus all the hustle and bustle, and with glorious coastline thrown in for good measure. Perfect!
Arriving at the town's Grade II listed train station
Determined to keep stress levels to a minimum from the outset, I persuaded my husband, Sam, to leave the car at home. The train from Victoria would deposit us at Eastbourne’s grand, Grade II listed, station in a little under an hour and a half, and with the children, Kit and Natasha, pre-armed with bumper packs of their favourite magazines and a stash of snacks, the prospect of bickering would be substantially decreased too. Thankfully, the journey worked out on all counts and we arrived feeling refreshed and rearing to go!
The perfect place to rest your head
Our adjoining rooms gave us space and privacy
We’d booked ourselves in to The Guesthouse East, a beautiful B&B located in a huge stucco-fronted Regency townhouse just off of the seafront. I’d called ahead to arrange with owners, Sarah and Carl Stanger, to drop off our bags (we planned to have lunch before heading to the theatre, more of which later), but arrived a little later than anticipated having been distracted by the many shopping opportunities Eastbourne has to offer. Despite our tardiness, our genial hosts couldn’t have been more welcoming, with Sarah showing us up to our top floor accommodation, having upgraded us from a family room to two interconnecting suites for more space and privacy.
Despite the antiquity of the building, The Guesthouse East’s interior has a very contemporary, stylish feel, with its modern-art clad walls and bright, bold colour palette. Ours rooms could not be faulted, with the children’s twin at the front even having a view of the sea! Both had everything you could conceivably need, from flat screen TV and DVD to tea and coffee making facilities, plus a small kitchenette should you decide to self cater. If you happen to be visiting with tiny little ones (my two are strapping school children), Sarah can supply you with all manner of baby paraphernalia. In fact The Guesthouse East is amazingly child-friendly, thanks in no small part to it also being home to Raffy and Lexi, Sarah and Carl’s very cute and very affable son and daughter.
The Royal Hippodrome, like a mini West End gem
An all singing, all dancing production of Miracle on 34th Street
What we did
Unlike many an English seaside town, Eastbourne is very far from appearing on its uppers – quite the opposite actually! The shopping centre is flourishing, with all manner of stores, both chain and independent, as well as an abundance of restaurants and cafes, plus a lovely old-fashioned Curzon cinema and several theatres, of which the Royal Hippodrome (once home to the town’s music hall) is a real stand out. Dating back to 1883, it’s like a West End gem in miniature (hardly surprising to discover its architect CJ Phipps was also responsible for London’s Savoy, Strand and Garrick theatres to name but a few) so where better to see a highly recommended touring production of Miracle on 34th Street! An all singing, all dancing seasonal extravaganza, we were immediately bowled over.
By the time we left the theatre, it was most definitely 'Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas', the show’s signature song! Our merry moods were compounded by a brisk walk along the promenade, all twinkly lights and crashing waves, to the Christmas Market, where Natasha proved herself a sharp shooter at the shooting gallery, picking up a teddy bear for her efforts. Mulled wine in hand and carols playing in the background, Sam and I then took to a bench to watch over the children as they did some last minute Christmas shopping.
The Bandstand was home to the Christmas market
A filling full English at The Guesthouse East
A stroll along the promenade and pier
Sunday lunch at the cosy Farm @ Friday Street
What we ate
As previously mentioned, there’s no shortage of places to eat in Eastbourne from humble fish and chippies to fancy fine dining. We opted for the middle ground, enjoying a very pleasurable pasta lunch at Ludo’s Bistro, on Sarah’s recommendation, and a yummy dinner at the local Bill’s. The best culinary treats, however, were to come the following day, first with The Guesthouse East’s brilliant breakfast – full English for me, Carl’s ‘legendary porridge’ for Sam and boiled eggs and soldiers for Kit and Natasha, all cooked to perfection and devoured with gusto. After such a filling start, we should have been set up for the day, but a blustery walk along the pier and then through town ensured that our appetites had returned just in time for lunch, which was just as well as we had reserved a table at The Farm @ Friday Street, a much lauded gastro pub on the outskirts of town.
It being a Sunday, it had to be roast dinner all round. Sam and I opted for a whole chicken to share, Kit chose sirloin of beef while Natasha, after much 'umming' and 'ahhhing', went for the best of all worlds and chose the mixed (beef, chicken and gammon). Our dishes arrived with all the trimmings, plus extra large Yorkshire puddings, much to the delight of the children. “Nothing beats Mum’s home cooked roast” has long been my family’s mantra. Well, let’s just say The Farm @ Friday Street has given me serious competition – utterly delicious, as evidenced by our empty plates.
We opted for a whole roast chicken – delicious!
Why we’d go back
Feeling drowsy and replete, not unlike on the big day itself, we boarded the train homeward bound. Our wonderful festive weekend by the sea had gone all too quickly. But hey, just like a dog, Eastbourne’s not just for Christmas, and we will most certainly be back.
For a family of four staying at The Guesthouse East, prices start at £79 per night, visit theguesthouseeast.co.uk
For more information on Eastbourne, go to visiteastbourne.com
Eastbourne - not just for Christmas! (Photo by Graham Huntley)