Eastbourne’s Grand Hotel is ideal for trying out the hot new trend for intergenerational holidays that creates happy family memories for all
The first two weeks of August were always held sacred when I was a child as our annual family summer holiday. We’d all pile into our army-green Morris Mini Minor Traveller, with its cute little indicators that popped out from the side of the doors and its authentic wooden panelling. These days, it would be considered the height of vintage chic, though for us, it kind of lost its lustre after one of my friends puked up in the back seat, so we were all quietly pleased when my father finally traded it in for a royal-blue Avenger, which felt much groovier for the Seventies.
We’d always set off bright and early and head for the seaside knowing which town we were destined for but not exactly where we were going to stay – let’s say we were being spontaneous rather than just plain disorganised – then we’d drive along the seafront when we reached our desired destination, all eagle-eyed and playing a game of Spot the Vacancy Signs in the windows of B&Bs.
A (good) few decades later and there was a strange synchronicity about setting off for a family weekend with my parents and my two children, Grace, 15, and Joe, six. Our vehicle of choice this time was a big silver Chevrolet Saloon hire car, with me the slightly nervous driver at the wheel and my father now squished into the middle seat at the back that was traditionally where I sat as the “little hobo” of three. Now, it was my father’s job to act as arbitrator and try to minimise the squabbling between my two children. I have memories of some rather fraught journeys from my childhood – wrong turnings, wanting to stop for loo breaks with no services in sight, arguments over which radio station to tune into. This journey, too, had its fair share of missed turnings (wish I’d paid extra for the SatNav) and Joe drove everyone mad with the incessant beeping of his Nintendo DS, which, whilst happily entertaining for him, was a tad irritating for his poor grandfather and his patience-wearing-thin big sister. Ah yes, gramping, also known as intergenerational family holidays, may be a growing trend, but it’s not without its pitfalls. For the romantics, it’s a wonderful way to bond generations and create fond family memories, while on the more practical side, it can be a way of saving on childcare costs. On the negative side, it can also add to tensions when the generation-gap stresses start to appear.
After three hours on the road – and a slight (and unintentional) detour via the Brighton Road – we were all rather relieved to see the glorious sight of The Grand Hotel, shimmering imperiously on the Western Promenade of Eastbourne. Affectionately known locally as the White Palace, over the years The Grand has welcomed an illustrious string of guests, from Charlie Chaplin to Churchill, Debussy (who wrote La Mer whilst staying in a suite) to Freddie Mercury (who would only drink Cristal champagne, which necessitated a swift delivery as they only had two bottles in stock). Arriving on a sunny Friday evening, with beautiful flowers in bloom and the smell of fresh sea air in the breeze, we too were made to feel special from the moment we arrived. Joe was the first to spot our names chalked on a board, signalling our saved parking space, before we were welcomed by the smartly dressed doorman. There was a special ceremonial registration at the reception desk for the children, with a little step stool so Joe could reach the counter to give his autograph, and a bag of goodies, plus the promise of cookies and milk for Joe before bedtime. We were then escorted to our rooms, a sunny seaview Junior Suite for myself and the children, and a Deluxe Bedroom (at a reasonable distance from ours) for my parents. Then we kicked back for a leisurely evening of drinks in the bar before retiring to our suite for a room-service supper, which was delivered – in a very grand manner – with domed lids on each of the dishes.
With a five-star pedigree of over 135 years, The Grand exudes an olde-worlde majestic charm and an ever-so-slightly stuffy air that might make you think it adheres to the ancient adage that children should be seen but not heard. Eastbourne also has something of a reputation as a favourite among silver-haired octogenarians, but the hotel also keenly welcomes the younger generation with its Junior Crew packages. Babies from three months to two years go free when sharing an adult’s room, and are treated to organic baby food and a Grand rubber duck for bathtime. At six, Joe had graduated to the Grand Kids for three to 12 years (though he probably would still have appreciated a duck for bathtime), which included a host of assorted goodies, though we had to request his mini bathrobe. There’s also a children’s room with lots of activities on offer, including games and DVDs, though when we visited it was a little like the Marie Céleste, so not ideal if your child is looking for playmates. For Grace, the Grand Teens package (for 13 to 16 years) included unlimited internet access in the room, complimentary use of the hotel laptop and a free soft-drink cocktail daily during our stay.
Of course, all of these added attractions are not necessarily conducive to family bonding so, rather than being inside with a computer, we ventured en masse (joined by my sister and her daughter, Anna, eight, who happen to live in Eastbourne) onto the promenade and had a little picnic on the seafront. Our trip coincided with the inaugural Eastbourne Cycling Festival, so we stopped to watch the boys performing a host of fancy stunts on high ramps and obstacles for a bit, before the grown-ups took a slow amble along the promenade while Joe and Anna scrambled onto the beach to skim pebbles and generally lark about. As we walked along the promenade, we also noticed posters for lots of Abba and U2 tribute bands – a far cry from the entertainment when I was a child and we all slept through an unfunny comedy show by Ronnie Corbett sitting in his armchair.
Our gramping experiment really came into its own when we were able to palm Joe off, oops, sorry, I mean when Joe was able to spend some quality male-bonding time with his grandfather when they set off together on an expedition to find a toy shop and came back armed with an enormous tub of unspeakably gooey stuff (it’s an unspoken grandparent prerogative that they can buy stuff that parents might not). In the afternoon, Grace and I savoured a little girlie time on our own by going on a shopping trip to the Arndale Centre, followed by a visit to the gym and spa back at the hotel, where Grace tried out the running machine and I enjoyed a very lovely and apparently age-defying facial. You see, at its best this gramping malarkey means that everyone gets to do a bit of their own thing…
We joined forces later for a family dinner. There is a choice of two restaurants at The Grand: the Garden restaurant is the less formal setting (though gentlemen are still required to wear jacket and tie), while the Mirabelle is a more intimate fine-dining experience. We dined in the former, at the back of a rather grand hall in a cosy, slightly out-of-the-way alcove, which opened out onto a long corridor that Joe could explore in between courses. He was in lively spirits (it must have been all those lungfuls of bracing sea air) and was practising swinging between two wooden chairs when he suddenly let out a huge howl that echoed throughout the great hall: he’d got a huge splinter embedded in his hand. There was swift action from a kindly waiter (who possibly was keen to remove both the offending splinter, and the offending child) who took us to reception where first aid was administered to a brave boy (yes, they made a suitable fuss). With a plaster in place, a much more subdued Joe then sat quietly at the table. In actual fact, he practically fell asleep in his sorbet, but it did make for a more tranquil and satisfying supper for us all, before we retired to our rooms, with good night kisses at the lift.
After the obligatory lie-in, we rose on Sunday morning for a leisurely breakfast – one of those very ample buffet affairs where you can choose from all manner of cold meats, fruits and cereals as well as the Full English option, of course – before taking our leave of The Grand.
There had been many highlights during our gramping adventure. My parents loved the hotel’s old-style grandeur and were interested in reading up on all its history and heritage. Joe was rather keen on all the long corridors leading off from its 152 rooms and suites (carpeted with a sort of honeycomb pattern that encouraged us to indulge in impromptu hopscotch), while Grace loved the complimentary Molton Brown miniatures in the bathroom. For me, it was gratifying to see the generation gap isn’t so great after all, as Joe and my father enjoyed some jolly larks, while Grace and my mother happily discussed the merits of Lady Gaga as they watched her being interviewed on Saturday morning TV.
But best of all, actually, was the fact that three generations of our family were blissfully united and having a right old giggle together. Gramping really can be at its very grandest at The Grand Hotel.
■ The Grand Hotel, King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4EQ, tel: 01323 412345. Prices from £199 per room per night B&B.
■ For family-friendly attractions and events, visit www.visiteastbourne.com
■ Rhinocarhire costs from about £15 per day in the UK. Visit www.rhinocarhire.com