Escape to Eastbourne
This south-coast town may sound like an unlikely holiday destination but as Deputy Editor Laura Evans discovers, it is fast rising to the top of people s wish lists as the perfect place to enjoy a break close to home
This south-coast town may sound like an unlikely holiday destination but as Deputy Editor Laura Evans discovers, it is fast rising to the top of people's wish lists as the perfect place to enjoy a break close to home
IN CASE you have been living under a rock in recent months, you will know we are in the middle of a recession.
So when times are tough and the exchange rate is rubbish, there's nothing else for it - a holiday in our very own Blighty.
It's been a long time since it was hip to holiday on British soil. Indeed the glory days of donkey rides, sand-filled sandwiches and amusement arcades at the end of the pier were way back in the 1950s.
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And even though Fatboy Slim and Rick Stein have brought glamour to Brighton and Plaistow respectively, our seaside towns have struggled to regain the magic of their mid 20th century heyday.
In some cases their reputations have steered towards the less flattering with the trend for stag and hen weekends ensuring towns such as Newquay and Blackpool, to name but two, are seemingly regular fixtures on binge-drinking shows.
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But that is all set to change with UK destinations preparing for a major influx of visitors this summer.
And although this is hardly a new development - the UK tourist industry will argue it has been in a healthy condition for many years - it is inevitable that cost-cutting families will be looking closer to home this year.
What some holidaymakers may not realise is there is a wealth of choice on British soil that can rival any destination in Europe and beyond.
UK coastal towns are some of the most beautiful and fascinating in the world, offering an appealing combination of individuality and historical value. They are also home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world which should not be missed.
This is true of Eastbourne, a small town set on the south coast of England and a mere two-hour drive from London.
Eastbourne may not have the most glittering reputation in the world, but it has steadily built a healthy following.
In recent years, the town has picked up a string of prestigious awards iincluding those for best beaches, best resort and most group-friendly. It has even been shortlisted for a national award for its picnic sites.
It has been named the sunniest place in the UK, with an average of 34.6 hours of sunshine in 2007, and has also been the setting for a series of British hit films including Harry Potter, Notes on a Scandal and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.
Perhaps the most interesting fact, however, is that while Eastbourne boasts more than four million visitors each year, 45 per cent of that figure have never visited the town before.
I belonged to this group when I travelled to Eastbourne for a whistlestop visit earlier this month. Despite a grey start to the day as myself and my driver (ok, partner) hit the M25, the clouds started to break as we drove further south and by the time we arrived at our destination we were blessed with glorious sunshine.
Heading straight for the seafront, we were taken aback by the overwhelming beauty of the sea views from the coastal road. Like neighbouring Brighton there is a pebble beach and a pier, both of which are in the peak of condition.
After a brief wander along the beach we decided it was time to sample some of the local gastronomy for the first time and stopped off at - where else - a traditional fish and chip shop.
The Holiday Inn Fish Restaurant in Carlisle Road gave us exactly what we wanted; delicious fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar and a nice mug of tea. Perfect.
After checking into the hotel (see review, below), we decided to explore the town, which is about a five minute walk from the seafront. Nothing out of the ordinary here - shopping addicts will be in their element with the shopping high street and Enterprise shopping centre while there is a range of cafes, bars and restaurants to satisfy all tastes.
We also passed the Congress Theatre which has some of the best-loved shows in the country in its 2009 schedule including The Witches of Eastwick and Evita.
Back on the seafront we stopped for a drink in the Belgian Cafe, which offered an impressive choice of beers, ciders and wine at affordable prices.
And although we did not indulge, the food menu was mouthwatering with an extensive selection of meat and fish, and the restaurant's speciality, mussels - remarkably there was a list of 50 different dishes featuring the shellfish.
To round off the day we took a trip to the nearby redeveloped Sovereign Harbour where we had our evening meal.
The Thai Marina restaurant was fabulous and without a doubt one of the best Thai meals I have ever had. Judging by the packed restaurant, I doubt I'm not alone in thinking this.
The following morning we decided to take the scenic route home along the coast and down to Beachy Head.
This is by far one of the most breathtaking views in the world and I can highly recommend following the windy road down to view the white cliffs and the waves crashing against them.
It was the perfect ending to an eye-opening trip. And all without breaking the bank.
For more information about what's on offer and on the many attractions that have not been mentioned here visit the comprehensive tourism website www.visiteastbourne.com.
A BUDGET hotel part-owned by a Hollywood actor? In Eastbourne?
Are you joking?
These are the sort of comments I received when explaining the hotel I would be staying in during my Eastbourne trip.
And I can confirm that all of the above is true.
The Big Sleep is a chain of three boutique hotels which are gradually taking the UK by storm.
Spearheaded by British trendsetters Cosmo Fry and Lulu Anderson - a renowned entrepreneur and interior designer respectively - the hotels have developed into a huge success story.
The first opened in Cardiff 10 years ago amid huge media interest when one of the investors, a certain John Malkovich, turned up for the launch.
Since then, a hotel has opened in Cheltenham - again in the media spotlight when Mr Fry and Ms Anderson agreed for the opening preparations to be filmed for a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Then last year, the doors were opened at the Eastbourne hotel.
It may be a budget hotel but don't let that fool you. The Big Sleep is a secret gem and beats many five-star hotels hands down. Ms Anderson has her muddy fingerprints all over the decor of the hotel, which is unique, innovative, and rather wonderful.
I was lucky to stay in one of the suites - named the glitter suite because of its glitter-strewn wallpaper (all of the rooms are individually decorated with their own characteristics). The glitter suite has fluffy grey curtains, a sumptious kingsize bed, leather recliner, walk-in wardrobes and an enormous bathroom. The crowning glory is the spectacular views from the panoramic bay windows which lead on to a balcony and overlook the seafront.
This is the most expensive room, which is a bargain at �115 and well worth it.
The other rooms range from �55 to �125. The cheapest are the single rooms while the more expensive are the family rooms which include a kitchenette and use of a comprehensive family games room. Also keep an eye out for year-round offers.
o The big sleep hotel
King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne, BN21 4EB
Telephone: 01323 722676
o HOLIDAY INN FISH RESTAURANT
7 Carlisle Road, Eastbourne, BN21 4BT
Telephone: 01323 732481
o THE BELGIAN CAFE
11-23 Grand Parade, Eastbourne, BN21 3YN
Telephone: 01323 729967
o THAI MARINA RESTAURANT
13 The Waterfront, Eastbourne, BN23 5UZ
Telephone: 01323 470414