There's something intensely nostalgic about a UK seaside town. The deckchairs, piers, sticks of rock and freshly battered fish might still grace our coastline, but the glitz and glamour once associated with these destinations has, in many instances, faded into grit and an insipid landscape. We welcome, then, a fresh breed of creatives turning their attention to the empty buildings that once existed as thriving bed and breakfasts.
As a slew of hip rooftop bars, edgy eateries and independent boutiques have started to crop up along bunting-clad high streets, the appeal of the British seaside has been reborn. And that's where Eastbourne comes into the picture. Long seen as a sleepy retirement village, the destination has become a cultural catalyst. From Towner Eastbourne gallery (we'll get onto that later) to the standout gastropubs and townhouses transforming into boutique hotels, this Sussex town is fast becoming a destination of choice for those seeking an inspiring go-slow staycation.
The hotel's entrance, left, and the lobby area. | Photo credit: Emma Croman
Enter, Port Hotel. Sitting pretty on Eastbourne's Royal Parade, this grand Victorian property stands out among the other weather-beaten pastel-coloured facades, with its dramatic black exterior. The debut from Port Hotels - a new UK hospitality group by Peter Cadwallader and Ian and Clive Douglas - the sleek space is fiercely contemporary and effortlessly cool.
Upon arrival, you won't find a reception desk or the usual luggage carts ready for your bags. Instead, you'll enter through the bustling dining area, where a friendly staff member will slip you a keycard and ask you for your drinks order. The beauty of this place is that assistance is on hand should you need it, but, otherwise, you can be left totally undisturbed.
There are 19 bedrooms spread across five floors, six of which are sea-facing suites. Brought to life by talented London-based interior designer Imraan Ismail, the same minimalist palette is used across all room types, with cork flooring, terrazzo tiling, walnut-wood headboards, blush-pink walls and matte-black detailing. Our suite overlooked the pier, where an enormous egg-shaped bath stood in view of the sun-warmed window - floor-to-ceiling curtains are on standby should you wish to soak in total privacy. Alongside the tub is a poured concrete sink, walk-in shower and a stash of refillable toiletries. The beds are quite literally what dreams are made of: lined with Hypnos mattresses and dressed in linens from Notting Hill's iconic The Cloth Shop, there is no questioning that you're in for a solid eight hours.
Rooms are designed to allow guests to properly tune into slow coastal living. A table topped with dried flowers and a pair of binoculars make for a serene sunrise. Meanwhile, a record player, stack of reading materials and TV equipped with all the essential apps will be welcome on a rainy day.
What's for breakfast?
Head out to the sea-facing terrace, where parasol-fringed tables are the setting for eggs and waffles, cereals and grains, smoothies and top-notch coffees. Our order? Homemade granola, followed by a stack of waffles drenched in maple syrup - bacon is available on request. If the passionfruit and pineapple smoothie is on the menu, order at least three.
The bar, left, and the restaurnt. | Photo credit: Emma Croman
Lunch and dinner?
It's not too often that one would choose to visit a hotel solely for its restaurant, but Port's menu is a visiting point in its own right. Head chef Alex Burtenshaw's seasonal and locally sourced menu is enough to please every type of foodie. With sharing plates spanning seafood platters, cheeseboards and crispbreads to mains featuring a battered catch of the day, crab and prawn patties and a succulent homemade pasta, there is every reason to break your clean-eating regime here. And it doesn't stop there. Desserts include ice creams, sorbets, shortbreads and chocolate pots. Be prepared to stroll in and roll out.
Is there a bar?
Yes - that's where you check in. The fluted-wood bar backed by a pink moon light is where to enjoy a craft beer, local Sussex wine or fruity cocktail come sunset. We've taste-tested a fair few marvellous mojitos in our time, but Port's watermelon-flavoured iteration? Don't get us started. We'd travel across land and sea to have one pass our lips again.
While there's no swanky spa or fitness studio to play about in, the ocean is just a pebble's throw away. Pack that cossie and, if you're feeling brave, head out for a sunrise splash.
How about their green credentials?
Everything you'd expect: reclaimed and natural materials used where possible, LED bulbs to reduce overall electricity consumption, no single-use plastics and a locally sourced menu that includes fish approved by the Marine Conservation Society.
What about accessibility?
The hotel is not suitable for those with mobility issues; there is no lift nor converted bedrooms available.
What's the crowd like?
The sort of fashionistas that make you feel obliged to ask where their outfit is from. We brushed shoulders with a handful of relaxed, bohemian couples during our stay. There's a strong local presence in the restaurant and bar area, too. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Things I should know
The Port Hotel team can be reached via WhatsApp 24/7 to give you their recommendations on the local area and outdoor pursuits. Be you searching for the best place to paddleboard, hunting for a hiking route or seeking a scenic picnic spot, they're on hand to deliver the lesser-known locations.
Despite its size, the hotel regularly hosts exhibitions, DJ takeovers and bottomless brunches. Its online series, Port Calls, is also well worth checking out - a collection of stories that spotlight the fascinating people making waves in East Sussex.
Within a short walk I can find…
Towner Eastbourne. This contemporary art space isn't hard to miss, thanks to its colourful and vibrant geometric facade designed by German abstract artist Lothar Götz. Presenting exhibitions, acquisitions and commissions by a diverse line-up of international artists, the gallery is set to celebrate its 100th birthday next year. Planning a year-long celebration, one of its most exciting and ambitious events will be to host the Turner Prize 2023. A 20-minute wander from the hotel's front doors, it would be rude not to swing by and check out what's on when you're in town - entry is free.