“I decided to take a short break along the south coast in Eastbourne, where I had never stayed before, only ever having driven through.  Our stay at a magnificent Victorian hotel in this historic seaside town led to some unexpected insights  and the discovery of a travel destination that is not so very far away.”

I have always considered travel to be one of life’s most enjoyable hobbies, and over our 52 years of married life, my wife and I have visited a total of over 40 countries. Of course, travel can be an expensive pastime, and needs careful planning in terms of finance and making the time to accommodate it.   However, as a dear friend of mine once said.. “Life is for living – always make time to explore new horizons”.

The Covid period restricted travel considerably for us all, but in my case health issues also subsequently impaired my mobility.  However, I was determined not to let this affect my desire to travel. With a ‘long haul’ trip out of the question, I decided to take a short break along the south coast in Eastbourne, where I had never stayed before and had only ever driven through.

I planned a short break at The Grand Hotel, taking advantage of a winter offer. This hotel is a rather palatial Victorian building formerly known as the “White Palace” located on King Edward’s Parade in Eastbourne.

It is ranked as a 5-star establishment and, whilst independently UK-based, is part of the famous, worldwide Elite hotels group. The building’s history goes back to 1874 when a local resident proposed to build this hotel with a 400ft frontage at a cost of £50,000. After a mere two-hour drive from the Isle of Wight, we arrived in the centre of the bustling town and made our way to King Edward Parade, which immediately struck me as impressive, with its rows of conserved Victorian buildings and a mixture of hotels and apartments, all in very good order.

It was clear that the Local Authority had been keen to preserve this area as many of the buildings are Listed, and therefore unchanged since the 19 Century. My sat-nav directed us to the outside of the building which certainly looked grandly appointed and very extensive in scale. I had asked for a disabled parking space which was conveniently set aside near the front entrance with our name marked on the parking place. We were greeted warmly by an immaculately attired door porter who was keen to understand my disability and took note of my collapsible little electric scooter as he assisted us in taking our luggage. He advised us that this was no difficulty as the hotel fully accommodated such situations, and directed us to an accessible ground floor suite with space for my scooter.

The reception was bustling with several other porters, similarly elegantly dressed and polite, and it was clear from the discussions that I had with them over the following days that many had worked at The Grand for a decade or more.

There was most certainly the wow factor, with the hotel having been beautifully preserved in its original Victorian design and tastefully maintained with 50ft ceilings, balconies, and open space areas. There was a clear musical influence running throughout the hotel and from its history I discovered that one of the suites was well known for its association with Claude Debussy which is why it is now known as the Debussy Suite.  Back in the 1920’s the BBC would broadcast the hotel’s own Orchestra of Palm Court music every Sunday evening and during the Second World War, the building was a Military Headquarters.

As our few days there included a weekend, we were able to observe a Sunday afternoon live Palm Court Orchestra attended by over 50 people, including non-residents, who were also enjoying variations of afternoon tea menus along with wine and champagne.

Our ground floor suite was close enough to enjoy the music and it was fascinating to see all the visitors dressed in their ‘Sunday Best’ for this special treat, which is clearly an established tradition at The Grand.

During our stay the staff, again immaculately dressed, were all clearly well trained in the best of service and all with a knowledge of the historic hotel. Although unwilling to disclose specific names, the hotel has been graced by many famous people over the years. Top chefs prepared fine dining menus, all presented on the finest silver and bone china tableware.

During our stay, we ventured out to observe the infamous Victorian Eastbourne Pier and the Bandstand, which is one of the largest in the country. The privately owned pier suffered a severe fire in 2014, resulting in two thirds of it having to be rebuilt and at a higher level. It is well worth a visit. There is also an ancient town house where Charles Dickens frequently stayed during the 1830’s and in Lushington Road there is a plaque erected in honour of Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice in Wonderland”.  

If you look carefully, you will see two original Victorian postboxes in the High Street and Trinity Place within the town, still with the initials VR to signify ‘Victoria Regina’ embossed on them.

The town is famous for its tennis tournaments, as well as for staging the Turner Prize at the Museum, which again is well worth a visit.

During our stay, with the assistance of my scooter and my wife walking alongside, we enjoyed the fine esplanade walk, which you can take on one of two levels, along the seafront to Holywell which is set at the foot of the South Downs and which features popular cafés, beach huts and thatched seating areas and leads to the dramatic chalk cliffs of Beachy Head.  It was interesting to note that  Eastbourne beach is recommended in the Good Beach Guide by the Marine Conservation Society.

Although my dancing days are over, we still very much enjoyed attending and observing an evening of music with a very accomplished quartet who played for several hours to the enjoyment of both residents and non-residents, staged at the Grand Hotel for both serious and non-serious dancers.

As we departed, we reflected fondly upon what had been a really special break.  We had gained some unexpected insights into a destination that is not very far away, and discovered that ‘Victorian Eastboune’ certainly offers plenty to explore.