By Antler's roaming editor, Sarah Jappy.
In three words Shipshape coastal stay.
Eastbourne is officially Having A Moment. The town formerly nicknamed ‘God’s Waiting Room’, thanks to its retirees and blue rinses, was recently ranked number-one in Time Out’s ‘UK Best Places to Visit in 2023’. Lauded gallery Towner Eastbourne is hosting the 2023 Turner Prize from September; Time Out also applauded the recent blossoming of live music venues, independent shops and tempting restaurants.
And then there’s Port, breathing new life into Eastbourne’s hotel scene. Staff are friendly, fresh-faced and abloom with youthful charm. The walls are hung with covetable art by local artist JFK Turner, and the rooms are serene, comfy and fuss-free, some with mesmeric sea views (and binoculars to live out any dormant Baywatch fantasies). Showcasing locally sourced spirits, wines and ingredients, the open-plan bar and restaurant are the beating heart of the hotel. Expect delicious drinks and the kind of playful, comforting British dishes you find yourself reminiscing fondly about long afterwards.
The hotel enjoys a prime seafront perch on Royal Parade, a 20-minute walk from the train station. You’ll easily spot Port, thanks to its distinctive, liquorice-black exterior, twinkling with fairy lights by night: a bold contrast to the faded pastels and cream-tea hues of its neighbours.
Stomp along the pier for a bracing promenade, gulping in lungfuls of the fresh sea air. If the weather is clement, spend the whole day on the beach, fueled by fish and chips (Dolphin, close to Port Hotel, comes highly recommended). For impressive views, walk to Helen Garden, find the secret Italian Gardens and take the path up the hill for sweeping seaside panoramas. Reward your exertions with a cream tea at the low-key Kiosk café afterwards. Go bargain-hunting and rummaging in Eastbourne’s antiques stores and charity shops: many a sparkling cocktail ring temps in the Eastbourne Antiques Centre, and the Collectors Market (in the Enterprise Shopping Centre’s car park) has a stash of knick-knacks and treasures, plus an excellent resident dog.
For independent boutiques and a glut of drinking and dining options, Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea are half an hour away by train. Nature-lovers and keen walkers will feel the siren call of the South Downs: roam the chalk cliffs and soak up the seagull-worthy views. Before you leave Eastbourne, pick up delicious bread and cakes from Poppyseed Bakery (where Port gets its bread from too).
What to pack
Bring a waterproof jacket for less-than-reliable British seaside weather; leave space in your case to take home some local fudge and a JFK Turner print or two.
Get the look
Urban fisherman/fisherwoman: waxed jacket; dark denim; a stripe or two.
Happy-hour two-for-one cocktails are a lovely bonus before dinner at the hotel’s excellent restaurant. The bar shines a spotlight on local producers, including Gun Brewery beers, Ditchling Gin, Bolney Wines and Chilgrove Spirits. It’s such a pretty space, styled with millennial-pink walls, contrasting black accents, terrazzo and cork, and lashings of pale wood, courtesy of interior designer Imraan Ismail. We loved the pink-onyx orb behind the bar, the marshmallow-squishy armchairs and sofa in the restaurant/bar, and the artful design curios, including a grey-lilac glass knot sculpture, wooden birds and little ceramic figurines.
Rooms are stocked with thoughtful extras, including liquorice-scented Haeckel's bath products, a kettle (get milkman-style mini milk bottles from reception), and well-chosen reads: we had a copy of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Wuthering Heights, and Holiday by Stanley Middleton, for example. Sea-view rooms have a pebbly colour palette of pink and grey; rooms facing towards the South Downs are aptly styled with moss-green and sage hues. Bonus point for the huge bath and unexpected turntable with vinyls in our room.
Our Editor says
Rating hotels doesn’t have to be complex. Did you have fun while you were there and were you sad to leave? With Port Hotel, the answers are a resounding ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. Our dinner was superb: squidgy chicken-and-bacon croquettes with a crisp golden crust, served with a velvety blue-cheese dip; greens cooked in an umami-rich mushroom stock; a magnificent seafood fritto misto served with squid-ink aioli; fat chips with rosemary salt; and an unforgettable deconstructed cheesecake starring treacly upside-down poached pears with a generous dollop of cream and a scattering of chewy ginger crumbs like tiny toffee nuggets.
Brunch the next day was just as special, featuring a star dish of home-made waffles with ham-hock-hefts of smoked bacon and maple syrup. Head Chef Alex Burtenshaw (ex-Hotel Du Vin Brighton, Drakes and Harbour Hotel) is clearly having a blast. Bravo, sir.
Match the hotel’s decor with contrasting pink-and-black luggage. Opt for a Stamford Cabin case in Putty or Black, teamed with a Chelsea Overnight Bag in Blush or Black. Black-and-pink combos of our classic Clifton cases would work equally well. Think: strawberries and dark chocolate. Mmmm.
Port Hotel or get more travel inspo via our journal.
Rates Cabin rooms, from £89; Town rooms, from £120; Sea View rooms, from £150; and the Studio Apt., from £230.