arriving in Rye – Mapp & Lucia – we explore the town – lunch in front of a roaring fire – arriving at The Gallivant – we’re greeted in style – a walk on the beach – I feel thoroughly pampered – hotel dining – a breakfast table of my dreams – touring the hotel – steak & chips
If you fancy a mini-break from London, then look no further than a couple days spent at The Gallivant in Rye, which offers a wonderful mix of beautiful rooms, delicious food, pampering treatments, coastal walks and an incredibly picturesque town to explore….
Tickets to Rye
Last week, I packed a small bag and met a friend at St Pancras Station to travel down to East Sussex together, ready for a short break from London and to enjoy the delights of Rye and our hotel, The Gallivant.
I’ve been to Rye before and instantly fell head over heels for this charming coastal town, with its twisting, cobbled streets lined with beautiful ancient buildings (many of which date from the 15th Century), tea-shops galore and stunningly beautiful beach.
Although he had spent several of his childhood summers in Sussex, my friend had never been to Rye before, so I was keen to introduce him to some of the town’s highlights, as well as some of its many literary connections. The train ride from London to Rye is an easy journey of roughly 1 hr and 20 minutes, so we felt we’d barely finished our cups of tea before we were pulling into the pretty station. Happily for us, the sun was shining, and as we’d aimed to arrive in Rye for about 11am, we had a little bit of time to explore and eat a light lunch before calling a taxi to take us to The Gallivant in Camber (a 10 minute drive from Rye).
Mapp & Lucia
A 1-2 hour walk is plenty of time to see Rye’s main attractions, and even my appalling sense of direction can handle its small town centre, so I led my friend up the path from the station to St Mary’s Church, filling him in on details of E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia books, which are famously set in Tilling, a fictionalised Rye, along the way.
If you’ve never read a Mapp & Lucia novel, then I suggest tracking down the first in the series right away! These are wonderfully humorous stories set in the 1930s and describe the power struggle between Lucia Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp as they each battle to be crowned the societal queen of Tilling. If you’re a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford, then you’re likely to enjoy E.F.Benson’s books. They’re the perfect novels to bring with you for some light reading whilst in Rye, as Benson describes the town so lovingly in his books, and it’s fun to track down many of the sites mentioned in the stories in real life.
Lamb House, visible from the path leading down from St Mary’s Church, is the setting for Lucia’s home in the books, and was E.F. Benson’s former residence, as well as being the home of other notable writers, such as Henry James and Rumer Godden. Unfortunately, the house isn’t open to the public in March (you can see my pictures of it and the garden from when I visited last year), but we still enjoyed walking past, before rounding the corner into Mermaid Street. This street is surely one of the prettiest in Britain, with its beautiful, ivy-clad houses flanking either side of the cobbles, and the sign of the historic Mermaid Inn swinging gently overhead.
Simon The Pieman
After taking far too many photos, we carried on our stroll, stopping by Rye Pottery and the Rye Bookshop (where I bought my friend a copy of Mapp & Lucia!), before deciding on lunch at Simon the Pieman (it was hard to resist the name!). The interior of this charming little cafe was made especially welcome by a roaring fire and a delectable display of homemade cakes in the window. We made our way through cottage pie (him) and goat cheese and onion tart (me), with plenty of cups of tea alongside, before calling a cab to The Gallivant.
Welcome Drinks at The Gallivant
I’d spent far too long lingering over the details of The Gallivant’s website the night before our departure, so I knew we had plenty of treats in store for our stay, and the Gallivant staff did not disappoint! On arriving, we were welcomed warmly at Reception and offered to be taken to our room straight away, or asked if we’d like to enjoy a welcome drink in the lounge first. We opted for our welcome drinks of Sloe Gin Spritzers, sinking into the comfy armchairs and sofas in the hotel bar area.
The Gallivant is described as a ‘restaurant with rooms,’ so it’s not surprising that you’re never far from a good drink or tasty bite to eat at this fantastic hotel. The restaurant and bar area is spacious and inviting, with plenty of cosy features such as lit candles and sheepskin throws. It was the perfect spot to linger over our cocktails, feeling the stresses and tensions of everyday life in London melt away, and smiling at other guests’ dogs (the hotel is dog-friendly) napping in sunny corners of the room.
The hotel’s atmosphere reminded me of my teenage years growing up on Long Island; it has that mix of elegance and beachside-casual that is very ‘Hamptons.’ Apart from the fact that I didn’t have any Herve Leger bandage dresses to hand (or a scary female nemesis); I could easily start fantasising that I’d walked onto the latest set of Revenge.
Luxury Garden Room
After finishing our drinks, we were shown to our room – one of the hotel’s Luxury Garden Rooms, which are the most spacious offered. It was just as pretty as I’d envisaged, and the bottle of Chapel Down English fizz cooling on ice for us was an extremely lovely surprise! Before we opened it to toast to our break away, though, I had to have a thorough explore of our beautiful room. I thrilled at all the thoughtful details: good books on the shelves, soothing colours, a beach bag filled with blue and white striped towels (as well as a jar of chutney and chocolate truffles – yum!) and our own personal little larder and fridge, stuffed with treats.
I delighted in throwing open the french windows opening out onto our little patio and garden and breathing in the fresh sea air; in warmer weather we would definitely have enjoyed our fizz sitting outside, but as there was still a nip to the air we instead popped the cork and enjoyed a glass in the room. I love Chapel Down wines, and we both agreed that their sparkling wine is excellent.
Feeling thoroughly in a holiday mood, we decided to enjoy the rest of the wine later and head out for a walk along the beach, before returning to the hotel in time for the slices of cake and cups of tea served to hotel guests each afternoon (I truly surpassed myself in the amount of food and drink I managed to squeeze into this stay!).
The Gallivant is situated across the road from the dunes, so after a two minute clamber over the path leading to the sea we topped the dunes and saw the beautiful view of the glimmering sea awaiting us.
A huge advantage to travelling off-season is how much quieter everywhere is: we had the beach virtually to ourselves. I scampered about collecting seashells, stuffing a few of the prettiest into the pockets of my coat and trying to remember the last time I’d been for a proper walk along the beach (far too long ago, I decided!).
Tea Time then Spa Time
After our refreshing walk, we happily turned our minds to tea and cake and made our way back to the hotel, where a huge, steaming kettle greeted us, as well as a tray piled with slices of (extremely good) lemon drizzle cake.
‘This is the life,’ I sighed, leaning back into my chair and smiling at my friend. Usually, the time we spend together in London is much more hurried: snatching moments in-between gym and work, or a drink after what has already been a long day. It felt truly luxurious, in contrast, to have nowhere else to be; to have nothing else to do but to enjoy ourselves and relax, letting our conversation meander and loop back, discussing everything and nothing, knowing there was no imminent curtail to our chat; no rushing off to our other lives or return to reality just yet.
After a lazy hour or so spent talking over our tea, I left my friend to read a book back in our room and headed for my full-body massage appointment at the hotel’s spa. All of the Gallivant’s beauty treatments are held in their cosy beach hut in the coastal garden. Strung with low-lit lights, it’s a peaceful oasis to enjoy a restorative treatment.
My full-body massage was given by Billie, who was brilliant, and it felt the ultimate relaxing treatment. I loved the WiDEYE products she used too, which she told me are blended in the UK using natural ingredients. I liked that this detail showed how The Gallivant’s focus on sourcing British (mainly local) ingredients extends throughout all experiences in the hotel.
After my massage, I just had time to reapply my makeup and freshen up a bit in our room, before we headed into the restaurant for our 7.30pm dinner reservation. Amazingly, we were both hungry again – it must have been the sea air!
The Gallivant truly prides itself on its award-winning restaurant, which must be greatly appreciated by Rye locals as well as visitors, as in general I feel Rye is a little lacking in good restaurants. The Gallivant’s philosophy to food is simple, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible. The restaurant boasts that most of their meat and fish come from farmers and fishermen they know by name and are within 10 miles of the restaurant. More information about the provenance of the food and wine we were enjoying was given on a little scroll of paper waiting on our table, which I thought was a fun touch.
I was especially keen to try the local fish, so after polishing off an amuse bouche of delicious cheesy biscuits and spread, I tucked into pickled herring followed by the catch of the day, which was cod.
My friend was clearly in a more meaty mood, as he went for pork terrine followed by the pork chop!
The food was beautifully presented and delicious. My pickled herring was a real highlight, as it was so delicate and fresh, but the cod was wonderful too, and my friend pronounced his choices as excellent as well. The portions are relatively small, so if you’re very hungry, then I’d recommend ordering some sides, but it’s not necessary to do so and we didn’t need any supplements to our main dish.
We washed everything down with a bottle of the house white wine, which was extremely palatable. If you’re more of a wine connoisseur than we are, though, then be assured the restaurant offers a truly excellent list, with opportunities to try some of the best English wines, as well as ones from further afield.
For dessert, I went for panna cotta with rhubarb sorbet (yum), and my friend indulged his liking for ice-cream and went for the rum & raisin (with a real shot of rum to pour on top!).
My panna cotta was wonderfully smooth and creamy, and the sorbet was perfection – not too sharp, but providing a pleasing tartness in contrast to the panna cotta. I almost missed the detail that my prettily pink sorbet was shaped to resemble a fish, which my friend pointed out to me, and I tried to capture the lovely presentation in a photograph.
Feeling thoroughly satisfied, we both agreed the meal was a wonderful end to a fabulous day.
We Eat Again
We were up early the following morning, as my friend had to catch one of the first trains back to London, although I decided to stay on and enjoy the extended check-out time the hotel had offered. I joined my friend for breakfast, though, after we’d had an early cup of tea in the room (which was stocked with an espresso machine, kettle, fresh milk and tea and coffee supplies).
We were both very impressed by the breakfast table laid out in the restaurant: it was laden with freshly baked banana bread, cinnamon rolls, madeleines and granola bars, as well as jars of yogurt and berries, stewed fruit, yogurt panna cottas, cereal, and more. There was also hot food to order, and my friend (who informed me breakfast was always his favourite meal of the day) looked very excited at the prospect of a Full English and the chance to try some of the hotel’s homemade bacon.
I ordered my favourite breakfast of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and toast and only wished that I had two more stomachs (or that we were in Hobbit land, where second breakfast is a thing), so I could do full justice to the feast before us. As it was, I contented myself with a bit of fruit and yoghurt before the hot dishes arrived.
Our food was absolutely delicious, which we’d come to expect, and we had time for one more cup of tea before my friend jumped into his taxi to the station.
I went back to the bedroom, made myself some more tea (I really am addicted) poured a long, hot bath (with plenty of bubbles) in the room’s enormous bathtub and pressed play on my classical music playlist. The wind was whipping the trees outside, and a steady rain was falling, so I decided to put aside my plan of having another walk on the beach and instead luxuriated in a leisurely soak before wrapping up in one of the hotel’s fluffy bathrobes and writing a blog post. Then I got dressed again and headed to Reception for my tour of the hotel.
A Hotel Tour
I’m always curious about the other rooms in a hotel, and The Gallivant was kind enough to offer me a tour of some of their other rooms. I thought you might be interested to see them too, as it gives a good idea of the style of rooms offered under each rate.
The standard Garden Room is one of their lowest rate rooms, and – although not large – is very pleasant:
The Snug Cabin is one of a kind, and I think it would be especially charming for a romantic escape in the colder months, when the wooden panelling and darker tones would provide a cosy setting for staying warm and snug.
None of the Deck Rooms were available to see, but it’s worth remembering these rooms allow dogs. Next up, I peered into a Baby Hampton room, the next biggest down from the Luxury Garden. I thought the window seat looked particularly inviting!
As you can see, all of the rooms are comfortable and attractive, but I must admit, I’ve definitely got a particular fondness for the Luxury Garden rooms, which really are something special!
Steak & Chips
After checking out, I decided to kill some time before catching my train and had lunch in the hotel (truth be told, I think I wasn’t quite ready to leave such a cosy haven!). Deciding I’d try some of the local meat this time, I ordered steak and chips with a side of red cabbage and a glass of the house red wine. The steak was melt-in-your-mouth good, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such delicious chips! Honestly, if you love a good steak then definitely order it if you’re ever at The Gallivant.
After polishing off (nearly) every bite, I looked up to see my taxi pulling into the hotel driveway. I bid a regretful farewell (resolving to go back again soon!) and made my way back to hustle and bustle of London.
Top-Tips for Your Rye Holiday
Organise: the Gallivant staff are wonderfully helpful, and it’s worth emailing them prior to your stay to request taxi numbers, check if any extended check in or out times are available, book any treatments and make a restaurant reservation. Also, if you are forced to leave quite early (or arrive late), then make sure you organise your taxi to or from Rye Station well in advance, as we realised the cab companies outside of London operate much more 9-5 hours! The team at The Gallivant really came to our rescue for my friend’s early departure, with one of the managers offering to drive him to the station herself if necessary. Fortunately, we were able to secure a cab, but it was a lesson to be more aware of ‘country hours’ in the future!
Off-Season: it’s such a joy to travel in the off-season, as not only are areas much less touristy, but there are also some great deals to be had! Check out The Gallivant website to view their latest offers and rates.
Pack: think coastal chic for your trip and pack Breton tops, cotton trousers, Keds or espadrilles (you might want a pair of wellies for your beach walk in the colder, wetter months), a trench coat and a light cashmere scarf for added warmth and style. Don’t forget to bring a good book too, to sit and read outside, or to enjoy as you munch that afternoon tea and cake….
If you’re in the mood for a weekend (or mid-week!) getaway, then I honestly can’t recommend a trip to The Gallivant enough. Our stay was utter bliss, and I already want to go back!
Have you ever been to Rye before? Do you fancy a stay at The Gallivant?
*Note: I was invited, with a guest, to stay at The Gallivant for the purpose of this review, but all opinions expressed are my own and those of my friend’s, and I would not be recommending this hotel to you if we had not had a truly spectacular time!