“It’s very nice… But don’t you think it’s a little extravagant?” remarked Miss Marple on entering her suite at Eastbourne’s Grand Hotel, in a 2004 episode called A Body in the Library. Geraldine McEwan played the sleuth on that occasion, alongside Joanna Lumley and Tara Fitzgerald. Charlie Chaplin and Arthur Conan Doyle also stayed here, and as you approach the hotel’s vast, icing sugar-coloured facade you do feel you should be arriving in a 1930s Bentley. I make do with a crowded little train roughly the length of two Vauxhall Corsas and a basset hound. Standard class, naturally.
The first thing to strike me on arrival is the scale of the place. It’s enormous. On a Sunday afternoon in early April, it’s also surprisingly busy with families. It’s lovely to see so many multi-generational groups lunching together, from toddlers to great-grandparents.
A jolly concierge escorts me to an “executive sea view” suite, where the tall windows provide a spectacular volume of light and the bedroom opens onto a large balcony, from which I can hear as well as see the sea. As I find out later, the rooms at the rear get the evening sun and a panoramic view of the town, with the hills of the South Downs on the horizon.
My suite’s decor is traditional, but some of the other rooms have recently been refurbished in a more contemporary style, apparently to appeal to business executives. I take a peek at a few. They’re nice enough, but not as nice as mine.
However, some Miss Marple-style scrutiny does unearth a few niggles. There’s no minibar/fridge, so if you want a chilled beverage you have to call room service. There’s no hair dryer either, so any hirsute patrons who wish to shower before breakfast without dripping into their granola would have to pack their own. And strangely, the free wi-fi is of restricted speed. For “fast” wi-fi a £5 supplement per 24 hours is charged. It’s a minor detail, but I believe five-star guests should be entitled five-star wi-fi without an extension to their bill.
The corridor outside my room is so long that, when no-one’s around, I’m tempted to challenge Usain Bolt’s 200m sprint record. Luckily for Mr Bolt, I decide to have a pre-dinner drink instead.
The main dining rooms — the Mirabelle Restaurant and the Garden Restaurant — are elegantly appointed, featuring grand pianos and a shirt/jacket dress code for the chaps. I dine in the Garden Restaurant, the larger of the two, which offers a somewhat more traditional menu.
Beforehand, I enjoy a rum sour at the bar, followed by a vodka martini that’s so potent I worry I might not remember my meal. I’m in a seafood mood, so it’s scallops followed by monkfish with cucumber spaghetti, finished with strawberry cheesecake with a strawberry and basil coulis.
It’s all remarkably affordable, especially considering three courses (excluding wine) comes to less than the price of two cocktails at the bar. It’s also neatly presented: my main course is unveiled with a “voila” from beneath a silver cloche. The starter, however, is a little too sweet for my palate. Still tipsy from that martini, I try to pour the water while the lid’s on, and hope the sommelier doesn’t notice.
The hospitable duty manager honours me with a tour of the premises. The place is so vast it takes an entire hour. As we stroll through the endless carpeted hallways, past gangs of chambermaids in Victorian-style pinnies, I’m told that this is the only five-star hotel on the south coast. Apparently the Brighton Grand has only four stars, a fact that clearly pleases my host. “We don’t like being compared to the Brighton Grand,” she says. She’s being light-hearted, but you sense there’s probably a rivalry between the two dating back to the First Boer War.
Facilities are dotted all over the place: a function room here, a snooker room there. There’s even a cute little creche in which to offload your offspring while you hit the spa, where you’ll find treatment rooms, a pool, a gym and a steam room. Its very calming but not exactly enormous given the size of the hotel, and you can imagine it might not be as tranquil during peak times.
My highlights include the Grand Hall (pictured above), the impressive centrepiece at the heart of the building and the perfect spot from which to demolish a three-tiered cake-stand of dainty pastries. I also love the area surrounding the heated outdoor pool. On a hot day you could almost kid yourself you were on the French Riviera. Almost.
Palatial interiors aside, one of the Grand’s biggest assets is its staff. They’re attentive without being obsequious, they all seem to enjoy their work and, best of all, they’re genuinely friendly. I’m told a story about how, after a big party, BB guns were used to shoot down balloons from the Great Hall’s 50ft-high ceiling. For me, this captures the convivial spirit of the hotel.
Among the many dictionary definitions for the word “grand” are: magnificent or imposing in appearance; impressively large in scale; of great distinction; and haughty or imperious. The only box the Eastbourne Grand doesn’t tick is the latter; proving that grandeur and fun are not mutually exclusive.
Price: Rates start from £240 per night for a deluxe bedroom.
Address: King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4EQ.
Radio Times travel Rating: 8.5/10. A period hotel that’s not stuck in the past, the Grand’s opulent interiors are complemented by first-class service.
Radio Times Travel stayed at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne as a guest of Elite Hotels in April 2015. For further details and up-to-date prices, visit www.grandeastbourne.com. Gary Rose also writes about wine for The Wine Ninjas.