Location: Chocolate-box East Sussex coast
Perfect for: Celebrations and luxury group stays
Skirt around the modern part of Hastings to Hastings Old Town and you’re in a completely different world, devoted to the organic, local and artisan: the holy trinity of contemporary living. And it’s here, just off the medieval high street, that we find our B+B, the half-timbered, Grade 2 listed Swan House; dating back to 1490 it looks like it’s jumped off a chocolate box into the 3D world…
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Hastings may not shout ‘mini-break’ at 300 decibels, but we’ve been before and know it to be undiscovered gold. It isn’t just about the battle that changed the course of our nation’s history; it’s got the sea. Decent fish. The South Downs close by. A prestigious modern art gallery. And an old friend. And it’s with this in mind that we start bombing down the A21 in our hire car.
“You never want to drive,” Monsieur 2 intoned. “I’m too busy,” I replied nonchalantly, jabbing at the GPS and accidentally changing the language to Greek.
Skirting around the modern town centre, we make for the Old Town. It’s only 500 yards away but a different world, devoted to the organic, local and artisan: the holy trinity of contemporary living. And it’s here, just off the medieval high street, that we find our B+B, the half-timbered, Grade 2 listed Swan House; dating back to 1490 it looks like it’s jumped off a chocolate box into the 3D world.
As soon as our feet touch the tarmac, a friendly face appears. It is owner-manager Brendan with our complimentary parking permit (there are no parking facilities so guests are given permits for a nearby public car park).
Whilst Monsieur 2 parks, Brendan ushers me inside into a long room with a nose-high inglenook fireplace and huge linen-covered sofas that demand to be lounged upon. By the time Monsieur 2 reappears, I’m sipping freshly brewed coffee and chatting away with Brendan.
Brendan is a former librarian, and his bookish eye for detail shows in the way he keeps his guests happy. His business partner (and former partner), Lionel, is a fashion designer, and together they’ve created a marvellous interior mash-up: all exposed beams and Farrow & Ball, with a happy clash of contemporary and vintage furniture.
Monsieur 2 is power napping, so I’m taking the chance to explore. The five rustic-chic guestrooms look like the set for a fashion shoot. Light and individually decorated with hand-printed wallpapers, murals and paintings by local artists, they all feature thoughtful touches of fresh flowers, bathrobes, hand-cut soap and glass bottles of lotions. One has a pretty courtyard, another a roof terrace.
After helping myself to a G&T from the honesty bar, I sit in the lounge flicking noisily through a Balenciaga retrospective I found on the bookshelf. Before long, Monsieur 2 emerges from our room looking crumpled. “Let’s go for a ramble,” I beam.
Hastings Castle was left crumbling by William the Conqueror in 1070, and that’s how it remains. But the view over the town, sea and green fields is impressive. “Apparently there are old smugglers’ caves up here too,” I informed a panting Monsieur 2. His look of horror says it all, so we yomp back into town.
Hastings is becoming the new Brighton, with more artists, antique dealers, sculptors and media types than you can shake a piece of driftwood at. Its Old Town is a medieval showcase of bric-à-brac shops and independents and we spend forever in Alastair Hendy’s glorious Georgian shop, gawping at homewares.
An old opera singer friend we haven’t seen for centuries is joining us for dinner, and after a wash in our room, we slope off to Harris, a tapas bar filled with candles, sangria and friendliness. We feast on a banquete of goats cheese and dried tomato bruschettas, diced chicken in sweet chilli sauce, aubergine fritters and mussels cooked with chorizo and tomatoes – all freshly prepared, authentic and sensational.
Our friend held back on her arias, but not on the wine, and Monsieur 2 and I feel very satiated and jolly on our two minute walk back to our half-timbered haven. Bed beckons. Thank goodness for its gorgeous plump pillows and soft cotton sheets.
We’ve slept gloriously and after that much wine last night, our shower in the crazy shell-mosaic bathroom, is welcome! But not half as much as the coffee we can smell downstairs.
The breakfast room is dotted with tables with whiter-than-white tablecloths, and although the full English is tempting, we go for fresh fruit smoothies, blueberry pancakes with bacon and sausages, and plenty of coffee. Brendan, who is full of the joys, tells us we can breakfast in the garden during summer.
Neither of us are ready to leave Hastings yet, so we bid au revoir to Brendan and Lionel who’ve been perfect hosts, and winkle our way down to the beach, fronting up to the town’s star turn, the Jerwood Gallery.
Devoted to 20th and 21st century British art, the Jerwood has really put Hastings back on the map. After we’ve looked around at its paintings, prints and sculpture we go upstairs to its café to take in the stunning view over the beach.
Armed with the makings of a picnic from Judges – the organic bakery owned by the founder of Green & Black’s chocolate – we hop on the East Hill lift up the cliff face to Hastings Country Park. “There,” I say, when we reach the top, “Six hundred and sixty acres of ancient woodland, glens, and 5km of high-drama coastal cliffs. Let’s do this!”
After an epic walk, we stroll to the Post Office Tea Rooms, a pretty little gay-run place in the fabulous Art Deco Marine Court. Its bread and butter pudding, tea and cake are just the ticket to fuel us for our journey home. And only when we’ve practically licked our plates clean do we give in.
“Come on then, we’d better be off,” says Monsieur 2 reluctantly, “but we’ll be back.” “Maybe we could try the Old Rectory [sister hotel to the Swan House] next time,” I suggest, adding “it’s licensed for civil partnerships!” Monsieur 2 smiles, and rolls his eyes.
Receive a complimentary welcome drink if you mention les Deux Messieurs upon booking your stay at Swan House!
Swan House is a luxury B&B in Hastings South East England. Reviewed by les Deux messieurs, the luxury gay travel guide
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