It’s hipper than hip down south, says Matt Forbes-Dale…
The East Sussex Coast
With its mix of eerie marshland, the UK’s only designated ‘desert’ (at Dungeness), dreamy dunes and cool, coastal towns, plus a fast train from St Pancras, East Sussex offers much for the staycationer. Go out of season and it’s a quietly romantic balance – whether you’re into windsurfing, wintry beach walks, culture, crafts or just craft beers. The once-scruffy Hastings is now a hipster haven with its inspirational Jerwood Gallery (jerwoodgallery.org) nestled among the old, dark fishing huts, a swanky new pier tailor-made for pop-ups and performances, and arguably the country’s coolest cinema just further up the beach in St Leonards (kino-teatr.co.uk). If you rent out the wonderfully eclectic House at Hasting all this will be on your doorstep.
Nearby in historic Rye, check out Lamb House where Henry James once resided and the Rye Pottery (ryepottery.co.uk), now enjoying a mid-century-cool renaissance, plus fun eateries all big on the local-is-best ethos. Less well-known beauty spots include Hastings Country Park, the rock-pooled, Blyton-esque beach at Pett Level (where Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video was filmed) and Rye Harbour, where tapas or fish ’n’ chips at the cosy William the Conqueror beckon after a circular stroll through the incredibly tranquil bird sanctuary down to Winchelsea Beach and back. Outward bounders can enjoy splendid windsurfing at Camber Sands, while further afield lies the mysterious Dungeness, where the miraculous and inspiring desert garden at Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage is still lovingly tended by partner Keith Collins, and you can visit open artists’ studios and lunch at the fantastic Snack Shack (dungenesssnackshack.net).
Rent the magnificent, five-bed House in Hastings, an ex-sea captain’s home in the Old Town that has been filtered through the surreal imagination of designer Sean Clarkson. Go ‘home-tel’ and book a cook or self-cater in splendour and enjoy the kitsch surroundings and the groovy boutiques on the doorstep. Weekends from £1,650. houseinhastings.co.uk
For a rural boutique experience, check out Ramblinns, a group of three gems with idiosyncratic, ‘sheep shack chic’ interiors, quirky suites and delicious fare from farm, marsh and shore. From £90 per night. ramblinns.com
Ethel Loves Me is a new Rye concept store and gallery space hosting unusual art exhibitions and supplying quirky crafts, interior inspirations, unique gifts and ingenious upcycled work by local creatives. Check out their online archive of collectable prints too. ethelloves.me
The Gallivant has won culinary awards and is a great place to enjoy a leisurely lunch after a Camber Sands beach walk or kite-surfing session. Almost all the menu is sourced from within a 15-mile radius. thegallivant.co.uk