Looking for a cool coastal escape? Thanks to cutting-edge galleries, local food scenes and stellar shopping, Sussex’s seaside gems of Eastbourne and Hastings are ripe for exploring in 2019 – whatever the time of year. They’re only 40 minutes apart by train, too, making combo trips as easy as they are enjoyable.
Follow Grove Road south from the station, and any last, lingering preconceptions about Eastbourne being doddery or dull will be quashed, once and for all. For you’ll enter the attractive Little Chelsea area, recently appointed as one of Britain’s coolest neighbourhoods and bursting with craft boutiques selling antiques, greeting cards, vinyl, comics, clothes and jewellery.
Such vibrant streets typify the triumphant rebirth of Eastbourne – a third of whose population is now under 30 years old. Hence so much cutting-edge culture: the nearby Towner Gallery hoards an acclaimed contemporary-art collection, including lots of Eric Ravilious canvases, while Carlisle Street’s Congress Theatre is again hosting comedic A-listers and regular London Philharmonic Orchestra concerts after a £54 million Devonshire Quarter transformation. Devonshire Park’s own new tennis centre will host June’s annual Eastbourne International grass-court tournaments – played by Jo Konta, Kyle Edmund and Petra Kvitová last year.
You’ll eat well, too. A growing clump of independent restaurants – especially along Terminus Road, connecting the station and promenade – vie with classic, family-run chippies like Dolphin for the affections of visitors’ stomachs. Between meals, make for the restored Victorian pleasure pier; decadent tea rooms here afford fine English Channel views.
There’s heaps more to discover just outside town. If it’s a sunny day, take a leisurely ramble via the South Downs way to the hamlet of Birling Gap, where you’ll find a spread of precariously positioned pastel houses. Once there, consider walking the Seven Sisters path, or head to the beach. Eastbourne does hold the UK record for the highest recorded amount of monthly sunshine, after all.
In the opposite direction is Hastings. It’s worth breaking that 40-minute train ride at Bexhill-on-Sea, the place where Bob Marley supposedly played his first-ever UK gig. A countercultural air still underpins the town’s boardwalk and ice-creameries, epitomised by the Art Deco De La Warr Pavilion.
Love wine? Then stride off into the South Downs, where vineyards are producing award-winning fizz that regularly bests French champagne houses. The Rathfinny and Chapel Down estates are both close by, and both stage tastings.
Wine circuits aren’t the only route for weekenders to complete: along with those aforementioned Towner and De La Warr venues, the Coastal Culture Trail’s final member is Hastings’s jet-black Jerwood Gallery. While modern pieces by the likes of Lowry and Hepworth await in there, an older tale gets told along the seafront at Smugglers Adventure, a cave-housed attraction recalling 17th- to 19th-century days when contraband brandies and teas routinely arrived on these shores.
More history awaits in Hastings Castle, chiefly concerning that fabled battle in 1066, as well as stellar seascapes. Instagram the heck out of them, then ride the East Hill funicular back down to old-town twittens. To what? ‘Twittens’: Hastings’s atmospheric, tumbling lanes, along which beautiful shops sell womenswear (Warp & Weft), whimsical home goods (AG Hendy & Co) and more or less everything else (Butler’s Emporium).
The other big thing here is food. Above all, Hastings’s impressive gastro game admirably emphasises local fare. Take Rock A Nore Kitchen, which majors in calamari and Dover sole freshly hooked by Hastings’s own fleet. Or Judges Bakery and its legendary ‘Mack-a-rolls’ (smoked-mackerel rolls), available alongside naughty apricot-and-almond buns.
Diners can also devour platters of regional charcuterie in the Farmyard wine bar, while the chutneys and cheeses in Penbuckles Delicatessen extend, unexpectedly, to a Sussex brie.
Cool coffee bars – Petit Fi, the vegan Sham City and, in adjacent St Leonards, Fika – also proliferate, and beer buffs are directed to the First In Last Out pub’s microbrewery.
Phew! Bob Marley trivia, beaches, bries, vineyards, vinyl boutiques and great galleries – now that’s a proper weekend by the sea.
Southern makes it easy to travel to Eastbourne and Hastings for a lovely weekend by the seaside. To find out more about train times and to book your tickets, visit southernrailway.com.
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