Anyone for tennis? Head to Eastbourne
Take a break on the south coast. You might spot a sports star while you're there, says Kate Simon
Sunday 06 June 2010
While football fans try to hear themselves above the vuvuzelas as the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa this weekend, silence will descend on a more sedate tournament taking place back home in Eastbourne – the Aegon International tennis championships.
John Isner and Sam Querrey, Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva (inset, right) head the list of competitors attending this year's warm-up for Wimbledon. The World Tour competition, which began in 1974, featured only women's tennis until last year, when financial constraints forced the Lawn Tennis Association to merge the championships with the men's precursor to Wimbledon, the Nottingham Open.
That means more great tennis for fans to enjoy in Eastbourne's Devonshire Park. It also means more stars of the grass court to spot at the seaside resort's premier stopover, The Grand Hotel.
But then, this vast white Victorian confection, which takes up a whole block at the west end of King Edward's Parade, is no stranger to famous faces. Claude Debussy (said to have been inspired by the sea views to finish "La Mer" while staying here in 1905) and Winston Churchill, Celine Dion and Eddie Izzard reveal the hotel's enduring popularity over the past 135 years. This may be the kind of place that demands you need to pack a jacket and tie for dinner, but the polished quality of the lodgings and the gracious service manage to be both timeless and with the times.
The Grand Hotel has resisted the temptation to trash tradition with a modernist makeover. Under the present owner, Elite Hotels, it continues to glory in embellishing its antique furnishings and plush upholstery with swags and ruches, though the style is restrained, never chintzy. There are seven categories of bedroom, from deluxe to the penthouse suite, increasing in size as you ascend the tariff. But you don't have to pay through the nose to secure a sea view, so choose carefully. All rooms have satellite TV (there are DVD players in the master suites), broadband internet access, and Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom.
The food and drink
The hotel has two restaurants. The Garden Room is the main dining room, seating 180 and serving a wide selection of fancy – if traditional – English fare, from breakfast through to dinner daily. Mirabelle, the 50-seat gourmet option, open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, raises the bar, putting similarly fresh produce to more creative use under head chef Gordon Röser, with recommendations including high praise from The Good Food Guide and two red AA rosettes. Dinners start at £37 per head without wine, at both restaurants, with tasting menus in Mirabelle from £54. Afternoon tea is served daily in the Great Hall. For a historic take on this English tradition, book for afternoon tea with the Palm Court Strings (next performing on 29 August), which takes place on the spot where the BBC Palm Court Orchestra used to broadcast from every Sunday night in the 1930s.
Check out the Health Club, which includes indoor and outdoor pools, gym, spa and children's playroom. Head east to explore the fleshpots of Eastbourne and its pier; head west for a walk along the white cliffs at Beachy Head and Seven Sisters. For tickets to the tennis tournament, visit lta.org.uk. Get further information about the area and current events at visiteastbourne.com.
Children are welcome, paying just £10 if they share their parents' room, including breakfast, with age-appropriate services offered to suit babies, kids and teenagers, from board games and laptop access to milk and biscuits at bedtime. The ground floor is accessible for wheelchair users and there is lift access to the floors above. There is a specially modified room for people with disabilities and facilities for those with impaired hearing.
During June, book a night's B&B at £195 and dine in the hotel to get a second room free.
The Grand Hotel, King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4EQ (01323 412233; grandeastbourne.com).
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