The plan was Mykonos; but as we all know, 2020 laughs in the face of plans. That’s why I found myself trading a May escape to Greece’s glamorous hotspot for an August staycation in Hastings, East Sussex, where a humble holiday apartment and pebble beach served to substitute the hot sands and thronging bars of the Aegean’s party island. What a contrast – and a downgrade, you might think – but I have to admit I was more excited for this South Coast getaway than I was about the Mykonos holiday I’d had to cancel. And the great thing is, admittedly helped by the 30-degree heatwave that coincided with my arrival: I had a lovely time. Here are the recommendations I’d pass onto anyone who is trading a trip abroad for this artsy spot on the British coastline.
You can get direct trains to Hastings from London Charing Cross or Victoria if you’re usually a city-dweller like me, and you can get all around the town on foot from Hastings station, so that’s definitely an easy option. But on this trip my boyfriend and I chose to hire a car and make the two hour drive to the coast (he did the driving!). The perk of having the car, aside from obviously not having to stick to a train schedule, is that you can make your way to the surrounding towns if you fancy a day trip – and if you’re spending as long as a week like me, I think you’ll definitely want to explore somewhere else too.
Food and Drink
I’m lucky to have a friend whose family lives in Hastings, and she gave me this piece of advice: stick to the old town for eating and drinking out. The old town is pretty much George Street and the road running perpendicular, and it’s here that you’ll find a whole host of independent cafes, restaurants and bars. I’ll admit, I was averse to eating and drinking out until to my relief I saw that everywhere had outdoor tables, and all staff members were making sure to sanitise them between every visit. You had to be on the ball to find a spare seat in the eternal sunshine of the heatwave, but once a vacant spot appeared it was so nice to sit back and watch the bustle of this quaint street.
The two of us brunched at Ladle, where the iced coffees were delicious and the menu was full of tasty-sounding dishes, and we had a lovely dinner of Turkish small plates as Isabella – the halloumi was the highlight. At the top of the street is Monelli’s, an Italian pizzeria with lots of unusual topping combinations and really friendly staff. In fact, everyone who served us over this trip was particularly friendly; whether that’s because they were so grateful for business at last or because, sigh, this isn’t London, I don’t know. If you’re going to get your pizza to go like we did, just be wary of taking it down to the beach… we realised that wasn’t such a bright idea when we were swarmed by seagulls. Rookie mistake!
For cocktails we stopped at Seed, also on George Street and incidentally also a Spanish tapas restaurant, where we enjoyed mojitos and espresso martinis on the recommendation of a lovely middle-aged couple we’d got speaking to the night before. Another place we stopped for drinks at a handful of times was further down towards St Leonards and on the actual beach front, called Goat Ledge. This is more of a beach shack vibe with tables and umbrellas – perfect for a post-sunbathing refreshment.
Lastly, no trip to the coast is complete without sampling the fish and chips. Just beyond the old town is Rock-a-Nore, where black fishing huts overlook the sea and serve fresh catches. Sadly, a gloriously fatty fish and chips isn’t exactly what you fancy in 30-plus degrees, but we did pop to the Rock A Nore Kitchen for takeaway calamari. It got a 10/10 from us.
Things to Do
I must admit, my recommendations for a holiday in Hastings are somewhat skewed to the restrictions of a global pandemic but hey, this place is all about the outdoor activities anyway! These are my favourite moments from the trip:
- A barbecue on the beach: Maybe it was the smoke that kept the seagulls at bay, but we managed a peaceful barbecue on the beach with a supermarket disposable and a few ciders. Watching the sunset here was my favourite part of the whole stay.
- Playing badminton in Alexandra Park: A short walk from our apartment, this park was perfect for a picnic and pitching up our badminton set. It was big enough to not feel like we were imposing and the lovely greenery was a nice contrast from the seaside.
- Walking up the hills: Ascending the East and West hills is how you’ll get the best views of the area. It’s also where you can pay a visit to the Hastings Castle ruins – an easy box to check if you fancy a little culture between your fish and chips and your ice cream.
- Explore the antiques shops: Just along the old town’s High Street you’ll find a series of quaint shops and antiques dealers that are too good to resist (mask on, of course). As well as eclectic vintage stockists you can explore eco-friendly shops along with places that sell handmade treasures by local artists.
When I told people I’d be spending a full week in Hastings, I got a few ‘oh gosh, you’re going to be bored out of your mind’ responses. I wasn’t, though, because when things began to feel a little samey we took a day trip over to the charming town of Rye. There are a number of great day-trip spots in the area, including Lewes and of course Camber Sands, but with social distancing restrictions I was a little too nervous to approach a sandy beach for fear of hoards of people.
Only 30 minutes down the road, Rye was as pretty as all the pictures look. On the iconic Mermaid Street, you can stop at the 600-year-old pub The Mermaid Inn for a drink, while further down into the town is the perfect healthy lunch spot, The Fig.
With all its character, its long stretch of pebble beach and its incredible weather (ok, we were quite lucky with that one) Hastings made the perfect staycation for an altogether crazy and unnerving year. If you’re visiting, I’d love to know what you get up to there!