I always like checking into a hotel as Mr and Mrs Smith, it is guaranteed to raise an eyebrow. My parents were happy to have the boys and dog for a couple of nights, so it was an opportunity to escape. Mr Smith works long hours in commuterville, it was his birthday and high time we spent a couple of days together. I didn't want to waste time or money at an airport or on a road journey. With just two nights and two days off, the south coast sprung to mind, Brighton possibly Eastbourne and then I stumbled upon the Zanzibar International Hotel in Hastings whilst perusing the internet. Just an hour from our front door: maximum relaxation, minimal travel, two days off, bliss.
Hastings is one of those seaside towns that is always on the up. It's seedy, tired, characterful, cheerful, run down, renovated, edgy, energetic and full of thousands of students from across the world who are studying English at various language schools in town. The Zanzibar International Hotel is an ambitious and exotic name for a south coast hotel. It's independently owned, stylishly decorated and the staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful. Many of the rooms are named after continents and we stayed in India, which was extremely comfortable, and less expensive as it had no sea view, but made up for this with the sound of plenty of screeching seagulls to give the full seaside ambience.
Sitting in the bright and airy bar and restaurant area, sipping our free welcome drinks, smelling the scent of freshly cut daffodils on the tables, we were in a tranquil haven, a long way from home. That evening the hotel's Pier Nine Restaurant did not disappoint. We ate delicious and beautifully presented food (with an emphasis on local produce) washed down by a reasonably priced bottle of Cloudy Bay. Mr Smith who entertains many a client in London was particularly impressed with the whole experience. We were on a mid-week break with one two course meal for two thrown in and breakfast included both mornings.
What did we do during the day? We walked along the coastal path from Hastings Old Town to Fairlight and back through the Hastings Country Park. Being mid-week, there weren't many people around, and the views out to sea were clear, the sea so calm and still. The steep paths along the sandstone cliffs were great for working up an appetite. However, due to erosion we couldn't get down to the beach at Fairlight, the footpath was closed, which maybe was a blessing in disguise, as Fairlight Glen is a naturist beach where, to quote the Walking Club's website 'you can drip-dry in fine weather, if you don't happen to have a towel'.
On our way back through the Old Town, we dropped into Judges Bakery, owned by Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley who founded Green and Blacks, the world's first organic chocolate company. I chose a macaroon from this divine smelling bakery, not one of those small and fancy pastel coloured ones you find piled high in Parisian patisseries, but a substantial chewy biscuit on rice paper with an almond in the middle. We had a good browse around the junk shops in the High Street, definitely the place to buy a distressed leather armchair or a waxed pine chest of drawers in perfect condition, all very favourably priced.
We ate fish and chips at Webbe's on Rock-a-Nore Road, basking in the spring sun and admiring the flesh and tattoos on display. We wandered around the Fishermen's Museum, which is free and packed full of local fishing history. There's the Jerwood Gallery on The Stade, which we didn't venture into as the weather was simply too good to spend too much time indoors. We also spent an evening in The Dragon Bar, a lively place with an Old Skool DJ spinning an eclectic collection of records.
Hastings in the sunshine - it's a breath of fresh air!