Sands Hotel, Margate
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Boutique hotel near the Turner ContemporaryDespite living all my life in the south-east of England, Margate is a town which, until now, has never been on my radar. It could be something to do with London coming between us. It could simply be that I’ve never had reason to head to the Isle of Thanet, England’s most south-easterly tip.
But after spending two
nights at Sands Hotel, it’s definitely somewhere I’m going to be heading back
to whenever I fancy a bit of R&R. This delightful boutique hotel with a front row view down Margate’s
glorious sandy beach offers stylish rooms, great food, and a friendly team of
young, helpful staff.
Nineteenth Century landscape
artist JMW Turner was a regular visitor to Margate, as anyone who saw Mike
Leigh’s 2014 movie Mr Turner will
already know. He fell in love with the
changing patterns of light and sea, not to mention Mrs Booth, the landlady who
kept a seafront guest house on the site of what is now the Turner Contemporary
The town’s changed a bit
since Turner’s day, when Londoners would flock to the Kent coast for a
clean-air weekend. But those seascape
views haven’t changed a bit. The area
around Margate is known as the Isle of Thanet – separated from Kent by a
navigable channel until the 17th Century – and Turner famously
referred to the area as having ‘the loveliest skies in England’.
Despite the seafront
position, Sands Hotel didn’t prove the easiest place to find, its pale green
facade partially hidden by the balcony above. But having driven round the block and phoned for instructions, we were
waved in by the helpful young lady on reception who obligingly stood out
front. The hotel has two private
parking spaces immediately outside - £5 for 24-hours, payable on departure –
and if they are full, there are designated hotel spaces in Market Street car
park for the same price. Just collect
the parking token at the hotel before parking up.
Our second floor bedroom
boasted a small balcony and of course that fabulous Turner view. We arrived beneath overcast skies, but even
then, the light was constantly changing, and on our second day, we were treated
to a mesmerising Turner-esque sunset with shafts of gold splitting the heavens
and reflecting in pools along the beach. One of many times I’ve wished I could paint!
The hotel’s Bay Restaurant on
the first floor offers the same panorama whilst you enjoy food that has been justly
awarded two AA Rosettes. The seasonal main
courses included Kentish venison loin as well as local Market Fish of the Day,
and my mouth still waters at the thought of the apple souffle with white
chocolate ice-cream and caramel sauce. Dinner, bed and breakfast packages start at £95 per person.
The bedrooms are
appropriately decorated in shades of sand with seaside-themed artwork. And I loved the way that original Victorian
columns and cornicing has been retained in the bright dining room with its contemporary
colour scheme of neutrals and duck egg blue. Another stunner is the extraordinary pendant chandelier that drops down
five floors through the wood and glass staircase.
For those who love a good
restoration story, owners Nick and Karen Conington have thoughtfully provided a
photo book in each bedroom of their adventure. They bought the rundown property in 2011 with the original intention of
turning it into flats. But on
discovering that it had once been a hotel, decided to restore it and create 20
guest bedrooms instead. An inspired
As for Margate itself, the
town is undergoing a regeneration to meet the needs of 21st century
holidaymakers. The Dreamland theme park
– which includes a 1920s, Grade II-listed wooden rollercoaster – reopens in
April 2017 after a major refurbishment. High street retailers have largely
moved inland to the Westwood Cross shopping centre, but I loved browsing the
small galleries and vintage shops in the Old Town near the local history
museum, a quaint quarter liberally dotted with tempting independent cafes.
Turner Contemporary, which
opened in 2011 opposite the Harbour Arm, is housed in a controversial white
building consisting of two stark white cubes. The gallery stages a series of changing exhibitions and there is always
some kind of link to Turner in the ground-floor corridor, but don’t go
expecting to view his masterpieces. You
are likely to be disappointed. If you
fancy yourself as a bit of a Turner, local artist Michael Richardson runs
monthly outdoor painting weekends from his gallery on the Harbour Arm. (email [email protected]
Walkers and cyclists can
follow all or part of the 32-mile Viking Coastal Trail which loops round the
Isle of Thanet, cutting across inland close to RAF Manston, home to the
Spitfire and Hurricane Museum. Or take
the 4-mile Turner & Dickens walk to neighbouring Broadstairs where Dickens
spent his summers and wrote David
Copperfield at Bleak House on the headland, now a hotel and smuggling
I loved the traditional feel
of Broadstairs with its period properties adorned with wrought iron balconies,
its winding streets and clifftop gardens. Ramsgate too, a bigger but equally attractive town with a bustling
marina, Maritime Museum, and wealth of small cafes tucked beneath the red brick
arches by the quay.
Britain’s only Royal Harbour, designated by George IV in 1821, Ramsgate has around 900 listed properties showcasing the best of Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture. Opened in June this year, a new visitor centre celebrates local resident, Augustus Pugin, designer of Big Ben and the interior of the Houses of Parliament.
And do take a guided tour of
the Ramsgate Tunnels, carved out of the cliffs in 1939 as an air raid shelter
for townspeople living on the front line of the Battle of Britain.
Families may no longer flock
to the Isle of Thanet for their annual holiday but it’s still a delightful spot
for a short seaside stopover. Margate is 75 minutes from London by train and
it’s easy to get around without a car on The Loop hopper bus. Stay at Sands Hotel and you even get to feel
part of a spectacular Turner seascape!
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