Staycation: The Relais Cooden Beach
by Liz Stansfield
Enjoy an easy car-free break on the Sussex coast, where there is plenty to do whatever the weather
‘The next station is Cooden Beach,’ announces the cheerful conductor as our near-empty train pulls into this rural station on the Sussex coast. We’re the only people to alight, and as the train pulls away, it’s all quiet on the platform – save for the sound of waves crashing somewhere close behind us.
While this might all sound very ominous (not least as we were visiting on a blowy weekend in February!), this cute town is home to a hidden gem: the very charming Relais Cooden Beach, which has direct access to the beach, a wonderful restaurant and views for days.
This breezy boutique hotel has recently been refurbished and has easy coastal vibes throughout. There’s bold stripy wallpaper in the restaurant, a huge circular fireplace in the bar and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the sea. It’s a risk visiting this pocket of coastline in February, but I figure the Relais has two solid options for both weather extremes. Crisp and sunny? Cycle along the promenade. Absolutely lashing it down and blowing a gale? Take a seat by the fire with a glass of something in one hand and a good book in the other. As it happens, we tick off all the weather boxes on our weekend stay.
After checking in, we take advantage of the emerging winter sun and the hotel’s complimentary bicycles. Once in the saddle, we enjoy a lovely few miles cycling up the coast to Bexhill-on- Sea – famous for being the birthplace of British motor racing. As the weather threatens to turn, we cycle back to The Relais and deposit ourselves fireside in the bar, staying there for a solid three hours and having a wonderfully chilled afternoon.
After a quick spruce up for dinner, it’s back down to the main Rally Bar and Restaurant (named after the hotel’s proximity to the motor adventures at Bexhill) for a fish supper. There’s a fun atmosphere here, with lots of tables taken up with couples and groups of pals clinking fizz glasses. After a welcome cocktail, we take our seats for three delicious courses. First is a shared smoked fish platter loaded with plump prawns and slabs of smoked salmon, then we tuck into seafood risotto (me) and catch-of-the-day cod (him), and end on a high note with perfectly set panna cotta. We resist the offer of an espresso martini (a challenge in itself!), as we have plans to get out and about the next day.
After an early run along the gorgeous seafront and a cracking full English at The Relais, we hop on the train again and travel further down the line to Hastings – a cool-as-they-come seaside town full of antique shops and independent cafés. The quaint Cliff Railway funicular offers fantastic views of the town and its higgledy-piggledy colourful houses, and if the weather turns, you can head indoors to explore the Hastings Contemporary art gallery or The Hastings Fishermen’s Museum at the bottom of the old town.
We whizz back to The Relais on the train (just 16 minutes to Cooden Beach from Hastings) to enjoy our perch by the fire one last time. As we head back to the station after checking out, I smile as I realise that we’re yet again the only ones on the platform waiting for the 16.42 train up to London Bridge. Cooden Beach feels like our little Sussex secret – the beach at the end of the earth with a wonderful fireside bar and cocktails. Tickets, please...
How to book
Rooms at The Relais Cooden Beach cost from £194 per night (based on two people sharing). For more information, visit therelaisretreats.com/coodenbeach.