Hotel Review: Sands Hotel, Margate in Kent
Time was when the north Kent seaside town of Margate was a thriving holiday resort, its popularity dating back to early Victorian times when Londoners were first attracted to the curative air of its beaches and gardens. However, like many other traditional seaside towns around Britain, it later fell out of favour and into decline following the rise of the cheap package holiday in the 1980s.
Margate in particular seemed to be one of the worst hit by this, with the once-busy amusement park Dreamland closing its doors due to a lack of visitors and Butlins’ Grand Hotel demolished to make way for new flats.
Things started to change again though at the turn of the 2010s, with a slow but sure upward movement which saw visitors, and as a result businesses, starting to return to the downcast town – the ‘staycation’ trend instigated by the financial downturn of that period playing no small part.
The opening in 2011 of the £18m Turner Contemporary heralded not so much a comeback as a cultural renaissance, attracting a more art-loving crowd to what is now one of the country’s most visited galleries outside London.
Dreamland then reopened its doors as the world’s first heritage theme park, and Margate suddenly found itself on must-visit international destination lists – including Rough Guides’ annual Hotlist of 2013, the only UK destination on there.
Around the same time, a derelict building which stood on the seafront – the shell of what was once the Victorian Terrace Hotel in the 1880s – had been bought at auction by developer Nick Conington.
While it had planning permission for new luxury apartments, he decided to take a punt on Margate’s upturn by restoring it to its former splendour and status as a character hotel, and in the process created what is today regarded as the best in town.
It’s clear to see, upon arriving at the Sands, that this plaudit is hard to argue with. Conington retained the balconies, first-floor terrace and coloured glass, and has really made the most of the stunning views over the golden beach and out to sea.
The hotel’s interior design and decor patently uses this seascape as inspiration, in the same way the art of JMW Turner did 200 years previously – indeed prints of the artist’s impressionist seascape paintings can be found on some of the walls.
There are also decorative glimpses of the venue’s Victorian heritage, like stained glass, white columns and ornate cornices. The marriage of vintage and contemporary here, like in so much of Margate, is a successful one.
Upstairs, the colour palette in the bedrooms is neutral and calming, and the general design and materials first class: the beds boasting silk pocket-sprung mattresses, and silk duvets and pillows combined with Egyptian cotton linens.
The biggest trump card though, of one of the seaview rooms I was lucky enough to stay in, is that they are westward facing, and thus receive the full beauty of the sunsets that disappear over this stretch of the Kent coast.
Meanwhile downstairs in the bright and airy Bay Restaurant on the first floor, dinner or late afternoon tea in the colder months comes with an unobstructed view of the same sunsets through its tall windows, while breakfast here gives you as visually invigorating a start to the day as you could hope to receive.
I can only hope to return in late spring or summer to take advantage of the outside terrace here, and sample some of the restaurant’s modern European menu which I regrettably didn’t have time to during this visit.
And speaking of time, there are so many attractions and places of interest within walking distance from the Sands that there really isn’t a better placed hotel in town. Boutique shops, micropubs and a voguish cocktail bar (‘The Glass Jar’) share its fashionable seafront parade, while a stroll across the beach takes you straight to Dreamland. The Turner Gallery and Old Town are literally around the corner.
More niche historical attractions like the enigmatic Shell Grotto and ancient Tudor House are only a few minutes further by foot, and the Viking Coastal Trail snakes all the way round the Isle of Thanet via Broadstairs and Ramsgate if you’d like to stretch your legs further or take a relaxing bicycle ride.
In many ways the Sands Hotel serves as a microcosm of the cultural renaissance of Margate – both places having fallen on hard times but now busy showing returning visitors exactly what had attracted so many in the first place.
While there is still a fair amount of work to do to bring some parts of the town up to speed with the rest, the Sands serves as a beacon of progress leading the way. It’s an old-fashioned yet fashionable oasis of oceanic calm, and one of the few where you can hear the waves crashing at night against the sea walls through your bedroom windows. Turner himself would surely have loved the place.
Address: Sands Hotel, 16 Marine Drive, Margate, Kent CT9 1DH
Phone: 01843 228228
For more information on visiting Margate go to visitthanet.co.uk