So many reviewers – myself included – have a soft spot for these grand old dames of English resorts, whose days have been numbered for decades. However, economically and organisationally they pose a conundrum: if they remain independent, the cash needed to bring them to 4 or 5 star level would obviously be prohibitive; on the other hand, if taken over by a mega-chain, then they’re likely to end up with mock four-posters and vile chain coffee. Best Western – a quite unnecessarily silly pseudo-American name for a huge French chain of franchised hotels whose watchword is definite quirkiness that quite often works – at least doesn’t terminally mess up its historical buildings, but they can, like this, end up as slightly sad reminiscences.
There is, as various people have detected, an evident problem with damp, which strikes you within seconds of entering the lobby (amazingly you can park outside the hotel – this must be the only 100 yards of road in the centre of a UK town that doesn’t have any yellow lines or restrictions – we spent 5 anxious minutes checking). I’m no surveyor, though a flat I once lived in had a recurrent problem with one of the most horribly fascinating and invasive fungal species in the world – dry rot – which I couldn’t confidently exclude at the RV, but there is probably a major structural problem, and one would suspect it resides under the floor. The lobby up to the first floor, however, is stunning early Victorian with marble arches and a trompe l’oeil mirror that makes it seem twice as big. Some real aspidistras and palms, as opposed to dusty fabric fake flowers, would have been nice.
Our mini-suite, however, ponged with lavender or something like that. I presume this was an over-diligent cleaner spraying something around, because we couldn’t find any obvious source that had been left in the drawers or wardrobe. We had to leave the door open for several hours, and it eventually dissipated, but it left me feeling a bit wheezy. The bed head was draped with a weird drapey thingy, but the bed itself was soggy to the point of being likely to jettison a sleeper onto the floor, and definitely bad for aging backs (can I strongly recommend installing the stunningly wonderful Hypnos mattresses that Premier Inn probably correctly guess will almost guarantee a good night’s sleep?) Plumbing just about worked in that 1970s kind of way. On the odd occasion St Leonards has a hot spell there will be a serious risk of heat stroke for guests, as the windows were painted shut. There was a cavernous sitting room with nothing in it except a feeble, cramped and uncomfortable not-quite-two-seater French-ish chair, and, seemingly miles away, one of those 10-year-old car-sized TVs requiring RSJ reinforcement of floors.
We had nice tea and freshly made warm scones in the bar-lounge, but had to scout around to find someone to pay. The dining room, in a large – possibly original – gallery overlooking the front looked fine, but the dinner menu looked heartbreakingly dreary. Breakfasts can elevate the spirits in these otherwise ordinary establishments, but there was no such luck here; a completely grim and standard offering that delivered almost no pleasure while continuing to fur up the coronary arteries. I stayed at a similar hotel in Eastbourne recently, and while my dinner there was hardly Michelin-star, it was served with grace, and the breakfast had sound local ingredients and was served individually at the table. There seemed quite sufficient staff hanging around to be able to offer something like this service at the RV (at one stage on a quiet mid-week morning there were three people re-setting tables, fork by fork; a quick lesson in elegant changing of table-cloths wouldn’t go amiss either).
However, this kind of thing doesn’t truly bother me. What does, though, is the complete absence of sense of history. Dating from the early Victorian age, this hotel must have seen some great events; but apart from a guest book from the 1890s, casually opened at a random date without explanation in a display case, and some local lithographs of an otherwise undetailed Royal visit around the same time, there was nothing to remind a modern visitor what it was like. And this, added to the mild structural decay and lackadaisical service, makes the RV a slightly desolate place, adrift in time and culture and wandering about in the modern world of hotels not quite sure where it’s going. A unique selling point is in order, and if there isn’t much money for the structural stuff, then at least celebrate its wonderful past. less