This hotel review of the George in Rye is taken from our latest guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
Considering I’d just slipped a disc and had promised to cycle over the Alps the following Monday, our stay at the George in Rye needed to live up to expectations. That, or my pathetic squeals of pain would reverberate through their towel cupboards and kitchens and onwards to those very edelweiss gorges. Thankfully, the hotel has a reputation for being comfortable and traditional, yet styish – thanks to being touched by the hand of film?set designers. Just what the doctor ordered.
Mrs Smith drove under an ancient fortified Old Town gate, dropped me outside the George, unloaded the bags and told the staff that on no account was I to carry anything. Humiliating verbal castration upon arrival. Great. While she searched for a (rare) parking space, my bag-heaving receptionist was very sweet. I asked if I could store my bike in the garage, which was of course fine. I tried to explain that cycling was good for my back, to assuage my guilt at the exercise/laziness contradiction. She really didn’t mind. But the poor disbelieving Shakespeare-lookalike barman-cum-bag-wallah nearly herniated himself with Mrs Smith’s make-up and a year’s supply of fluorescent Lycra.
The first thing we noticed about this 18th?century coaching inn was that the new owners seem to have achieved what few proprietors of these ancient public houses up and down the country have: a modern, redesigned interior that is still sympathetic to the original character of the building. It’s not just that the black tar?encrusted beams have all been sand-blasted clean, or that the sticky red paisley carpets have given way to the original flagstone tiles. It’s that no detail, from the nickel-coated plug sockets to burnished copper radiators, has been overlooked. Tightly packed with long sofas, chairs and beams, the George rises above the seagull-echoing street in a warren of little floors. Our room is extremely light and well planned, rendering it utterly inviting, helped in no small way by soft-touch scented pillows and hot-water bottle cosies. The bathroom has a Victorian-style bath cum shower, and is Aveda-product equipped, while soft-blue wood panelling lends a gently nautical air. As soon as she opened the ‘G’-branded wooden box to find an incredibly varied selection of teas, Mrs Smith immediately set to work preparing that most British of refreshments in celebration.
The owners, Katie and Alex Clarke, have links with set design and prop buying, making for a tasteful but vibrant and diverse decorative scheme: psychedelic Beatles prints sit alongside pockmarked beams and distressed leather. On our way to dinner, we nosed our way into the beautiful airy ballroom as it was being prepared for a wedding. The high walls are hung with a diverting bird-pattened wallpaper, and the chairs are clad in monochrome Florence Broadhurst textiles. It is decor that makes for love-at-first-sight stuff.
Chef Rod Grossmann’s menus create bold but well balanced flavours. Local produce is at the fore, and starters such as dressed crab and smoked duck are quite something. The wine we chose was English: Sandhurst Sussex Pinot Noir – what an extraordinary revelation. Having tasted no better Gevrey?Chambertin from Burgundy itself, it instantly became an all-time favourite.
We weren’t the only ones feeling celebratory, don’t forget. And, as many of the bedrooms lead straight to the ballroom’s heavy doors, that night, as we climbed the stairs in a pleasant post-prandial daze, a growing din of wedding-reception disco filled us with dread. But, thanks to some extraordinarily good soundproofing, Mrs Smith, with her owl-standard hearing, was able to restrict her deadly talons’ nocturnal tasks to clutching the crisp bedding.
Next morning, at a slobbish 10.30am, we took breakfast in our slightly small but excitingly bouncy bed. I went all full English; Mrs Smith purred as she lapped up home-made yogurt and raspberry compote. Later, while she pottered about Rye, buying fudge and millinery just up the High Street, I went for a cycle, and found the landscape around Rye flat, windy and abundant in sheep. I attempted to ride along Camber Sands, but couldn’t. I sank. Children laughed at me; adults pointed. But the incredible light on the beach, glistening on sand and glittering on waves, made up for my public humiliation.
Having wound my Lycra’d way back through bobbing poppies and pea fields stretching into the horizon, I was looking forward to bar snacks and bitter. A superb lamb burger, sticky caramelised chunky chips and a fresh local pint did the trick, and I happily read the papers on the enclosed, decked courtyard of the George. Luckily, no one appeared to derive too much amusement from my hairless thighs.
Smiles were more forthcoming during our visit to the nearby pampering palace, the Rye Retreat, however, where Mrs Smith had booked me in for a full-body massage and facial. Having only read of such things in sneaked teenage glances through mum’s copies of Cosmo, I was a tad nervous, and desperate to let all the nice ladies know that I fancied girls. They didn’t seem to care, and Karen, my masseur and face-scrubber, soon put me at ease. I came out smelling of tangerines and lemon sorbet. The back was in a dreamy state and Mrs Smith was warbling something about fantastic bum toners; life was pretty good.
Rye – you made converts of us. OK, this East Sussex spot may present more-than-ample kitsch bric-a-brac window-sniggering opportunities, and maybe its one-way system is a little annoying to first-time users, but the charm and romance of this ancient fishing town is undeniable. And, if it is trying to shrug off its unfair bucket-and-spade image, then the George in Rye will help its cause no end. And as for my slipped disc – well, our weekend worked a treat on that, too.