There is a tradition in my home town. As soon as the mercury tops 20°C, half the parish grabs their beach bags, digs out the bucket and spade...and heads to Camber Sands. This exercise is repeated in many towns and villages around Kent and Sussex, as Camber is the south east's best and sandiest beach. If a heatwave hits during the school holidays, Camber's five miles are wall-to-wall windbreakers and toasting flesh.
But the best time to visit Camber Sands is out of season. On a cold, dry day the open stretch of pale sand, rustling dunes and watery sky give the beach a romantic and bleak quality which attracts fashion shoots and film directors (George Clooney filmed The Monuments Men here). What Camber has long needed is a hotel which does justice to these surroundings (and I don't mean Pontins). It now has one: The Gallivant.
The Gallivant is a little slice of the Hamptons in Sussex. Converted from a former motel (which adds to the American feel), it's now an exercise in tasteful whites, greys and creams. I stayed in one of the new deck rooms, which is floor-to-ceiling white: the wooden floors, the bathroom, the marshmallow-soft pillows and duvet. There's fun touches too, like the freshly-baked cookies in the bedside drawer (crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle just as they should be).
It's also worth a trip to The Gallivant just for the food. I've eaten here at the Beach Bistro a few times now, and never been disappointed. New head chef Ben Fisher worked at The French Laundry, and puts as much care into his mugs of hot chocolate as he does into dishes like Romney Marsh lamb with aubergine-truffled French beans (above), which was exceedingly delicious paired with a 2011 Pinot Noir from nearby Chapel Down vineyard, and a smoky, tender pigeon breast. The seafood is superlative too - in the summer I ate a crispy red mullet on top of a broth of baby vegetables, and this weekend ravioli crammed with fresh crab. Most of the seafood is sourced from nearby Rye.
Best of all is the Recovery Station. Every hotel should have one: a DIY Bloody Mary station with Stoli vodka and all the fixin's, Berocca and a jar of Alka Seltzer. Team it with a cooked breakfast and a trundle along the beach and even the worst hangover seems bearable.
The Gallivant Hotel, New Lydd Road, Camber, East Sussex TN31 7RB. www.thegallivanthotel.com
Pinch of Salt was a guest of The Gallivant.