BEEN ALMOST 950 YEARS since William the Conquerors
bowmen put an arrow through the eye of King Harold at the Battle
of Hastings and changed the course of history. Youd think
that would be enough time to get over it and move on, yet a visit
to this historic section of the south coast of England shows just
how much people still remember. Perhaps I exaggerate (moi?)
but the seaside hamlet of St Leonards is rich in its memories.
Bingo parlours, amusement palaces and the kitschy
beachfront crazy golf course aside, you cant go far without
some remnant of the vivid past grabbing your attention. The names
alone tell a story: Norman Road, Archer Terrace, Warrior Square.
The ruins of a mediæval castle and abbey overlook the tiny
boat harbour, and a pastiche of architectural styles pay tribute
to the passage of time. A kind of weird, wonderful vibe prevails,
promoting visions of bygone days at the shore. Its not just
marauding Normans, either. Locals dress up as pirates and take you
on tours of smugglers caves. Plaques commemorate sites destroyed
in World War II bombings. And a local theatre company papers the
town with posters advertising its latest production of The Tart
and the Vicars Wife.
Perhaps scale has some bearing. St Leonards is
no Brighton, with its succession of screaming nightclubs and gelato
stands and droves of orotund weekenders. You might label it an arty
decay here, a small enough community where residents happen upon
friends promenading. The tiny pedestrian lane called George Street
has trendy bistros set side-by-side with ancient curio shops and
used book stores, where scruffy elderly hippies sip cappuccinos
at outdoor tables. Even the fenced-off, long-condemned pier, with
its ghostly silhouette, adds a contemplative silence to the picture.
Stroll along the boardwalk and you pass a succession of fish and
chips places and Indian restaurants, wending your way around cyclists
and young families pushing babies in prams, comfortably mingling
with old folks on an afternoon stroll, jackets zipped to meet the
exhilarating ocean breezes. Nobody hurries, and the regal figure
of Victoria, timeless in bronze, presides stern-faced from her pedestal
in Warrior Square, watching over the waves she once ruled.
A few doors away, facing the same ocean, stands
the Zanzibar International, a boutique hotel of nine elegantly appointed
rooms, opened almost four years ago. Spare, minimal, light, airy,
the property immediately garnered attention as one of the top small
properties in Britain. A tiny oasis of unobtrusive hospitality,
this jewel of a retreat seeks only your happiness. As always, the
secret is in the details: the vintage telescope on its tripod in
the front window; the sandstone Thai Buddhas head, eyes downcast,
on the ledge in your bathroom; the terraced garden with its tropical
plants and comfy wood seating; the fully-stocked honour bar in the
lobby; the DVD library which has something
for every taste; and a genius-level breakfast IQ,
the last impression a guest has of the hotel, so its
important to us. Optimal location, devoted staff, fairly priced
at the high end of the lodging spectrum. This romantic small hotel
is a little dream worth visiting.
Of course you could go across the square to the
fusty old hotel for a third of the cost and get an ocean view, but
you will need to tolerate a shabby ambience, the Fawlty Towers
school of hotel management, and the dreaded English breakfast (runny
eggs, overcooked bacon, cold white toast and two small brownish
objects generously referred to as mushrooms). While a number of
charming dining out options can be found in the area, the fish and
chips shop near Zanzibars corner looked authentic, posted
a nice menu, and sent out pleasing aromas, perhaps the best advertising
of all: probably a great place to pop into for a fast snack. •
Zanzibar International Hotel
9 Eversﬁeld Place
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN37 6BY
Telephone 44 1424 460-109
Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
Inset photos, from top View from Zanzibar
Hotel at St Leonards. The garden at Zanzibar. Above, from top
Zanzibars façade. A slice of heaven: breakfast
at Zanzibar. Hill Street. The ghostly pier. Queen Victoria presides
over her realm. Poster for The Tart and the Vicars Wife.
Local amusement arcade. Georges Street.