Sands Hotel, Margate – Boutique Hotel – Travel Review

Boutique hotel near the Turner Contemporary

Despite living all my life in the south-east of England, Margate is a town which, until now, has never been on my radar. It could be something to do with London coming between us. It could simply be that I’ve never had reason to head to the Isle of Thanet, England’s most south-easterly tip.

Sands Hotel, Margate But after spending two nights at Sands Hotel, it’s definitely somewhere I’m going to be heading back to whenever I fancy a bit of R&R. This delightful boutique hotel with a front row view down Margate’s glorious sandy beach offers stylish rooms, great food, and a friendly team of young, helpful staff.

Nineteenth Century landscape artist JMW Turner was a regular visitor to Margate, as anyone who saw Mike Leigh’s 2014 movie Mr Turner will already know. He fell in love with the changing patterns of light and sea, not to mention Mrs Booth, the landlady who kept a seafront guest house on the site of what is now the Turner Contemporary gallery.

The town’s changed a bit since Turner’s day, when Londoners would flock to the Kent coast for a clean-air weekend. But those seascape views haven’t changed a bit. The area around Margate is known as the Isle of Thanet – separated from Kent by a navigable channel until the 17th Century – and Turner famously referred to the area as having ‘the loveliest skies in England’. 

Despite the seafront position, Sands Hotel didn’t prove the easiest place to find, its pale green facade partially hidden by the balcony above. But having driven round the block and phoned for instructions, we were waved in by the helpful young lady on reception who obligingly stood out front. The hotel has two private parking spaces immediately outside – £5 for 24-hours, payable on departure – and if they are full, there are designated hotel spaces in Market Street car park for the same price. Just collect the parking token at the hotel before parking up.

Our bedroom Our second floor bedroom boasted a small balcony and of course that fabulous Turner view. We arrived beneath overcast skies, but even then, the light was constantly changing, and on our second day, we were treated to a mesmerising Turner-esque sunset with shafts of gold splitting the heavens and reflecting in pools along the beach. One of many times I’ve wished I could paint!

The hotel’s Bay Restaurant on the first floor offers the same panorama whilst you enjoy food that has been justly awarded two AA Rosettes. The seasonal main courses included Kentish venison loin as well as local Market Fish of the Day, and my mouth still waters at the thought of the apple souffle with white chocolate ice-cream and caramel sauce. Dinner, bed and breakfast packages start at £95 per person.

The bedrooms are appropriately decorated in shades of sand with seaside-themed artwork. And I loved the way that original Victorian columns and cornicing has been retained in the bright dining room with its contemporary colour scheme of neutrals and duck egg blue. Another stunner is the extraordinary pendant chandelier that drops down five floors through the wood and glass staircase. 

Margate old town For those who love a good restoration story, owners Nick and Karen Conington have thoughtfully provided a photo book in each bedroom of their adventure. They bought the rundown property in 2011 with the original intention of turning it into flats. But on discovering that it had once been a hotel, decided to restore it and create 20 guest bedrooms instead.  An inspired decision.

As for Margate itself, the town is undergoing a regeneration to meet the needs of 21st century holidaymakers. The Dreamland theme park – which includes a 1920s, Grade II-listed wooden rollercoaster – reopens in April 2017 after a major refurbishment. High street retailers have largely moved inland to the Westwood Cross shopping centre, but I loved browsing the small galleries and vintage shops in the Old Town near the local history museum, a quaint quarter liberally dotted with tempting independent cafes. 

Turner Contemporary and Visitor Centre Turner Contemporary, which opened in 2011 opposite the Harbour Arm, is housed in a controversial white building consisting of two stark white cubes. The gallery stages a series of changing exhibitions and there is always some kind of link to Turner in the ground-floor corridor, but don’t go expecting to view his masterpieces. You are likely to be disappointed.  If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Turner, local artist Michael Richardson runs monthly outdoor painting weekends from his gallery on the Harbour Arm. (email for details). 

Walkers and cyclists can follow all or part of the 32-mile Viking Coastal Trail which loops round the Isle of Thanet, cutting across inland close to RAF Manston, home to the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum. Or take the 4-mile Turner & Dickens walk to neighbouring Broadstairs where Dickens spent his summers and wrote David Copperfield at Bleak House on the headland, now a hotel and smuggling museum.

Broadstairs I loved the traditional feel of Broadstairs with its period properties adorned with wrought iron balconies, its winding streets and clifftop gardens. Ramsgate too, a bigger but equally attractive town with a bustling marina, Maritime Museum, and wealth of small cafes tucked beneath the red brick arches by the quay.  

Britain’s only Royal Harbour, designated by George IV in 1821, Ramsgate has around 900 listed properties showcasing the best of Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture. Opened in June this year, a new visitor centre celebrates local resident, Augustus Pugin, designer of Big Ben and the interior of the Houses of Parliament. 

And do take a guided tour of the Ramsgate Tunnels, carved out of the cliffs in 1939 as an air raid shelter for townspeople living on the front line of the Battle of Britain. 

Families may no longer flock to the Isle of Thanet for their annual holiday but it’s still a delightful spot for a short seaside stopover. Margate is 75 minutes from London by train and it’s easy to get around without a car on The Loop hopper bus. Stay at Sands Hotel and you even get to feel part of a spectacular Turner seascape!

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Gillian Thornton

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