Review by Fiona Duncan, published 26th July 2009.
Another hotel, another town, another shattered preconception. This time it's Eastbourne, God's waiting room on the Sussex coast, that I've judged too harshly before even visiting.
Drab, dowdy and stuffed with tottery old distressed gentlefolk? Forget it. The moment we start along the magnificent seafront with its original pier, three-tier promenade and unspoilt parade of handsome Victorian hotels, we sense why many people are eschewing nearby Brighton for Eastbourne's better-preserved, calmer, less tawdry charms. Best of all, the South Downs wrap themselves around the town, with protective Beachy Head at one end to thank for its reputation as the sunniest spot in Britain.
My preconception about the Big Sleep, at the western end of the seafront, proves harder to shift, but more because I have a problem with "hip budget hotels" as a breed than with this prime example in particular.
"We're sooo cheap," trumpet the hip budgets, "and we're sooo cool." Hmm. Now I know why you're cheap, I think, opening the bedroom door – there's almost nothing in here. "But I'm FAB," cries the room (it's a Big Sleep standard room speaking now). "Look, I've got pink Formica headboard and bedside tables, strange fluffy curtains and matching bed base, a great mattress and pristine white sheets." "Yes, and grey industrial carpet, anodyne bathroom, horrid sachets of shower gel and £3 per hour for Wi-Fi," I tell the room. "If this was a hostel or on a university campus you'd be fantastic. But not at £85."
At this point, my mind wanders to all the rooms I know under £100 in revamped inns or guesthouses that are prettily furnished, with thoughtful extras. Buoyed by the sight of flowers or a pile of books, I feel a sense of warmth and welcome. At the Big Sleep, I must admit, for all the hipness of its "fluffy meets Formica" theme, my heart sinks.
It happens again at breakfast. In the inn or guesthouse, there'll be a menu of cooked options included in the room price, served by a waitress while I idly read my (possibly complimentary) newspaper. No such luck in the hip budget, where I woozily do battle with the coffee machine, the toaster and various beastly mini packets of cereal, butter and jam. What about a budget hotel, hip or otherwise, that somehow doesn't feel utterly basic? Now that would be a good trick.
But to be fair, this isn't an inn, it's a seafront hotel. And here in Eastbourne, it's a breath of fresh air: light, fun, uncomplicated. The pink or blue-themed bedrooms may be basic, but they are fun and youthful, the expansive retro-styled bar/lounge/breakfast room is funky and full of colour, and downstairs you can play pool and table tennis and surf the net, this time for free. And, for families at least, this seafront hotel has one really fantastic bargain up its sleeve: great suites with kitchenettes that can comfortably fit a family of six, plus baby, for £125 per night.
King Edward's Parade (01323 722676; www.thebigsleephotel.com) Doubles from £65 (low season) or £85 (high season), including breakfast. One adapted room for guests with disabilities.