Tel: 01843 606630
Checking in to this smart shabby chicesque hotel is a lot like staying at a rich friends house. It doesn’t seem like a hotel more a very comfortable house by the sea. My room was small but had super views, one way a Georgian terrace and the other the Royal Harbour. The en-suite was reached through a ‘hidden’ door and revealed lots of Carrera marble and swanky new fittings, all very luxe.
A walk down the hill into town past the harbour and along Military Road took me past many small independent shops and galleries. I had lunch at The Archive, sitting in one of the large arches and has two floors, both for eating although upstairs is available for private hire. It has wonderful views of boats bobbing in the harbour. This open all day cafe is the sort of place where the cool hang out and log on to the Wi-Fi and the hot have cold drinks and sip. The food was very good I enjoyed my Moroccan lamb roll and a perfect pot Earl Grey (which came with an egg timer showing 3, 5 and 7 minutes – hence perfection). They also sell a small selection of locally designed home wares, children’s toys and some one-off mid century pieces.
As with all the seaside towns of Thanet there is a plethora of interesting Georgian and Victorian architecture. At the end of the Military Road just before the wonderfully named Jacob’s Ladder (a flight of steep steps taking you up to road level) is The Sailor’s Church and Mission. Built in 1878 by Canon Eustace Brenan to provide spiritual guidance and a shelter for the young ‘smack boys’ who worked the fishing boats from Ramsgate harbour. When ashore they had a haven from the dangerous and arduous work at sea.
There are quite a few blue plaques in Ramsgate; one just around the corner of Albion House commemorates Willkie Collins the Victorian mystery writer. National treasure John Le Mesurier lived here, as did for a few months a young Princess Victoria. Augustine Pugin built a church and a home called The Grange, which can be let through The Landmark Trust. Vincent Van Gogh spent time in the town teaching French in 1876 at a school on Royal Road. Marx and Engels visited many times and that Kentish lad Frank Muir was born in The Derby Arms.
Eating at Albion House is a pleasure. The large dining room is in an advanced state of chic with beautiful objet d’art, big mirrors and vast windows all add to the sense of controlled grandeur. Another large room on the ground floor with a vast working fireplace offers an alternative but the dining room is where all the action is. Service is friendly and professional and as Laura stated “Best views in Thanet”. The food was very good; beef carpaccio, a rack of lamb and a splendid bottle Dante Robino 2014 Malbec sealed the deal. It was served at the perfect temperature. In fact the whole hotel sets the right temperature, individual controls in the bedrooms, not too hot not too cold common areas – bravo Albion House.
This part of Kent has a long history with aviation and no finer hour was its impact during the war. Two museums next to each other, RAF Manston History Museum and the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum offer a collection of planes, memorabilia and history of the Battle of Britain all rolled into one. The staff are volunteers and extremely knowledgeable and the little shop sells lots of bang on trend vintage inspired souvenirs.
The vintage theme continues at Petticoat Lane Emporium in Dumpton Park Drive. 175 stalls selling everything from antique furniture to vintage records housed in an enormous building. Perfect for an afternoon’s rummaging if you’re after silverware, jewelry or just about anything else for that matter. In case you find it all a bit tiring then there’s a cafe on hand to offer tea and sympathy for your feet.
For another meal out I can recommend Bon Appétit on the West Cliff Arcade. Mark Way bought the restaurant from his father nearly 15 years ago and has never looked back. He is a one-man dynamo in the kitchen offering predominantly classic French food. He trained as a saucier and still can’t help himself; my beef came with two pepper and Roquefort. The food and the small intimate atmosphere made for a good evening. There was homemade tomato bread, a baked Camembert with homemade chutney, a delicious little ginger granita before the beef and a crêpe Suzette to end. If you plan to go at the weekend or in the summer season then book as it fills up quickly. Those who might wish to stray from the French discipline could consider Thai mussels or many of the other fresh fish on the menu. Mark turns out consistent food that is not trend driven or flashy but just simply tastes good. I recommend a visit.
After dinner I walked along the cliffs and admired the series of Victorian shelters facing the sea. Then I remembered an incident some 15 years ago when I was visiting with my family and my then young son Xavier lost a favourite dinosaur. We backtracked our route looking everywhere within a few feet of where his pushchair had been to no avail. Getting tired and more and more distressed at this tragic loss we stopped in one of the shelters we had passed earlier. It was now dark and we really should have left for home some time ago. There on the end of the bench was his dinosaur that we must have left some three hours earlier. A happy child and relieved pair of relieved parents resulted. But it made me think that this is the sort of place Ramsgate is, solid, reliable and not prone to change.
After a superb breakfast at my new ‘friend’s-home-by-the-sea’ on my last morning I set off for an exploration of the underground side of life in Ramsgate Tunnels. A warren of excavation created before World War II to offer the population shelter from an attack. Ramsgate had been hit hard in the World War I with Zeppelin bombing raids destroying and killing with alarming success.
Carved from existing railway and expanded by miners it proved prophetically wise. The tour starts with a short film edited from footage of the area setting the scene for my visit. There are two miles of tunnels and during the height of the war were home to as many as 60,000 people from Ramsgate sheltering during bombing raids. Because of the foresight of the Mayor who authorized the construction only 29 people were killed during the war in Ramsgate.
Ramsgate is a wonderful place to wander around and discover at your own pace. It’s full of interesting little shops, cool cafes and impressive restaurants. Albion House is at the vanguard of quality and resurgence of the Victorian heyday of this fascinating seaside gem. There is a Maritime Museum that covers the rich nautical history of the region. There are four themed walks, e-cycle itineraries of the Viking Trail, canoeing and many other activities, all available through Active Ramsgate. These Kent towns are part of our heritage and in many ways have changed the least over the last 50 years compared to the big cities. There is very much a life left in them and I urge you to visit and recapture a slice of history and give it new life.
You might find the following links useful for a trip to Ramsgate