Margate, on the south east coast of Kent, continues its revival as a seaside resort and popular art and foodie destination. With miles of golden sand beaches and dozens of posh hotels along the seafront, Margate was a favorite holiday spot for 19th-century Londoners. The town’s artistic connections also date back to this time when landscape painter J.M.W. Turner produced over 100 works while living there and declared that the skies found in Margate to be “the most beautiful in Europe.” More recently, contemporary artists and gallerists have moved from London to Margate, including Tracey Emin who moved her studio back to her hometown and Carl Freedman’s gallery and print publishing business, Counter Editions is thriving.
And just opened last month is the Fort Road Hotel, a gorgeous new boutique hotel, owned by a trio from the UK creative world, on the clifftop across from the wonderful Turner Contemporary gallery. Purchased at auction four years ago as a virtual wreck, the 19th-century building has been painstakingly rebuilt and redesigned by the three partners and Fleet Architects, with an additional top floor and terrace. The guest-only roof terrace is certainly a highlight with wonderful 360° panoramic views of the vast Margate seascape and surrounding town. The owners are keen to emphasise that despite its derelict state, the hotel was clearly once a grand property at a time when Margate was a prosperous town and popular holiday destination.
Highly recommended for an autumn seaside getaway, this chic hotel features fourteen beautifully designed unique rooms (some with sea views) with warm white walls and pine flooring, each with carefully selected artworks and mid-century furniture, giving the place a Scandinavian feel. Every design detail has been carefully thought out, from the 400 thread count sheets and handmade linen curtains, to the live plants, Louis Poulsen PH5 pendant lights and even the vintage light switches. The bathrooms are gorgeous too, with floor-to-ceiling hand-made tiling from Mexico, contrasting with herringbone Carrara marble floors. Sustainability is important here with toiletries in refillable containers from local favorite Haeckels.
The restaurant, featuring food from ex River Cafe chef Daisy Cecil, is already popular with the locals and well on its way to becoming a destination restaurant with the “DFLs” (down from London). Serving breakfast, lunch, tea and cake and dinner, the focus is seasonal home-cooking, using quality ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Chef Cecil, in collaboration with consultant Gioconda Scott, has created a dinner menu inspired by late 19th and early 20th century female food writers like Mrs Beeton, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. The plan is to also host a series of chef residencies and workshops with local foragers and micro-producers throughout the year.
Considering who the owners are, it’s no surprise that art is everywhere at Fort Road Hotel. The ground floor and basement bar feature artworks by contemporary artists with close connections to Margate including Tracey Emin, Lindsey Mendick and Hannah Lees, while a specially commissioned mural by Sophie Von Hellermann fills the stairway. Also on view in the rooms and public areas are 20th-century abstract and figurative works that were collected from across the UK, Europe, Scandinavia and the US over the last two years by Tom Gidley. Many of the pieces are by previously unknown mid-century female artists who deserve fresh appraisal. The corridors are lined with a large collection of Margate-themed vintage photographs, postcards, memorabilia and antique maps. Ranging from the mid 18th to mid 20th centuries, they offer a fascinating social history of the town, its residents and visitors.
With a fantastic art collection, lovely guest rooms, excellent food, fab roof terrace and most importantly, great service, headed by the ebullient Tom Fogg ( Le Caprice, J. Sheekey, The Wolseley, Scott’s), the Fort Road Hotel is sure to be a success.
What to See and Do:
Colin’s Bike Tours are small group excursions along the gorgeous coastal paths led by Colin Welsh, an experienced tour guide. Colin, also a musician and artist, is a wealth of knowledge about the area and points out well known and lesser known sights en route.
Col’s tour from Margate to Broadstairs and back is a manageable, mainly flat ten miles and takes in historic landmarks like the neo-Grecian Winter Gardens dating from 1911, the Lido (seaside swimming pool), a Victorian bathing machine and Charles Dickens’ Fort House, now known as Bleak House where he wrote that novel and David Copperfield.
Turner Contemporary, designed by British architect David Chipperfield, has had a great impact on the local economy and cultural life since it opened on Margate’s seafront in 2011. Named after the famous painter, the gallery is on the site of the Rendezvous Guesthouse where Turner lived with Mrs. Sophia Booth, his landlady mistress. Exhibitions are free and range from first solo shows by artists such as Michael Armitage and Larry Achiampong to group exhibitions of internationally renowned figures including Tracey Emin, Akram Zaatari and Steve McQueen.
The Margate bookshop is an independent bookshop in the heart of the Old Town selling used and new books has a fantastic selection. Wildes cafe in historic Market Place is great for brunch or tea and cake. The chai latte is excellent.
Fort Road Hotel, 18 Fort Rd, Margate CT9 1HF +44 (0)1843 661313 Rooms start at £190/night.
Express Trains from London St Pancras to Margate take 90 minutes and run twice an hour on South Eastern Railway.