International hotelier Grace Leo outlines her plans for Bexhill’s Cooden Beach Hotel
The new owner of Bexhill’s Cooden Beach Hotel is hoping to use her experience of developing resorts in the Caribbean and the south of France to make the popular destination the ‘best beach hotel on the English coast’.
International hotelier Grace Leo bought the hotel alongside her Singapore-based partner, shipping entrepreneur and hotel investor Tim Hartnoll, for £6.9 million on a freehold basis.
The Cooden Beach Hotel reopened to customers on Monday (May 17), as lockdown restrictions eased across England. The hotel will remain open throughout the summer, when Ms Leo expects a ‘busy staycation season’.
It will then close in the winter for a full renovation, with plans to reopen in the spring of 2022 as The Relais Cooden Beach, the second property under Ms Leo’s new Relais Retreats brand.
Speaking this week, Ms Leo said: “I was immediately in awe of the location of The Cooden Beach Hotel and could see the possibilities for creating an upscale, full-service resort right here in Sussex. I have developed many beautiful resorts in far off destinations such as St Barth’s, Mustique and St Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the South of France and I see no reason why we can’t recreate that idyllic resort experience on the English coast – despite the weather.
“The future vision for The Cooden Beach Hotel is to become the best beach hotel on the English Coast – one that becomes a full-service lifestyle resort with a focus on well-being relaxation and fun.
“We will keep the hotel open as it is throughout the summer, as we are expecting a busy staycation season, and we plan to close in the winter for a full renovation, planning to re-open in Spring 2022 as The Relais Cooden Beach.”
Ms Leo and Mr Hartnoll bought the Cooden Beach Hotel from entrepreneur James Kimber, who owned it alongside his wife Lesley for 16 years.
The hotel was built in 1928 and has been a landmark feature of the coastline since, with its sea views and beachside restaurant.
Staff at the hotel were kept on under the new ownership and have been involved with this week’s reopening, including Jenny Undasan, the hotel’s general manager.
Ms Leo added: “We are thrilled to be working with Jenny and her team who have been working at the hotel for many years and we know the important role that Cooden Beach Hotel has played in the lives of our neighbours – it has been part of many a family celebration and we hope that traditional will continue.
“As the hotel re-opens this week, you will notice some new touches, such as the new beach furniture and beach service. Guests will be able to reserve a sun lounger and enjoy refreshing drinks and cocktails from our beach waiters. The idea is that we want to create a resort ambience – a place to relax in the sun (when it comes out) and enjoy idle hours on the shore.
“We also plan to introduce new experiences and wellbeing programming to make the most of the restorative nature of being by the sea - from yoga facing the sea; new massage suites and we will invite our guests to embrace the health benefits of wild swimming in the English Channel, just steps from the hotel.”
When the Cooden Beach Hotel reopens next year following its winter renovation, it will be called The Relais Cooden Beach, and will be the second property under Ms Leo’s new Relais Retreats brand, which also includes the Relais Henley. That property, located alongside the Thames, reopens this summer following a complete renovation.
Ms Leo added: “The interior design, service and experiences that we will offer in Henley will give you a good idea of what to expect in time at Cooden Beach. For me, it’s about creating a relaxed atmosphere with high standards of personal service in beautiful spaces that make our guests feel special – a place that they want to return to, like a ritual.”