The Grand Burstin Hotel in Folkestone has had its fair share of bad press over the years, and this week the chain that runs it was rated the worst in the UK for the 10th year in a row.
But is it really that bad? We sent journalist James Pallant to spend the night to see what it’s all about…
When my editor asked for volunteers to review the “worst hotel in the country”, the response from reporters was lukewarm.
I would have far rather taken on a story about the rules of the road, or even a parish council planning meeting.
But after an unfavorable draw, I reluctantly booked myself an overnight stay at the Grand Burstin Hotel in Folkestone.
Doom-scrolling TripAdvisor, a recent review titled “Stay here at your own risk”, did little to cheer me up.
“The bed was a mass of broken, uncomfortable springs and the toilet didn’t flush,” one guest recounted.
“There was a very strong smell of wet cats,” added another.
If you were to create a word cloud based on the reviews, the terms “mold,” “urine smell,” and “never again” would make a prominent appearance.
So it’s fair to say that my expectations were low.
It was dark when I arrived so all I could see of the hotel from the outside was that it was very large.
Big in at least one way, then.
The main entrance opens directly into a small reception area facing a flashing games arcade.
Dozens of golden Christmas baubles hung from a drop ceiling, and worn carpeting quickly led to elevators, dining rooms, and the hotel bar.
While queuing to check in, I noticed a framed sign on the wall that read, “We’re sorry if you’re experiencing reduced service levels during your stay…please wait with us, we’re doing our best.”
A little defensive from the start, right?
After a short wait, an elegantly dressed man invited me to step forward and asked my name.
“How was this week, busy?” I asked.
“Nah, not really, it’s fine,” he replied, typing on the keyboard.
After confirming my reservation, the receptionist offered me a bigger room at no additional cost. I gladly accepted.
I was told, “Dinner will be served from 5:30-8pm in the Victoria Dining Room and breakfast tomorrow will be at the Harbor Restaurant from 7:30-10am.”
“You are on the second floor, room 203. Enjoy your stay.
I took the elevator upstairs and followed the signs down a narrow hallway covered in carpets in classic colors only found in hotels and casinos.
A green light flashed as I inserted a key card and opened the door.
After all the bad reviews I had read, my first impression of the room was a pleasant surprise – there was no mold, no bodily fluids, and not a puff of wet cat.
I found a spacious and spotless room, tidy with plenty of extra towels and pillows.
A kettle sat on a small shelf next to cups filled with tea bags, single-serving milk jugs and sugar packets.
There was a desk, a coffee table with two chairs, an iron and ironing board, a fan, and a small TV mounted on the wall.
Individual reading lamps were above two single beds, with a third bed to the side near the window.
I lifted the sheets to check for dirt, stains or hair – all clear.
Upon inspecting the bathroom, I was pleased to see that everything was clean and functioning properly.
The tub shower had great water pressure and the basin was complete with miniature bars of soap, lotion bottles and plastic cups.
The decor was very dated and I could tell the furniture had been used a lot, with a few scratches and tears here and there, but overall the room was perfectly adequate.
After freshening up, I went downstairs for dinner.
The Victoria dining room was a large space decorated with long paisley curtains and not much else.
There were about 50 tables, three buffet stations, and a handful of waiters to take drink orders.
The main buffet offered an array of options. On one side, breaded cod and fries, beef stew, steamed carrots, broccoli, tomato soup – on the other, salad, couscous, rolls and hummus.
It’s lucky I don’t have any dietary restrictions because as far as I know nothing was labeled with ingredients.
Across the room, I found a cheese station with crackers and grapes in addition to a selection of fruits, cakes, and other desserts.
I made myself a plate of fish and chips, vegetables and salad and sat down at a table to eat.
It wasn’t the tastiest food I’ve ever tasted – the fries weren’t that crispy, the fish was a bit chewy, but overall it was ok.
For dessert, I had cheese and biscuits before feasting on a slice of cake, which I was surprised to find with a weird gum-flavored icing.
I went to the bar to see if I could find any other guests to talk to.
It didn’t take long for me to play cards with an elderly couple, Michael and Ann from Yorkshire.
After a few games, I hinted that I was writing a Grand Burstin review and asked them what they thought of the place.
“We think it’s great,” said Michael, a retired fire department engineer.
“It pisses me off when people come to these kinds of places, wait around and then write bad reviews.”
“The rooms are spotless,” Ann interjected.
“The staff are all very friendly, there’s a great happy hour, and you get a hot dinner and cooked breakfast – what more do you want?”
Michael says he’s had some great meals at the hotel – baked salmon, tender steak – although he doesn’t like the way they cook the bacon in the morning, “But that’s just a preference,” he says.
“For what we’re paying, I think that’s a lot.”
I tend to agree – for two meals and a large room for one night I paid £57 and wouldn’t be surprised if there was a discount for a longer stay.
And yes you have to pay extra for parking, internet in the room, use of the pool, but for a basic package I think that’s fair – I mean you would easily spend the best part of £40 for a three course meal in most restaurants.
I returned to my room and lay down.
I have to say the mattress was pretty hard, the TV didn’t work, and judging by how clearly I could hear conversations in the room upstairs, the walls must have been pretty thin.
On a busier night, with a particularly noisy guesthouse, I can imagine a peaceful night’s sleep might have been a challenge, but I woke up the next morning well-rested, if a little stiff.
The breakfast was average, the coffee was bitterly burnt and the poached eggs were cooked to death, but I really enjoyed the fruit and there was plenty of choice.
Similar to dinner the night before, the area was set up with a number of different buffets: cooked breakfast, fruit, pastries, porridge, cereal.
Checking out was as easy as dropping my key card in a metal letterbox at reception.
I only stayed one night and had low hopes, but the Grand Burstin is right in my book.
Folkestone is a great town to visit with beautiful scenery and plenty to do.
Especially if you’re looking for a budget option or don’t plan to spend a lot of time in a hotel, I recommend giving this place a try.