- White cliffs, windmills and high weald
- Country life
- Farmer’s markets, smuggler’s inns
Ever since Caesar first came, saw and conquered it, the Garden of England has attracted visitors with its sandy beaches and fertile countryside.
From the chalky cliffs, sandy bays and flint fisherman’s cottages of its coast to the windmills and weather-boarded houses of the wild weald and downlands, Kent’s landscapes are both bountiful and varied. Its towns and topography have inspired authors from Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens to John Buchan; and historic leaders from Churchill to Henry VIII have escaped to relax at the county’s full deck of stately homes and Blue Flag strands. And if that all sounds a bit worthy, there’s plenty of boutique shopping, antiques hunting, spa pampering, wine-tasting and outdoors adventures to be had, too…
Kent’s position at the top of the hop charts means there are more than a few home-county brews to wrap your lips around: one of the best-known is Spitfire ale, produced by Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame. Pop into the Brewery Shop in Faversham and you’ll also find Whitstable Bay Organic Ale, and Bishop’s Finger, made entirely with Kentish ingredients: perfect with a ploughman’s lunch of Wealden cheese.
- If you need a taxi, your best bet is to get your hotel to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs, since they’ll know the most reliable local cab companies.
- Tipping culture
- Most restaurants will include a 12.5 per cent service charge in your bill, so check before you sling an extra tenner on the plate; smaller cafés and tea rooms will appreciate your loose change to round up the total.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Shops will be open from about 9.30am to 6pm; smaller towns may have shorter hours, with little open on Sundays. Pubs are generally open 11am to 11pm, although some bars may stay open a little longer; make sure you don’t leave lunch too late, as restaurants often close between 3pm and 6pm.
- Packing tips
- Kites for windy days; empty crate or bottle rack for ferrying Kent-made wine, cider or beer home in the boot of your car; oyster shucker and champagne cooler for posh picnicking; mud-proof shoes for long walks on the Weald; binoculars for bird- and boat-spotting.
- Recommended reads
- The Canterbury Tales is Chaucer’s bawdy British take on the Decameron; John Buchan’s classic thriller The 39 Steps, inspired by Kent’s smuggler’s coves; get into the mind of long-time Kent resident, gardener, poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West in her Selected Writings. Charles Dickens also lived and wrote in Kent: try David Copperfield, Little Dorrit or Bleak House.
- The Garden of England not only grows greens; it has acres of splendid orchards and vineyards (see Local activities), fruit farms, dairies and breweries, not to mention specialists meats such as Romney Marsh lamb and wonderful fresh fish and seafood, including Dover Sole. Today’s orchards have dwindled, but you can get a taste for their former glory at the Brogdale National Fruit Collection (www.brogdale.org) at Faversham, and in the many jars of home-made jam you'll find in local shops. Whitstable is renowned for its native oysters – try them at the Whitstable Oyster Company’s Oyster Fishery Bar and Restaurant (+44 (0)1227 276856; www.oysterfishery.co.uk), right by the sea.
- Pound sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- UK country code: +44. Royal Tunbridge Wells: (0)1892. Canterbury (0)1227.
- Do go/don't go
- You can't beat a bright spring day in the countryside, but we're rather partial to wrapping up for wintry walks and then warming up by the fire. Kent’s beaches are mercifully uncrowded; even in the height of summer, you should still be able to find somewhere to erect your windbreak and unfold your deck chairs. Family-friendly sites such as Hever Castle will, of course, be less busy outside the school holidays, and Bank Holiday weekends can bring short but tiresome traffic jams.
Don't go home without...
… visiting Canterbury Cathedral to gawp at its splendid Gothic interiors; or spending a 1940s-style day on the beach; or spotting some of Kent’s distinctive oast houses and windmills; or eating native oysters from Whitstable; or dropping in on mediaeval villages such as Chilham, or Cranbrook with its picture-perfect weatherboard houses.