For reasons that no longer need explaining, the UK has been our holiday playground this year, making Kent – the garden of England – seem more alluring than ever. It’s a county rich in beaches, chocolate-box villages, undulating valleys, great food, even fine wine – and all just an hour or so from London. There’s more than just rural respite, though: Kent’s cobblestone towns and spruced-up seaside settlements have drawn crowds all summer. So while your Margates and Whitstables are now well documented day-trip destinations, there are plenty of lesser known but equally appealing Kent towns to have on your radar for a quick getaway.
Folkestone might not be as aesthetically gifted as Whitstable, nor has it been as enthusiastically embraced by hipsters as Margate, but it has a rising arts scene, great seafront pubs and the bustling Harbour Arm lined with food trucks, bars and market stalls – flanked by, yes, a champagne lighthouse. The Folkestone Triennial 2020 opened in July, becoming the UK’s largest urban outdoor contemporary exhibition – think of it as a treasure hunt of artworks, scattered throughout the town. For good pub food with warm service try the Harbour Inn, or for a more decadent dining option choose bijou restaurant the Folkestone Wine Company. Head along the colourful Creative Quarter afterwards for cocktails in the Potting Shed’s intimate speakeasy.
The laidback Deal is often forgotten by tourists as it’s a touch out on its own, but this former fishing and mining town – with plenty of tales of a piratical past, too – is worth the journey. And for all its new galleries and upmarket restaurants, the town has lost none of its independence. Stay at the impeccably designed bolthole the Rose, and enjoy the town’s narrow, winding streets, independent cafés and mile-long pier where you can watch the sun set over the horizon. Make sure you stop off at Smugglers Records where you can enjoy a glass of wine as you browse LPs. Deal Beach Parlour is also an essential: a charmingly old school ice cream parlour offering milkshakes and sweet treats.
Fordwich may be Britain’s tiniest town, but it is also fast becoming a culinary hot spot. This sleepy hollow, only two miles from Canterbury, is a perfect day-trip option. Come for the food, then go for a bucolic ramble along the River Stour afterwards, or if you’re feeling adventurous hire a boat or canoe and take to the water. There’s also a small mooring dock where swimmers can go for a dip amid the weeping willows. But onto the refreshments part… The ivy-covered, Michelin-starred Fordwich Arms promises to do for Fordwich what the Sportsman did to Seasalter, attracting well-heeled Londoners in their hungry droves. Its wisteria-tangled terrace and riverside setting is almost as big a draw as the Grace Dent-approved menu. Pop next door to the George & Dragon – a beloved local favourite – for a pretty pub with plenty of character and historic charm.
Ramsgate is often overlooked in favour of its neighbour Margate, which sits five miles up the coast. But this 19-century seaside town packs its own charm, with its Regency architecture, sweeping sandy beach and a pretty marina with second-hand furniture sellers, antique shops and cafés. There is a blossoming creative scene – the annual Festival of Sound (27 August–5 September) is a big draw – and locals have also launched a crowdfunder to convert a century-old Dutch barge into an arts space. It’s a great spot to visit at Christmas when the boats in the harbour are all adorned with twinkling lights.
The oldest market town in Kent, Faversham is situated around a winding creek where you’ll find restaurants, independent boutiques and antiques emporiums. Stroll along the beautiful Abbey Street and admire the Mediaeval architecture and timber beamed cottages, then head to the market for flowers, plants, homemade pastries and second-hand treasures. The town is also home to Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame, so make sure you stop off for a pint.
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