Rolling chalk hills, venerable Victorian resorts, fields of hops and grapes sweetening in the sun: welcome to England’s southeast, four soothing counties’ worth of country houses, fairy-tale castles, and the country’s finest food and drink. That fruit-ripening sun shines brightest and longest on the coast, warming a string of seaside towns wedged between formidable chalk cliffs. There’s something for everyone here, from the medieval quaintness of Sandwich to the bohemian spirit of hedonistic Brighton and the more genteel grandeur of Eastbourne. The southeast is also pock-marked with reminders of darker days. The region’s position as the front line against Continental invaders has left a wealth of turbulent history, including the 1066 battlefield, Dover Castle’s secret war tunnels, and scattered Roman ruins. England’s spiritual heart is Canterbury; its cathedral and ancient UNESCO-listed attractions are essential viewings for any 21st-century pilgrim.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Kent isn’t described as the garden of England for nothing. Within its sea-lined borders, you’ll find a landscape of gentle hills, fertile farmland, cultivated country estates, and fruit-laden orchards. It could also be described as the beer garden of England as it produces the world-renowned Kent hops and some of the country’s finest ales and wines from its numerous vineyards. At its heart is spellbinding Canterbury, crowned by its enthralling cathedral. You’ll also find beautiful coastal stretches dotted with beach towns and villages, from old-school Broadstairs to gentrified Whitstable and the aesthetically challenged port town of Dover.
Canterbury tops the charts for English cathedral cities and is one of southern England’s top attractions. Many consider the World Heritage-listed cathedral that dominates its center to be one of Europe’s finest, and the town’s narrow medieval alleyways, riverside gardens, and ancient city walls are a joy to explore. But Canterbury isn’t just a showpiece for the past – it’s a bustling, busy place with an energetic student population and a wide choice of contemporary bars, restaurants, venues, and independent shops. Book ahead for the best hotels and eateries: pilgrims may no longer flock here in their thousands, but tourists certainly do.
Home to rolling countryside, medieval villages, and a gorgeous coastline, this inspiring corner of England is besieged by weekending Londoners whenever the sun pops out. And it’s not hard to see why as you explore the cobbled medieval streets of Rye; wander around historic Battle, where William the Conqueror first engaged the Saxons in 1066; and peer over the edge of the breathtaking Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and Beachy Head near the genteel seaside town of Eastbourne. Brighton, a highlight of any visit, offers some kicking nightlife, offbeat shopping, and British seaside fun. Off the beaten track, you can stretch your legs on the South Downs Way, which traverses England’s newest national park, the South Downs National Park.
West Sussex offers a welcome respite from fast-paced adventures. The serene hills and valleys of the South Downs ripple across the county, fringed by the sheltered coastline. Beautiful Arundel and cultured Chichester make good bases from which to explore the county’s winding country lanes and remarkable Roman ruins.
Surrey is popular with affluent London commuters who’ve had kids, moved out of the city, and bought a country pad. For the most part, though, it’s made up of uninspiring towns and dull, sprawling suburbs. Further away from the roaring motorways and packed rush-hour trains, the county reveals some inspiring landscapes made famous by authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, and Jane Austen.