Artistic enclaves, stunning shores, unique histories and expansive, wilderness escapes make Folkestone, Hythe & Romney Marsh in Kent well worth a visit.
In regenerated Folkestone quaint streets meet cutting-edge art. In the Creative Quarter 100 artistic enterprises fill the cobbled, historic heart of town, along with pastel-painted studio-galleries, quirky stores, cool bars and chic eateries. A short stroll away, the mile-long cliff-top promenade of The Leas offers sea views to France. Ride the historic Leas Lift down to the Lower Leas Coastal Park for a picnic or a BBQ, then get some sand between your toes on Folkestone's Sunny Sands beach. Restaurants abound; try Rocksalt for super-fresh fish and superb harbour views. Eurotunnel Le Shuttle brings France closer too; from Folkestone, Calais is just 35 minutes away.
The south Kent coast has long protected the realm. Hythe, New Romney, Sandwich, Dover and Hastings united in the 11th-century as the original Cinque Ports. Henry VIII built diminutive Sandgate Castle in 1539. A chain of sturdy Martello Towers, stretching from Folkestone to Sussex, went up during the Napoleonic wars, while the planes, hangars and artefacts of Folkestone's Kent Battle of Britain Museum speak eloquently of the aircrews that defended the skies.
History is tangible too in Hythe Kent, from 10th century St Leonard's Church, with its skull-packed ossuary, to the old buildings, family-run stores and antiques shops all over town. While the Hythe Bay Seafood Restaurant serves up just-caught fish and spectacular sea views.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway offers a scenic, marsh-side, steam-powered puff from Hythe, through New Romney, to Dungeness. The Napoleonic-era Royal Military Canal stretches for 28 miles, with shorter towpath cycle and walking routes fanning out from Hythe. You can cruise it by electric or hired row-boat too. Nearby Port Lympne Reserve and Howletts Wild Animal Park is alive with lions, tigers, gorillas and meerkats. You can even bed down (almost) beside the beasts at Livingstone Lodge, Britain's only overnight safari-park-stay.
Romney Marsh offers huge skies and clear air; freedom, space and a place to think. Its 100 square miles of unspoilt countryside takes in woodland, wetlands and sand and shingle shores. The Romney Marsh Visitor Centre offers information about the history and wildlife of this unique landscape as well information about other things to see and do. Cinque Port towns New Romney and Lydd, and the marsh's 14 medieval churches supply compelling stories - and smugglers' tales. The huge RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness delivers birdlife at its most magnificent, while Prospect Cottage - the home of outspoken author and film-maker Derek Jarman - provides a unique insight into writing, living and gardening.
The Elham Valley nestles midway between Canterbury and Folkestone, situated within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the area is rich with woodland walks and country pubs.
Getting here is very simple, if you live near a motorway, head for the M20, turn off at any junction between 10 and 13 and follow the signs; or if travelling via the M2 turn off at junction 7 for Canterbury, then via the B2068 to join the M20 or A20.