Kent: Garden of England Road Trip

20 June 2017
Read Time: 4.3 mins

Blessed with the moniker, 'The Garden of England', Kent is an easy yet extremely rewarding escape from London (aka 'The Big Smoke'). Tucked in the UK's south eastern corner, it's made for road tripping; its smooth motorways and snaking country lanes thread past a patchwork of Insta-worthy landscapes (think: rolling green hills, lush orchards and vineyards, and dramatic coastal cliffs). You could easily spend four days touring Kent, discovering the diverse charms of a county that lures everyone from celebrity artists and writers to royals and regular folk. 

Highlights

- An eclectic bunch of seaside towns

- Sampling tasty Kentish produce, beers and wines

- Roaming the county's gorgeous castles and gardens

- Wandering atop the majestic chalk cliffs of Dover

- Soaking up Kent's rich artistic and literary heritage

Day 1 - London to Canterbury

Religious pilgrims used to spend four days travelling on foot from London to Canterbury. Nowadays, you can drive there in under two hours. Kent's 'capital', Canterbury is encircled by medieval city walls, with its web of narrow streets fanning out from a huge Gothic cathedral (where those pilgrims flocked to pay homage to Thomas Becket, an archbishop murdered here in AD1170).

Canterbury Cathedral. Be sure to stop in at Canterbury Cathedral.

As well as exploring the cathedral itself, you can take peaceful strolls around its flower-filled gardens and bed down in the cosy Cathedral Lodge hotel. Outside the cathedral complex, enjoy a relaxing boat ride on the River Stour and visit The Canterbury Tales - a quirky attraction that uses actors and animatronics to bring to life Geoffrey Chaucer's witty 14th century stories, which followed a party of pilgrims journeying from London to Canterbury.

Day 2 - Canterbury to Margate

A 20-minute drive away is Whitstable, a fishing town famed for its oysters. Savour them - or, if you prefer, whelks, prawns and lobster - at seaside stalls or restaurants, perhaps with a glass of crisp Kentish wine or a Whitstable Bay Pale Ale. Check out the vintage clothing stores and cute galleries on Whitstable's high street, then drive east to Margate, a traditional bucket-and-spade resort that's experiencing a creative, cultural renaissance.

Turner Contemporary on the Margate seafront. Turner Contemporary on the Margate seafront.

Overlooking its wide sandy beach is the Turner Contemporary, a new arts mecca named after JMW Turner, the legendary British painter. There are more galleries - and hip bars and bistros - in Margate's revived Old Town, while amusements line the seafront, notably Dreamland, a 19th century-built fairground that's had a cool facelift. Stay at the Walpole Bay, an eclectic hotel-cum-museum flaunting antiques, paintings and napkins that past guests, like Britart icon Tracey Emin, have decorated with art and poetry.

Day 3 - Margate to Dover

Veering south from Margate, pull in to admire scenic coves such as Botany Bay, before arriving at Broadstairs, a quaint seaside town where Charles Dickens would while away his summers. A pretty cottage hosts a Dickens museum, while his old holiday home - in which he wrote David Copperfield - is now Bleak House, a boutique hotel that does afternoon teas.

Beautiful Ramsgate Harbour in England. Beautiful Ramsgate Harbour.

Driving further south, you'll find Ramsgate, a royal harbour town filled with yachts, fish and chip shops and seafood eateries, and Sandwich, a delightfully picturesque town that was once a thriving port until its harbour silted up. Before arriving at Dover, turn inland to the village of Alkham, above which you'll find Alkham Court, a chic farmhouse B&B. Nestled in bucolic countryside, dotted with grazing cows and sheep, it's a charming hilltop base and even has a hot tub and sauna.

Day 4 - Dover to London

After breakfasting on a classic full English with eggs, bacon and sausages sourced from local farms (or smoked haddock from nearby Folkestone harbour), take a soul-stirring hike on the magnificent white cliffs of Dover. Glancing across the Channel, you'll spot France (and your mobile phone signal may say you're actually there). French flavours infuse the Kentish countryside, with swathes of Champagne-like sparkling wine produced here. Do a tour and tasting at Chapel Down, an award-winning winery that also does fine whites, reds and roses.

Leeds Castle in England. Leeds Castle is easy to do on the way home.

Before returning to London, call in at Leeds Castle. Arguably the most beautiful of Kent's photogenic stately piles, it has been dubbed "the loveliest castle in the world". Amble its vast gardens, get lost in its hedge maze and peruse the lavish interior of a landmark that's surrounded by a dreamy moat and has been home to many queens, including Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII.

Luxury Stays

Broome Park Golf Club

Enjoy a unique stay at this magnificent 17th century estate with its own 18-hole golf course. Make yourself at home in one of the 14 guestrooms, featuring kitchens, iPod docking stations and WiFi in a beautiful setting of rolling, green countryside.

The Reading Rooms B&B

The Reading Rooms B&B is a beautiful restored Georgian townhouse that's just a stone's throw from Margate's sandy beach. The B&B features tour/ticket assistance, free WiFi and secure guest parking. All rooms are individually decorated and offer water views. 

K&K Hotel George

Spend your London nights in the elegant borough of Kensington and Chelsea, at the unique and character-laden K&K Hotel George. Oozing Victorian splendour, luxury and charm, the hotel rooms radiate warm elegance and comfort, while the Bistro Lounge offers a fine selection of dining and the award-winning gardens offers an oasis of peace. 

Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.
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