Fancy a weekend away in Kent?
Course you do! We've teamed up with Southeastern to give you the lowdown on the Garden of England's hidden gems. PLUS we're giving away a luxe weekend stay there worth £500! Aren't we nice?
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Ask any Muddy Stilettos editor which county in England is the best and we’ll all shout ‘mine!’
But Ali, the intrepid editor of Muddy Kent, seems verryyyy confident about her county’s charms right now – Deal just made it into the Top 10 places to live in the UK, there’s an exciting foodie scene, and indie shops seem to be tumbling over themselves in Kent’s towns. No doubt about it, the Pringle-jumper-and-Jag brigade is making way for a more hip, happening vibe in the Garden of England.
Feel like visiting? Check out Ali’s guide to Kent’s gems – some buffed and beautiful, others hidden from everyone but insiders, but all accessible by hop-offs via Southeastern (no driving around the M25 – yay!). Head off for a sneaky romantic break with the Weekender pass – here, we’ll help you with one lucky newsletter reader winning free tickets and two nights at a posh hotel – or grab your girlies for a pre-Christmas escape with a GroupSave ticket.
All our suggestions are within half an hour walk of each train station (though if you’re wearing heels and want to hail a cab, we won’t judge!). Either way, no need to thank us, just get to your destination, and mix yourself a large espresso martini. Well, no one’s driving, are they?
The Sunday Times Best Places To Live 2018 survey placed Deal in the Top 10, so you might want to stop and see what you’re missing! Complete with beach, fine food and shopping, yet still largely undiscovered, Deal is proving to be a worthy contender as one of the coolest beach towns in Kent. And even better – the train station is a couple of hundred metres from the high street and pier!
Eat & Drink
Deal has ‘foodie’ written all over it and you’re spoilt for choice here. Still, there are some stand-out options, starting with No Name Shop on the High Street which sells a mouth-watering selection of French cheeses, olives, cold meats, freshly baked breads and quiches (well, France lies just across the water). Pop Up Café further down the High Street is known for its speciality coffee and freshly baked sourdough bread. VictalsandCo restaurant is positioned down a pretty, little passageway off the High Street, and has a small and frequently changing menu. Want a grown-up dining experience? Feast on rock oysters, seared scallops and baked halibut served with asparagus veloute at Frog&Scot, a French bistro situated in the heart of the town before heading to The Lane, a cocktail bar/ restaurant / café with regular live music and DJs spots, or Le Pinardier‘s classy wine bar, music venue and art gallery.
The placed to stay is The Rose , a new boutique hotel with eight eclectic bedrooms and a fab restaurant and bar. If you need a room with an uninterrupted view of the sea, go to the Royal Hotel where some rooms have private balconies and roll-top baths overlooking the waves down below. Good for families, they also offer rooms with bunk beds that can fit up to two adults and three children. Plenty of self-catering options but my favourite is Admiral’s Rest, a vintage boutique family-friendly 2-bedroom holiday cottage two-minute walk from the seafront.
Shop & Visit
First stop, Hoxton Store (owner Alison Whalley ran Hoxton Boutique in London’s East End for over 12 years) for gorgeous homeware and vintage style lighting. If you love retro, you’ll go mad for Mileage, a vintage emporium selling cinema chairs, disco balls and everything in between! There’s a coffee shop there too if it all gets too much. Browse vinyl with a glass of wine in hand at Smugglers Records (look out for the Smugglers Festival in early Sept), or head to the The Bohemian on the seafront – it’s like stepping into someone’s cosy, crazy living room. Sit with the papers and a coffee on the sun-filled terrace out back, become fully acquainted with The Gin Corner in the bar or head to one of its vinyl nights held throughout the year. Also worth a gander is bespoke jewellery designer Rees and Rees, a father and daughter collaboration making beautifully crafted jewellery, special commissions, workshops and featured artists.
The city of Canterbury is the most popular place for Londoners to set up home when moving out to Kent and it’s no wonder – perfect for culture vultures, foodies and fashion-lovers alike (think outstanding theatre, World Heritage Site, top tourist attraction and shopper’s paradise all rolled into one), it’s also surprisingly compact, with the train station just 10 minutes from the centre of town.
Eat & drink
Kick-start your day at the brilliant The Goods Shed, right next to Canterbury West station. It’s a slick, chi-chi farmer’s market, food hall and restaurant all rolled into one or the colourful, quirky Boho Café. Five minutes’ walk into central Canturbury is the city’s former police station, The Pound, with its award-winning bar in the distinctive, old jail and The Parade Room restaurant (getting rave reviews btw) in the same building. Looking for a hidden gem? Best wine bar is The Shakespeare – go for a ‘wine flight’, a chandelier-style taster tray with three wine tasting glasses!
Abode is only minutes away from Canterbury Cathedral and a perfect base to explore the city – ask for one of the suites with the rooftop deck with panoramic views. Or the centrally located House of Agnes is a funky and friendly boutique B&B situated in a Grade-II listed historic house said to be mentioned in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. There’s a walled garden out the back, nine quirky rooms inside and eight in the converted stables overlooking the grounds.
Shop & Visit
The Cathedral Quarter is an absolute must, not only for Canterbury’s beautiful cathedral but it’s also where you’ll find plenty of indie shops. Head straight for Antoine & Lili, first boutique in the UK for this quirky and colourful French clothing and lifestyle brand; Lilford Gallery on Palace Street and Castle Street for cool, modern, playful work from emerging and international arts; and, if the weather’s in your favour, take a 45 min tour with Canterbury Punting Co through the city down the River Stour using one of their hand-built punts. Rainy day? Go check out Gulbenkian, the brilliant arts centre at the University of Kent.
This seaside town is gaining a reputation for its artistic heart – from the Triennial art festival that takes place in Folkestone every three years, to the Book Festival happening 16- 25 November. Then you’ve also got The Creative Quarter, which was part of the city’s regeneration project and is now the wonderfully colourful home to an eclectic mix of artist studios and creative businesses. Stop the train, you’ll want to get off!
Eat & Drink
The first port of call for dining should be Rocksalt, perched over Folkestone harbour with panoramic floor to ceiling views out over the English Channel. Michelin-starred chef, Mark Sergeant is at the helm, so a treat for the tastebuds too. Children, surprisingly, are very welcome! For something more informal, head to nearby SmokeHouse for old-school fish & chips. Luben’s in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter is great for home-made authentic wood-fired pizza. Big Boys Burgers is the place if you need a burger fix and boy oh boy, these are no ordinary burgers – 28 day matured local beef on a French brioche bun, dipped in rich beef stock. If you’re looking for a liquid lunch, head to the Lighthouse Champagne Bar, tucked into the Folkestone Lighthouse. For coffee, try the aptly-named Steep Street Coffee House – inspired by the famous book cafés of Paris, the café’s walls are lined from top to bottom with books, available to browse or buy.
Egyptian cotton, original antique beds and flat screen television: if that gets you misty-eyed then you should stay in one of RockSalt’s four individually decorated bedrooms. Alternatively, try The Relish which has ten beautifully appointed rooms in this Regency period town house within 500 yards of some of the best restaurants. Families very welcome with additional cots/beds readily available.
Shop & Visit
Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, a stone’s throw from the Sea, is a bustling district that’s home to a wide-range of indie shops and studios. Kitty McCall is a UK interiors and accessories brand and it’s gorgeous– from limited edition prints to custom furniture, expect to find innovative designs in sumptuous colour palettes. One of Muddy’s favourites, Lilford Gallery, has a space here alongside its Canterbury gallery, and is the go-to place for up and coming local artists as well as internationally recognized talent. Go to Rennie’s for curious vintage finds, or Moo like a Monkey for wooden eco-friendly toys and children’s clothes. For outings, Kent’s Battle of Britain museum is located on a former World War 11 airfield, four miles from Folkestone, and contains the largest Battle of Britain collection of memorabilia with artefacts from over 700 aircraft on display. If the weather is fine, follow the coastal path from Folkestone to Sandgate, a pretty seaside village, just two miles away. For rainy days, try the indie Silver Screen Cinema in Folkestone’s town hall. You’ll love the antique box office ticket vending machines!
Margate, like many of Kent’s seaside towns, has undergone quite a renaissance in the last few years. Now the homeland of creatives (artist Tracey Emin is opening a studio) quirky art galleries and indie shops sit alongside the sandy beaches (literally 2 minutes from the train, day trippers), there’s a ‘vintage’ indie charm here.
Eat & Drink
You’re spoilt for choice in Margate, but for a hearty breakfast I’d recommend The Greedy Cow, a family run café serving hearty meals from a full English to peanut butter maple toasties and pulled pork to vegan hotdogs. For fish and chips it has to be Angela’s Seafood Restaurant, selling simple sustainable dishes like Whitstable Rock Oysters or Fresh Fish Soup. Continental charms in abundance from new Italian restaurant Bottega Caruso, which offers an authentic slice of Naples and has created quite the buzz locally. Out of town towards Cliff Terrace you’ll find Roost, a rotisserie chicken shop with a funky urban feel.
In a prime spot on Margate’s golden beach you’ll find the new The Sands Hotel. With its own restaurant, terrace, cocktail bar and private rooftop overlooking Margate Sands – the perfect spot for your Negroni sundowner. I love The Reading Rooms, a boutique Bed & Breakfast Georgian townhouse where each of the three spacious guest-rooms covers an entire floor. Its location in Hawley Square is less than five minutes’ walk to the beach, the historic Old Town, vintage shops and Turner Contemporary.
Shop & Visit
The must-sees are Turner Contemporary gallery – a stunning building right on the seafront with a rolling programme of extraordinary art – and Dreamland amusement park which has had a new injection of hipster cool, having undergone a ‘seaside vintage’ makeover. Vintage is what Margate does best, so for shopping head to Madam Popoff Vintage for original fashion pieces, and Junk Deluxe for cool furniture and collectables. Want something new? Artisans and Adventurers, already in Hackney, as opened here as your go-to source for contemporary sustainable. Another local gem is Haeckels seaweed & treatment rooms – the locally sourced products are now stocked in Selfridges and Liberty.
Here’s a town steeped in history. It boasts a Norman castle, an ancient cathedral (literally 150m from the train station), fantastic views over the Medway – and Dickens. Yes, that’s Charles Dickens and they rightly make a right old fuss of him in these parts. History buffs, coffee connoisseurs and Instagrammers will love the stunning surrounds too.
Eat & Drink
Elizabeth’s restaurant set in a 16th century Tudor building is a fine diner’s destination – steel reinforce your wallet! For a mid-price option, try Smoke & Liquor charcoal grill restaurant in a timber-framed central Rochester building – it’s popular locally for good reason. You’ll love the cool historic setting of Powder & Magazine a new casual gastro dining restaurant in the old Royal Navy Ordnance Depot (think funky, high-ceiling warehouse). Bruno’s Bakes and Cakes or The Deaf Cat (yup another Dickens reference) with a view directly across to the cathedral are your coffee and cake options. More a cocktail fan? Totter to Oliver’s for a well-mixed measure.
Rochester isn’t blessed with gazillions of chi-chi hotels – though early next year you’ll be able to book the boutique charms of The Vines of Rochester which looks gorgeous. Until then, St George Hotel is probably the best of the bunch (choose one of the ‘Boutique Rooms’, though our vote goes to this stylish Air BnB (sleeps 4), bang on the High Street and close to the train station.
Shop & Visit
Rochester High Street is pretty much a memorial to Charles Dickens, who lived close by. History buffs will love the Norman castle (the country’s best-preserved example of Norman architecture) and ancient cathedral where you can view the Magna Carta. In terms of shopping, Rochester offers a quirky indie vibe. We love Kiss Kiss Heart, a romantic vintage style boutique inspired by French flea markets, and sister shop Rocket, that specialises in 40s and 50s fashion. Or there’s Baggins Book Bazaar for book-loving romantics. Not far away the Historic Dockyard, Chatham is worth a visit too.
There was a time when this town had a reputation for being the perfect example of Pringle-sweater wearing middle England, but no more. Still genteel in all the right ways, Tunny Wells has a blossoming bar and restaurant scene and shopgasmic selection of indie fashion boutiques, jewellers and art galleries. Less than an hour from London and a manageable size to totter around from the central railway line, we think you’ll like it here.
Eat & Drink
Fish fans will love Sankey’s at the Old Fishmarket, the Champagne & seafood bar at the heart of the Pantiles (the pretty pedestrianised historic part of town). If you want authentic Thai head to Sucheera or for mouth-watering sushi then try Kitsu, a tiny little, low-key restaurant (not glam at all, but that’s part of the charm). The Warren restaurant is an extension of the nearby Crowborough Estate where the grazing cattle, goats, deer and wild boar go from farm to fork. The always buzzy The Ivy Royal Tunbridge Wells is great for lunch and dinner (be warned, the bar’s a bit small for a large group). A stone’s throw away is the Tunbridge Wells Bar & Grill with its retractable roof, or for a proper hidden gem try Vale Vault, a small and stylish cocktail and wine bar, with a speak-easy Americana vibe, tucked away underneath The Bedford Pub. If you’re in the Mount Ephraim area head into The Common Rooms the new bar with a Shoreditch vibe serving vinyl tunes and strong cocktails.
Central and smart is the Grade II-listed Hotel du Vin, massively popular locally and with dog-friendly rooms. A more contemporary hotel is One Warwick Park which has it’s own restaurant, bar and now new beauty salon. For real character I’d recommend Mount Edgcumbe, stylishly renovated pub with 6 boutique bedrooms, excellent food, a beer garden and 6th century sandstone cave, over-looking the historic common.
Shop & Visit
Walking from the bottom of the High Street towards the Pantiles you’ll pass the popular café, Juliets, our fave boutique Kitch and, further along, womenswear boutique Bod & Ted. The Pantiles offers oodles of cafés, indie shopping and galleries – try Beumée Contemporary Fine Art, or pop into Catherine Hills Jewellery, hidden away discretely (only open Thurs, Fri & Sat other days by appointment only) and watch Catherine craft flawless and distinctive pieces – there’s a reason she was handpicked as the jeweller for the Harry Potter films! Every other weekend there’s a brilliant Pantiles Market offering food, clothing and crafts.
WIN A GETAWAY TO KENT
Appetite whetted? Well, now you can enjoy the joys of Kent courtesy of Muddy!
We’re giving one lucky newsletter reader a luxe weekend break for two worth £500 at the super-stylish Mount Edgecumbe hotel in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Check it out, ain’t it gorgeous?
WHAT YOU GET
- A weekend break (Fri & Sat) in a boutique room with kingsize bed, roll top bath and beautiful views
- Three course meal and a bottle of house wine (either Fri or Sat)
- Breakfast on both mornings
- Two complimentary Southeastern tickets to get you there in style
- Click here for the full terms and conditions
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