UK break: Sussex

Try tempura cod, take a bushcraft course and visit a mock-Mughal palace

UK break: Sussex Woodland Yurting at The Barn Meadow - © Woodland Skills Ltd
By Time Out editors

The shingle beaches, dune-backed sands and boat-filled harbours on the Sussex coast are interspersed with classic seaside resorts, from genteel Worthing to bohemian Brighton. Inland are ancient castles and romantic gardens, unspoilt villages and cosy country pubs, along with the cathedral cities of Canterbury and Chichester. Sussex aslo has a vibrant cultural scenes, taking in opera and music festivals, architectural gems and world-class art galleries.

Rye and Hastings

There’s astonishing variety contained within the 15 miles between Camber and Rye on the Kent border and St Leonards-on-Sea, just west of Hastings. Camber Sands is a glorious beach, while Rye is picturesque in the extreme, with cobbled streets leading to ancient pubs, fine restaurants and quirky galleries and ateliers. Heading west, Winchelsea, once one of England’s principal ports, is today a relic of maritime history and a reminder of a wine industry 500 years before the current resurgence – the vast cellars can still be seen. From here, it’s a steep rise over the clifftop to Hastings Country Park, before a descent to the old town of Hastings itself.

 Even within Hastings, there are huge differences: upmarket antiques shops and rundown amusement arcades lie within a few paces of one another. But this is part of its charm. Although the pier is destroyed, Hastings is on the rise. The refined Old Town, full of atmospheric pubs, fish restaurants, curio dealers and wet fish markets, often surprises visitors expecting kiss-me-quick hats and candy floss (which certainly still exist). Skipping through the identikit town centre, you emerge in the America Ground area, home to trendy cafés and businesses such as Collared, a shop selling fashionable accessories for chic canines; proof that Hastings is moving beyond its dog-on-a-string demographic.

Past the sad sight of the pier, burned down (deliberately?) in October 2010, is St Leonards-on-Sea – seamlessly joined to Hastings, but very independent-minded. Although it was formerly down-at-heel (and some parts still are), gentrification is moving quickly here – it even has its own Banksy. Along the upper end of Norman Road, dealers in mid-century furniture, independent coffee shops, farmers’ markets and one of the best restaurants in the area, St Clement’s, can all be found. Just don’t call it Hastings.

Things to do

Rye

Rye has it all: an attractive, well-preserved centre that’s a joy to walk around, lots of independent shops, pubs and cafés, plus a fetching harbour area – and, of course, just along the coast at Camber, the best beach for miles. Although much of the place is given over to genteel tourism, it remains a working town, with enough real stores and down-to-earth pubs – and a commercial fishing fleet – to prevent a theme park atmosphere. It’s easy to reach by rail (the walk from the station to the heart of town takes about a minute) and by road; the A259 between Folkestone and Hastings is routed directly through the town.

Tourist Information Centre (01797 229049, www.visitsoutheastengland.com). Visitors can buy an excellent audio tour for an MP3 player, or download it from www.ryesussex.co.uk audio for £2.99.

Hastings Castle

The weathered stone walls of Hastings Castle have had a fair old battering since William of Normandy ordered their construction, shortly after the Battle of Hastings. But the structure has survived – even after King John ordered its destruction, and the violent storms of 1287 attacked the south coast with such rage that part of the cliff face tumbled into the sea, taking pieces of the castle with it. Although the castle isn’t much more than a shell these days, its history is fascinating; watch ‘the 1066 Story’, a video presentation on the castle and the famous battle.

Blue Reef Aquarium

Tropical reef fish as well as British coastline species offer a chance to see what life is like under the sea. The 30 or so displays are very well kept, and include sharks, giant lobsters and delicate seahorses. There’s an underwater tunnel too.

Rock-A-Nore Road, Hastings, TN34 3DW (01424 718776, www.bluereefaquarium.co.uk). Open Mar-Oct 10am-5pm daily. Nov-Feb 10am-4pm daily. Admission £7.95; free-£5.95 reductions; £25.80-£30.75 family.

Where to eat

Webbe’s at the Fish Café

Owned by Paul Webbe, who also runs the Wild Mushroom in Westfield and Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore in Hastings, this is one of the best seafood restaurants in the area. Pan-fried Rye Bay scallops with roast button onions, pancetta and creamed potato would tempt most diners, but there are also decent steaks and the odd veggie option; the fish-based, tapas-style tasting dishes are popular too. Locally sourced produce is used where possible, and it’s all served in a sleek, smart setting.

17 Tower Street, Rye, TN31 7AT (01797 222226, www.webbesrestaurants.co.uk).
Lunch served noon-2.30pm daily. Dinner served 6-8.30pm Mon-Fri; 6-9.30pm Sat, Sun.

First In Last Out (FILO)

The FILO is one of the best pubs in Hastings. It’s an unassuming but friendly place: during the winter, a fire burns, and booth seating makes it even cosier. Warmer weather sees the covered beer garden at the rear come into its own. Pub grub includes dishes such as fish cakes or liver and bacon, and Monday night is tapas night. The main reason for a trip here, however, is the selection of ales from their own brewery. Crofters is their best bitter and always available, but also look out for Ginger Tom, a light ale infused with a hint of ginger, or the Sussex porter, Cardinal. An all-round delight.

14-15 High Street, Hastings, TN34 3EY (01424 425079, www.thefilo.co.uk).
Open noon-midnight daily. Lunch served noon-2.30pm Mon-Sat. Dinner served 6-8.30pm Mon.

Where to stay

The George

Rye’s premier hotel since it reopened after a major revamp in 2006, the George is a handsome coaching inn dating from 1575. It has 24 bedrooms, a Georgian ballroom and a restaurant. Rooms are all modishly designed, and each is different, though all have beautiful bathrooms stocked with Ren products and beds covered with Frette linen.The restaurant serves the likes of wild sea bass with fennel, roast red pepper and pickled mushrooms or smoked Romney Marsh lamb neck with mini lamb pie and devilled kidneys, while the tap room is a welcoming nook with a crackling fire and real ales.

98 High Street, Rye, TN31 7JT (01797 222114, www.thegeorgeinnrye.com). Rates £135-£195 double incl breakfast.

Rye Windmil

For a unique stay, try kipping in a windmill. This one is a Grade II-listed building, with en suite bathrooms, high-quality furnishings, and picture-postcard views of the adjacent River Tillingham. There are ten rooms, though only two are inside the windmill itself. The Windmill Suite is spread over two floors, and features a super-king sleigh bed, a freestanding roll-top bath and a balcony, while downstairs in the mill’s brick base is the Four Poster Room (complete with a period bed).

Off Ferry Road, Rye, TN31 7DW (01797 224027, www.ryewindmill.co.uk). Rates £70-£145 double incl breakfast (two-night min stay over a Sat night).

Swan House

From the moment you enter Swan House (built in 1490), you know you’re somewhere special. The beautiful wooden floors are covered in rugs, a fire burns in the grate, and the plump sofas are piled with cushions. The muted colours add to the ambience – it’s all been very carefully designed. There are four rooms, including the two-bedroom Renaissance Suite. Breakfast (Hastings kippers with parsley butter, perhaps) is served in the small courtyard in summer.

1 Hill Street, Hastings, TN34 3HU (01424 430014, www.swanhousehastings.co.uk). Rates £120-£150 double incl breakfast.

Battle, Bexhill & High Weald

Battle, eight miles inland from Hastings, marks the place where the Battle of Hastings was actually fought. The spot where Harold the Saxon got one in the eye (although the only reference for this is the Bayeux Tapestry) is marked within the walls of Battle Abbey. Today, the town is stunningly preserved, with buildings dating back to the time of the Abbey, as well as rickety Tudor houses and Victorian coaching inns. Surviving primarily as a tourist destination, Battle’s High Street has a fine selection of tearooms, restaurants and some quirky independent shops. From Senlac Ridge, where the opposing armies clashed, there are views across the High Weald.

This hilly, heavily wooded area may be little visited, but it lies within the fourth largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, and along its winding roads are the handsome villages of Robertsbridge, Northiam, and Bodiam, home to one of Britain’s most atmospheric castles. Bexhill, on the coast, is even more ignored, but there’s one very good reason to visit: the De La Warr Pavilion. A modernist masterpiece, the pavilion hosts an innovative programme of exhibitions and concerts.

Things to do

1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey & Battlefield

William the Conqueror marked his victory by establishing the abbey, and despite Henry VIII’s best efforts to destroy it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it remains a beautiful and spiritual experience. Set amid well-tended leafy grounds on Senlac Hill, the abbey looks out across the fields where the English and Norman armies fought the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The grassy battlefield comes to life with an informative audio tour. The longest walk around the site lasts under 40 minutes, and the audio accompaniment takes you step by step through the conflict. A visitor centre gives further information on the site; there’s a discovery room for children.

Battle, TN33 0AD (01424 775705, www.english-heritage.org.uk/1066).
Open Apr-Sept 10am-6pm daily. Oct-Mar 10am-4pm daily. Admission £7; £3.50-£6 reductions; £17.50 family.

Bodiam Castle

A castle fit for valiant knights and golden-haired princesses (from the outside anyway), Bodiam Castle rises majestically from its moat. Inside, the castle is a ruin, but visitors can nonetheless clamber up the stairs for views out across Sussex. The castle was built for Sir Edward Dalyngrygge in 1385 as a defence against the increasingly threatening French (who had sacked nearby Rye and Winchelsea in 1377). The only military action the castle saw was during the Civil War (1642-51), when the interior was gutted. It was then left to deteriorate until a local squire, John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller, aquired it in 1828 for £3,000. However, it wasn’t until Lord Curzon bought it in the early 1900s that extensive restoration was carried out. At certain days during school holidays children can try on armour, and there is also a Bodiam Bat Pack on sale featuring games and trails.

Bodiam, nr Robertsbridge, TN32 5UA (0158 0830196,www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiamcastle). Open Feb-Oct 10.30am-5pm daily. Nov, Dec 11am-4pm Wed-Sun. Jan 11am-4pm Sat, Sun. Admission £6.40; £3.20 reductions; £17 family.

De La Warr Pavilion

Reopened in 2007 following an £8 million restoration project, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff’s 1935 modernist masterpiece looks better than ever. This magnificent light-filled structure on the seafront came about thanks to the mayor, the 9th Earl De La Warr. He talked Bexhill Town Council into running an international competition for the design of a seaside pavilion that was to bring culture and entertainment to the region. The De La Warr Pavilion was the outcome. It now houses a small but splendid permanent collection of classic design drawings, twin gallery spaces and a theatre, and runs a vibrant programme of exhibitions, music and comedy. The view from the first-floor balcony out to sea is wonderful.

Marina, TN40 1DP (01424 229111, www.dlwp.co.uk).
Open 10am-5pm Mon-Fri; 10am-6pm Sat, Sun.

Where to eat

Curlew

Understated style greets visitors to the Curlew: muted browns, smoky slate walls and warm lighting make for a welcoming space. Roast haunch of venison with onion marmalade potato, brussels sprouts and butternut purée is typical of the modern British menu; the Earl Grey ice-cream is divine. Dishes arrive on an array of rustic boards, slates and metal dishes. In fine weather, diners have the option of a pristine fenced-in outdoor area. A Michelin star was awarded in 2011.

Junction Road, Bodiam, TN32 5UY (01580 861394, www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk).
Lunch served noon-2.30pm, dinner served 6-9.30pm Wed-Sun.

Wild Mushroom

This is the flagship restaurant of the small chain that includes the Fish Café in Rye and Webbe’s at Rock-a-Nore in Hastings. Set in a converted farmhouse, the Wild Mushroom has a lovely interior and serves seasonal, contemporary dishes, such as pan-fried wood pigeon with bubble and squeak, beetroot, glazed onion and port jus. The gastronomic highlight of the immediate area.

Woodgate House, Westfield Lane, Westfield, TN35 4SB (01424 751137, www.webbesrestaurants.co.uk). Lunch served noon-2.30pm Tue-Sun. Dinner served 7-9.30pm Tue-Sat.

George Inn

This 18th-century coaching inn offers a friendly welcome and top-notch food, much of it sourced from within 30 miles of the pub. Regional wines and ales complement the inviting menu – favourites on which are tempura cod with chunky hand-cut chips, and the Sussex cream tea. Even the fruit juices are pressed from fruit grown in the area. There’s a small bar by a large inglenook fireplace for drinkers. Have a look at the gallery dedicated to the pub’s basset hound; he has pen pals around the world. The George also has four modern, luxuriously decorated rooms available for bed and breakfast (£90-£105 double incl breakfast). 

High Street, Robertsbridge, TN32 5AW (01580 880315, www.thegeorgerobertsbridge.co.uk). Open 11am-11pm Tue-Sat; noon-8pm Sun. Lunch served noon-2.30pm Tue-Sat; noon-3pm Sun. Dinner served 6.30-9pm Tue-Sat.

Where to stay

Crowhurst Park

Forty-nine spacious pine lodges, all with leafy views, make up this village of holiday homes in the grounds of Crowhurst Park. The Manor House holds a clubhouse, where food, drink and a family lounge are offered. There’s an indoor pool, which is complemented by a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and children’s paddling pool.

Telham Lane, off Hastings Road, TN33 0SL (01424 773344, www.crowhurstpark.co.uk). Rates £295-£1,175 per week.

Slides Farm

In a shiny new section of Slides Farm, guests can enjoy all mod cons in rural tranquillity. Two comfortable en suite rooms open on to beautiful gardens. Breakfast options include plenty of local produce (Salehurst bacon and sausages, Wealden smoked haddock), and if the weather is kind, you can eat on the terrace.

Silverhill, Robertsbridge, TN32 5PA (01580 880106, www.slidesfarm.com). Rates £80-£90 double incl breakfast. No credit cards.

Coast

An Edwardian townhouse, with three smart en suite B&B rooms – Crimson, Teal and Sage. Crimson is the largest and suitable for a family stay. Affable owners, and the proximity of the beach (just a pebble’s throw away), add to the appeal.

58 Sea Road, TN40 1JP (01424 225260, www.coastbexhill.co.uk). Rates from £70-£90 double incl breakfast.

Eastbourne & Around

Beachy Head, rising 530 feet out of the Channel with a candy-striped lighthouse at its foot, is one of the most iconic coastal views in Britain. As are the Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs that eventually slump into the meandering Cuckmere River near Exceat. Inland from this formidable coastal frontier is Friston Forest – great for mountain biking – and the settlements of Litlington, Wilmington with its Long Man figure carved into the hillside, and Alfriston, surely one of England’s loveliest villages.

Eastbourne is the largest town along this stretch. Once a fashionable Victorian resort, it’s now a relaxed seaside town with a budding arts scene centred on the brand-new Towner art gallery. Eastbourne’s location at the beginning, or end, of the 100-mile South Downs Way, also makes it a useful base for walkers. Just outside Eastbourne, Pevensey was the landing point for William the Conqueror and his army. Further inland is the historic village of Herstmonceux. Homely and atmospheric country pubs can be found in hamlets and villages across the region, many serving top-quality Sussex produce; the county’s lamb and fish enjoy particular renown.

Things to do

Towner

The crowning glory of Eastbourne’s cultural offerings, this gleaming white building is a widely acclaimed addition to the town. The gallery started life in the 1920s, when local alderman John Chisholm Towner bequeathed 22 paintings to the town, to form the basis of a public art collection. Originally displayed in a Georgian building in the Old Town, the collection grew steadily (it’s now around 4,000 pieces) and a new home was needed; Towner opened in spring 2009. The exterior is impressive enough, but the huge interior is spectacular: high ceilings, white walls and light pouring in through vast windows.

As well as displaying a rotating selection from the original collection, the gallery hosts temporary exhibitions, while the views of the South Downs changing season by season from the main exhibition floor and the café are a permanently stunning feature. Look out for work by Eric Ravilious. Having studied and taught at Eastbourne School of Art, the artist’s work is a key element of the collection, and includes everything from woodcuts to London Transport posters and Wedgewood ceramics.

Devonshire Park, College Road, BN21 4JJ (01323 415470, www.townereastbourne.org.uk). Open 10am-5pm Tue-Sun. Admission free. Special exhibition prices vary.

Where to eat

Tiger Inn

There are few more picturesque locations for a pub than the village green in East Dean. The Tiger dates from the 15th century, and seems little changed inside, with its stone floor, large fireplaces and low beams. The pub has been through a few owners recently (losing some regulars in the process), but seems to have found its feet now. The food has improved too, and includes ambitious dishes such as honey- and pepper-crusted duck breast with vanilla and lime mash, alongside ploughman’s and sandwiches. Draught beers come from Harveys and the small Beachy Head Brewery, based here. There are also five pleasant B&B rooms (£90 double incl breakfast).

The Green, East Dean, BN20 0DA (01323 423209, www.beachyhead.org.uk). Open 11am-11pm daily. Lunch served noon-3pm, dinner served 6-9pm daily.

Moonrakers

Relaunched in 2008, Moonrakers has attracted a strong local and celebrity fan base, including restaurant critic Jay Rayner. It offers a happy balance of fine (but not intimidating) dining in an upscale, but unstuffy setting inside a 500-year-old cottage. It’s not cheap – dinner tasting menus are £35 and £55, while set lunch is £19.95 or £24.95, but it’s top-quality fare. Head chef Ross Pavey sources all ingredients within 25 miles of the restaurant; dishes might include sea bass with buttered savoy cabbage, parsnip purée and a vanilla and saffron sauce, followed by white chocolate and jerusalem artichoke cheesecake with roasted cashew nut ice-cream.

High Street, Alfriston, BN26 5TD (01323 871199, www.moonrakersrestaurant.co.uk). Lunch served noon-3pm Fri, Sat; noon-5pm Sun. Dinner served 6pm-midnight Fri, Sat.

Where to stay

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Belle Tout lighthouse sits at the edge of a cliff just beyond Beachy Head. Built in 1832, it was decommissioned in 1902 and replaced by the famous red and white striped lighthouse at the base of the cliff. It recently opened as a B&B to rave reviews – and not just for the unique location. The view over the Channel is vast, though the view inland, over the waves of the South Downs, is possibly even more beautiful. The six modern bedrooms are tastefully decorated and well equipped. The Keepers Loft is a tiny, circular space with brick walls and the original stepladder to reach the double loft bed); the other rooms are more spacious, if less idiosyncratic. The lantern room at the top of the lighthouse is now a guest lounge with stunning 360-degree views. There’s a two-night minimum stay.

Beachy Head, BN20 0AE (01323 423185, www.belletout.co.uk). Rates £145-£195 double
incl breakfast.

Alfriston Youth Hostel

The flint cottage housing Alfriston YHA is about half a mile south of the village, in a beautiful setting overlooking the Cuckmere Valley. It has 68 beds (including four double rooms), a comfortable common room, facilities for cyclists and a garden. It’s not as modern as the Eastbourne hostel, but the location is lovely and the building (parts of which date from 1530) atmospheric.

Frog Firle, Alfriston, BN26 5TT (0845 371 9101, www.yha.org.uk). Rates £14.50-£20.40; £10.50-£14.50 reductions.

Guesthouse East

There are seven stylish self-catering suites in this Grade II-listed Regency property. Each suite is furnished to its own theme, from ‘boutique hotel chic’, to ‘peaceful oasis’; some are suitable for families. Most of the suites have their own kitchens, but a cooked breakfast is also on offer. The accommodation is more basic than you’d find in a boutique hotel in a larger city, but prices are very reasonable.

13 Hartington Place, BN21 3BS (01323 722774, www.theguesthouseeast.co.uk). Rates £74-£98 double.

North Weald

Open spaces, woodland and quiet rural communities make up most of the northern end of the Sussex Weald, between Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells. It’s this sense of remoteness and solitude that attracted Rudyard Kipling to buy Bateman’s in Burwash and live there for more than 30 years. He wrote: ‘It is a good and peaceable place… we have loved it ever since our first sight of it.’ Further north, the landscape of wood and heath around Hartfield and Ashdown Forest inspired AA Milne to write Winnie-the-Pooh. Today, Pooh fans travel from all over the world to play Poohsticks and visit the real-life locations that inspired the classic book.

The villages, which local writer Ben Darby described as seeming ‘to have grown there, like the trees’, were, until the mid 20th century, largely isolated settlements. Remains of the once formidable Wealden iron industry are evident, especially in Wadhurst, but most villages are still pretty quiet today, with snug traditional pubs and good walking the main attractions. It has been called ‘the place where London ends and England can begin’.

Things to do

Bateman’s

Built around 1634 using local sandstone and Sussex oak, this beautiful house set amid rolling countryside remains much the same as when Rudyard Kipling called it home. From the literary airs of the study to the oriental ornaments and the shiny 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I in the garage, the author’s passions run through the imposing property that was his refuge for more than 30 years. A blanket of soft green sweeps around the house, with manicured lawns, rose beds and a wildflower garden, while riverside strolls and a working watermill are a few steps away. It’s all remarkably atmospheric, if somewhat melancholy (witness the high yew hedges); the death of his six-year-old daughter in 1899 and his son in World War I affected Kipling greatly, and he found fame a burden.

Ashdown Forest

The forest covers 20 square miles, of which (despite its name) only 40 per cent is woodland – including oak, birch, beech, coppiced hazel and chestnut and some distinctive clumps of Scots pine. The rest is open heathland, both wet and dry, supporting a great variety of plants; most famous (and now rare) is the blue-purple marsh gentian, which flowers between June and October. The lowland heath attracts stonechat and meadow pipits all year round as well as woodlarks, nightjars and spotted flycatchers in summer. In the wooded areas, look out for stock doves, tawny owls and sparrowhawks. Four species of deer – fallow (the most common), roe, muntjac and sika – live in the forest; take care when driving on local roads, especially at dawn and dusk.

Numerous car parks and picnic areas are dotted across the area, but the best place to start is Ashdown Forest Centre (01342 823583, www.ashdownforest.org, closed Mon-Fri winter), one mile east of the Wych Cross traffic lights on the A22.

Where to eat

Wheeler’s of St James’s Chequers Inn

This handsome 18th-century coaching inn is an atmospheric setting for some classic British food courtesy of head chef, and Marco Pierre White protégé, Neil Thornley. The menu shares some dishes with the original Wheeler’s fish restaurant in London; pies (fish, steak and ale, shepherd’s) figure large, and the marvellously old-fashioned puddings include sherry trifle and eton mess. The restaurant features linen-draped tables and walls decorated with large cartoons and nostalgic photos, while the bar is a more casual affair, with dark beams and a large brick fireplace, and dishes such as smoked haddock kedgeree and corned beef hash.

High Street, Maresfield, TN22 2EH (01825 763843, www.wheelerschequers.com). Lunch served noon-2.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-3pm Sun. Dinner served 6-9pm Mon-Thur, Sun; 6-9.30pm Fri, Sat.

Greyhound

The Greyhound is the best bet for a beer in Wadhurst. It’s a relaxed, friendly spot – walkers, dogs and children are all welcome – with two bars, a large fireplace, a secluded beer garden and decent pub food. The building dates from 1502, when it was used as a coaching inn. The former stables now contain five bedrooms (£79 double incl breakfast).

St James Square, Wadhurst, TN5 6AP (01892 783224, www.thegreyhoundwadhurst.co.uk). Open 11am-11pm Mon-Fri; 9.30am-11pm Sat; 9.30am-10.30pm Sun. Breakfast served 9.30-11am Sat, Sun. Lunch served noon-3pm Tue-Fri; noon-4pm Sat, Sun. Dinner served
6-9.30pm Tue-Sat.

Where to stay

Horsted Place

This very grand manor house was built in 1850 in the Gothic Revival style, with input by Augustus Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament. The Queen and Prince Philip were entertained here before it became a hotel and wedding venue. There are 20 bedrooms and suites, designed in classic country house style, but with flatscreen TVs and all mod cons. The large grounds include landscaped gardens, a tennis court and croquet lawn, and guests can play at the adjoining East Sussex National golf club

Little Horsted, TN22 5TS (01825 750581, www.horstedplace.co.uk). Rates £140-£360 double incl breakfast.

Old Whyly

For a superior B&B stay, you can’t do better than this gorgeous Grade II-listed Georgian manor house. As well as three double/twin bedrooms, charmingly decorated in a low-key country style, there’s a dining room, plus a tennis court and swimming pool (summer use only). Food is a highlight, with owner Sarah Burgoyne preparing delicious breakfasts – with her own eggs and honey – and classy dinners. Hampers are also available.

London Road, East Hoathly, BN8 6EL (01825 840216, www.oldwhyly.co.uk). Rates £95-£135 double incl breakfast. No credit cards.

Lewes & Around

Lewes is a handsome county town, set amid the South Downs, whose elegant Regency architecture and manicured lawns echo a bygone era. But behind its well-heeled veneer, the town has a subversive edge. Remnants of its anarchic past and hints of its liberated spirit are much in evidence, from quirky bookshops steeped in local history to conspiratorial pubs and a sprinkling of right-on artist co-operatives. The town is so independently minded, in fact, that in 2008 retailers introduced their own currency, the ‘Lewes pound’, with the aim of encouraging people to spend locally (17th-century agitator and revolutionary Thomas Paine, a former resident, is the figurehead on the notes). The town’s behind-doors revolutionary spirit – you feel that locals would happily embrace a republic of Lewes – spills out on to the street once a year for the Lewes Bonfire Night, a bacchanalian celebration that draws thousands of revellers.

When it’s not being set alight in drunken merrymaking, Lewes is a quiet and beautifully preserved town – perhaps the most lovely in Sussex. On its High Street, independent shops outnumber chain stores, and there are plenty of cosy pubs, all serving Harveys, whose brewery dominates the High Street. Around Lewes, tiny Tudor hamlets such as Firle and Glynde are glorious spots to stop along the many walking routes in the area (the South Downs Way passes through Lewes), while tourist draws in the Low Weald include the Bluebell Railway and ‘Capability’ Brown’s gardens at Sheffield Park. Charleston, the country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group, is an unmissable destination for lovers of the arts and literature.

Things to do

Charleston Manor

This handsome, mellow farmhouse was once home to artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Gran – hence its extraordinary interiors.

Firle, BN8 6LL (01323 811265, www.charleston.org.uk). Open Apr-Oct 1-5.30pm Sun. Tours 1-6pm Wed-Sat. Admission House & grounds £9; £5-£8 reductions; £23 family. Friday tours £10; £25 family.

Middle Farm

Home to the National Collection of Cider and Perry, Middle Farm stocks over 100 varieties of apple-based tipple – including its own potent Pookhill cider. Connoisseurs head for single-variety brews like Kingston Black, brave souls can opt for the Naish brothers’ Honest to Goodness, and everyone should sample the house cider/perry blend, Little Red Rooster. Once you decide on a purchase, fill up your selected vessel and take it to the counter.

If you don’t like cider, a tempting array of fresh apple juices, sloe gin, country wines and Sussex ales ensures there’s something for everyone. In autumn, visitors can bring a bag of their own apples to be pressed: the cloudy, delicious juice is a world away from the shop-bought version. The farm shop has local cheeses and vegetables, as well as a superb butcher with locally shot game. Youngsters will be amply entertained while you shop by the rabbits, guinea pigs, patrolling geese and noisy peacocks in the open farm.

Firle, BN8 6LJ (01323 811411, www.middlefarm.com). Open 9.30am-5.30pm daily. Admission (farm) £3.

Bluebell Railway

The romance of the steam era lives on in Sussex, where the UK’s first preserved standard gauge passenger railway can be found. For £13 return you can puff along the old London & South Coast line between Sheffield Park and Kingscote, half an hour away. Ride one of more than 30 locomotives, including the Golden Arrow Pullman, which recreates the glamorous dining train that once linked London with Paris. Equally quaint is the 1920s Sussex Belle Pullman, which serves old-fashioned cream teas (call for dates). The best time to visit is when bluebells carpet the countryside in spring, but it’s scenic at any time of year.

Sheffield Park Station, TN22 3QL (01825 720825, www.bluebell-railway.com). Open check website for timetable. Fares Return to Kingscote £13; £6.50 reductions; £35 family.

Where to eat

Griffin Inn

From the Griffin’s expansive garden, the uninterrupted views of the Ouse Valley are idyllic – and best appreciated with a flute of brut or a succulent mouthful of Fletching fillet of beef. If the weather isn’t so good, the inn also has three quaint drinking rooms and a two-room restaurant with white tablecloths and a superb à la carte menu (pan fried cod with chorizo, cherry tomatoes and cannellini bean stew, perhaps, or pork chop with roast celeriac, fennel, pancetta and salsa verde). The bar menu is slightly cheaper, and there are regular summer barbecues. If you fall in love with the place, there are 13 rooms (£85-£145 double incl breakfast).

Fletching, TN22 3SS (01825 722890, www.thegriffininn.co.uk). Open noon-midnight Mon-Thur, Sun; noon-1am Fri, Sat. Lunch served noon-2.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-3pm Sun. Dinner served 7-9.30pm Mon-Sat.

Ram Inn

At the centre of Firle, this 17th-century inn has been carefully updated according to 21st century sensibilities, with shabby chic decor, tastefully muted paintwork and even the odd chandelier. Bar staff pull pints of Harveys Best, guest ales and ciders, while the menu offers polished gastropub-style dishes: rump of Hankham Farm lamb with sautéed new potatoes and roast veg, say, or pan fried sea bass. There’s a lovely beer garden and orchard, with a play area for children, and four fabulous rooms (£95-£145 double incl breakfast) above the pub; see below.

The Street, Firle, BN8 6NS (01273 858222, www.theram-inn.com). Open 11.30am-11.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun. Lunch served noon-3.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-4pm Sun. Dinner served 6.30-9.30pm Mon-Sat; 6.30-9pm Sun.

Where to stay

Blackberry Wood

Blackberry Wood is one of the campsites that made sleeping in a tent fashionable again. The setting, at the foot of the South Downs ridge near Ditchling Beacon, is magical, and the atmosphere wonderfully intimate and homely. Its 20 pitches are set in small clearings amid a tangled woodland of hawthorn, oak and ash trees, interspersed with brambles and shrubs. If pitching tents and untangling guy ropes isn’t for you, alternative options include a converted 1960s London bus and two tiny caravans (a traditional wooden wagon and a ’60s Dutch model called Bubble).

Streat Lane, nr Ditchling, BN6 8RS (01273 890035, www.blackberrywood.com). Rates Tent £5. Double-decker bus £60. Gypsy caravan £35. Retro caravan £20. All plus £5-£9 per adult, £2.50-£4.50 3-12s.

Wowo Campsite

Between the hamlets of Danehill and Fletchling, Wapsbourne Manor Farm’s green and pleasant campsite, known as Wowo, flanks Pellingford Brook. The site was originally a strawberry farm, but the friendly Cragg family turned the land over to campers, with instant and immense success. If you’re looking for solitude, book one of the eight pitches set along the ‘tipi trail’ in pretty woodland (a £10 supplement applies); the three yurts offer an even more secluded stay. Campers can explore the 200 acres of farmland, interspersed with woodland and teeming with foxes, rabbits and birds. Rope swings hang from branches, and enchanting paths lead into dark groves. Families dominate the site in the holidays and there’s plenty of space for kids to run, cycle and get dirty.

Wapsbourne Manor Farm, Sheffield Park, TN22 3QT (01825 723414, www.wowo.co.uk). Rates Tent £10 adult; £5 child. Yurt 2 nights £136 for 2 people.

Brighton & Hove

With its bracing sea air and whiff of scandal, Brighton has a charm all of its own. It may have started life as a humble fishing village, but when the Prince Regent came here for his first ‘season’ in 1783, its status as a fashionable seaside resort was sealed. As William Thackeray wrote, ‘It is the fashion to run down George IV, but what myriads of Londoners ought to thank him for inventing Brighton!’. Its Regency heyday left the town with stately seafront terraces and squares to rival those of Bath – along with its one-of-a-kind Royal Pavilion, a study in architectural excess.

Despite its kiss-me-quick seaside attractions, Brighton is a city that shuns the mainstream and embraces counterculture. It has an ebullient gay scene and a packed arts calendar, culminating in the three-week arts extravaganza of the Brighton Festival. It’s also home to a laid-back but fiercely independent shopping scene, encompassing flea markets, art galleries, jewellery shops and delis. Just along the coast, neighbouring Hove is a more genteel proposition, but equally lovely for a leisurely day of boutique browsing and café-hopping.

Things to do

Brighton Royal Pavilion

The Prince Regent’s outlandish country farmhouse-turned-mock-Mughal palace was designed by John ‘Marble Arch’ Nash between 1815 and 1822. The assemblage of minarets, balconies and domes freely mixes Indian, Chinese and Gothic notes in the pursuit of ornate excess, and the Prince’s illicit love nest never ceases to amuse and amaze. The interiors are equally intriguing, and even more lavish, with magnificent chinoiserie, columns topped with palm fronds, writhing gilded dragons and an imitation bamboo staircase.

Komedia

This quirky venue provides a platform for a wealth of quality fringe and alternative acts. Gigs, cabaret, children’s theatre and stand-up comics keep things enjoyably varied, while the Krater Comedy Club is a regular fixture.

44-47 Gardner Street, BN1 1UN (0845 293 8480, www.komedia.co.uk). Open times vary; phone for details. Tickets £6-£29.

Where to eat

Terre à Terre

Inventive vegetarian cooking in relaxed surrounds is the trademark at Terre à Terre, whose enjoyably eclectic menu encompasses everything from cheddar cheese soufflés to fragrant curries, battered halloumi and chips or neeps, tatties and haggis (meat-free, of course). To start, try the corn cake fritters, served with chilli jelly and guacamole. It’s not cheap, but prices reflect the quality and the care taken in the kitchen.

71 East Street, BN1 1HQ (01273 729051, www.terreaterre.co.uk). Food served noon-10.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-11pm Sat; noon-10pm Sun.

Basketmakers Arms

Beloved by ale enthusiasts, and set close to the North Laine area, the Basketmakers stocks a comprehensive selection of cask ales, with guest ales and Fuller’s brews. The other passion here is whisky, with over 100 different bottles on offer. The best pub in Brighton? Quite possibly.

12 Gloucester Road, BN1 4AB (01273 689006, www.thebasketmakersarms.co.uk). Open 11am-11pm Mon-Thur; 11am-midnight Fri, Sat; noon-11pm Sun. Food served noon-8.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-7pm Sat; noon-4pm Sun.

Medicine Chest

The newest addition to Hove’s bar scene is this lovely speakeasy-style cocktail bar, tucked in the basement of the former Sanctuary Café. It serves exceptional dry martinis, while mixologist Mike Mason has also blended his own set of ‘elixirs’, using fine botanicals, fruit and cordials: a lemon drop martini, perhaps, or a moreish home-made gooseberry syrup-laced Sussex 75. The low-lit bar gets buzzy as the cocktails flow, and there’s a wide-ranging tapas menu.

51-55 Brunswick Street East, BN3 1AU (01273 770002, www.themedicinechest.co.uk).
Open 9am-11pm Tue-Thur, Sun; 9am-1am Fri, Sat. Lunch served noon-3pm, dinner served 7-10pm Tue-Sun.

Where to stay

Drakes

It’s luxury all the way at this hugely popular high-end designer hotel. Snag an expansive bedroom with a view overlooking Brighton Pier and you can sink into a free-standing bath set beside the floor-to-ceiling sea-facing windows. All 20 rooms have been individually decorated, with plenty of little luxuries: Egyptian cotton sheets, goose- and duckdown duvets, flatscreen TVs, free Wi-Fi and White Company toiletries. The in-house restaurant is highly recommended, and there’s a swish cocktail bar for after-dinner drinks.

43-44 Marine Parade, BN2 1PE (01273 696934, www.drakesofbrighton.com). Rates £105-£210 double.

Hotel Pelirocco

Describing itself as ‘England’s most rock ’n’ roll hotel’, the Pelirocco pays tribute to Brighton’s long association with illicit weekends: one of the rooms has a mirror on the ceiling and a pole dancing area, while Betty’s Boudoir is dedicated to 1950s pin-up Betty Page, with a leopard-print chaise-longue on which to recline. There’s a PlayStation 2 in each room to help recovery from a night in the bar sipping cocktails with Brighton music types.

10 Regency Square, BN1 2FG (01273 327055, www.hotelpelirocco.co.uk).
Rates £95-£160 double incl breakfast.

Oriental

Thirty seconds from the sea and two minutes from the bustle of Western Road, this fine Regency townhouse is ideally placed in the relative quiet of Oriental Place. As one of the original boutique hotels in the city, the decor is suitably quirky but still modern and stylish. Its nine en suite rooms are understated but chic, with silk headboards, crisp with linen and subtle colour schemes, while the public areas and bar feature an ever-changing selection of artwork. The excellent breakfasts, made from local produce, will also put a spring in your step.

9 Oriental Place, BN1 2LJ (01273 205050, www.orientalbrighton.co.uk). Rates £59-£170
double incl breakfast.

Coastal West Sussex

On the border of East and West Sussex, Brighton has long monopolised the limelight along this stretch of coastline. Westwards of the ‘Queen of the Watering Places’, though, lie a string of classic resorts and quieter, unspoilt corners, stretching all the way to Chichester Harbour, some 25 miles away.Inspired by Brighton’s success with the Regency fashionable set, pretenders to the crown hastily began building. Worthing, Littlehampton and Bognor Regis all expanded rapidly during the 18th century, although none achieved the same success as Brighton. Worthing’s genteel charms remain popular with a loyal coterie of visitors, while Littlehampton is starting to reinvent itself, with a pair of architect-designed seafront eateries and a redeveloped harbour. Bognor, meanwhile, is bolder and brasher: home to Butlins, gaudy amusement arcades and a welter of fish and chip shops.

Much of the stretch between Brighton and Chichester Harbour, though, comprises little more than a path, coastline and striking views of the English Channel, quiet even at the height of summer. Although shingle predominates, there are gently shelving sands around the Manhood Peninsula and, in particular, the sheltered, family-friendly beach at West Wittering. Beyond the Witterings, Chichester Harbour is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and best explored by foot, bike or boat. Its excellent restaurants, picturesque quays, miles of footpaths and abundance of birdlife exude a timeless charm, offering a very different side of Sussex by the Sea.

Things to do

Manhood Peninsula

The splendidly named Manhood Peninsula extends from Pagham Harbour in the east to Chichester Harbour in the west, and includes the parishes of East and West Wittering, Selsey, Sidlesham, Itchenor and Bosham. West Wittering is the principal destination on the peninsula, but there are some excellent pubs and restaurants in the area, including the Crab & Lobster; after lunch, take a stroll around the nature reserve at Pagham Harbour , a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.

East Head to Chichester Harbour

Inviting as the clean, gently shelving sands and calm waters of West Wittering may be, that’s only half the story. At the western end of the beach, the shifting sand dunes and salt marshes of East Head possess a desolate beauty, and are a haven for wildlife and those in search of solitude. Chichester Harbour is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, sprawled across 22 square miles of estuary and shoreline. Wading birds and wildfowl congregate on the mudflats, walkers explore the 50 miles of footpaths, and it’s a tremendously popular spot for sailing and messing about in boats.

Chichester Harbour Conservancy (01243 513275, www.conservancy.co.uk) runs a range of guided walking tours throughout the year, along with boat trips and photography courses.

Where to eat

East Beach Café

Designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick’s studio, this seafront café represents a bold departure for the town. The organic curves of the low-lying, steel-framed building have a sculptural, organic quality, like a piece of driftwood or a giant clam shell. Inside, it feels more boutique restaurant than beachside café, with contoured white walls and floor to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. The menu runs from simple classics (fish and chips, soup of the day, Welsh rarebit with watercress salad) to more ambitious Modern British offerings: warm rabbit and chestnut salad with a mustard dressing, perhaps, or mussel, gurnard and salmon saffron chowder. Breakfast is served at weekends, and there are splendid cakes and flapjacks come teatime.

Sea Road, Littlehampton, BN17 5GB (01903 731903, www.eastbeachcafe.co.uk). Open Summer 10am-5pm, 6.30-9pm daily. Winter 10am-3.30pm Mon-Wed, Sun; 10am-3.30pm, 6.30-9pm Thur-Sat.

West Beach Café

Although it’s less showy than its East Beach sister, this place is still a cut above the standard beachside café. Its compact premises were designed by Asif Khan, an up-and-coming young architect; it’s a simple but delightful space, with light pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. On sunny days, the entire frontage opens out on to the beach. The menu is perfectly sited to the surroundings: think salmon and parsley fish cakes, toasted sandwiches and very good fish and chips with minty mushy peas. It’s licensed, but also does a nice line in piping-hot mugs of tea.

West Beach, Rope Walk, Littlehampton, BN17 5DL (01903 718153, www.eastbeachcafe.co.uk). Open Summer 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, Sun; 10am-7pm Sat. Winter 10am-4pm Sat, Sun.

36 on the Quay

Almost five miles west of Bosham, just over the border in Hampshire, is the village of Emsworth. It’s worth a detour for the Michelin-starred 36 on the Quay, set in a 17th-century building on the quayside. There’s an emphasis on skillfully-executed fish dishes with fine dining flourishes, although the lunch menu is somewhat simpler. It also offers accommodation, with five B&B rooms (£100-£250 double incl continental breakfast) and a small self-contained cottage (£120 double).

47 South Street, Emsworth, PO10 7EG (01243 375592, www.36onthequay.co.uk). Lunch served noon-2pm, dinner served 7-10pm Tue-Sat.

Where to stay

36 on the Quay

36 on the Quay (see above) also offers five tastefully appointed rooms; as it’s a 17th-century building, some are on the small side. The owners also rent out a 16th-century fisherman’s cottage, Cardamom, which is small but very quaint, with a compact sitting room and enclosed garden.

Beach House

In West Wittering village, 15 minutes’ walk from the beach, the Beach House has seven simple, spacious en suite rooms, incliding several family rooms. The residents’ lounge is equipped with a fridge and microwave; alternatively, you can eat in the café-restaurant  downstairs. Early booking is essential, and there is a two-night minimum stay during school holidays and weekends from April to September.

Rookwood Road, West Wittering, PO20 8LT (01243 514800, www.beachhse.co.uk). Rates £75-£90 double incl breakfast.

Stubcroft Farm Campsite & B&B

Stubcroft Farm is a beauty of a campsite, well within reach of the beach. Set on a family-run farm, it consists of a mown five-acre field, split by tall mixed hedgerows into three small enclosures and one large field. There’s usually a good-natured mix of campers in all areas, and also plenty of space for ball games and mooching. It’s also eco-friendly, with recycling bins and six eco loos. If the great outdoors gets all too much, there are two B&B rooms in the Victorian farmhouse. Like the campsite, it’s run on enviromentally-friendly lines. All around are peaceful private lanes and grounds to explore, making this a delightful countryside retreat. In spring and summer there are lambs and calves on the farm.

Stubcroft Lane, East Wittering, PO20 8PJ (01243 671469, www.stubcroft.com). Rates Campsite £7 per person. B&B £75-£85 double incl breakfast. No credit cards.

Mid Sussex

Glancing at Mid Sussex on a map, it would be easy to dismiss the area as a heavily populated and overwhelmingly urban sprawl. With Crawley and Horsham in the north, and East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill on the easternmost border of West Sussex, Mid Sussex is prime commuting territory, with the M23/A23, the south-east’s main traffic artery, pulsing through it to Brighton. But what many miss while hurtling down the motorway or speeding past on the train is the little-visited countryside, speckled with hamlets, pubs, stately manors and some stunning gardens, including Kew’s country offshoot, Wakehurst Place. The towns too have more to offer than might first meet the eye: East Grinstead is home to the longest continuous row of Tudor houses in the country, while the cobbled streets around the Carfax shopping precinct in Horsham are an unexpected delight.

Perhaps the loveliest part of Mid Sussex is along the ridge of the South Downs – a stretch that takes in the plunging, precipitous Devil’s Dyke. The legend is that the devil, seeing the spires of the Weald, decided to dig a trench to the sea to submerge the churches. His energetic digging woke an old woman, who lit a candle to see what was going on. Seeing the light, the devil thought that morning had come and promptly scarpered, leaving a steep, sweeping valley carved into the landscape.

Things to do

Wakehurst Place

As well as gardens galore, Kew’s lesser-known West Sussex site, Wakehurst Place, is home to the amazing Millennium Seed Bank. Its objective? To collect seeds and specimens from more than 24,000 plant species, guarding them against extinction. Learn why and how the seeds are stored in underground vaults, and check out the world’s largest seed – the rather saucily shaped coco de mer. You’ll never get your arms around the trunky Californian beauty known as Sequoiadendron giganteum, located outside the Elizabethan mansion: it’s 35 metres tall, and draped with 2,000 fairy lights at Christmas. It’s so bright that pilots flying into Gatwick look out for it.

On the B2028, Ardingly, RH17 6TN (01444 894066, www.kew.org). Open Gardens Mar-Oct 10am-6pm daily. Jan, Feb, Nov, Dec 10am-4.30pm daily. Seed bank & mansion Mar-Oct 10am-5pm daily. Jan, Feb, Nov, Dec 10am-3.30pm daily. Admission £10.75; free reductions.

Nymans

Three generations of the Messel family cultivated these gloriously romantic gardens, which were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1953. The setting is awe-inspiring and the plants spectacular, and rare – the Messels sponsored the great plant collectors of the day to ensure as wide and interesting a variety of specimens as possible. Part of the house – a 1920s mock medieval manor, designed by the wonderfully named Sir Walter Tapper and Norman Evill – burned down in 1947, and its roofless remains provide an evocative backdrop to the greenery.

On the B2114, Handcross, RH17 6EB (01444 405250, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nymans). Open House Mar-Oct 11am-3pm Mon, Wed-Sun. Gardens, woods & restaurant Mar-Oct 10am-5pm daily. Jan, Feb, Nov, Dec 10am-4pm daily. Admission £9; £4.50 reductions £21.50 family.

Where to eat

Royal Oak

It may be slightly off the beaten track, but the Royal Oak is worth a detour. Built as two cottages in the 13th century, the black and white timbered building has been a pub for at least 200 years. The beer, served from casks, is excellent, and the food superb: once you’re settled by the inglenook fireplace in the bar, with a plate of twice-baked soufflé or soft herring roes on toast with lemon and green leaves (or anything else from the daily changing menu), you’ll be in no hurry to leave. The glorious beer garden is another draw.

Wineham, BN5 9AY (01444 881252). Open 11am-3pm, 5.30-11pm Mon-Fri; 11am-3pm, 6-11pm Sat; noon-4pm, 7-10.30pm Sun. Lunch served noon-2.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-3pm Sun. Dinner served 7-9pm Mon-Sat.

Where to stay

Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa

Set in 120 acres of gardens, woods and parkland, just outside East Grinstead, this old mansion is now a smart 38-room hotel and spa. The decor is quietly contemporary rather than country-house chintz – though there is a fine four-poster in the Henley Suite. There are two on-site eateries; AG’s Grill Room specialises in high-end slabs of tender meat with thick-cut chips, while Reflections is a sleek brasserie with a courtyard dining area.

Turners Hill, East Grinstead, RH10 4QD (01342 714914, www.alexanderhotels.co.uk/alexander). Rates £185-£550 double incl breakfast.

Tottington Manor Hotel

Dating from 1604, this historical bolthole a few miles south of Henfield makes for a fascinating stay. During World War II, it became part of Churchill’s secret Auxiliary Unit, with seven bunkers built below the building, and escape tunnels leading into the fields that remain to this day. Above ground, the five en suite bedrooms enjoy bucolic country views, and there’s a restaurant serving hearty dishes in no-nonsense portions (own-made steak, kidney and mushroom suet pudding, say, or pepper-crusted monkfish with herb mash and creamed spinach). There’s also an appealing children’s menu.

Edburton, nr Henfield, BN5 9LJ (01903 815757, www.tottingtonmanor.co.uk). Rates £100 double incl breakfast.

Arundel & the Arun Valley

A formidable sense of history permeates life in Arundel. Every corner of this attractive, compact town provides a glimpse into the past: a ruined medieval priory, Tudor dwellings, a Victorian coaching inn. Georgian townhouses sit alongside traditional Sussex cottages on the narrow streets. Dominating everything is the star attraction: Arundel Castle, first built during William the Conquerer’s reign. Yet the town is far from being marooned in the past; its restaurants and, in particular, its independent shops and art galleries offer a wealth of contemporary interest for visitors.

North of Arundel, the Arun Valley weaves through the lowlands around Amberley and up into the Weald. Amberley is a quaint village with a couple of good pubs and one spectacular hotel; the South Downs Way runs through here too. The Romans enjoyed the area, building a villa at Bignor and leaving behind some marvellous mosaics. To the north-west is Petworth, a well-preserved medieval town that is to antiques what Hay-on-Wye is to bookshops. It’s also home to a splendid manor house containing some of the National Trust’s most treasured paintings.

Things to do

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle originated at the end of the 11th century and has been the family home of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for more than 850 years. Aside from the occasional reversion to the throne, it’s one of the longest inhabited aristocratic houses in England. In 1643, during the Civil War, the castle was besieged by General Waller (for Parliament) and the defences were partly demolished. Happily, many of the original features – such as the crenellated Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican, and the lower part of Bevis Tower – survived. The house was almost completely rebuilt in the late 19th century.

The castle is definitely worth exploring (despite the high admission price) for its collection of paintings by Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds, among others, as well as its tapestries and furniture, and the gorgeous FitzAlan Chapel. Other treasures include a 14th-century two-handed sword, a jousting saddle (thought to be the only one in existence) and a silver icon of the Virgin and Child by Fabergé. A new formal garden opened in 2008 and is a tribute to Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), known as ‘the Collector’. An organic kitchen garden has been re-created, but the over-the-top decorations are based on what ‘the Collector’ is thought to have enjoyed at his house in London. There’s also a restaurant, café and gift shop. At weekends, outdoor events include medieval-style encampments with jousting and archery displays.

High Street, BN18 9AB (01903 882173, www.arundelcastle.org). Open Aug 10am-5pm daily. Apr-July, Sept, Oct 10am-5pm Tue-Sun. Admission £7.50-£16; £7.50-£13.50 reductions; £36-£39 family.

Parham House & Gardens

Parham House is a rare example of a large Elizabethan manor house that has been restored according to mid 20th-century ideas. It was first opened to the public in 1948 by Clive and Alicia Pearson, and remains in the same family. Simon Jenkins wrote of it, ‘Nothing in Parham is superfluous, nothing unloved. This is a house of magic.’ Highlights are the 160-foot Long Gallery (with a beautiful 1968 ceiling by renowned stage designer Oliver Messel) and the Great Hall with its fine Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. The grounds include a deer park, a beautiful walled flower garden designed for for long periods of colour, a herb garden and an orchard. In the landscaped Pleasure Grounds you’ll find a lake, a summer house and a modern maze whose design is based on a 16th-century embroidery found in the house.

A283 between Storrington & Pulborough, RH20 4HS (01903 744888, www.parhaminsussex.co.uk). Open House Aug 2-5pm Tue-Fri, Sun. Apr-July, Sept 2-5pm Wed, Thur, Sun. Oct 2-5pm Sun. Gardens May-Aug noon-5pm Tue-Fri, Sun. Apr, Sept noon-5pm Wed, Thur, Sun. Oct noon-5pm Sun. Admission House & gardens £8.50; £4-£8 reductions; £24 family. Gardens only £6.50; £3-£6 reductions; £17 family.

Petworth House & Park

Built in the late 17th century and set in a 700-acre deer park landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Petworth House was immortalised in paintings by JMW Turner. These days, it houses works by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Titian, Bosch and Blake as well as carvings by Grinling Gibbons and assorted sculptures, making up the National Trust’s largest art collection. There’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re also visiting the Pleasure Ground (a 30-acre woodland garden), taking a peek at the servants’ quarters or attending one of the open-air plays or concerts. The ten-minute Welcome to Petworth talk is a good general introduction to the house and grounds, before you choose what to focus on. Don’t miss the Turner paintings, 1592 Molyneux globe (the earliest English globe in existence) and 15th-century decorated vellum manuscript of the Canterbury Tales. The grounds are home to the largest herd of fallow deer in England.

Petworth, GU28 0AE (01798 342207, www.nationaltrust.org.uk). Open House mid Mar-Oct 11am-5pm Mon-Wed, Sat, Sun. Pleasure Ground mid Mar-Oct 11am-6pm Mon-Wed, Sat, Sun. Mid Feb-mid Mar 10.30am-3.30pm Mon-Wed, Sat, Sun. Mid Nov-mid Dec 10.30am-3.30pm Wed-Sun. Admission House & grounds £10.40; £5.20 reductions; £26 family. Pleasure Ground £4; £2 reductions.

Where to eat

Arundel House

High-quality Modern British cuisine is on offer at Arundel House, a restaurant with rooms (£75-£140 double incl breakfast) inside a Georgian merchant’s house. There are only a few tables, making for an intimate meal. Expect the likes of crisp pheasant leg confit on parsnip purée with juniper-scented sauce to start, and cannon of Sussex lamb on polenta cake with wilted spinach as a main. The menu changes seasonally and each course has a fixed price. Note that children are not permitted.

High Street, BN18 9AD (01903 882136, www.arundelhouseonline.com). Lunch served noon-2pm, dinner served 7-9.30pm Tue-Sat.

George & Dragon

Follow a winding road from Arundel to the quaint village of Burpham (pronounced ‘Burfam’), complete with a rose-clad lychgate in front of the 12th-century flint church (writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake is buried in the churchyard). Now a renowned gastropub, the George & Dragon is 300 years old, and was once used by smugglers as a spot to divide the spoils that came up the river. An 18th-century spinning jenny is set in the ceiling. Modern European dishes are served in the elegant dining room: terrine of pigeon, duck, guinea fowl and chicken with apple chutney to start, followed by bacon-wrapped monkfish with colcannon, fine beans and a chive and crayfish buerre blanc. Excellent thick-cut sandwiches are available from the bar and there are several tables dedicated to drinkers (beers come from the Arundel Brewery).

Main Street, Burpham, BN18 9RR (01903 883131, www.georgeanddragoninnburpham.com).
Open noon-3.30pm, 6-11pm daily. Lunch served noon-2pm Mon-Fri; noon-3pm Sat, Sun. Dinner served 6.30-9.30pm daily.

Where to stay

Amberley Castle

This astonishing hotel is housed in a mansion within the crenellated walls and moat of a medieval castle. Buildings on the site date back to 1103, when Bishop Ralph de Luffa (who also oversaw the building of Chichester Cathedral) ruled the area. Since then, Henry VII, Charles II and Queen Elizabeths I and II have all stayed the night. As a Royalist stronghold, Amberley Castle was high on Cromwell’s list of places to destroy; fortunately, much of the original fortifications remain. Tapestries, ancestral portraits and weapons hang from the walls, and suits of armour look as though they’re about to walk away. The portcullis is still ceremoniously raised and lowered daily.

The 19 rooms and suites are superb, featuring four-poster beds and antique furniture, and open fires in winter. Service is unobtrusive and flawless. The restaurant’s head chef, James Duggan, creates modern twists on British classics. The grounds include a tree-house (which can be hired for two to dine in), a tennis court, a croquet lawn, an 18-hole putting green and strolling peacocks.

Amberley, BN18 9LT (01798 831992, www.amberleycastle.co.uk). Rates £230-£520 double incl breakfast.

Woodland Yurting

Woodland Yurting, which opened in spring 2009, has been an instant hit. It’s easy to see why: it’s a beautiful, tranquil spot and although planes pass overhead and the hum of traffic is audible, it feels very remote. Five yurts are tucked higgledy-piggedly amid the trees, beside a large meadow that’s perfect for kickabouts or just lolling in the sun. The Chinese-made yurts are functional rather than pretty, furnished with beds, kitchen equipment and crockery. On arrival, you’re given a lantern, a one-ring gas stove and a cooler box with ice-packs. There are also bushcraft taster sessions.

Keepers Barn, Tittlesfold, The Haven, RH14 9BG (01403 824057, www.woodlandyurting.com). Open Apr-Sept. Rates £60 per night midweek double yurt; £140 weekend retreat (Fri-Sun). No credit cards.

Chichester & Western Sussex

Chichester is an affluent market town, with a wealth of perfectly preserved Tudor buildings. The focus is the Cathedral, founded in 1076, whose magnificent spire can be seen from miles around. Home to some astonishing 20th-century artworks, including Marc Chagall’s stained-glass window, it remains at the forefront of Chichester’s rich cultural life, along with the Pallant Gallery and the Festival Theatre. Further evidence of the city’s thriving artistic scene can be found in its boutiques, stocked with pieces by local artisans.

Around Chichester is the Sussex that makes even hardened city dwellers go misty-eyed. Quaint old villages are hidden among the lush folds of the South Downs, along with flint-built 16th-century coaching inns, ancient dry stone walls and fine Norman churches, with over 2,500 miles of public footpaths to explore. Goodwood is a major draw, with its sculpture park, vintage car rallies and racecourse, while the lovely Tudor town of Midhurst is not to be missed – and is in the fortuitous position of being surrounded by many excellent country pubs.

Things to do

Chichester Cathedral

The magnificent Cathedral was built by the Normans and consecrated in 1108. Since then, numerous buildings have been added, including the cloisters, which now house a café. Volunteers are on hand around the Cathedral to answer questions about its turbulent 900-year history, and free tours run at 11.15am and 2.30pm Monday to Saturday. The Cathedral is known for its artistic works, including John Skelton’s stone and copper font and Graham Sutherland’s painting Noli Me Tangere. The highlight is a glowing stained-glass window, designed by Marc Chagall in 1978. The Shrine of St Richard (canonised in 1262) was venerated by pilgrims until Henry VIII destroyed it in 1533, but pilgrims have returned in recent times. The Cathedral also hosts a forward-thinking series of concerts, exhibitions and talks.

West Street, Chichester, PO19 1RD (01243 782595, www.chichestercathedral.org.uk). Open Summer 7.15am-7pm daily. Winter 7.15am-6pm daily. Tours 11.15am, 2.30pm Mon-Sat. Admission free. Tours £3 suggested donation.

Cowdray Ruins

It may have been largely destroyed by fire in 1793, but Cowdray remains an impressive example of the kind of abode occupied by wealthy Tudors. The house dates back to the 1520s, and was passed along a stream of Viscounts and Earls; today, the ruins are owned by the current Viscount Cowdray, who opened them to the public in 2007. The crenellated towers and soaring, roofless remains are a poignant sight, set on a grassy site on the north bank of the River Rother. The audio tour has more on Cowdray’s long history, and there’s a visitor centre and café.

River Ground Stables, Cowdray Park, Midhurst, GU29 9AL (01730 810781, www.cowdray.org.uk). Open Mid Mar-Oct 10.30am-4pm Mon-Thur, Sun. Admission £6; £3.50-£5 reductions; £14.50 family.

Pallant House Gallery

This wonderful gallery has an outstanding collection of 20th-century British art, featuring works by Henry Moore, Peter Blake, Bridget Riley, Lucian Freud, Walter Sickert, Graham Sutherland and many more. Exciting contemporary art shows and installations and a gallery dedicated to printmakers add to the appeal. The extensive bookshop specialises in modern British art and has a large selection of rare out-of-print books, while the restaurant, Field & Fork is a gem.

9 North Pallant, PO19 1TJ (01243 774557, www.pallant.org.uk). Open 10am-5pm Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat; 10am-8pm Thur; 11am-5pm Sun. Admission £7.50; free-£4 reductions; £17 family.

Where to eat

Field & Fork

A small restaurant with a big reputation, Field & Fork is set in the Pallant House Gallery. It’s run by Sam Mahoney, who left London’s Kensington Place to run his own show here. His Modern British menu (steamed fillet of hake, curried shellfish casserole, saffron potatoes and mange tout, or slow-cooked cheek of beef, celeriac and horseradish purée and port-braised shallots) relies heavily on seasonal and local ingredients, but also spans the globe in flavours. Though simpler, the lunch menu is a delight, running from classic eggs florentine to pea, feta and chickpea fritters with toasted pumpkin seed salad. Afternoon tea is served from 3pm, but you have to book.

Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant (entrance on East Pallant), Chichester, PO19 1TJ (01243 770827, www.fieldandfork.co.uk). Open 10am-5pm Tue; 11.30am-3pm, 6-10pm Wed-Sat; 11.30am-5pm Sun. Lunch served 11.30am-3pm Tue-Sun. Dinner served 6-10pm Wed-Sat.

Fox Goes Free

A contender for the loveliest pub in West Sussex, this 300-year-old inn was a stopover for William III during his hunting trips to the neighbouring Goodwood Estate. These days, the low dark-timbered nooks and large garden accommodate families and groups of friends enjoying some locally produced pints (including a couple brewed by the pub), perhaps over a game of Trivial Pursuit by the log fire, or some excellent food. The menu features such dishes as pan-fried calf’s liver with red onion marmalade or crispy confit duck with savoy cabbage and plum sauce; there’s a bar menu of pub grub too. The Fox also has five B&B rooms (£90-£110 double incl breakfast).

Charlton, PO18 0HU (01243 811461, www.thefoxgoesfree.com). Open 11am-11pm Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun. Food served noon-2.30pm, 6.30-10pm Mon-Fri; noon-10pm Sat, Sun.

Where to stay

Royal Oak Inn

In the village of East Lavant, within easy reach of Chichester and Goodwood, this 200-year-old coaching inn has a delightfully rural setting. Its six en suite rooms are stylishly decorated and wonderfully welcoming, with down duvets, flatscreen TVs, L’Occitane toiletries and warm, mellow colour schemes. There are also two pretty flint holiday cottages across the road from the pub. The food (herb-crusted hake, free-range Sussex pork with potatoes dauphinoise and calvados cream) is splendid, and there’s a terrace for balmy summer evenings.

Pook Lane, East Lavant, PO18 0AX (01243 527434, www.royaloakeastlavant.co.uk). Rates B&B £110-£190 double incl breakfast. Self-catering cottages £180-£260.

Fish House

This sophisticated seafood restaurant and hotel is a slightly unexpected find in such a rural setting. The menu runs from Irish or Jersey oysters, roast king scallops and poached sea bass with fennel and orange salad to simply grilled fish of the day or the house fish pie – though even that involves lobster. A couple of fish-free options slip through the net, particularly for Sunday lunch, and there is a short vegetarian menu. The 15 bedrooms (from £150 double incl breakfast) are equally swish.

High Street, Chilgrove, PO18 9HX (01243 519444, www.thefishhouse.co.uk). Open 8am-11pm daily. Lunch served noon-2.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-4pm Sun. Dinner served 6-9.45pm Mon-Sat; 6-9pm Sun.

Time Out guidebooks

The contents of this feature were been taken from Time Out's Kent & Sussex guidebook. Visit the Time Out shop.

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