'You can see Lewes lying like a box of toys under a great amphitheatre of chalky hills,’ wrote William Morris of this pretty patch of East Sussex. Less rowdy than neighbouring Brighton (although everyone lets loose at the bacchanalian Bonfire Night celebrations), it’s had a reputation as an arty enclave for the best part of a century, thanks to links with the Bloomsbury Group – alight here for Hampstead-near-Sea, basically.
A perfect day in Lewes
Take the quick trip to Charleston, a rambling farmhouse that used to be the rural retreat of artists and writers such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Virginia Woolf. As well as evoking a long-lost world of interwar glamour, it’s a treasure trove of LGBTQ+ history.
Flint Owl Bakery regularly gets namechecked as one of Europe’s best breadmakers. Stop by the subway-tiled café for lunch in the courtyard (buttermilk fried chicken and slaw on one of its own ciabatta rolls, a falafel ‘sausage’ roll or a bowl of panzanella), and don’t leave without one of its sourdough loaves to take home.
Just a quarter of a mile from the town centre, Pells Pool shimmers invitingly. It’s the country’s oldest recorded freshwater outdoor public pool (try saying that three times while blowing bubbles), and although it’s unheated, the water can reach a balmy 20C. Fiercely loved by locals, it’s open to all – and costs little more than a cup of coffee.
Climb all the way up to the keep of Lewes Castle and drink in the view (while catching your breath). Work started on these imposing fortifications way back in 1066 - you can learn all about local archaeological history next door in the Barbican House Museum.
Rest up after your big day out at this sweet, Georgian townhouse right in the middle of the action. Itís a genuine family house-turned-B&B, so youíll feel right at home in minutes. There are just three rooms here, each with its own enormous bathroom. Book the light-filled top floor suite and youíll get a lush rolltop bath and stunning views over Lewes and the hills of the South Downs. Hearty breakfasts featuring local bread and homemade jams are served in a big communal kitchen. Oh, and well-behaved dogs are welcome, too. The dream. From £95 a night.