Food and drink weekend breaks
Weekend getaways designed for food lovers and booze connoisseurs
Treat your palate to an ideal holiday with Time Out's guide to food- and drink-based weekends away – including eating oysters in Whitstable, gorging on a gourmet picnic in the Cotswolds and cooking with Raymond Blanc.
Where to go: Whitstable, Kent.
How to get there: 1 hour 30 minutes by train from St Pancras or Victoria to Whitstable.
What to do: Whitstable’s been famous for its oysters since Roman times. Foodies will plan a trip to coincide with the town’s annual Oyster Festival (July 23-29). Celebrations begin at around 5.30pm on the opening Saturday with the Landing of the Oysters and the Oyster Parade and continue throughout the week with events such as oyster-eating contests, Champagne tastings, pub quizzes and guided walks. Whitstable Brewery Beer Festival is on Friday Sunday 24 from noon to 3am and includes 30 cask beers to taste and dancing to live bands until the small hours. The full festival programme is online.
As you explore the town you’ll soon encounter a network of narrow passageways. One of them, Squeeze Gut Alley, was reportedly used as a regular escape route by a group of troublemakers on the run from the town’s plump policemen.
See the coast from horseback on a hack at Benacre Riding School (two-and-a-half-hour beach ride £50; 01227 770931) or, for watery fun, Whitstable Yacht Club runs windsurfing and sailing classes (taster sessions £50-£100). The Horsebridge Arts & Community Centre hosts gigs, open-mic nights and markets, and The Playhouse is home to The Lindley Players who stage plays and themed nights.
Where to eat and drink: Food and drink Reserve well in advance in order to get a table at the bijou Wheelers Oyster Bar (01227 273311). Alternatively, if the weather’s fine, order a takeaway and shuck on the beach. The Film Café serves up with Fairtrade coffee and homemade cakes, and Samphire offers hearty meat and veggie brunches, lunches and suppers.
Where to stay: Where to stay The Front Rooms is a stylish bed and breakfast in a Victorian townhouse run by husband and wife Tom Sutherland and Julie Thorne, who spent three years carefully restoring and modernising the place. There are three double rooms, each with a comfy cast-iron double bed, a stock of books and DVDs for viewing on the flatscreen TV. The bathroom’s not en suite but is for the sole use of guests – and you’ll find it stocked with Molton Brown and Sanctuary products. Breakfast is a grease-free affair with lots of fruit salad, pastries, bagels, jams, cereals and muesli. On cold days, there’s a log fire in the front room to keep you toasty and bikes are available for hire. B&B is £110-£130 per room based on two people sharing. Minimum stay is two nights. 9 Tower Parade, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 2BJ (01227 282132).
The Cotswolds: gourmet picnics
Where to go: The Cotswolds.
How to get there: 1 hour 15 minutes by train, Paddington to Charlbury, then a nine-mile taxi ride.
What to do: One of several so-called ‘gateways to the Cotswolds’, Burford just happens to be the real deal, with a grand high street lined with Tudor buildings. If you want to throw a posh picnic, head to Mrs Bumbles, a well-stocked deli where you’ll get to sample chutneys, olive oils and other fare before buying. Don’t miss dinner at the Bull at Burford, where chef Paul Scott turns out splendid French and English fare – the taster menu, at £50, makes for a delicious gourmet dinner. Paul trained at Cliveden and worked at various Michelin-starred establishments before coming to Burford.
Where to stay: at The Bull – built as a coaching inn in the seventeenth century – is also a great place to spend the night, with just 12 rooms, some with four-poster beds. Doubles from £70 including breakfast, or from £105 including breakfast and dinner for two people. 105 High St, Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4RG (01993 822220)
Oxford: Raymond Blanc cookery lessons
Where to go: Raymond Blanc cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire.
How to get there: 45 minutes by train from Marylebone to Haddenham & Thame Parkway.
What to do: Raymond Blanc’s cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire, runs courses for adults and families in a sumptuous setting. On the one-day Seasonal Dinner Party course, which runs throughout the year (£335 per adult), you’ll learn to create starters, mains and desserts and, importantly, how to remedy any dish that doesn’t quite go to plan. Lunch included.
Where to stay: Treat yourself to an overnight stay, the night before or after your course, in one of Le Manoir’s 32 luxurious rooms. Doubles range from £480 including French breakfast. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Church Rd, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD (01844 278881).
Canterbury: wild foraging
Where to go: Canterbury, Kent.
How to go there: 50 minutes by train, St Pancras to Canterbury.
What to do: Throughout the year, Fergus Drennan takes small groups on 12-hour foraging missions (£150 per person) across woodland, field, river, and seashore habitats around Canterbury. Courses vary depending on the season; in spring you might tap birch trees for sap, in the autumn there’ll be mushrooms to hunt. You’ll learn to identify, harvest sustainably and cook a variety of wild, nutritious foods. The course cost includes three-course lunch and dinner, a pickle to take home and fact sheets.
Where to stay: At The White House is a friendly husband-and-wife-owned B&B in an elegant Grade II-listed Regency townhouse. The six doubles and one single room boast clean, fresh contemporary decor, big comfy beds and fluffy pillows, flatscreen TVs and free wi-fi. The delicious breakfast menu includes scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and tasty Portobello mushrooms on toast alongside a trad full English or Continental. The owners are gay-friendly, and have plenty of helpful advice on what to do, from choosing bars and restaurants to bike hire. Doubles range from £90. No under-16s. 6 St Peters Lane, Canterbury, Kent CT1 2BP (01227 761836).
Dorking: fine Surrey wine
Where to go: Denbies vineyard, Dorking, Surrey.
How to get there: 45 minutes by train, Waterloo to Dorking, then a ten-minute walk.
What to do: Denbies is England’s largest vineyard (there are 265 acres of vines) and is open year round. Its Chalk Ridge Rosé 2010 recently beat 366 other entries to win the International Wine Challenge award for the world’s best rosé. The Denbies Classic Tasting Experience tour (£9.50 per adult, booking recommended) runs daily throughout the year and covers the history of winemaking at the estate, a trip through the winery on a small train and tastings in the cellar of three Denbies wines.
Where to stay: Denbies Farmhouse offers B&B accommodation in seven double en-suite rooms. The tasty full English breakfast will provide sustenance for exploring the North Downs; Box Hill is nearby and there are some excellent longer walks in the surrounding area along a network of well-marked footpaths. Or you could rent a bike from the B&B or spend a few hours browsing Dorking’s antiques shops. Doubles range from £98. Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking Surrey RH5 6AA (1306 876616).