A pleasant hour-and-a-half drive from London, through the picturesque fields and oast houses of Kent, brings you to Rye on the East Sussex coast. Until a few years ago, I’d never explored the countryside and shorelines within easy reach of London; now I’m completely besotted. And Rye is one of my favourite spots in this newly discovered haven. The Parish Church of St Mary, perched high on a hill above the old town, welcomes you from afar as you make your approach, and the grade II listed white smock windmill – now a pricey B&B – is one of the first things you see as you enter. Everything is quaint and gentle, from the cobbled streets and tea shops to the 15th century pubs with their inglenook fireplaces. Strolling around the town (“hand holding”, as our friend Mark would say), or out past the harbour and nature reserve to the beach at Camber Sands, is a very pleasant way to spend a day.
The first time Paul and I visited was on a very hot day in August 2010. After battling through the traffic of day-trippers, who had clearly stolen our idea, we fell under the town’s spell. Paul later returned with his brother and dad in May 2011 for a few days of walking, ale drinking and other manly pursuits. In February 2012, he surprised me with a romantic getaway for my birthday, booking a suite in the very posh George hotel, where we had a claw-foot bath in the middle of the bedroom and I was treated to a delicious meal at the hotel’s celebrated restaurant. On that occasion, we spent a lot of time trudging through the snow, helping locals dig their cars out of drifts, or hiding from the cold in The Ship, Ypres Castle and Mermaid Inn. You won’t be shocked to learn, I’m sure, that Rye is as beautiful in the winter as it is the rest of the year. More recently, we visited for a weekend in spring with our friends Alys and Simon, staying in Alys’ mum’s gorgeous house on the edge of the town centre. Whatever the season, Rye is enchanting.
One of the other great things about the town is its location; close enough to explore some of the best of the Kent and Sussex countryside. On our various trips, we’ve visited the Chapel Down vineyard at Tenterden, Pashley Manor Gardens, Winchelsea, Tunbridge Wells and the solitary Dungeness. We’ve also come to love the charms of Hastings, with its sweet old town of boutiques, antique shops and cafés and its seafront of fishing huts and chippies. The 600 acre Country Park Nature Reserve in Hastings also offers great coastal and woodland walks. And the pièce de résistance: Rye is a mere half hour taxi ride from the best restaurant in the country. I cannot recommend The Curlew in Bodiam enough. Now Michelin-starred, the restaurant offers just the right balance of casual elegance and the food is simply incredible. I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re back!