The Garden of England
For an endearing, enduring slice of old England head for Ashford and Tenterden's gorgeous surrounds. Impossibly pretty villages, top-class restaurants and bewitching vineyards lie waiting to be explored.
Kent doesn't get quainter than this; postcard-pretty oast houses, hop gardens and orchards surround ancient barns. Village pubs and tea rooms huddle cosily beside cricket greens. Lyrical landscapes sweep all around. From the swooping majesty of the North Downs, to the Weald of Kent's chequerboard of farms and woods. And in the south the mind-expanding breadth of Romney Marsh, dotted with historic churches, alive with smugglers' tales and providing breath-taking views. In these environments memorable accommodation abounds.
The villages alone are worth an extended tour. Photogenic Chilham is so perfectly preserved it doubles as a film set; ITV's Miss Marple and a BBC version of Jane Austen's Emma were both shot here. Hunt out the locations amid the village square, church, castle, antiques shops and tea rooms.
Definitely detour to Biddenden. Perhaps dine at its Michelin-starred restaurant, The West House, after touring Biddenden Vineyard; producers of first class wines, cider, apple and pear juice. Then stop for tea in the 17th century village, discovering more about Biddenden's intriguing Siamese twins.
Picturesque Wye sits on the slopes of the North Downs, making an appealing springboard for rambling off into those hills. You can cycle National Route 18 from here too - a delightful peddle to Tenterden. The medieval buildings of the former Wye College add to the atmosphere, as does the steep-sided valley quirkily called the Devil's Kneading Trough.
Charing beckons with its array of weather-boarded houses, half-timbered homes and the ruins of a 13th century Archbishop's Palace. A thriving collection of independent shops and eateries provides fertile hunting ground for everything from afternoon tea, pub lunches, garden-ware and shabby-chic antiques.
Don't miss pretty Pluckley. Hailed as the most haunted village in Britain, it can boast between 12 and 14 ghost sightings. It's also where ITV's charming Darling Buds of May series was filmed - re-live your favourite Larkin-related moment on a self-guided trail, produced by the Kent Film Office
Historic Smarden bristles with 100 listed buildings; tour them on the village's heritage trail. It's also home to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation's Big Cat Sanctuary. Not generally open to the public, you can book for your own bespoke animal encounters.
Appledore offers medieval houses and a 13th century church, which stages a famous flower festival each August. The village is also a gateway to Romney Marsh's fine churches and eerie views. Then there's Rolvenden which offers colour-rich Hole Park Gardens, and in the C.M. Booth Collection of Historic Vehicles irresistible motoring, vintage style.