Chalk escarpments, rolling Wealden valleys, haunting marshes - Ashford and Tenterden's special landscapes are dazzling in their diversity.
Edging just north of Ashford, the Kent Downs AONB is a dramatic ridge of chalk grassland which bursts into vivid wild flower colour each spring. Rich in woods and nature reserves, scattered with orchids and alive with butterflies, it's prime walking, wildlife watching and al fresco eating territory. Look out too for the Wye Crown; carved in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII, it boasts stunning views, then discover how the Devil's Kneading Trough dates from the last ice age.
The gentle rolling valleys and compact woods of the Weald of Kent undulate alongside - the Garden of England at its best. Stretching west from Tenterden is the High Weald AONB, 560 protected square miles of meadows filled with flowers and woods awash with birdsong. Stroll this enchanted landscape to encounter ridge-top villages, oast houses and wildlife galore.
To the south sweeps the rugged, open expanse of Romney Marsh (www.rmcp.co.uk), an extraordinary, sheep-dotted wetland topped by an overarching sky. No wonder this mind-xpanding landscape has acted as an inspiration to countless writers and artists.
Near Challock, step into 1500-acre Kings Wood and enter an ancient forest traced through with four enchanting, circular walking trails. Look out for fallow deer and signs of dormice, as well as triguing nature-related sculptures; themes that flow through to the children's play areas.
Hothfield Heathlands offer real rarities: Kent's last valley bogs, and one of its few remaining stretches of open heath. A SSSI, it's bursting with animals and flowers; dragonflies, lizards and grass snakes - the Kent Wildlife Trust grazes its friendly Highland cattle and Konik ponies here too. Look out for them all amid the bogs, heather and gorse.
The Ashford Community Woodland is set right on the edge of town, offering views great views of the far-off downs. It borders the Singleton Environment Centre; a superb source of eco-inspiration that's home to the equally inspiring Conservation Volunteers (www.tcv.org.uk/singleton) and the ethically-focused Footprints Café which constantly attracts rave reviews. The Greensand Way and Route 18 of the National Cycle Network both wind near-by, allowing you to arrive in suitably sustainable style.
Meanwhile in Ashford, natural spaces also lie at the heart of urban areas. The pioneering Ashford Green Corridor (www.ashfordgreencorridor.org.uk) sees river-side nature reserves and parks flow right through the heart of town. So you can encounter damselflies, willows and water voles just a short stroll from bustling shopping streets.