Why Kent Has Become So Fashionable

Kent is officially cool. The Garden of England has always been known for its rolling hills, picture-perfect villages and stunning 350-mile coastline but now, with a slew of lovely new boutique hotels, top-notch restaurants, world-class vineyards and the renaissance of its seaside towns, it’s fast becoming the escape-from-the-city destination of choice, overtaking the likes of Suffolk and the Cotswolds. From foodie Whitstable and hip Margate to historic Canterbury, here are some of our favourite places to stay, eat and visit in the Garden of England.

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Updown, Near Deal


Updown, Near Deal

This beautifully renovated 17th-century farmhouse is only a ten-minute drive inland from Deal. Owners Ruth Leigh and Oliver Brown started converting the Grade ll-listed building in June 2021 into a lovely restaurant with rooms. There are four rooms in the house, and for a totally peaceful stay, the Gardener’s Cottage is set in the grounds away from the main house. All are very cosy, with low beamed ceilings, comfy high beds, olive green walls and interesting artwork. Food is the main talking point here – Oliver was the founder of Duck Duck Goose (now closed) in Brixton and Ruth is the daughter of chef Rowley Leigh (of Kensington Place fame). The food is Italian-influenced and seasonal, using the best regional ingredients available on the day – so you might eat the likes of fazzoletti with morels and wild garlic, then tuck into baked saffron rice with gurnard, mussels and aioli. They have a short list of exciting wines, local beers and seasonal cocktails. The dining room is intimate, seating only a handful of guests but at weekends during the summer months, they have a BBQ in the garden.

Visit UpdownFarmhouse.com

The Pig At Bridge Place

Set in the meadows of the Nailbourne Valley, in the village of Bridge, this Jacobean house was a rock ‘n’roll venue in the 60s (where the likes of the Kinks, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin played) before becoming the sixth Pig in the hotel group. Just three miles from Canterbury, it has everything you need for a luxury overnight stay after a day’s sightseeing. Sleep in the main house or the Coach House or, for something a little more rustic, opt for a Hop Pickers’ Hut. All rooms have four-poster beds, spacious en-suites and stylish interiors. Book a spa treatment in the Potting Shed, then enjoy dinner in the restaurant where dishes are seasonal, and all ingredients are sourced within a strict 25-mile radius or from the hotel’s kitchen garden. Order the likes of hay-smoked pigeon breast with red cabbage and Braeburn apple slaw; Rye Bay crab cocktail; or Tamworth pork loin with garden greens and parsley sauce.

Visit ThePigHotel.com

The Pig At Bridge Place

The Rose, Deal

The seaside town of Deal was firmly put on the map by Christopher Hicks and his wife, Alex Bagner, who took over this 200-year-old pub and turned it into a quirky hotel. The eight rooms feature an eclectic mix of vintage patterns, bold colours and kitsch fabrics, as well as luxe touches like hallway bars filled with treats. We love Room Four, which has a super-king bed, large walk-in shower, freestanding roll-top bath and a record player with a cool selection of vinyl. The chic restaurant serves seriously good food made from local ingredients – think smoked mackerel broth, clams and sea herbs as a starter, followed by confit chicken thigh with braised celery, quince and coco beans. In the morning, after a big breakfast (where you can order as much as you like), ride the hotel’s vintage bikes along the seafront or explore Deal’s high street.

Visit The RoseDeal.com

Fort Road Hotel, Margate

Located a stone’s throw from the beach, the old town and the Turner Contemporary, this 1820s boarding house was sensitively refurbished last year and is one of Kent’s hippest hotels. The 14 en-suite rooms are individually designed and feature vintage and bespoke furniture and carefully selected artworks, and all have lovely views of the Margate coast. The small restaurant, with just 35 seats, serves British seasonal food with a Mediterranean influence; the menu changes daily based on the availability of locally sourced produce, so you might get oysters, crème fraîche, seaweed and trout eggs followed by sea bass with watercress sauce or cider-braised pork belly with parsley sauce. Pre- or post-dinner, head to the bar, arranged over two floors, which features works by local Margate artists including Tracey Emin, Hannah Lees and Matthew Darbyshire. 

Visit FortRoadHotel.com

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle Of Sheppey
Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle Of Sheppey

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle Of Sheppey

Ditch your phone and go off-grid at this stunning, family-run nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey, which lies off Kent’s north coast. With sustainability at the heart of everything they do, Elmley is a beautiful and thoughtfully designed place to stay – from the stylish shepherd’s huts and bell tents (in summer) to the cosy rooms in the 18th-century farmhouse, all the accommodation has far-reaching views across the reserve, and you are guaranteed to be treated to huge skies and unforgettable wildlife experiences, especially if you’re a bird watcher. Lunch, tea and snacks are available throughout the day and, after dark, the Elmley Kitchen offers a vibrant, seasonal menu with ingredients locally sourced from innovative and sustainable local producers – think slow braised venison with mulled spiced pear and cavolo nero or Kentish ranger chicken with chorizo and spring onion rösti, Dudda’s Tun cider and mustard sauce. Guests staying in the huts can order breakfast and meals to their door. 

Visit ElmleyNatureReserve.co.uk

Boys Hall, Ashford

Owners Brad and Kristie Lomas bought Boys Hall in 2019 and quickly set about transforming the 17th-century, Grade II-listed Jacobean manor into Kent’s latest hot-property restaurant with rooms. The result is a place full of warmth and character, tastefully done up with rich fabrics, Farrow & Ball paints, antique portraits and vintage furniture. Upstairs, there are seven bedrooms (with three more to come later this year), ranging in size and character from small and cosy to large and spacious. Each is individually designed with its own unique character, and all have super king beds, Egyptian cotton bedlinen, fluffy towels, drench showers, roll top baths and views over the wild gardens. Downstairs, there are snugs and lounges where you can relax, as well a cosy pub in what was originally the Wealden hall. As with the other restaurants listed here, the menu showcases the best that Kent has to offer, with fresh, local and seasonal produce – starters might include charred hake, nettle flatbread, salted kohlrabi, ash salsa and egg; or cured salmon carpaccio, candied fennel, coal-roasted beetroot, burnt citrus and soda bread; for mains, expect the likes of wild mushroom risotto, cep vinaigrette, Parmesan and fine herbs; or Chart Farm fillet of venison with spinach purée, layered potato, smoked garlic and port jus.

Visit Boys-Hall.com

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle Of Sheppey


The Bridge Arms, Near Canterbury

Nestled within the lovely village of Bridge, just 2.5km from the centre of Canterbury, this idyllic 16th-century pub is under the same ownership as nearby The Fordwich Arms. Originally a coaching inn, owners/chefs Daniel and Natasha Smith oversaw the massive refurb and restored the pub to its former glory, opening the doors in 2021. They were awarded a Michelin star in February 2022, just ten months on – so, as you’d expect, the food is the star here, yet it remains family-friendly too. The menu uses seasonal produce and supports local suppliers, and much of the cooking is done over charcoal in a Josper oven. Being only ten miles from the coast means they also serve a lot of fresh seafood. The menu includes dishes like tartlet of beetroot, pink radish and pine-smoked cream; Josper grilled native lobster, carrot and chervil; line-caught pollock, sea fennel, pickled wakame and mirin; and roast saddle of Blackface lamb with morels, turnip, black garlic and kale. 

Visit BridgeArms.co.uk

The Small Holding, Kilndown

Opened in 2018 by brothers Will and Matt Devlin, the focus here is sustainability, with growing and foraging at the heart of what they do. They make their own bread, butter, charcuterie and preserves, and you will be offered a multi-course dining experience with the best ingredients harvested that day, mostly from their own farm. The sample ten-course menu for this spring includes potato, asparagus and wild garlic; beetroot, kohlrabi and sumac; lobster, apple and fennel; hake, nettle and lovage; and goat, pea and turnip – and many of these ingredients will be picked moments before they are cooked and brought to your table. The restaurant used to be an old inn and has been beautifully restored, with a large terrace outdoors. You can also wander round the farm to see what’s growing and visit the chickens, pigs and ducks.

Visit SmallHoldingRestaurant.com

Dory's, Margate

The little sister of Angel’s, Margate’s renowned fish restaurant, Dory’s is walk-in only but well worth the wait for the daily changing menu of seasonal small plates. Overlooking Margate’s beach, the menu includes raw, pickled, cured and baked seafood and vegetable dishes that are best shared. It also has a wine shop selling English and European organic and biodynamic wines.

Visit AngelsOfMargate.com

Stark, Broadstairs

Owned and run by Ben and Sophie Crittenden, Stark opened in December 2016 – the couple’s aim being to secure a better work/life balance and enjoy more time with their three children. Ben has been a chef all his working life and is dedicated to producing quality dishes from the best seasonal ingredients, which has helped Stark earn a Michelin star. Open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday only, the dining room is cosy and intimate, seating just 12. The no-choice, six-course menu changes frequently – expect the likes of corned beef, kohlrabi and truffle; hake, cauliflower and ham; and duck, beetroot and walnut. There’s also the option of matching wines with each course. It should be noted that they are unable to cater for any dietary requirements, dislikes or allergies. 

Visit StarkFood.co.uk

The Bridge Arms, Near Canterbury
The Small Holding, Kilndown

Wheelers Oyster Bar, Whitstable

Whitstable, renowned for its oysters, is awash with seafood restaurants. The oldest, the original Wheelers, was opened in 1865 by local mariner Richard Leggy Wheeler. Fast forward 60 years, and a Wheelers opened in Soho and became the flagship for a group of restaurants all over London – although it’s sadly no longer in existence. Today, the Whitstable restaurant, with its iconic pink and blue frontage, is owned by Delia Fitt who learned all about seafood from her parents. Local fishermen supply the freshest fish and seafood, from local lobsters, scallops, crabs, sea bass and, of course, native oysters, local cockles and whelks. Everything, including the bread and ice cream, is made from scratch, and there’s an organic garden that produces salad, herbs and fruit.

Visit WheelersOysterBar.com

Samphire, Whitstable

With its gold and black front, this family-run bistro, right in the heart of the town, is one of Whitstable’s most popular restaurants and is open all day, every day. Inside, the atmosphere is relaxed and cosy, the décor neutral and light with wood floors and tables, and an open kitchen. Using the best Kentish produce, the menu focuses on seafood, as you would expect, but there’s plenty to keep carnivores happy too. So, you could start with baked razor clams with breadcrumbs and parmesan or aged beef tartare and follow with fish pie or pork chop. Be sure to leave some space for the excellent selection of British cheeses! The wine list has several English wines and is very reasonably priced.

Visit SamphireWhitstable.co.uk 

The Sportsman, Seasalter, Near Whitstable

Most people in Kent will say that this is the best restaurant/gastropub in the county. Owned by self-taught chef Stephen Harris (previously a history teacher and punk musician), it’s been going since 1999 and has held a Michelin star since 2008. From the outside, it looks like a very ordinary, unprepossessing windswept seaside pub and, inside, the décor is very simple. They only offer a five-course tasting menu, comprised of small seasonal dishes made from ingredients sourced from the surrounding area – fish and oysters from the Thames Estuary, meat from local farms and vegetables from the pub’s garden. Dishes include some from the past 20-plus years along with some new ideas, and there is a choice on the day between two or three options for each course. Expect the likes of poached rock oysters, pickled cucumber and Avruga caviar; cured trout fillet with apple granita and seaweed; wild seabass fillet with parsley sauce, braised chestnuts and bacon; and roast saddle of lamb with roasting juices and mint sauce.

Visit TheSportsmanSeaSalter.co.uk

The Small Holding, Kilndown


Castles & Stately Homes 

Kent is dotted with some of England’s most beautiful castles, stately homes and manor houses. Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, is steeped in history. It has a Tudor exterior and an elegant interior refurbished by Lord Astor in the early 1900s, as well as 125 acres of beautiful grounds to explore. Leeds Castle is one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain and was the private property of six of England’s medieval queens. It is set in over 500 acres of landscaped parkland including a maze, a grotto, waterfowl, aviaries and a vineyard. On the coast, Dover Castle has sat at the top of the cliffs since the 11th century and is known as the ‘Key of England’ due to its defensive significance protecting the port from invaders throughout history. Further up the coast, Walmer Castle has been standing guard over the Channel since Tudor times and is where the Duke of Wellington died.

Winston and Clementine Churchill bought Chartwell in 1922, and it was their family home for the next 40 years. The rooms in the house remain much as they were when they lived here, with several of their pictures, books and personal mementoes still in situ. Ightham Mote is a picturesque 14th-century moated manor house, surrounded by pretty, almost cottage-like gardens, and once the home owned by medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high-society Victorians. Sissinghurst Castle Garden was created by poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her author and diplomat husband Harold Nicolson. It is one of the most famous and beautiful gardens in England. Sitting proudly in Kent’s last medieval deer park, 600-year-old Knole was built as an archbishop’s palace in the mid 15th century. It became a royal possession during the Tudor dynasty when Henry VIII hunted in the grounds. Explore the grand courtyard and Orangery and wander through the parkland. Inside, art lovers will find paintings by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Dyck. Penshurst Place has been the ancestral home of the Sidney family since 1552, and they still live here. It is a truly magnificent example of 14th-century architecture at its best. The opulent staterooms featured in the TV production of Wolf Hall and the gardens are fabulous, too.


If you have never visited this timeless city, plan to do so now. It’s lined with interesting buildings, is full of curiosities waiting to be explored and is, of course, home to the World Heritage-listed Canterbury Cathedral, whose famous spires pierce the skyline. There are several other beautiful churches to visit, and you can easily spend a day exploring the city’s medieval alleyways and gardens. Ideal for history and literature buffs, one of the best ways to learn about Canterbury is through a guided walking tour, many of which are free. In the summer, go punting along the river Stour, which runs right through the city’s heart.

Turner Contemporary, Margate

For free culture, you can’t beat the Turner Contemporary, located in the same spot as the boarding house Turner used to stay in when visiting Margate. Widely heralded for kick-starting the town’s renaissance when it opened back in 2011, it’s a must-visit and you’ll enjoy the same views of the sea the artist would have seen and painted. There’s a programme of rotating exhibitions and, at low tide, look out for a semi-submerged Antony Gormley sculpture on the foreshore outside.

A Vineyard

Kent's south-facing chalky soil and mild climate provide the perfect conditions for winemaking, similar to the Champagne area in France. As a result, there are more than 50 vineyards in the county. These are our six favourites for a vineyard tour and tasting to remember: Chapel Down, near Tenterden, is one of England’s biggest and leading wine producers with excellent facilities for visitors, including a restaurant and shop, as well as an outdoor terrace with views across the countryside; Simpsons Wine Estate, near Canterbury, is just a few miles from the Pig at Bridge Place (see above) in the stunning Elham Valley and produces what many wine experts consider the finest still wines in the land; Gusbourne is based in the village of Appledore, near Ashford, and produces an excellent sparkling wine; Biddenden, also near Ashford, is the oldest family-run vineyard in Kent and produces top-notch wines, as well as cider and fruit juices; Balfour, on the Hush Heath Estate in Staplehurst, produces an award-winning sparkling, the first English sparkling wine to be served in British Airways' first class cabin and was also chosen as the only English wine to be served at the London 2012 Olympics; The Mount Vineyard, which sits in the beautiful village of Shoreham and produces a sparkling as well as award-winning still wines, has a lovely restaurant and shop.

Dory's, Margate

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