We’re celebrating the news that Lonely Planet has named Kent as the top family destination in Europe for 2015. We take a trip around East Kent to sample and celebrate what is making the region an amazing place to live.
Kent really has a lot going for it and we should be rightly proud. Local people might love living here, but with tourism an essential part of the economy how we look to the rest of the UK and to those abroad is also important.
A lot of passion and toil has gone into promoting our county. Visit Kent is the Destination Management Organisation for Kent (The Garden of England), which champions the county’s £3.2 billion tourism industry and whose Chief Executive, Sandra Matthews-Marsh MBE, is thrilled with the Lonely Planet’s Top Family Destination in Europe for 2015 award, welcoming the accolade, which comes from a highly-respected authority on travel.
“This is the happy result of a decade of ongoing hard work to transform the county’s image… and to bring Kent’s unique story to life,” Sandra says. “As Lonely Planet recognised, our county offers ‘a host of opportunities for curious young minds’; we combine rich heritage with cutting-edge culture. The Kent coast is experiencing a thrilling renaissance, and we have more Blue Flag beaches than anywhere else in the UK.
“You don’t need to go to Europe for sun, sea and sand! Where else can you see Grayson Perry ceramics, pristine blue flag beaches, the Magna Carta, the White Cliffs of Dover, Wayne Hemingway’s Dreamland, giraffes crossing a savannah, and taste award-winning English wine?”
What our corner of Kent has to offer
COASTAL: Brilliant Beaches
Kent’s coast is reputed to be longer than Cornwall’s. From the pebbles of St Margaret’s, Whitstable and Herne Bay to the joyous sandy bays of Thanet, every East Kent beach has its own atmosphere and something to offer.
And our beaches are in good shape, too. This year’s Blue Flag achieving beaches in Thanet are: Minnis Bay, West Bay, St Mildred’s Bay, Ramsgate Main Sands, Botany Bay, Joss Bay and Stone Bay – with Westbrook, Margate Main Sands and Viking bay achieving Seaside Awards.
There’s a lot going on too. You can learn to surf and sub at Joss Bay – where the Wheels and Fins Festival (11th to 13th September) with its surfing and skateboard competitions, beach volleyball, parkour and live music end the summer in a glorious finale.
Across Thanet youngsters can discover and learn on a Seashore Safari (various dates and venues in August) – and don’t forget Broadstairs Water Gala at Viking Bay (19th August), a celebration of the traditional family seaside, including a funfair!
- Visit Broadstairs Water Gala (www.broadstairswatergala.co.uk); Seashore Safaris (www.thanetcoast.org.uk) and www.visitthanet.co.uk/beaches-bays
CREATIVE: bOing! 2015 International Family Festival
Canterbury Cathedral draws in a million visitors each year – and the old city itself is a pleasure to discover, with historic buildings, boat tours and a plethora of places to eat, drink and be merry. But for our younger visitors, bOing! (Gulbenkian, 29th and 30th August) could possibly offer a lively, creative and exciting time.
The international festival is based on a family day that grew bigger – and the second bOing! is planned to be even better than before. The whole point is for lots of entertainment to be free and accessible – it includes events such as Fragile, by Motion House (UK). Billed as ‘a thrill for all ages’, it’s an outdoor show with stunning dancers performing with JCB diggers, which surely has to be a first?
Also free is STEAM. This is performance-parkour packed with energy, as The Urban Playground Team re-imagine the life of a steam locomotive. Performances are also accompanied by a free workshop, so if your youngsters are brave they can also experiment and try out the exciting moves.
The festival programme is packed – and includes everything from film (remember the Moomims?) to the wonderful (and free!) Lyma Birds – giant feathered birds intent on a game of hide and seek. There’s even a ‘Toddlernes Room’ (Toddler’s Room)… a magical sensory space created by Dybwikdans from Norway.
- For more information, visit www.boingfestival.com or call 01227 769075.
FRUITFUL YIELDS: The Bounty of the County
Nestled on 23 acres of gentle south-facing slopes, 11 different grape varieties are rapidly ripening – soon to be harvested, pressed, fermented and bottled into award-winning white, red, rose and sparkling English wines. Once a concept too odd to take seriously, people are becoming curious about English wine, its popularity is soaring.
Many foreign visitors come to explore the vineyards, and with multi-lingual tour guides they can be sure of a warm welcome.
Conscious of transportation costs and the importance of supporting local farmers, Biddenden’s famous Strong Kentish Cider and juices are produced with apples grown within a five to 10-mile radius. The shop features local artisan producers and includes cheeses, beef, honey – and the coffee shop serves a selection of locally-produced cakes, with Ploughman’s lunches, cream teas and deli-style sharing platters available to pre-order.
While the tour is free, a donation to RABI (Biddenden’s chosen charity) is appreciated, and group tours and private guided tours are available. Booking essential. Tours last an hour and begin with a welcome morning coffee.
What better way to celebrate the propensity of the Garden of England to produce than a visit to Home of the National Fruit Collection (near Faversham), which has more varieties of fruit than anywhere else in the world? The orchards are open seven days a week from March to October with Guided Walking tours, or Self-Guided walks (with an orchard pass).
Tractor Trailer tours are available on special Sundays (9th and 23rd August and 6th and 20th September).
Events include Plum Day (16th August) and the Artisan Cider Festival (29th to 30th August) with more than 50 artisan ciders and 12 local bands.
QINTESSENTIALY ENGLISH: Quex Park
The Quekes family, who made their money in Kent wool, once owned this imposing house. It has since been home to several families over the centuries. Delightful, extensive gardens will tempt you to venture to explore the children’s maze, Victorian walled garden and woodland walk. If you prefer interiors, selected rooms are open to the public over the summer months.
The Powell-Cotton Museum is home to a unique collection of artefacts from a variety of cultures that illustrate the travels of Percy Powell-Cotton during the 19th century. There is also now a modern installation known as Gallery 6. This interactive area means that children can touch and use artefacts and access the latest technology to investigate them more closely.
Quex Barn Farm Shop and Mama Feelgood’s boutique cafe serve and sell delicious food, and those requiring retail therapy can visit the working artists at the Craft Village or enliven gardens with purchases from the Secret Garden Nursery and Plant Centre. Jungle Jim’s play area provides fun even on rainy days. And don’t forget the August attraction of the Maize Maze.
- For more information, call 01843 841119 or visit www.quexpark.co.uk
ICONIC: White Cliffs
We may take these chalk giants for granted, but the number of visitors to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre is increasing rapidly year on year – with up to 300,000 coming to glimpse the iconic sight. In the summer months 50% of visitors are from the USA and the rest of the world – and anything displaying images of the cliffs (postcards, key rings…) sell like hot cakes in the shop. Buses are chartered from London and directions have been specially printed to help tourists arriving on the express train make their way from Dover station.
“It’s on the ‘to see’ list just as much as Stonehenge and the Tower of London,” says Gareth Wiltshire, Operations Manager at White Cliffs. “Some people come simply to watch the ferries… but it is also a rare place of being able to have sense of space and openness away from the urban sprawl.”
A walk to the South Foreland Lighthouse is very popular – especially as there is a teashop there.
- For openings and events, visit the website www.nationaltrust.org
HISTORY: Castles and Forts
Dover, Whitstable, Reculver, Canterbury, Deal, Walmer, Richborough Fort – East Kent is studded with examples that reflect its position as the first UK region to take a hit in the event of invasion. Each individually proud in its own right, they are markers of our military, architectural and cultural history.
Castle is second only to Stonehenge in visitor numbers. Each year 70,000 school children visit, including those from France and Germany. It’s also popular with cruise ship visitors and becoming well known for its programme of events throughout the year.
The castle was built in the 1180s, and used when necessary by the monarch of the day ever since. According to Isobel Uden, PR Manager for English Heritage SE, families planning their cross ferry trip to Calais will plan their journey to enable them to take in a visit. “People are taken by surprise by the colours in the interior of the keep,” she explains. “This has been done out as it would have been when Henry II was in power.” The site also includes the Roman ‘Pharos’ – or lighthouse, and the WWII tunnels.
Built in Tudor times for defence purposes, Walmer was later home for 23 years to The Duke of Wellington. An appropriate visit in this anniversary year of Waterloo, you can see the room in which he lived and died, and an original pair of Wellington boots.