With long-haul travel falling off a precipice in 2020, British holidaymakers had to find fuel for their wanderlust in more creative ways, from embarking on 'virtual travel tours' through to unusual staycation homes. And now, as we near the end of 2021, those in the UK's holiday service industry have recognised the need to up their game and offer premium, unique experiences, that rival the appeal of heading off abroad.
Margate - thanks in no small part to an influx of boujiee middle class creatives buying up the property and putting pressure on the need for oyster bars and vintage emporiums - has had a real re-birth, from tacky seaside town, to chic home-away-from-London. Even legendary amusement park Dreamland has had a facelift.
Cornwall has seen something of a revival too, with big shot editors, celebs and glam influencers flocking to the white sands of Porthcurno and Pedn Vounder Beach and making it look like a Mediterranean vaycay.
But those are not the only places in the South to have been given fresh allure. When it comes to arts culture, the best of Britain's rolling landscapes and - perhaps more important still - a premium tipple, the county of Sussex has got the edge.
The physical geography of Sussex is one of its very greatest appeals. The county plays host to the famous South Downs, a range of chalk hills so iconic that they appear in countless novels and these days form an incredible Instagram backdrop. Places like High Weald and the Pevensey Levels are also areas of extraordinary natural beauty and attract plenty of eco-tourists. And then you have trails like the one through mysterious Kingly Vale, which includes the eerie yew woods, a battle ground for the Vikings, and a secret bunker, originally designed to house resistance fighters in the event that the Nazis ever invaded.
Beyond the leafy surrounds, the county has been enjoying a cultural upgrade. Sussex Modern - a growing business consortium and something of a new-gen tourist board - has launched to bring together 40 memorable destinations across art, design, craft, music, landscape and wine, delivering potential vacationers a changing programme of exhibitions, events and performances, showcasing the best of Sussex's creative and cultural output.
The Brits are obviously known for their gin. From London dry to fruity botanicals, we're unquestionably experts. Plus, our growing penchant for craft beer probably deserves a mention. But the unsung hero of the British F&B offering has got to be our English sparkling wine. And Sussex is the place to experience it.
With its high latitude, warm and dry maritime climate, and range of soil types, Sussex has the right characteristics for grapes to reach ripeness, and there are nine excellent wineries with doors wide open for visits. Some of them will even host you overnight, in case the tasting session goes rather too well and you need somewhere lay your head.
At Ashling Park Estate - a scenic, peaceful winery near Chichester - you can stay in one of their self-contained lodges. Named after the cycles of the vineyard: Budburst, Flowering, Veraison, Harvest and Fall, each lodge is furnished with a kitchenette, a log burner and a little verandah so that you can sip on a sparkler under the stars. Truly, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle, made only more delightful by the friendly staff.
Plus, their Cuvée NV has won a slew of awards, including the Wine GB 2018 and 2020 Gold Medal, plus a Decanter World Wine Awards gold medal and a Sommelier 2018 silver medal.
Just around the corner, you'll find the Tinwood Estate, which is perfect for day trips in large numbers, as their tasting room is a grand, cavernous space, complete with wine glass chandeliers. Book in for a private tour, taster and cheeseboard, which starts at £18 per person, or better yet, sample their afternoon tea of sandwiches, fresh scones and locally sourced sweet treats. At Tinwood, you'll get to experience three excellent bubblies: a Brut, Rosé and a Blanc de Blancs, concocted from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
In the last half century, Sussex has inspired a new generation of grape farmer, working in better harmony with the soil and climate to develop a thoroughly modern approach to winemaking. Other local vineyards of note include Tillingham, Albourne, Bolney and Rathfinny. Why head to the Champagne region, when some of the finest sparkling libations to ever hit a coupe or flute are right here on your doorstep?
The character of British food is hotly contested. We don't have a national dish, per se, unless you count the invention of chicken tikka masala. We're tarred with the unflattering reputation for having enabled 'stodge' to become a dinnertime mainstay, from gruel through to pies and hash browns. And let's not get started on the monstrosity of jellied eels. But with all that said, it can't be denied that we've turned stodge into an art-form, with the 'gastro-pub' becoming a real destination.
A couple of Sussex gastro-pubs that warrant attention include The Eight Bells in Jevington, which has an extraordinary à la carte menu, the like of which you might expect to find in a fine dining restaurant, including chicken liver parfait and devilled crayfish, all served with serious flourish. What's more, the venue has just opened a darling winter terrace, complete with rich soft furnishings, cosy fur blankets and lanterns.
And the Anglesey Arms, located in Halnaker within The Goodwood Estate, which has just been freshly refurbished, includes a giant garden with seating for summer visits and plays host to one of the most glorious sticky toffee puddings on record.
If you're keen to be abreast of Britain's impressive art and design scene, there are many options to take advantage of to explore Sussex's unique cultural DNA. Longstanding institutions such as Towner Eastbourne and the Pallant House Gallery have a roster of exhibitions throughout the year. There's Glyndebourne, of course, if you want to see world class opera over a picnic. But you'd be best advised to sign up to Sussex Modern's newsletter, to hear about pop-up events and one off performances in the region.
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