MOVE OVER CORNWALL, KENT OFFICIALLY ENGLAND’S ‘SUNNIEST’ COUNTY
With officially more hours of sunlight than anywhere else in the UK, plus 50 wineries in the county alone, Kent is having its moment in the sun as a go-to destination for staycations and visitors.
Kent topped the sun charts with 1447 hours of sunshine, 76 more hours than Essex in second place with 1371 hours. In third place was the Isle of Wight (1364), East Sussex (1357) and Dorset (1335). Using Met Office data*, the research was undertaken by Knight Frank who advise prospective vineyard owners where to buy land for the best location to grow grapes.
An estimated 6.4m tourists visit the county already each year, 1.4m more than Cornwall. And that figure is expected to grow further, as the region benefits from longer summers, and a growing wine-tourism industry.
Jo Ginn, brand manager for the Wine Garden of England www.winegardenofengland.co.uk a collaboration of eight of Kent’s top wineries, commented, “Sunshine is the number one requirement for ripening fruit, so it makes sense that there are more vineyards in Kent than anywhere else with over a quarter of the UK’s vineyards being located here.”
Grab a share of the Kent sunshine with our top five things to do to make the most of Kent’s vineyards, food scene, gardens, towns and activities.
Visit a vineyard
With eight wineries making up the Wine Garden of England’s group, pick one or two to visit in a day, or make a long weekend of it and do them all! This collection of unique vineyards is easily accessible from London St Pancras, Victoria, Charing Cross, London Waterloo East and London Bridge and at under one hour’s travel time, it makes it a great day out as a mini-vini break from the capital. Due to the Kent climate, terroir, and talent, all eight producers craft excellent wines and offer a diverse wine trail experience.
Visit Balfour Winery’s 400-acre family-owned estate with vast ancient woodlands, and impressive art collection or Biddenden’s farmyard atmosphere, growing Germanic and French varieties, since the 1960s by one family.
The iconic Chapel Down, based in the picturesque market town of Tenterden in Kent, renowned for a range of wine experiences from guided tours of the vineyards to tutored wine tastings plus a range of experiences for food and wine lovers.
For a luxury escape, Gusbourne’s Nest visitor centre offers tours of the vineyards and winery, and luxurious tasting and dining experiences. For a more alternative take, visit Westwell, a family-owned experimental estate producing handcrafted premium sparkling and still wines by a couple of ex-music industry high-fliers – or watch this space for Domaine Evremond, a unique collaboration between Champagne Taittinger and Hatch Mansfield set to open in 2024 with a state-of-the-art visitor centre built underground, to preserve the landscape.
Step into history at Squerryes, a 2,500-acre estate, high on the North Downs in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the setting of many costume dramas; or Simpsons Wine Estate, for a contemporary boutique winery producing award-winning sparkling wines, chardonnays, and pinot noirs.
Dine in splendour
Visit Boys Hall, a 17th century manor beautifully restored right in the heart of Ashford, famed for its enviable Kent wine list and top-class food prepared from local produce. A great stop off between vineyard visits. www.boys-hall.co.uk
Dine at The Fordwich Arms in England’s smallest town, Fordwich, just outside Canterbury. Sitting next to the delightful River Stour, this is one of the country’s best restaurants with ingredients directly sourced from local farmers and producers. www.fordwicharms.co.uk
Visit one of the UK’s prettiest villages
Chilham is one of the prettiest and least discovered villages in Kent and a filming hotspot. Its central feature is privately owned Chilham Castle and recently its new owners have opened it to the public for the first time in 500 years. www.chilham-castle.co.uk Enjoy a cream tea, a beer or glass of Kent wine in Chilham square after your visit. Free car park or walk from Chilham station.
Explore Kent Heritage Coastline from Kingsdown to Folkestone
Last year Kent’s Heritage Coastline was the only UK destination listed in the Lonely Planet Best in Travel list, a list that defines the top 10 hottest places to visit in the world for the ultimate must-have travel experiences. Visit Folkestone, one of the UK’s coolest and most creative towns. With its hidden sandy beaches, walks along the seafront, art and sculpture at every turn, Folkestone is less than an hour from St Pancras on the HS rail line. Its charming old high street known as the Creative Quarter is lined with artists’ galleries and craft shops and cafes www.creativefolkestone.org.uk and the Harbour Arm area is famed for its bars and restaurants in particular www.rocksaltfolkestone.co.uk and www.thelighthousechampagnecompany.co.uk which serves a great selection of English wines.
Fly a Spitfire from Biggin Hill
Visit Biggin Hill to fly a fully restored authentic WW2 Spitfire or simply visit the restoration workshop at Biggin Hill for a tour www.flyaspitfire.com. Or to continue the WW2 theme continue onto www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/kent/chartwell where Winston Churchill once lived.
*Data taken between 2017 – 2022 with sunlight hours defined as the period during which direct solar irradiance exceeds a threshold value of 120 W/m21 (Source: World Meteorological Organization)