Bexhill-on-Sea, a tranquil, picturesque seaside town, that still retains much of the charm and style that made it a favourite of the Victorian and Edwardian aristocracy. Housed between Eastbourne and Hastings this quaint town is part of Sussex Modern, a collective of contemporary art, vineyards, foodie havens and landscapes in and around Sussex and with UK Staycations being the norm this year, it’s a definite trip to add to your list.
Walk along the beach dipping your toes in the sea, or sit on the sand watching the world go by, grab a coffee and relax at one of the promenade café’s or restaurants, and for lunch there really is no choice, book an outdoor rooftop table at the Café Bar & Kitchen situated within The De La Warr Pavilion (a Grade One listed building that has been turned into a cultural centre for contemporary exhibitions, music, events and entertainment directly on the sea front), the views are simply stunning and if you just want to sit quietly looking out to sea, there’s always the traditional deck chairs dotted around the roof, you can spend a few hours or all day here, it really is a seaside town of the past.
Sussex has so many places to stay, whether it’s a self-catering cottage, luxurious hotel, a glamping pod, historic country house, or if like me you’re partial to a glass or two of wine then what could be more perfect that staying at a vineyard, not literally within the vines but at The Flint Barns, a historic building nestled in the Cradle Valley, surrounded by miles of rolling vineyards within the Rathfinny Wine Estate.
Staying in a vineyard means not only do you get to surround yourself with rolling countryside you also get to enjoy some wine tasting paired with fine dining without worrying about how you’re going to make it home!
The aptly named Tasting Room Restaurant was a dining delight. Led by Michelin Star chef Chris Bailey, who has taken his inspiration from the Sussex coastline and countryside to create a six-course tasting menu – choose from land, sea or garden and optional wine pairings, which of course we opted for. The menu changes depending on the season, but highlights when we visited included red onion & olive tart with smoked burrata and truffle, sea trout with smoked-eel croquette, a radicchio and green apple risotto and a beetroot crisp, quince & wood sorrel, all served in an elegant relaxed atmosphere, with views overlooking the vineyards, definitely fine dining at its best.
If you’re looking for a more intimate wine tasting experience then Oxney Organic Wine Estate, located on the East Sussex and Kent border is the place to visit, looking like a regular farm from the road it is the largest single organic vineyard in the UK and produces award-winning still and sparkling wines. A wine tasting tour is a must, even if it’s just to stimulate your tastebuds with a cool glass of Oxney Classic Sparkling Rose, the fresh flavours of wild strawberries are a delight and still one of my favourite sparkling wines to date.
If you only visit one thing that isn’t wine related whilst you’re in Sussex make it the Long Man of Wilmington, Britain’s tallest chalk hill figure that has baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years.
Many people are convinced that he is prehistoric, whilst others believe that he is the work of an artistic monk from the nearby Priory created between the 11th and 15th centuries. There has been much speculation as to his purpose. Fertility symbol? Ancient warrior? Early 18th century folly? Who knows? Whatever he is you can take a look from afar or walk across his form on the side of the Downs, either way the fresh air will certainly clear your head ready for your next wine experience.
Ours was at The Bolney Wine Estate in rural Sussex, one of the oldest and most beautiful vineyards in England, perfect for enjoying a stroll through acres of vines and marvelling at the many different varieties of grapes that go into creating the fabulous collection of Bolney wines; Sparkling, Bacchus, Pinot Noir and Blanc de Blancs. You can enjoy panoramic views from the restaurant balcony as you enjoy a glass of wine over lunch, alternatively you can order a picnic box and head off to enjoy it within the vines.
Sussex Modern has so much to offer, we concentrated on the vineyards and wine tours, but there’s so much more to see and do. If it’s a little culture you’re after, visit the Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, or wander through the gardens and farmhouse at Charleston, where there’s a yearround programme of festivals, exhibitions and workshops.
The countryside is serene and beautiful and there are many walks to explore the hidden gems on offer, Ditchling Beacon is one such walk, and is the highest point in East Sussex that give you an amazing 360 degree vantage point of the whole county – simply stunning!
To plan a visit to Sussex Modern, visit www.sussexmodern.org.uk