From Norfolk, Sussex is an easy place to drive to – much more so than Devon or Cornwall at just under three hours. And there is much to please, whether you want trendy towns like Brighton, pretty villages like Ditchling (home to Dame Vera Lynn for many years), shingle beaches like Birling Gap or endless great walks on the South Downs.
We were based just inland from the coast, close to Lewes and Brighton, in a lovely two-bedroom lodge which overlooks the South Downs, those gentle hills that run across the whole of the county.
Thanks to its proximity to London, this isn’t a quiet area where you can really get away from life. You are never that far from a road or people but the plus side is that you can whiz about it easily and quickly.
We loved exploring the South Downs Way, a footpath that runs 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, taking in both the countryside and coastline. We walked all around the Seven Sisters, those fabulous chalky white cliff faces, strolled around Beachy Head, tackled Devil’s Dyke, a steep-sided valley which did my knees no good, and hiked up to and around Ditchling Beacon which – a bit like the heights of Devil’s Dyke – gives panoramic views.
It’s a great way of discovering pubs and cafes – we enjoyed the Bull in Ditchling very much, the village is picture postcard pretty, and the Royal Oak at Poyning was a welcome pitstop as we tackled Devil’s Dyke. We had breakfast at the rather quirky Wild Flour cafe at nearby Saddlescombe Farm – a lovely setting but rather, ahem, unusual service!
The Tiger Inn at East Dean is a legendary spot, perfect for walks around the Seven Sisters, with very good whitebait, while the Anchor Inn, rather in the middle of nowhere at Barcombe, has good riverside walks along the Ouse.
Brighton is the real hotspot – I’d recommend getting the train there as parking can be a challenge. It mixes up beautiful Regency architecture with tiny little streets, The Lanes, which are crammed with coffee houses, restaurants, boutiques and the like. The seafront is the place to walk, spotting the Grand Hotel, and there are several fashionable beach bars where you can sip cocktails and watch the sun go down – it feels very Continental which is great!
The pier is a must although I was far too scared to go on any of the rides, and the 18th century Pavilion is as stunning as always although we couldn’t visit this time around. Hopefully it will reopen soon. The British Airways 360 Viewing Tower offers a heart-stopping trip as you rise up 450 feet to see views of the south coast.
You certainly won’t starve in Brighton as there is a restaurant for every conceivable taste. Fish is a firm favourite with my family so we tried Riddle and Finns in The Lanes which is great fun – young, energetic and their platters have to be seen to be believed! The Salt Rooms are recommended, too.
There’s also The Olive Garden, with its lovely courtyard garden, which specialises in Greek dishes which made a welcome change, and too many coffee houses to mention although we enjoyed strong coffee and cakes at Cafe Coho.
Lewes has a lovely vibe, with its 11th century castle at one end of the High Street and the river and brewery (Harvey’s) at the other. It is a place to meander around, enjoying the independent stores and the Saturday open air foodie market. Bill’s opened its first branch here in 2001, when the town’s greengrocer Bill Collison decided to add a few tables to his shop – and the rest is, of course, history. We enjoyed an al fresco lunch, watching the world go by as we tucked into gardeners’ breakfasts, all mushrooms, halloumi and more.
The county has several vineyards which specialise in sparkling wines: Ridgeway Wine Estate and Court Garden Vineyard and Winery are both near Ditchling, plus Bolney Wine Estate, near Haywards Heath, and Breaky Bottom Vineyard near Lewes. Ridgeway is the official supplier to Downing Street! Tours and tastings are available, often accompanied by local food offerings.
Another good hunting ground for local produce is the Sussex Food Hall at Hassocks, just north of Brighton. There is a comprehensive selection of cheeses, beers, wines, ciders, chutneys and so on – we bought a fruit cake made with cider and some of that fizz!
It’s the sort of area we’d easily return to as we didn’t get to see all that we wanted – the gorgeous gardens at Sheffield Park, racing at Plumpton, Chichester, Rye, Eastbourne and, of course, glorious Goodwood and Glyndebourne.
- Sarah stayed at Maple Lodge, South Downs Lodges, booked with Blue Chip Holidays, visit www.bluechipholidays.co.uk. It is dog friendly.