We all know that Brighton, just an hour or so from London, is supremely cool with lots of eclectic gems to offer. But it’s the surrounding areas of Sussex that remain a little more undiscovered that I want to share with you now. You only have to dive a little deeper into the area to discover a rich culture, full of art, wine and glorious landscape. It’s a very easy country break for us London city dwellers who need a quick escape to experience quintessentially English countryside, with areas of outstanding natural beauty and the rejuvenating qualities of the sea.
The growing number of wineries in Sussex are rapidly building an award-winning international reputation and quickly becoming a destination in themselves – many of them offer overnight accommodation, tastings and gorgeous tours. There is nowhere else, apart from Paris that can get you out to the equivalent of the Champagne region in no time at all – in Sussex, it’s like being in Champagne, but with a sea view! Grapes grown in the Sussex vineyards are now the same as those produced in the champagne region of France because they’re planted to the same seam of chalk that goes under the Channel and pops up in Champagne.
Sussex is also studded with extraordinary architecture, galleries, museums, artists’ houses and performance venues and there is so much to offer in the region, so my recommendations for what to do in Sussex would include the following:-
The Ditchling Museum Of Art + Craft
The Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is a very pretty little museum where Ditchling’s unique artistic heritage is celebrated, both the past and present-day artists and designers:-
Just a short drive away is Ditchling Beacon where you can park the car and go for a walk. The beacon stands at the highest point in East Sussex with truly spectacular 360 views of the area.
Ridgeview Wine Estate
Again, very close is the wonderful Ridgeview Wine Estate where the family run message is “Life is a celebration” which I would wholeheartedly agree with.
Charleston is a typical Sussex farmhouse with picturesque vistas, formerly home to radical art and ideas and a mecca for artists and authors. Once the country retreat of the Bloomsbury group residents and the home of painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant it was also a regular holiday spot for Virginia Woolf. They are all now celebrated in the gardens, the fascinatingly painted interiors and in the art on display. The Charleston Literary Festival is now in it’s 30th year and well worth a visit, like a mini Hay Festival.
Inside the house:-
Currently showing in their new exhibition space is “In Colour: Sickert to Riley, selected by Cressida Bell”:-
Rathfinny Wine Estate
Rathfinny Wine Estate, in Alfriston is about a 20 minute drive away from Charleston, where you get huge sweeping views and the sea beyond, a vast 375 acres worth of vines.
Rathfinny Wine Estate’s latest releases, a 2015 Blanc de Noirs and 2016 Rosé is currently featuring at the “Sparkling of the Month” at The Ritz Hotel in London. This is only the second time in The Ritz’s illustrious 113 year history that a non-Champagne has been chosen for this monthly honour and underlines the growing reputation of English sparkling wine.
Rathfinny has become a popular destination for wine tourists. The Winery is home to the Cellar Door where visitors can enjoy organised Vineyard tours and wine tastings, whilst the Tasting Room restaurant offers modern British cuisine. Guests can spend the night in one of Rathfinny’s charming Flint Barns, which I love. It’s used to accommodate grape pickers during harvest season and offers a comfortable and cosy night’s rest for guests for the rest of the year. A night at the Flint Barns starts from £100 per room on a bed and breakfast basis.
Go to a performance at Glyndebourne, the famous opera house that attracts visitors from around the world to watch renowned performances brought to life with exceptional set design and costume work, all done in house by Glyndebourne’s team. It’s not cheap, but it is an experience you will never forget.
This year at Glyndebourne they are celebrating various anniversaries, most notably the 25th anniversary of the “new” theatre and we spent a wonderful evening there recently. The opera starts early and then you have a long interval in which to enjoy the grounds and have the poshest picnic ever (or eat in one of their restaurants). You have to dress up and the people watching is spectacular!
Coupled with a bottle of English Sparkling and this has got to be near perfection!