Enchanting castles, colourful landscapes and moated manor houses, this getaway has the Garden of England stamped all over it! On this captivating break we learn about Kent’s role in shaping English history, and discover some of its famous residents including Sir Winston Churchill. With a mix of privileged access to special areas and restricted archives, plus out-of-hours tours, this is your backstage pass to beat the crowds and get up close with the historical treasures that lie inside some of Kent’s iconic landmarks, including Chartwell, Sissinghurst Castle and Canterbury Cathedral.
The comfortable 4-star Tudor Park Marriott Hotel is nestled within hundreds of acres of parkland just east of Maidstone, the perfect location to explore the scenic surroundings. The luxurious rooms offer tea and coffee-making facilities, flat-screen TVs and high-speed Wi-Fi. The hotel also features a restaurant, lounge bar, 18-hole golf course, gym and swimming pool. Spa treatments are available at an extra cost.
Excursion One – Chartwell & Chiddingstone Castle
The day starts at Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s beloved family retreat, where we enjoy a guided tour before the house opens to the public. Outstanding views over the Weald of Kent combine with an evocative, homely interior full of the great statesman’s personal and political mementos, including an amazing collection of gifts he received from other world leaders. The rooms remain much as they were when he lived here, and after exploring the house we get to peek in Churchill’s studio, hidden in the beautiful grounds, brimming with scores of his striking landscape paintings.
This afternoon, we head to Chiddingstone Castle where we enjoy a guided tour with a focus on all of the castle’s treasures and how they are cared for. Set in 35 acres of beautiful grounds, the castle has undergone a number of architectural changes; from its beginnings as an early timber-framed Tudor dwelling to a rebuild which resembles a medieval castle in the early 19th century. Today it houses the collections of the late antiquarian Denys Eyre Bower including Japanese lacquer, Ancient Egyptian treasures, Stuart paintings and Jacobite manuscripts. The Victorian kitchen and servants’ hall give a taste of the former 'upstairs downstairs' life of the house.
Excursion Two – Sissinghurst Castle & Ightham Mote
We make our way to Sissinghurst Castle where we enjoy an exclusive out-of-hours guided tour before the castle opens. From its fascinating time as a prison in the 1700s, to a home to the women’s land army, we discover its astonishing history and hear how novelist Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson started transforming the castle and gardens in the 1930s. The grounds are stunning; all laid out as a series of individually-planted ‘rooms’ including a fragrant Herb Garden and Rose Garden.
From here, we continue on to the moated manor house of Ightham Mote. Once described by historian David Starkey as “the most beautiful and the most interesting of English country houses”, Ightham has been home to medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and Victorian High Society. Slumbering gardens lay outside, as well as a picturesque courtyard, an orchard, water features and woodland walks. We enjoy a special guided tour of the gardens, taking in the South Lake, which is not usually open to the public. Afterwards, there is time to discover the impressive house interiors.
Excursion Three – Dover Castle & Canterbury Cathedral
We head to Dover Castle, one of England’s most iconic castles. Situated atop the famous White Cliffs of Dover, the castle played a part in the defence of the country for nine centuries. It endured one of the greatest sieges of the medieval era, and the evacuation of Dunkirk was masterminded from tunnels beneath the castle walls. We get up close with our guided underground tour.
Our last visit takes us to the spellbinding Canterbury Cathedral, where we take a guided tour with special access to the archives and library. Being the oldest cathedral in England, it dates back to Norman times and has been a site of Christian pilgrimage since Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered here in 1170. The cathedral contains one of England’s largest collections of early medieval stained glass while its awe-inspiring architecture includes a sweeping Gothic nave and cavernous crypt.
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