Located in the heart of Kent, Ashford is one of the county’s most convenient locations to stay when it comes to exploring the glorious Garden of England. A mere 37-minute journey on the high speed train from St Pancras will whizz you straight into the town and from there you can get easily to Kent’s coastal towns and rural villages.
This prime position between London and the Kent coast was what initially put Ashford on the map, making it a popular market town for merchants and farmers to sell their goods. Today, Ashford still embodies this identity, but in a totally contemporary way, now boasting one of Kent’s most highly acclaimed and largest shopping destinations: Ashford Designer Outlet. The outlet has over 100 popular brands including All Saints, Kurt Geiger, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Tommy Hilfiger and more all at up to 60% off the RRP. As well as shopping, there are plenty of well-known cafes and restaurants, including Comptoir Libanais, Pizza Express and loads of cosy coffee shops.
As well as its cosmopolitan redevelopments, Ashford is no stranger to Kent’s rural heritage. The vast span of countryside surrounding the town is home to some of Kent’s most treasured beauty spots and historic homes. One such place is Boys’ Hall, which is not only an elegant manor house built in 1616 full of intriguing tales, but now it’s a beautiful small hotel with an incredible restaurant. Whether you’re stopping by for a mid-morning coffee, a spot of brunch, decadent date night cocktails or a full-blown meal, you’re certain to be impressed. Having been named among the inspectors’ new favourites in the Michelin Guide for 2023, expect seasonal Kentish food served in supreme style as you admire rambling gardens and the elegant atmosphere of ‘the orangery’ at this beautifully designed venue.
If it’s the historical charm you’re after, head to Dormestone Farm, a 15th-century estate with acres of extensive private grounds. Sleeping 12 guests across 5 bedrooms, this is an indulgent stay for friends and family. In the summer months enjoy morning laps in the heated swimming pool or take part in competitive tennis matches on the courts. Soak up the uninterrupted views of the North Down from almost every window.
A grand country home within a short drive of Dormestone, is Godinton House and Gardens. A remarkable country house, dating back to the 14th century, the house today reflects the tastes of the last owner, Alan Wyndham Green. Designed to feel comfortable and more informal than other properties – it remains ‘a house’, rather than a museum so that visitors can imagine what life might have been like here in years gone by. Tours of the house are led by expert guides unravelling the 600 years of history and revealing an excellent country house collection of furniture, art, porcelain and curios. Enjoy delicious homemade cakes, cream teas and refreshments in the old Billiard Room before wandering around the grounds. Gardener’s delights include a famous yew hedge, formal gardens, Italian gardens and walled gardens, all full of colour and interest through the seasons, maintained close to Blomfield’s original designs.
As well as heritage days out, there are plenty of varied attractions for all interests and ages across Ashford – including young animal lovers – at the Rare Breeds Centre at Woodchurch. Set on 100 acres of farmland, enjoy a ‘Meet the Animals’ session to pet the friendly animals and ask staff questions. Marvel at the daily birds of prey display, take on a woodland assault course, conquer a tube maze, tackle a zip wire and hill fort, or for a quieter time, wander amongst the butterflies. Don’t want to walk? Jump on a tractor for a ride instead!
Lacton Manor Barns in Westwell is a wonderful conversion of two old farm buildings. Three generations have farmed here for over 70 years and years ago one barn used to house the farm’s prize bullock. Nowadays, the new residents prefer their bedding of the feather rather than straw variety and the barns can be booked individually (each sleeping four people) as The Bull Pen and The Parlour.
The countryside surrounding Ashford is home to many of Kent’s idyllic villages which epitomise all the best-loved parts of Kentish life. Stowting, with its cricket club, ancient church and award-winning country pub makes a charming escape reminiscent of days gone by. Look around the medieval St Mary’s Church or why not embark on a long walk making use of famous footpaths, the Pilgrim’s Way or North Downs Way, both of which run through the village.
After working up an appetite walking these picturesque routes, make sure to visit The Tiger Inn. A true country destination pub, this beautifully designed venue mixes contemporary with the classic perfectly: original features come together with quirky additions for a memorable visit. With real ales, craft beers, carefully chosen wine and freshly prepared food, The Tiger’s ethos is to use the most local and seasonal produce to deliver fantastic plates, making it the perfect place to stop by for lunch or dinner.
Just around the corner from The Tiger Inn is The Hayloft, perched on the edge of a picture-perfect meadow with mesmerising views of the North Downs. This newly renovated holiday home sleeps 8 guests across 3 bedrooms. It has the best of both with a woodburning stove as well as a large sun trap terrace for sunny afternoons. Just a few steps down to the patio and you’ll discover a private hot tub – the perfect place to unwind.
Within easy reach of Ashford is beautiful Romney Marsh, with its wide expanses of open skies and stunning, isolated areas of sprawling marshland. Staying here, off grid at The Romney Marsh Shepherds Huts means your nearest neighbours will be the sheep which are all native breeds bred for the unique marsh. These three luxurious huts are nestled into the Romney Marsh with The Lookerer and Rumwold sleeping two and The Romney sleeping four guests. Each of the huts has a sumptuous double bed, kitchenette, and an en-suite bathroom. The best part of all are the stars at night and the beautiful sunrise.