Emerging from a decade of neglect, Margate has all but conquered the East Kent coast with its heady mix of top-notch restaurants, vintage glamour and contemporary art. Gleaming on the Harbour is the Turner Contemporary with a strong commitment to new and interesting artists. Further along its pier, taking up the space of former seaside huts, are a bunch of micro pubs and informal places to eat, all bucking the chain food/beer trend that has swept the country with blandness.
Inshore, past the bobbing boats and glassy sea, is an Old Town crammed with retro knick-knacks, jewellers and even the former pinball machines that used to dominate the sea front. Margate sea front may have seen better days but a quick nip into Dreamland will bring you into a lovingly restored theme park including the oldest roller coaster in the UK. Hold tight! If you have been rendered dizzy by the rides or the colours of the vintage inspired theme park then steer yourself to the proper, rich and golden sands where the sun sets like an orange segment into the sea. Even eccentric, well-travelled Turner was captivated by the sunset and he immortalised the town in many of his paintings.
An eye to the past
Further along the coast is beautiful Broadstairs. Viking Bay sweeps into the town with its watery crescent. Edged by seaside huts and ice cream parlours those in the know head to Morellis for their gelato. Distinctly not cheap but marked by quality and offering up the sort of flavours that Heston Blumenthal would reject for being too experimental. Inside it’s worth a look too – crystallized in a 50s/60s vibe, numerous bands and film crews have shot films here. Broadstairs hasn’t only captured the imagination of contemporary creatives. Charles Dickens, no least, was awed by the town and wrote some of his best known works here. Perhaps the town plays on it a little too much but it would take a dour individual to slam the collective pride.
Beyond Thanet and its golden beaches is the town of Folkestone. Having suffered from seaside town malaise it has fought back like Margate and now hosts a lively Triennale with artists from all over the world. Its Rocksalt restaurant is awash with the day’s catch.
A day out in the shadow of a nuclear reactor might not sound like fun, Dungeness is hauntingly beautiful with the constrained beauty of auteur Derek Jarman’s garden displaying the same fertile imagination that characterized his films. The only desert in the UK, it is also home to a wide variety of birds including the pied flycatcher and the yellow legged gull.
We’ll drink to that
For the little ones there’s the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway which has been packing them in since the 1920s. Other noted sights in curious Kent include the dazzling cliffs of Dover topped by the incredible castle with its secret World War II tunnels. Then there’s the orchards and vineyards which are holding French and Italian viticulture to account with their sparkling wines. Perfectly matched with a catch from the coast or a forage from the tumbling countryside, the least fate that will befell you in this abundant sun-soaked corner of England will be hunger. Bon Appetit!