The South Downs: a super spot for a Spring break

Brexit may be done but it is still very much “business as usual” when it comes to travel between the UK and mainland Europe.

The impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has, for now at least, not impacted on the thriving tourist trade between the two.

So, with Easter fast approaching you may be looking for ideas for a short break over in Blighty.

If so, you’d do well to consider one part of England that is sometimes overlooked on the well-trodden tourist trail taken by many Europeans visitors: the South Downs, an epic and ancient bridleway which marches across this part of the country.

The beautiful South Downs are just a few miles north of Chichester, one of the great well-preserved Georgian cities in the UK.

Chichester Harbour is part of the reason for the location and importance of the city. When the Romans ruled Sussex, the harbour served as a safe haven for shipping. It’s silted up a lot since then but has found new roles as a sailing playground and habitat for sea birds.

It’s also home to The Salterns, a complex of nine delightful self-catering apartments that makes for a super spot for exploring the whole area.

Number 2 The Salterns is perfect for families with its stylish 2 bedroom, ground floor offering. This apartment features a superbly equipped ‘cook’s’ kitchen, elegant dining area and stylish seating – leading to a generous patio that affords views over landscaped communal gardens and the award-winning marina. There’s also dedicated parking space, a good café nearby and the apartments interiors have been individually laid out to provide contemporary living spaces. An iPad is even made available with lots of tips and ideas.

The (dog friendly) apartments are owned and operated by Premier Marinas, based in Hampshire, and are situated in ‘a designated area of outstanding natural beauty’. The Chichester harbour conservancy is an area, rather than an attraction per se. It sees no less than 52,000 waterfowl a year and is an internationally significant coastal habitat.

Set on the sunny southern side of a private marina and with panoramic views across the pontoons, the accommodation, all individually designed, is flanked by a locked section of the historic 19th century Chichester Ship Canal, home to a myriad of wildfowl. You can walk the towpath from the harbour back through four miles of open farmland to the city.

With a fine cathedral, Chichester, relatively small with a population of only 25,000 people, is also a good base from which to explore surrounding attractions such as Fishbourne Roman Palace, one of the outstanding Roman sites in the UK and now a museum of national importance.

After taking in the bracing sea air at the harbour you may well have worked up an appetite and a wonderful place to sate any hunger is the cosy Tapestry Restaurant which offers super fine dining at the Bailiffscourt hotel and spa, just a few kilometres away near the coast at Climping.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and that great British tradition, afternoon tea, served from 3.30pm-5.30pm), the eatery boasts medieval architecture, mullioned windows and tapestry-hung walls (you will find a few Flemish ones). It is perfect for anything from a relaxing lunch to a romantic dinner and, in nice weather, there’s a rose-clad courtyard and rose garden.

The majority of dinner guests stay at the hotel but the restaurant, seating up to 60, is also open to non-residents too. It has cosy lounges, with roaring log fires, which are ideal for a pre-dinner drink.

The site is split in two: one housing the restaurant, the other guest accommodation – both, unusually, linked by a tunnel dating to the 1930s.

This is one of three, exceptional privately-owned hotels in West Sussex, which have rightly been described as the “ultimate country escape.”

You’re never short of things to see and do in this part of the country and, just further along the coast at Portsmouth, you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy.

This includes the magnificent Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s favourite warship. It was lost in 1545 (sunk defending England from invasion), recovered and raised to the surface in 1982 and is now on display in a dedicated museum in Portsmouth all year round.

The Mary Rose sank in about 40 feet (12 metres) of water, and almost immediately attempts were made to raise the vessel. However, such efforts proved unsuccessful until the early 1980s. Now housed in a modern dome it attracts tens of thousands of visitors and is somewhere you can easily while away a few hours.

If you have even a passing interest in Tudor history and Henry VIII this is simply unmissable. The sight of the vessel from the viewing gallery reminds you of the lives of the men – and dog – on board, their service and the terrible fate most of them met.

Look out too for the countless items recovered, including tankards, nit combs and surgeon’s tools.

Its situated in the ever-bustling Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, also well worth seeing and part of the HM Naval Base which is open to the public. It contains several historic buildings and ships such as HMS Victory and HMS Warrior - Queen Victoria’s favourite ship. A personal favourite is Victory, arguably the Royal Navy's most famous warship. Best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, the Victory currently has a dual role as the Flagship of the First Sea Lord and as a living museum to the Georgian Navy

There is something for everyone and any age, ranging from harbour tours to a Horrible Histories exhibition. A visit here takes you on a journey through time and little wonder that the site was voted one of the best things to do in Portsmouth by Trip Advisor reviewers.

Getting to the region from Brussels and the rest of Belgium couldn’t be easier with the leading ferry operator DFDS, a popular choice for travellers from here and mainland Europe.

Northern Europe’s largest shipping and logistics company, DFDS has been voted the world’s leading ferry operator in the World Travel Awards and has enjoyed a rise in freight traffic and passenger volumes on the Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk routes.

It offers daily cross channel ferry services and operates 30 daily sailings from Dover to Calais all year round and 24 a day from Dover to Dunkirk. For a small extra charge you can upgrade to enjoy the delightful and peaceful on-board lounge and the very useful priority boarding. Worth noting that three DFDS ships on its Dunkerque route have also undergone a multi-million-pound investment

So, with spring on its way, the flowers blooming and the weather (hopefully) warming up, it’s a great time for a short break to England, possibly during the upcoming Easter break.

Towns like those dotted along the south coast are lively but more peaceful than peak season so you can take your time and avoid some of the longer queues for attractions that you find over the summer.

Whatever time of year though you’re unlikely to be disappointed with a visit to this splendid spot of England.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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