Garden of England makes for great "introduction" to Britain

For many the first impression many Europeans get of the UK has not always been the best. Dover is the gateway to Britain for many but for too long has laboured with a bad press and (earlier this summer) chaotic scenes of clogged-up roads to and from the port.

What’s not been so widely reported, though, is the fact that the town is currently in the process of a major revamp.Centrepiece of its “re-invention” is an estimated €3.6m refurbishment of the market square, soon due for completion with a big unveiling on 20 August.

The aim of the project, which started in November, is to attract more people to the town and improve its image. But even before the modernisation, the town and surrounding area had plenty to interest visitors from Belgium.

This year marks the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and arguably the town’s grandest street is named after the famous battle.

The delightful Waterloo Crescent, overlooking the English Channel, features the sort of rather grand, 5-storey houses that wouldn’t be out of place in London.

Just up the coast in Walmer is the former residence of one Arthur Wellesley - yes, the Duke of Wellington - who spent 23 years living at Walmer Castle. It still has the armchair in which he died and the bed from which he plotted the demise of Napoleon.

Any visit to Kent - the Garden of England - really should also include a call at Tenterden, a typically delightful Kentish village, a relatively short drive from Dover.

The station at Tenterden has been used for film and TV locations such as Downtown Abbey and The Darling Buds of May. Be sure to take a ride with the Kent and East Sussex Railway (K&ESR), a real treat.

A fine example of one of England’s light railways this was originally part of a larger system.The K&ESR (www.kesr.org.uk) was the very first ‘light railway’ to be constructed.

Passenger trains ran from 1900 until 1954 but an ambitious scheme to reopen the railway from Tenterden was flagged, although it was not until 1974 that the first trains were able to run on a short section of line. The registered charity that now owns and operates the line was able to finally restore services to Bodiam in time for the centenary of the line in 2000.

The journey time between Tenterden and Bodiam (look out for a famous rock star’s home on the way) takes around 40 minutes each way and some of the trains include carriages with old-fashioned family compartments.

The railway is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and follows the wide unspoilt Rother Valley for much of the journey.Today, the K&ESR, run by a dedicated team of volunteers, welcomes around 90,000 people each year.

After expanding all that energy you may have worked up an appetite and a great local place to sate any hunger is Montalbano, a very pleasant Italian-owned restaurant conveniently located close to the rail station in Tenterden.

This splendid restaurant (https://www.montalbanorestaurant.co.uk) has a big hit since it opened with both locals and the many British and foreign tourists who flock to the town.

A delightful, family run restaurant, it serves traditional and regional Italian dishes with touches of Sicily. There are also live music and tribute acts you can enjoy during a meal.

The menu is packed with terrific and homemade choice of pasta along with fish and meat dishes. These currently include Arancinetti misti Siciliani (Sicilian rice balls); Calamari Fritti, Tonno Mazara (grilled tuna steak), pan-fried calf’s liver and Pappardelle al Ragu (braised beef). If you are up for it you should also try the 28-day matured fillet of beef.

The food really is both authentic and delicious and, given the high quality, very reasonably priced.

The air conditioned resto is run by its very friendly owners, Ana, who hails from Romania, and her Italian-born husband, Salvo. In fact, it is a real family affair with several generations of the same family working here.

Says Ana, “We aim to bring the warmth of the south of Italy and delight guests with great traditional homemade flavours.”

The couple introduced several initiatives designed to boost trade, including special event menus plus live music and tribute acts where diners can be entertained while enjoying some lovely food.

Along with the particularly friendly welcome and very good food, another speciality here is the fabulously fresh Italian gelato, an artisan product that follows the Italian tradition of ice cream making, made daily in the restaurant by Ana and Salvo’s qualified gelatiere.

The couple source fresh milk and cream from a local farm and only use fresh fruits and natural based ingredients. There are also gelato packs to takeaway.

Other recommendations include the Italian cured meats, deep fried squid and calamari.

There’s a lovely terrace overlooking the High Street, Sunday roasts and, all in all, this is a very good authentic restaurant to go to either for lunch or dinners and you really should try to include it on your itinerary if you find yourself in this nice part of Kent.

Just round the corner from the restaurant is “Bottega Montalbano”, an Italian deli and gelataria also run by the couple. It also serves breakfast, lunch and traditional Italian cakes.

This area is known for its hospitality and you get the feeling that if the Duke of Wellington was still around today he’d make a beeline for this place.

This part of England (Kent) is very often the first “port of call” for most travellers coming from Belgium and the rest of mainland Europe.

The trouble is that, usually, many, after arriving by boat or car train at Dover/Folkestone simply dash straight off to other destinations in the country.

If so, that is a shame. You really should stop and stay at Tenterden, at least for a while – it really is worth it.

Whether it is great cuisine or steam trains, there’s some lovely things to do (along with Dover’s “new look” (https://www.destinationdover.org) in the Garden of England.

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Staff Reporter

Staff Reporter

EU Today's Staff Reporters cover a wide variety of topics, involving the EU, its institutions, and its 27 member states.

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