Forget busy Brighton and crowded Cornwall, here’s where you can actually have a UK holiday in peace.
Oh, we had epic hopes for our holidays this year – we’d spend weeks traipsing round sun-soaked Italian vineyards, maybe head off on that bucket list outback Australian adventure. But with our long-haul plans being hurled (mostly) out of the window, focus has shifted instead to our own fair shores.
But actually, this is a really fantastic thing, because there’s a veritable glut of brilliant places – from butter-gold beaches to staggering mountain highlands – in which to holiday at home. However, with beautiful spots come the big crowds (of course), and no one want to spend their holidays fidgeting in a queue or fighting for a lunch table with a sea view.
So instead of opting for the old favourites (think Cornwall, the Cotswolds and the Lakes) how about we consider the more hidden-away escapes, too? The places where you’ll actually find a seat at that brilliant restaurant that’s a hit with in-the-know locals; where landscapes are generally free of people and ripe for exploring all nooks and crannies. Because, from cool glampsites to mini food revolutions, there’s a whole lot going on in these lesser-known spots too.
It’s important, of course, to travel responsibly – be aware of local lockdowns and respectful of those places where residents may be more at risk – but there’s no reason why we can’t make our UK breaks better than they’ve ever been.
Here’s our pick of under-the-radar places to start.
Like Whitstable? Try Aberystwyth
Sure, the ancient Welsh Market town might not have the same shiny allure as pretty, polished Kent, but with windswept beaches, historic castles and a quaint mile-long Victorian promenade, you could do a lot worse than this oft-forgotten beauty. Sitting slap bang in the middle of the craggy Ceredigion coastline – between the city of St David’s and the surfing hotspot of Aberdaron – it’s the prime spot from which to explore the meandering 180-mile Coastal Way.
Where to stay: Nanteos is a great-looking spot, set in glorious woodland grounds. The Georgian manor house hotel has opulent heritage-style suites, a restaurant serving up fine dining with a Welsh twist and views that would soothe even the most stressed-out souls. From £139 per night; nanteos.com
Where to eat: You’ll find distinct Ottolenghi vibes at sought-after Medina, where broccoli dishes pack just as much punch as the lighter-than-air whipped feta and hearty chicken ballotine. medina-aberystwyth.co.uk
What to visit: The city’s lifeblood certainly runs along its seafront, but for more of an amble head to the peaceful Penglais nature reserve on the northern edge of town (it comes ablaze with carpets of bluebells in the spring). From the promenade to Penparcau, just about all of ‘Aber’ can be surveyed from the old quarry.
Like London? Try Herefordshire
When it comes to a world-beating restaurant scene, you might think London has it all wrapped up. But sidestep the buzzy capital and you’ll find plenty of foodie enclaves, ready to welcome grumbling tummies through their doors. Case in point: Herefordshire, which is making its mark as a stand-alone gourmet hotspot, with British produce reigning supreme and a focus on hyper-local restaurants and gastropubs.
Where to stay: The recently-overhauled Green Dragon is cheery and bright, with an entire floor dedicated to showcasing the best of Herefordshire food and drink, all served up from its Hereford restaurant, Garrick Lounge, and Offa Bar. From £70 per night; greendragonhotel.com
Where to eat: In Hereford, the brothers behind local restaurant Rule of Tum have just opened The Yard, an urban dining space that wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch; while 33 the Homend in Ledbury has only five tables in its 18th century listed building, and a top-notch set menu featuring local Middlewhite pork and Longhorn beef.
What to visit: Moustachioed local Gabe Cooke is an award-winning ‘ciderologist’, offering cider-making classes, cider-soaked tours, and pretty much anything else you could want that involves cider. theciderologist.com
Like Brighton? Try Deal
While other spots on the Kent coastline have been thrust into the spotlight in recent years (we’re looking at you, Margate), cool kid Deal – just half an hour down the road – has been more muted about its evolution into a coastal hipster hotspot. You’ll find similar seaside staples here – think striped deckchairs, stalls selling whelks and pretty pastel pavilions – as well as independent shops, hidden-away galleries, cafes and (most importantly) a mere fraction of the crowds.
Where to stay: The beautiful Rose hotel takes the crown for seaside-chic. Awash with moody blues, pastel pinks and seafoam greens, each of the hotel’s eight rooms is filled with covetable vintage trinkets, stacks of books and Fleetwood Mac-era vinyl. The restaurant has a wonderfully Fifties feel, with a summer menu – celebrating the best local Kent ingredients – created in collaboration with Michelin-starred chef pioneer Nuno Mendes. From £125; therosedeal.com
Where to eat: Frog and Scot does superlative seafood (their chef was previously at the Michelin-starred Sportsman in Whitstable). Everything is hyperlocal, so the menu is constantly changing, but if you spot the crab risotto or pan-fried skate, snaffle it down immediately. Frogandscot.co.uk
What to visit: Deal’s art scene is bubbling right now. Stop in at Linden Hall Studio for a spot of contemporary brilliance, then browse Taylor-Jones and Son, a gorgeous gallery-slash-boutique, for limited edition prints.
Like Cornwall? Try the Isle of Wight
You’ll feel your shoulders drop and your jaw unclench as you take the Wightlink boat across the Solent to reach the Isle of Wight. This a gloriously go-slow spot where seas shimmer like the Spanish Riviera and hidden coves shelter secret smuggling history. That’s not to mention the rickety cafes doling out fresh crab sandwiches. Visit outside of the Summer season for the chance to have a slice of sand all to yourself.
Where to stay: Newly-renovated North House in Cowes Old Town manages to pull off a quirky, upscale look without being stuffy. There’s a great terrace area for summer, roaring fires for winter, and a well-stocked bar all year round. From £195 per night; northhousecowes.co.uk
Where to eat: The Hut in Colwell is a master when it comes to rustic beachy charm. It’s at the shorts-and-t-shirt level of relaxed (you can even turn up in your boat and they’ll send a tender to fetch you) but you’ll find glugable rosé and impeccable grilled lobster. Thehutcolwell.co.uk
What to visit: Prince Albert had aesthetics in mind when he designed beautiful Osborne House as a seaside retreat for his wife, Queen Victoria. Head to HRH’s private beach for a gawp at her modesty bathing machine, or stroll around pretty walled gardens and shady woods, perfect for a late afternoon potter. Plus, as the IoW is purported to be the most haunted island of Britain, there may even be some royal ghosts bumbling around too. english-heritage.org.uk
Like the Lake District? Try Perthshire
In the heart of central Scotland, Perthshire goes by the nickname ‘Big County’. Home to the south highlands, the Grampian mountains and the enlivening Trossachs National Park – where you can wild swim, mountain climb or canoe to your heart’s delight – this is a soul-soothing place, filled with crumbling historic castles and top-notch whisky distilleries.
Where to stay: The brand new Treehouses at Lanrick, a clutch of five secluded hideaways on the banks of the pretty River Teith. Each comes with a kitchen/living area, cosy log-burning stoves and al fresco baths or showers. Guests will also receive a hamper on arrival, bursting with glorious Scottish produce. From £200 a night; lanricktreehouses.co.uk
Where to eat: Foodie juggernaut Gleneagles sets the standard when it comes to all things edible, hosting pop-ups with the world’s best-loved chefs and offering an ever-changing line up of seafood shacks, mini seafood festivals and modern pie shops.
What to visit: The great outdoors. Go ahead – bag a munro, fish for trout, bike along the riverbanks, stroll through stunning forests. The options are endless.
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