Stylist’s editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski discovers the grass is greener on a weekend away in Petworth, West Sussex
On an almost monthly basis, my husband and I have the “should we escape the city” chat. Despite being a Londoner (not quite born, but definitely bred) I’ve developed a yearning for country living. This usually involves visiting a romantic cottage for a weekend, heading out on long walks in an expanse of space the city can never offer, before settling in front of a roaring fire and googling the commute into my central London office. So far I have vowed to move to the Cotswolds (eight times), Suffolk and the New Forest. Petworth, I’ve discovered, has just joined my list.
This West Sussex market town (which, incidentally, seems far too small and pretty to be called a town – it took me just eight minutes to do a lap of it on my morning run) is a maze of higgledy-piggledy little streets, chocolate-box houses adorned with wisteria, and tea shops, cafes and restaurants that make you want to only eat cake for the rest of your life. Behind the scenes it houses a passion for art and culture, a women’s networking group and some of the friendliest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. In short, it’s my kind of town.
I’m staying at Ryde House, hidden behind a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gate in a wall. But once inside the private courtyard there’s no escaping the splendour of the Grade II-listed Georgian house. Its three bedrooms are understatedly yet luxuriously kitted out, with huge beds and plush chairs snuggled alongside antique mirrors and furniture; sympathetic to the period but comfortable rather than stuffy. The wood-burning stove in the sitting room and the master bedroom with its dressing room, en-suite and views over the courtyard and gardens tick every box of my fantasy countryside existence. The neighbouring Angel Inn has an array of cosy bedrooms; low, beamed ceilings, wonderful wallpapers and comfy beds. Admittedly, they may not suit anyone much over 6ft tall, but they’re a fantastic, affordable option for couples on a romantic weekend away.
It’s hard not to stay central in Petworth – we can walk to most places within five minutes. The Hungry Guest Café, named by The Times as one of the 30 best places to brunch in the UK, is on Lombard Street, one of the most photographed in the town thanks to its cobbles and flower-covered cottages, and it’s where we tuck in to huge portions of smashed avocado, the oakiest of smoked salmon, heaps of scrambled eggs and warm, buttered toast. The cafe is a sister of the nearby The Hungry Guest Deli, winner of countless awards, the latest in its cabinet being Best Independent Food Retailer in London and the South East at the Great British Food Awards. The deli combines a vast cheese room, coffee bar and a huge selection of jars, bottles, bags and boxes of enticing treats from around the world.
A short walk away, Petworth House is one of the most famous jewels in the town’s crown. The National Trust property sits within 700 acres of parkland and gardens created by landscape architect Capability Brown and made famous by Turner in the early 1800s. He was a frequent visitor to house, where he often set up a studio, painting the grounds with an accuracy that matched my own view of the house and lake, two centuries later.
Strolling through the gardens in the unseasonably warm October sun, it’s easy to see why one of Britain’s most famous painters was drawn here – piles of chestnuts and gold and rusty red leaves litter pathways, and a low, warm sun glows across the serpentine lake.
Inside the house there are more than 1,000 paintings; the work of Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Titian and Turner jostling for attention, a treat for any art lover and a lesson in the Romantics for any novice.
This passion for art and crafts runs through Petworth like water; it’s a favourite spot for treasure hunters thanks to its large number of antique shops. At one side of town is the affordable and Aladdin’s cave-like Petworth Antique Market, and on the other side there is Augustus Brandt, an antiques institution that sells rare finds and hosts regular art exhibitions. For those on a leaner budget (or looking for something shiny and new), there are a handful of independent boutiques dotted around town. I’ll be leaving Petworth not with the £6,000 Chinese chest of drawers I’d been coveting in Augustus Brandt, but with some glass Christmas tree baubles from their more modern sister shop in the centre of town – Victorian-inspired at least.
A dinner of fresh tuna steaks and clam linguine was had at the New Street Bar & Grill, less than a minute from our front door. The next morning we’re woken by torrential rain on the large sash windows, so we swap plans for a morning walk through the Shimmings Valley for a movie in front of the fire and a pub lunch at The Angel Inn: onion soup, smoked haddock and salmon fish cake with oozy poached egg, and a banana bread and butter pudding so good it enforces happiness.
As we leave the pub, the sweet smell of burning wood swirling from the pub’s chimney fills the air as we prepare to return to city life and reality. Yes, Petworth is definitely the type of town we should move to. Eventually…
Ryde House sleeps six people and prices start from £475 per night with a minimum stay of two nights. Prices at The Angel Inn start from £90 per night for a room for two. For both, visit angelinnpetworth.co.uk