Even on a still, grey winter’s morning when the sea fret hangs over the roofs of the cliff-top apartment blocks, Folkestone is a town that radiates hopefulness, and it’s great to see after a long period of decline, says Richard Hopton.
Weekender: 48 Hours In Folkestone
For centuries, Folkestone was a fishing port but, with the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became a fashionable seaside resort and later a busy harbour for cross-Channel ferry traffic. It was from Folkestone that millions of men crossed to the Western Front during the First World War. In 1991, the ferry route to France closed, supplanted by the Channel Tunnel, and in 2009 the dockside railway station closed from which point the town’s fortunes declined.
But now, with investment and imagination, the former docks and railway station have been revivified, creating an attractive outdoor waterside space centred on the restored Harbour Arm, a long quay jutting out to sea with a lighthouse at its end. In summer, it is alive with bars and eateries of all stripes, generating a cool, young vibe. There is even an outdoor cinema.
New blocks of seafront flats are rising at the back of the beach. The Old High Street, a narrow, cobbled, pedestrianised thoroughfare which winds steeply up the hill from the harbour, is now rebranded as The Creative Quarter, home to an eclectic collection of independent shops and bars, the ideal place to while away an hour or two. The entire regeneration scheme is informed by an acute awareness of the town’s history, preserving its past for the benefit of its future.
For a weekend stay, you couldn’t find somewhere more charming than Sandgate, a seaside town just a pleasant stroll along the beach promenade from Folkestone. The Breakers is a raked-fronted house 50 yards from the sea. It commands stunning views across the Channel – on a clear day, the French coast is visible – and along the coast in both directions.
It is owned by Anthony and Danni Nevill who have left no stone unturned in making the house – which, divided into two, has three blissfully restful bedrooms and three sea-facing balconies – luxuriously and stylishly comfortable. It really is the perfect place to spend a seaside weekend and is available to rent through luxury agent Oliver’s Travels.
BOOK IT: Breakers sleeps seven to 11 people, and starts from £2,824 for a minimum of three nights. oliverstravels.com
Folkestone, especially in the summer months, is full of places to eat. But, for particularly fabulous fish, try Rocksalt, a restaurant owned by chef Mark Sergeant and local entrepreneur Josh de Haan. Perched on the side of the old harbour, its plate-glass walls (and in the summer, its terrace) offer diners a grandstand view of the comings and goings of a working port, trawlers, yachts, motorboats and the odd Border Force cutter. The combination of great food, friendly service, and endless eye-catching activity beyond is an unbeatable combination. Before lunch, nip to The Harbour Inn, a fine, old, weather-boarded pub on the quayside, for a pint.
Back at The Breakers, Dineindulge can provide a private chef – ‘Bringing the Restaurant to You’ – who will cook up a memorable five-course dinner, skilfully prepared and immaculately presented.
A five-minute walk along the beach from The Breakers is the beautiful Lower Leas Coastal Park, the largest free adventure playground in this part of Kent – ideal for younger children. Below is the Mermaid café, selling ice creams, burgers and so on.
A short hop along the coast is the famous Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, a 13.5-mile miniature railway with six stations, all within walking distance of the beach. Hythe itself is a charming seaside town, well worth a visit.
Along the coast in the other direction lies Dover with its White Cliffs and famous castle. Further afield is Canterbury, a fascinating and ancient city with the world-famous cathedral at its centre.
Golfers are superbly catered for on the Kent coast, with famous links courses at Royal St George’s, Royal Cinque Ports, and Littlestome among others.
For wine buffs the family-run Terlingham Vineyard is nearby, offering tours and tastings.
Featured image (c) Getty.