Six of the best non-hotel accommodation in South England

Sometimes, on vacation, you just want to stay somewhere a little less traditional than a hotel. Fortunately, Britain comes with a raft of alternative, creative and unique types of accommodation that will ensure a memorable stay. Here we take a look at just a few of these amazing places in the south of England.

 

Stay in… a treehouse, double-decker bus or helicopter

Blackberry Wood in the stunning Sussex countryside is a pretty place for camping thanks to its cute woodland glades…and you’ll also find some extraordinary glamping options thanks to its unique transformations of public transport! A converted 1965 search and rescue helicopter sleeps up to four and comes equipped with an outside kitchen area, while its 1964 Routemaster London double-decker bus has transformed the upstairs into a cosy sleeping and lounge area – complete with soft play area if you’re coming with children – and downstairs an area to cook and dine. And, for something really special, its Higgledy Tree House looks like it’s appeared from a fairy tale. High up in the trees there’s room for up to four and is fully contained with a shower room in its turret and enchanting window seats for observing the wildlife. A truly magical experience.

Getting there: Blackberry Wood is around 30 minutes’ drive from Brighton, or two hours from London.

 

Stay in… a windmill

In the heart of Rye near Hastings, and on the banks of the river Tillingham, Rye Windmill B&B offers ten ensuite rooms, with two actually in the white smock, Grade II-listed windmill itself, making it a luxurious and unusual place to stay. It occupies a historic site in Gibbet's Marsh where a windmill has stood, in one form or another, since at least the 16th century. Book into its Windmill Suite, which is situated over two floors in the Mill, offering fantastic panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Enjoy drinks in its cosy lounge with its guest honesty bar, plus outdoor terrace for the summer and fireplace to cosy up to in the winter.

Getting there: Rye Windmill is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… a zoo

For a sleepover safari, book into one of the nine lodges at Whipsnade Zoo and experience something other visitors to the zoo wouldn’t get. At Whipsnade, people view the animal closures by their own cars or the zoo’s bus services, so after you’ve completed a sunset tour of Asia and Africa, you’ll enjoy dinner followed by a torchlit walk to see what animals are still awake. After breakfast you’ll tour the European area and help feed some of the animals. Each of the lodges has twin or double beds, as well as a private veranda. Open between late March and October, there are adult-only nights as well as family nights to include children aged five years and above.

Getting there: Whipsnade Zoo is around one hour 15 minutes’ drive from both London and Oxford.

 

Stay in… a folly

For a truly romantic experience, The Hadlow Tower in Kent is a picturesque, Grade I-listed Gothic folly (a highly decorative or ornamental building often built for aesthetics rather than practicality). This 19th-century tower – the tallest Gothic folly in the world – is now home to four luxury bedrooms spread over five floors, connected by pretty spiral staircases and offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Kent countryside. Inside is particularly lavish, with stained-glass period window and stylish furniture and antiques. Guests have exclusive use of the property during their stay and can even hire in a chef to cook meals. There is also an exhibition centre detailing the history and renovation of the tower on the ground floor.

Getting there: Hadlow Tower is in the village of Hadlow, just over an hour’s drive from London.

 

Stay in… a railway carriage

Nestled within Northiam Steam Railway Station, on the border between the counties of Kent and East Sussex, Railway Retreats has converted former carriages that sit within a working station – you can even see the steam trains pull up just 20 feet/six metres away. The transformed MK1 railway carriage sleeps up to six and an additional two goods wagons each sleep up to four – all come with en-suite facilities. The former also boasts an elevated glass balcony giving fabulous views of the station and the surrounding countryside.

Getting there: Northiam is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… an Art Deco barge

A unique way to explore the Thames is by staying with the owners on their Art Deco barge, built by British craftsman, as they take you through the beautiful scenery and stopping at charming riverside pubs between Kingston in Surrey to Oxford – that’s 90 miles and 32 locks. The barge offers complete comfort – guest accommodation and facilities are private from that of the crew’s, so you can enjoy total privacy when you want. Enjoy the pretty villages and towns along the way, such as Henley, Sonning (where George and Amal Clooney have a home), Hampton Court, Marlow and Windsor.

Getting there: If boarding in Kingston, Kingston is 30 minutes’ train journey from London Waterloo.

48 Hours in South-East England

Stretching from Kent to the east of London, down to England’s southern coastal counties of Sussex and Hampshire and back up to the counties of Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire that cluster around the capital, the area of South-East England is one of diverse landscapes, vibrant beach resorts, historic cities and gastronomic centres of excellence.

The real beauty of this region is its accessibility from London, with numerous public transport options available from the capital to all parts of the South East. Within just 30 minutes south of London you can be in the attractive city of Guildford, with its inviting mix of centuries of history and first-rate contemporary shopping. Beautiful coastlines and verdant woodlands await you in the New Forest in Hampshire, just 90 minutes from London, or experience the royal atmosphere of Windsor or the scholarly vibes of Oxford in less than an hour’s journey time from the capital.

The area may be perfect for day trips from London, but it also means you can pack in a huge variety of experiences within a weekend in the area, each bringing its own unique charm. Here we take a look at just one option of how to spend 48 hours South-East England; in its vibrant coastal areas.

 

DAY ONE:

09:00 BROWSE CONTEMPORARY ART

Take an early train out of London’s Charing Cross station and, within 90 minutes, you’ll reach Hastings, a town on the Sussex coast that’s well-known for its connections with the famous battle of 1066 but is also at the forefront of contemporary art with exhibitions at the Jerwood Gallery. Set in a stunning glass building on the Old Town’s fishing beach, this is the home to a fabulous collection of 20th- and 21st-century British art.

 

10:30 DISCOVER THE DARK SECRETS OF SMUGGLERS

Head down to St Clements Caves and embark on a Smugglers’ Adventure. You’ll join notorious smuggler ‘Hairy Jack’ through underground tunnels and caverns on this interactive experience that tells the tales of smugglers through the ages. You can also enter the attraction via the original West Hill funicular railway, which retains its original Victorian wooden carriages.

 

12:00 EXPLORE THE TOWN’S PAST

Stroll around the picturesque Old Town, a bustling haven of cobbled streets, ‘twittens’ (narrow passageways) and a flourishing arts community, which you can explore through its myriad of antique stores and independent art shops.

 

13:00 FEAST ON LOCAL SEAFOOD

Fresh fish lands on Hastings’ beaches every day, serving the town’s restaurants and cafes. Head down to The Stade area, the town’s fishing and cultural quarter, and dine on smoked fish and fresh cockles at Rock-a-Nore Kitchen, or admire the views of the seafront while munching oysters and other delicacies from the sea at the Old Custom House Restaurant. Round off your lunch with a luscious homemade ice cream from Di Polas ice cream parlour, where flavours range from sea salt caramel to apple and ginger.

After lunch, jump on the train and travel to the coastal city of Brighton & Hove, around an hour’s journey. Although just a short distance from Hastings, you’ll find a different vibe here.

 

15:00 WALK THROUGH A ROYAL FANTASY

Brighton & Hove is bohemian yet historic, eccentric yet stylish, and is unlike any other English seaside city. Although its heritage is deeply rooted in the 18th century – the Regency era – it boasts a heady mix of contemporary culture, artistic quarters, must-see museums and diverse shopping. Dominating the town is the Royal Pavilion, built by King George IV, a palace unlike any other in Europe. Wander through architecture bedecked with Indian domes and oriental interiors as well as Regency style.

 

17:00 SOAR INTO THE AIR

For unrivalled views of the city and its surrounding area, take a ‘flight’ on British Airways i360, the tallest UK viewing platform outside of London. Brilliant, Instagrammable views surround you as you head up 450ft/137 metres in the air.

 

18:00 ENJOY TRUE BRITISH ENTERTAINMENT

Back down to earth and head out to sea – as far as the end of Brighton Pier! A Grade II-listed pleasure pier, you can enjoy fairground rides and entertainment, and don’t forget to buy an iconic English seaside treat – Brighton Rock.

 

19:00 DINE AT SUSTAINABLE RESTAURANTS

Brighton is a real hotspot for food, particularly if you’re looking for something special, with a range of restaurants that encompass everything from vegan to waste-free. Terre a Terre, situated in the narrow alleys of the 17th-century Lanes – a maze of eclectic shops and unique eateries – is about indulgent vegetarian cuisine. And, if you’re looking for a restaurant that endorses sustainability throughout, try Plateau, a vibrant Lanes-based eaterie that offers a menu of organic and biodynamic wine.

 

21:00 HIT THE NIGHTLIFE

The city is well-known for its fabulous nightlife, arts and theatre scene, and is bursting with seriously cool and quirky bars and clubs. Sip on craft beers from local breweries, surrounded by walls lined with vinyl records and listen to your favourite tunes on the record players at Dead Wax Social; enjoy live music, home-made brews and quirky weekend events such as chocolate-sculpting lessons at the North Laine Brewhouse; or sip cocktails amid the retro charm of The Mesmerist, a 1920s’ speakeasy-style bar.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN

There’s a range of well-known budget hotel names in Brighton, from Ibis to Travelodge, as well as a whole host of quality bed and breakfasts (B&B). Nineteen, located in the Kemp Town area of Brighton, is a stylish B&B in a converted 200-year-old Victorian townhouse, with walls adorned with contemporary artwork. For truly bohemian artwork throughout the rooms check into the Artist Residence, a seafront hotel decorated by local artists, while the grand dame of the city’s hotels is the Grand Brighton, an iconic five-star Brighton landmark of elegance and grandeur.

 

DAY TWO:

0900: BUILD UP AN APPETITE

There’s nothing like fresh air to wake you up and a bracing walk along Brighton’s seafront will do just that. Worked up an appetite? Pop into Billie’s for breakfast, a cosy, family-run café serving local handmade sausages, stacks of pancakes and a wide range of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

 

11:00 TASTE ENGLISH WINE

Nestled in the beautiful Sussex countryside, just 20 minutes from Brighton & Hove by taxi or bus, is the South Downs National Park, home to Ridgeview Vineyard and its award-winning English sparkling wine. Go behind-the-scenes with a tour of the vineyard and finish off with wine tastings overlooking the glorious South Downs. Once a month the vineyard also offers a wine and lunch tour.

 

12:30 Head to Brighton station and take the direct train to Portsmouth in the county of Hampshire, in just under 90 minutes.

 

14:00 GO BEHIND THE SCENES OF A HISTORIC DOCKYARD

The city of Portsmouth on the south coast of England is completely surrounded by water, making it an island city! So, it’s no surprise that it also comes with more than 800 years of naval history, much of which you can discover at its Historic Dockyard. Step back to the 16th century and explore the story of Henry VIII’s shipwrecked (and now raised) war ship at the Mary Rose Museum, or imagine what it was like being an 18th-century sailors aboard HMS Victory. In Spring 2018, the D-Day Museum will reopen on Southsea seafront (in the south of the city), which will use interactive material, video and major new exhibitions to retell the story of the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War.

OR

14:00 DISCOVER A LITERARY PAST

Portsmouth has hugely significant literary links; Charles Dickens was born here and his birthplace is preserved at the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes while living in Portsmouth. The city is home to a large collection of Conan Doyle memorabilia at the Portsmouth Museum.

 

16:00 SHOPPING AND SEAVIEWS

Pick up designer bargains and high-street treats at the 90 premium outlet stores located at Gunwharf Quays, before heading up 105 metres to take in the gorgeous views from Emirates Spinnaker Tower, over the city and out to the Isle of Wight.

 

18:00 SIP CHAMPAGNE AT DUSK

Walk along the charming waterfront at Southsea and stop off for a glass of Champagne at the Southsea Castle Champagne Bar, which runs every Friday from May until September. You’ll be drinking bubbly with a beautiful Tudor castle backdrop!

 

20:00 ENJOY A RANGE OF RESTAURANTS

Restaurant 27 and Montparnasse are two of Portsmouth finest restaurants, and it’s at both of these you’ll find menus produced by chefs with Michelin-star experience, using ingredients from local suppliers and producers. Or, if you prefer a taste of the east, head down to the area of Old Portsmouth – this was once referred to as the Spice Island, as ships would dock there from Asia to unload their cargo – which still has a whole host of restaurants serving Asian cuisine. Check out the area of Albert Road, which is packed with choices.  

 

22:00 HIT THE NIGHTLIFE

Being a university town, Portsmouth offers a good mix of nightlife. It also serves up some excellent locally brewed beer – head up to the rooftop garden of the Brewhouse & Kitchen, set in a historic, Tudor-style inn, and order a pint of one of its 50 craft beers, including five that are brewed on site. Gin fan? Head over to Gin & Olive where aficionados of the spirit can choose from more than 100 on its menu, the only bar to offer this many in the county of Hampshire.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN

Similar to Brighton, Portsmouth has a good stock of budget hotels, guesthouses and lovely bed and breakfasts. Its boutique hotel offer is strong too. The G! Boutique Hotel has designed each room to be unique and quirky – rooms are given names ranging from Good Times and Grinning From Ear to Ear, to Giddy with Delight and Gloating You’re Not Here, plus there’s a funky cellar bar. Or, for a hotel with views over Portsmouth Harbour, check in to the Ship Leopard Boutique Hotel, housed in a Georgian building next to the Historic Dockyard, while just five minutes from the Southsea area is luxury property The Clarence. Looking for somewhere unique to stay? Sail out to No Man’s Fort, an island man-made fortress out at sea converted to a luxury venue that’s ideal for group bookings.

 

RETURNING TO LONDON:

There are direct trains from Portsmouth to London, which take just under two hours.

Great British cycle routes

Great Britain excels in cycling, hosting celebrated challenge rides like the Peak District’s Eroica Britannia in Derbyshire, Scotland’s TweedLove Bike Festival and the UK National Track Championships in Manchester. But one of the best things about UK cycling is simply taking off spontaneously on a trail. Here are some ideas for exploring the UK on two wheels…   

 

Long-distance

Hebridean Way

This new long-distance ride spans the length of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides island chain. The 185-mile route crosses 10 islands in the archipelago – and it’s packed with paradise beaches visitors might not expect in the UK.

Surprise trailside treats: Calanais Standing Stones which pre-date Stonehenge, the historic Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

 

Bay Cycle Way  

Starting at the nature reserves of Walney Island, this flattish route follows a spectacular yet often underrated coastline. Pedalling 81 miles through the Cumbrian and Lancashire countryside, cyclists can enjoy bird-watching in RSPB reserves and eating in the many gourmet restaurants in the village of Cartmel.

Surprise trailside treats: Coniston Priory Buddhist Centre, the art deco Midland Hotel.

 

Celtic Trail West

The Celtic Trail runs across Wales at its widest point with the west section connecting Swansea and Fishguard via the spectacular Swansea and Pembrokeshire coastlines. The seaside resorts of Tenby and Saundersfoot are also worth a visit.

Surprise trailside treats: The sand dune forests of Millennium Coastal Park, the Brunel Trail.

 

See also:

South Coast Way

This 360-mile coastal route from Dover, Kent to Dawlish in Devon stops at the seaside towns of Brighton and Hastings.

 

Fun and family

Two Palaces Ride, London

This two-mile loop takes in more than just the two palaces of the title. The relaxed start from Buckingham Palace leads to a laidback ride through the Duke of Wellington Arch and into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens on its way to Kensington Palace – best ridden on a Sunday.

Surprise trailside treats: Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery and Apsley House.

 

Monsal Trail, Peak District

In Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park, the traffic-free Monsal trail offers flat, easy cycling along the old Midland railway line with great views of the limestone dales. The eight-and-a-half mile trail, from Blackwell Mill in Chee Dale to Coombs Road at Bakewell, blasts through six moodily lit tunnels, up to 400 metres long.

Surprise trailside treats: The Secret Tea Garden at Miller’s Dale. 

 

Lagan and Lough Cycle Way, Northern Ireland

The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way is a 21-mile, mostly traffic-free route from Lisburn to Jordanstown via Belfast. Cyclists can enjoy biking along the Lagan Towpath and Belfast Lough, with spectacular views inland to Belfast’s hills.

Surprise trailside treats: Kingfisher-spotting in the Lagan Valley Regional Park and Belfast’s most famous pub, The Crown Bar.

 

Cuckoo Trail, Sussex

The Cuckoo Trail gets its name from an old Sussex tradition of releasing a cuckoo at the Heathfield Agricultural Show. Running from Polegate near Eastbourne to Heathfield itself, it covers 11 family-friendly miles of traffic-free tarmac and gravel along a railway line.

Surprise trailside treats: See if you can spot Artist Steve Geliot’s wooden benches carved from storm damaged oaks, Hailsham village and nearby Michelham Priory, a medieval monastery-turned-country house and museum.

 

See also:

Fallowfield Loopline, Manchester

Head south from the HSBC UK National Cycling Centre and you’ll find the 16-mile traffic-free route to South Manchester.

 

Derby Canal Path and Cloud Trail

Flat, well-surfaced riverside riding starting in Derby and ending at the engagingly named Cloud Quarry where cyclists are rewarded by wonderful views. 

 

Camel Trail

A popular 18-mile, predominantly traffic-free railway trail taking in Padstow, Bodmin, Wadebridge, and Wenford Bridge; a delightful mix of Cornish woodland, birdlife and wild estuary.