BY PALOMA LACY
The staycation is proving to be ever popular as holidaymakers make the most of destinations closer to home, preferring to eschew the hassle of airports and long transfers.
For the past few years in my house, the conversation has had a familiar beginning, middle and an end.
One of us exclaims that it would be lovely to go abroad, with guaranteed sunshine on our backs, the other will issue the reminder of the logistical nightmare that is travelling with young children, and the conversation will end like this: “That’s true. Shall we just stay in the UK, then?”
And so it was that we found ourselves in a train out of London Victoria for the 1hr and 20 minute journey through Kent to Whitstable, or as I call it, ‘the jewel of the Kent coast’.
Famed for its seaside towns, while many are faded and a little shabby around the edges, Whitstable shines, with or without the sun. It’s perhaps even nicer to visit just before the madness of the summer season takes hold and everyone from London descends.
I’m sure that July’s Whitstable Oyster Festival is fun, but a few too many thousand people for me. Our visits to Whitstable always start the same, various pledges to go, do and see new things, but invariably we spend much of our time ambling around town.
Mornings spent in the harbour, watching the fishing boats come in, popping into the fishmongers and checking out the catch, and then wander through the stalls of the market.
By mid-morning we leave the Harbour and wander along the seafront path, towards the famous Neptune Pub, and walk as far as we can.
Still a bit too early for drink, but when time comes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the choice of pubs, in an age when they seem to be a dying breed. And here there’s a mix of tradition, style and more modern craft beer emporiums.
This usually sees us cross parallel on to the high street to browse the boutiques, art galleries and book shops. Be warned: there is no one mid-week day for shop closures, so Monday and Tuesday shopping can be a bit hit and miss.
Famed for fish, seafood lovers will be in paradise, with better-than-average fish and chips served throughout the town, and a number of delis and fishmongers serving up anything from locally caught oysters, to home-made mackerel pate and fish cakes to munch on the beach.
Dining in Whitstable starts at quaint tea rooms serving sandwiches and traditional British fayre, to the famous VC Jones for dine-in fish and chips, to fine dining, the Sportsman at Seasalter boasts one Michelin star.
We chose the Pearson’s Arms as our special meal of the trip because its reputation precedes it and not least because its chef patron Richard Phillips is something of a local culinary hero.
As views go the restaurant, tucked away at the top of the pub, has it all. Beautiful sea views as far as the eye can see offer up an almost mesmeric quality.
I had company but could quite happily have been alone, taking it all in.
The food is beyond good, probably down to the fact that with a menu takes its inspiration from across the globe. It’s edging towards fine dining and as a result there is the odd unfamiliar description, but don’t let that put you off. Instead, consider it an education.
My husband felt duty bound to order oysters (£3 each) and served with pickled shallots – he loved them. Aubergines in beer batter (£4) caught my eye. Served with bois boudrin, which as it turns out is a sauce made with tomatoes, shallots, Worcester sauce, ketchup, lemon, vinegar and tarragon.
It was too tasty for words. We added a few more starters and made a meal of them, quite literally. Crab spring roll (£9), hand-picked Cornish crab, with ginger and chives, served with fresh mango chutney, and baked camembert, local honey and toasted baguette.
A day trip from London is perfectly doable, other than the fact that you won’t want to leave, so we decided to make Crab Cottage in Albert Street our home. Our location, just off the high street, meant that we could walk to our hearts content, pop back home for a rest – so important when travelling with a baby – roam the towns and then shuffle home once we’d had our fill.
The location is faultless and there are a few local pubs within in spitting distance of the cottage, which my husband became acquainted with on a couple of evenings before dinner. Holiday accommodation literature always uses the de scription ‘a home from home’, boasting all the mod cons necessary to make your holiday go with a bang.
It was certainly true here, and I’d go so far as to say that it was probably nicer than my house. Every room was stocked as it should be and it was just a shame we weren’t nosey enough to look in the massive wooden chest in the lounge, which had games and toys to delight the whole family.
The open plan downstairs living area, including kitchen and bathroom, was all our small family needed and beautifully decorated too. A large dining table provides ample room for family dining, but we preferred to dine out.
The garden didn’t get much use as we spent some much time by the sea. Upstairs is bijoux, as you’d expect from a fisherman’s cottage, with two bedrooms, but one of them en suite. Crab Cottage, you exceeded expectations and absolutely made the holiday, for what is a holiday without decent pied a terre?
We ended our stay in Whitstable with a final night at the local Premier Inn – a family room with blackout blinds and an enforced 8pm bedtime – we had no choice travelling with a baby – is a first for us and will become family tradition.
We returned home thoroughly rested and ready to get back to work. But it’s not just the mattresses, famed for their comfort, but there’s always a restaurant on site, which is super handy.