#Staycation: Postcard from Folkestone
With the ongoing lockdown limiting travel in 2020, #staycations are on the rise. Holidaymakers have been flocking to the UK coastlines looking for a summer escape closer to home, signalling a revival of the Great British seaside retreat!
I recently made my own move to the coastline, settling in Folkestone, a relatively overlooked seaside town nestled in the rolling hillsides of the Kent Downs. With gorgeous scenery, a fascinating history and Victorian seaside nostalgia in abundance, it's a wonderful place to visit and to call home, and you could say a well-kept secret.
Continued regeneration and heavy investment in the town's creative projects, including the development of the UK's biggest outdoor art gallery, has transformed Folkestone into a modern seaside destination with a thriving centre for food, arts and culture.
Convenient high speed rail links from London mean you can make your escape from the city in under an hour, or even hop over to the continent via the Eurotunnel if you fancy it. With so much to offer the day-tripper or those looking for a longer seaside retreat, here's why a visit or staycation to Folkestone should be high on your list!
THINGS TO DO
The Harbour Arm is the central and cultural hub of Folkestone, having undergone massive renovation in recent years to connect the town with the coastline. It now houses an exciting array of independent food and drink outlets and small businesses, attracting locals and visitors from far and wide.
It can be reached from the picturesque fishing harbour via a serene landscaped walkway which was once the original railway line servicing the Arm in its industrial days - in fact the glamorous Orient Express used to take its passengers across to France from the platforms here!
The beautiful floral landscaped walkway crosses the harbour and leads to these stunning refurbished platforms at the Harbour Arm
If the appeal of good food and drink wasn't good enough, the weekends are for soaking up the festival atmosphere with live music, events, dancing, markets, pop-up shops, outdoor cinema screens and more in a continually changing roster - check the Harbour Arm site for updates!
FOLKESTONE ART TRAIL
Video c/o Creative Folkestone
The monumental installations of Folkestone's Art Trail, created by both local and well-known artists, is arguably one of the town's biggest attractions and heralded as the UK's biggest outdoor art gallery. 74 extraordinary artworks are dotted through town and along the coastline on this unusual trail that delights, surprises, inspires and educates.
For instance, Richard Wood's brightly coloured 'Holiday Homes' situated in the picturesque harbour are highly Instgrammable yet raise questions about second homes, while one of Anthony Gormley's stoic cast iron figures from his series 'Another Time' is hidden underneath the Harbour Arm and is regularly submerged by the tide.
LEAS COASTAL PARK
For the ultimate seaside nostalgia, take a stroll in Folkestone's stunning historic Leas Coastal Park. A grand Victorian clifftop promenade which leads to winding zig zag paths through gardens and secret grottos all the way down to the seafront, where you'll find classic pastel-washed beach huts perched along the shore (currently under renovation).
The gardens have been maintained beautifully with Mediterranean planting as part of the town's regeneration and it's a lovely peaceful spot to take a stroll in the evening, peeking out through the pines at the sea beyond.
Close by is the original Victorian Leas funicular lift which once transported passengers up and down the steep cliffside to the beach. It's one of the first of its kind in the world and serves as an important example of the town's holiday heritage. It's next in line for restoration and is sure to be unmissable attraction when it finally reopens.
FOOD + DRINK
From Michelin star restaurants and street food vendors to good old fish and chips, Folkestone is home to a very impressive culinary scene, the centre of which is found along the thoroughfare of the town's Creative Quarter and buzzing Harbour Arm complex.
Some favourite spots include delicious tapas at El Cortador and artisan pizza at Luben found along the colourful Old High Street; or choose from one of the many street food vendors and restaurants housed in the Arm. The Big Greek Bus is very popular for its Greek fare as is Dr Legumes for a veggie/vegan fix.
If champagne's more your style (you may be on holiday after all), head to the Lighthouse Champagne Bar at the very end of the Harbour Arm, with gorgeous views over the town's Sunny Sands beach and famous white cliffs, while raising a glass to France just visible in the distance.
It's such a pleasure to walk down the charmingly steep and cobbled Old High Street at the centre of Folkestone's Creative Quarter for its array of independent art galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. You'll know you're at the start by the gigantic lightbulb adorning the shop facade of the Bounce vintage clothing store!
It's a vibrant and interesting place to pick up local produce (County Fayre, Folkestone Wholefoods), shop clothing and interiors from independent designers (Violet Elizabeth, Kitty McCall or R&R), or pick up a unique souvenir from a vintage or craft shop (The Great British Shop, Rennies Seaside Modern) - to name only a few.
If you love a market, head to the weekly Sunday Market Place over at the Harbour Arm, normally situated undercover in the beautifully refubished harbour platforms, although currently temporarily located in the screen area for safety reasons during lockdown.
Small crafty businesses (including Stylecamp!) and vintage sellers have the opportunity to showcase their wares here with a constantly changing array of what's on offer, so it's always worth coming down to see what's there.
For day-trippers, Folkestone has a great selection of beaches for a fun day out or if you fancy a dip, from the wild shores of the Warren in the east, perfect for fossil hunting, to the vast pebbled beaches stretching down to neighbouring Sandgate and Hythe in the west.
A beautiful boardwalk leading off from the Harbour Arm snakes its way along this part of the beach where you can take in many examples from the art trail.
At the heart of town, Folkestone boasts its very own sandy beach - in fact one of the closest sandy beaches you'll find in proximity to London which is a great place to dip your toes. Cheefully named 'Sunny Sands', it's a bustling seaside escape for families and is beautifully scenic set in front of the stunning white cliffs and vast hills of the Downs.
For staycationers, the coastline of this corner of Kent demands to be explored further, with each section of coastline bringing its own unique and specific charm for a restful retreat. There's something here for everyone, so Folkestone serves as a great base from which to explore!
The sandier shores west of town at Romney and Dymchurch are popular with holiday makers. Here you'll also find the heritage steam-powered railway, taking beach-goers on nostalgic journeys along this scenic part of the coast.
Nature lovers should travel even further along the coast to find wild stretches of sand dunes and conditions perfect for watersports at Greatstone beach and the unique landscape at Dungeness - great for birdwatching and spotting seals (if you're lucky!), plus, some of the best fish and chips in Kent.