As English wine continues to grow in popularity, plan a weekend to explore the South Downs, with our travel guide from Lonely Planet's new book Wine Trails.
South Downs travel guide
Overhead a skylark sings in the blue sky. Green fields sweep down from a chalk ridge laced with white tracks. To the south lies the sea, to the north the counties of Hampshire and Sussex. These are England’s South Downs in summer, a place of villages, hiking trails and, incredibly to some, vineyards. For the South Downs, now a National Park, are a narrow, 160km-long spine of chalk hills that run southeast all the way from Winchester, an ancient capital of England, to Eastbourne, and then the same seam of rock re-emerges on the other side of the Channel in Champagne country.
English wine was long a laughing stock, not least among the French, being too thin, too sour or over-sweetened. But in the last ten years, the South Downs region has been the source of some excellent Champagne-style sparkling wines. In truth, England’s wineries are spread out over quite a distance, from Tenterden in Kent to others in Cornwall, and a tour taking in all of them would be impracticable. They don’t all lie on the South Downs; many are further inland, and few are open to the public (so far – that will change). But there are a few concentrated in tranquil Hampshire to make a weekend exploring English wine and some of the county’s other attractions enjoyable and, perhaps, something of a revelation.
Southampton and London Gatwick are the closest airports but the region is only an hour from London by train.
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South Downs travel guide: Where to stay
Hotel du Vin
For city-centre accommodation and a well-crafted wine list, try the Hotel du Vin in Winchester, gateway city at the west end of the South Downs. Part of a chain that prides itself on its wine, there’s another Hotel du Vin in Brighton at the opposite end of the South Downs.
www.hotelduvin.com; Winchester & Brighton
The Flint Barns
At the eastern end of the Downs, the Rathfinny Estate, a newly planted vineyard near the white cliffs of Beachy Head, offers accommodation in basic but modern and comfortable rooms. It’s part of a redevelopment that also includes a tasting room – but you’ll have to wait until 2017 to try the first sparkling wines.
www.rathfinnyestate.com; Alfriston, East Sussex
South Downs travel guide: Where to eat
Between Jenkyn Place and Nutbourne Vineyard, close to Hampshire’s border with Sussex, this country pub does superb lunches, which can be enjoyed in the large garden if the weather permits.
www.hawkleyinn.co.uk; tel +44 (0)1730 827205; Hawkley
Jake Watkins’ inn-withrooms has a Michelin starred restaurant serving Modern British dishes.
jswrestaurant.com; tel +44 (0)1730 262030; 20 Dragon St, Petersfield
South Downs: What to do
Now a national park, the South Downs have long attracted hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders. The South Downs Way trail runs, up and down, for 160km (100 miles) from Winchester to Eastbourne but is accessible at lots of points so you can stretch your legs a section at a time.
The annual Hampshire Food Festival in July is a month-long, countywide celebration of local produce, from buffalo mozzarella near Stockbridge to gin from Winchester. The wine events, including pop-up suppers and tasting tours are always popular.
Reproduced with permission from Wine Trails, 1st edn. © 2015 Lonely Planet.