House prices in the seaside town of Whitstable started to rise when Londoners began to pick up pretty fishermen’s cottages about 15 years ago as weekend homes. It recently made a league table of commuter hotspots that recorded the biggest price growth in the last decade.
With an independently minded and artistic edge, Harbour Street has a selection of quirky shops and art galleries, and local pubs often host live music events. But the place really comes together during the annual Whit Lit (May 9-14; whitlit.co.uk) which this year is at Whitstable Castle and gardens. Things get a little more boisterous during the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival (July 22-24; whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk).
The property scene: “Entry level prices for a two-bedroom property in the centre of town start from £275,000,” says Will Roalfe of Christopher Hodgson.
Travel time from London: two hours by car; 73 minutes from St Pancras and 80 minutes from Victoria.
FIRLE, EAST SUSSEX
Charleston, the country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group in the village of Firle, near Lewes, runs a packed calendar of festivals and workshops attracting artists and writers year round, with an annual festival (May 19-29; charleston.org.uk). Speakers at this year’s festival dinner include Nick Clegg MP and violinist Min Kym.
The property scene: “There is plenty going on to keep culture vultures happy in and around Lewes,” says Charlie Rosling of Strutt & Parker, who cites open-air concerts in the Norman castle, Love Supreme, a three-day jazz festival at Glynde Place (June 30-July 2; lovesupremefestival.com) and Glyndebourne opera (May20-August 26; glyndebourne.com).
At the end of this month, The Depot, an independent cinema, is opening in Lewes. Londoners love the area for its easy access to Gatwick and the coast, and the fast commute into town. Small two-bedroom terrace cottages cost from £360,000.
Travel time from London: two hours 10 mins by car; about an hour by fast train from Victoria to Lewes.
PETWORTH, WEST SUSSEX
Once known as a sleepy destination for antiques fans — Hollywood heartthrob Richard Gere bought the entire contents of a single shop — the small town of Petworth in the South Downs National Park has been undergoing a renaissance.
Proximity to some of the summer’s most glamorous racing and classic car festivals held on the Earl of March’s Goodwood Estate has inevitably helped focus attention on Petworth. However, homegrown events, such as the annual Petworth Festival (July 12-29) and the Petworth Literary Festival (November 1-5; visit petworthfestival.org.uk for both) are “always sold out”, according to Nick Ferrier of Jackson-Stops & Staff. With Lord Egremont of Petworth House at the helm, the “great and the good” of the town come together.
The property scene: Petworth town centre has attractive Georgian and half-timbered buildings. Popular streets include North Street and Angel Street, where Hamptons is selling a Grade II-listed two-bedroom terrace house for £400,000. But buying in Petworth can sometimes be a challenge because of the slow turnover of the nicest houses, warns Nick Ferrier.
“Also bear in mind that some of the best houses are blighted by the main road which runs through the town,” adds Philip Harvey of Property Vision.
If nothing on the market in Petworth appeals, he recommends looking in some of the attractive surrounding villages, such as Byworth and Tillington.
Travel time from London: an hour and 50 minutes by car, and an hour and 15 minutes by fast train from Victoria to Pulborough.
Before it entered the spotlight as the place where the Duchess of Cambridge went to school, the market town of Marlborough had another claim to fame: having the widest high street in England. With its pretty independent boutiques, cafés and a recently opened Rick Stein restaurant, the high street has been likened to that of Marylebone by enthusiastic Londoners.
The town and its nonstop cultural calendar make it a perfect location for a weekend bolt hole. There is a growing creative community, with locals including Prince Charles’s decorator Robert Kime and the fabric makers Fermoie based in the town.
Marlborough College, Kate’s alma mater, hosts an annual four-week summer school (summerschool.co.uk), for all ages, where you can study everything from mindfulness to molecules, while the town organises a jazz festival (July 14-16; marlboroughjazz.com) and Marlborough LitFest (Sep 28-Oct 1; marlboroughlitfest.org).
The property scene: “It’s always buzzing,” says Rosie Souster of Humberts. “Culture, countryside, schools and easy access to the capital attract young families and retirees alike.”
The weekend cottage market is consistently busy with demand from parents of Marlborough College pupils. Prices start at about £450,000, depending on condition.
Travel time from London: two hours by car; about an hour and 10 minutes to Pewsey or an hour and 15 minutes, both from Paddington.
THE COTSWOLDS, WEST OXFORD and GLOUCESTERSHIRE
The Cotswold market town of Chipping Norton, the highest town in Oxfordshire, is associated with its political- and media-heavy locals, whose favourite watering hole is the Soho Farmhouse. Less well-known is its annual gathering of creative minds at ChipLitFest (watch chiplitfest.com for dates next year).
This year’s line-up included Scottish novelist Ian Rankin and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, as well as Radio 4 broadcaster the Rev Richard Coles and Blackadder star Tony Robinson.
It doesn’t end with books, however. The multi-award-winning Wilderness Festival, with live music, wild swimming and “latenight revelry”, is hosted at nearby Cornbury Park (August 3-6; wildernessfestival.com) followed by The Big Feastival (thebigfeastival.com), a music and food festival held on ex-Blur guitarist-turned-cheesemaker Alex James’s farm in Kingham (August 25-27), near Daylesford organic farm shop, the posh weekenders’ favourite.
The property scene: Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution says: “Londoners looking for a weekend house around Chipping Norton are our bread and butter. Often they’ve come to Wilderness or one of the other festivals and have fallen in love with the countryside.”
Pretty, golden stone period four-bedroom cottages or high-spec modern houses start from about £750,000, says Bramwell.
Weekenders who get sucked in have started to make the Cotswolds their permanent home. Chocolate-box cute ones start at £450,000.
Travel time from London: two hours by car, or fast trains into Banbury from Marylebone take about an hour.