British Travel Journal
IN FOCUS: PETWORTH
Jessica Way heads to Petworth, a picturesque market town nestled in the heart of the South Downs National Park, to discover that there’s much more to this stylish up-coming destination than the antique shops it's renowned for
Discover this pretty historic market town, home to the National Trust's Petworth House and Park, West Sussex.
ONE HOUR FROM LONDON, this delightful historic town with its cobbled streets, hidden lanes and picturesque chocolate-box cottages, draped in wisteria, looks more like a quintessentially country-chic getaway than the stuffy old-fashioned history-buff's treasure trove that I'd imagined it to be.
I really had no idea; I am pleasantly surprised to see a town that has not simply relied on its history and heritage (of which it has a great deal), or the droves of Mayfair residents, (who flock to its antiques stores to furnish out their million-pound pads), to keep afloat. Petworth has moved with the times – and you certainly don't need to be among the super-rich to enjoy it.
You can enjoy a day here exploring the town by simply milling around, no need for your car or much in the way of forward planning (just the regular town map leaflet readily available to pick up) - and you won't be likely to break the amount of steps record on your fitbit either. Nor will you be bored, go hungry, or feel thirsty – and this is what surprised me the most about Petworth.
There is enough by way of tea rooms, modern gastro pubs, delicatessens, fashion and art shops, dotted around the little market square for a day of culture, shopping and first-class dining experiences – not to disappoint even that of a Sloane's highstandards.
Most recently, the New Street Bar & Grill opened its doors (last summer), previously a fine dining restaurant under the name of The Leconfield, now a stylishly modern, air-conditioned restaurant and bar, with pretty patio perfect for alfresco dining on warmer days.
The menu focuses on fresh, top quality local ingredients cooked simply, to a high standard - with many local suppliers such as Nyetimber, Goodwood and Nutbourne on the menu.
Expect quality British fare, from daily specials to classics, such as Marinated Kentish Lamb Rump and Locally Reared Sussex Beef from the grill, and amongst the starters, Crispy Squid Rings and Gressingham Duck Croquettes.
Around the corner is 'The Hungry Guest Cheese Room' and if you didn't know about it before you might first notice it on the New Street Bar & Grill dessert menu – not just their cheese, their biscuits too – in fact there's a lot more to `The Hungry Guest' story than just cheese and biscuits...
They have a food shop, a butcher's, and a café in town – I visited all three and felt rather envious of the locals having such fabulous fare, artisan foods, and home-made produce within such easy reach of their daily lives. I am a fan of shopping `local' for my meat, veg, butcher's and bakery goods, and here you are spoilt for choice.
I was sure to fill up my shopping bags, and savour every mouthful of the Hungry Guest Breakfast from their café (Lombard Street just off the main square, they serve food here all day) – award winning sausage, dry cured bacon, slow roasted tomatoes, Portobello mushroom, poached eggs and sourdough toast. Their coffee, although not their own brand (it was Illy, awarded the most ethical coffee company in the world), was so good that I went back to their shop (in Middle Street) to buy some of my own.
Back to the cheese – they have an exceptional collection of artisan and farmhouse, many sourced from the British Isles.
“There’s a plethora of walking trails to choose from, rolling countryside and open park spaces surround this town.”
The Cheese Room is lined with classics such as Cheddar, Stilton and Roquefort as well as less familiar cheeses, such as Bleu de Termignon and Brie de Meaux.
Don't be put off by the glass-sided walk-in doors either, you are encouraged to go in and ask questions (and taste the cheese). The doors are there to keep the humidity up and the temperature down, not the cheese-lovers out. There's a Cheesemonger who will be there to offer you advice, and recommend accompaniments too… pickled cherries, truffle honey or fig paste anyone?
From savoury to sweet – there's also a traditional sweet shop well-worth a visit, Coco Café and Sugar Lounge, where oldfashioned sweet jars are filled with whimsical delights – bonbons, lollies, liquorice and lots more. Coco Lola – the ice cream van is open from April -October for ice cream, sundaes, knickerbocker glorys and sodas – and it also makes a great option for lunch offering more than the name suggests, served in the charming sugar lounge, designed to feel reminiscent of the film `Chocolat'.
Aside from spending my time eating, I met many independent-shop owners, selling quirky gifts, art, and on-trend fashion, all within a short walk (or loop) from the central market square. Shopping here is a millionmiles away from the modern commercial high streets - and this is before I've even mentioned the word `antiques'.
Petworth is internationally recognised as being a major hub for antiques, often being described as `The Antiques Centre of the South'. There are over 30 antique shops dotted around the town – with interior brand name, Augustus Brandt taking pole position – with both a showroom and lifestyle shop, each within easy walking distance of each other.
Augustus Brandt's 7,500 square feet showroom is the jewel in the crown - an enticing destination store for home interiors, set within the inspirational surroundings of Newlands House, a spacious Georgian Grade II listed town house and adjacent coach house. Give yourself enough time to visit here – there's over 17 different rooms to explore (open six days a week).
Discover a carefully curated selection of objects, bridging antique and contemporary furniture, artworks, photography and collectables from renowned designers, such as Linley and William Yeoward. There is a room dedicated to Lucan Fashion country and shooting clothing and a new room promoting celebrated Brazilian furniture designer, Casa Botelho.
There's also an ever-expanding range of gifts and offerings, including Mungo and Maud pet accessories, Argentine home brand, La Claraz, and Italian leather store, Giobagnara.
Then there's the lifestyle store in Market Square – selling a gorgeous range of accessories, furnishings and gifts. You will find collections from brands such as David Linley, established by the Queen's nephew, with gifts in wood, leather, glass and silver to the colourful Santorus ranges of bold and colourful silk scarves and stationery.
It was a beautifully crafted Quaternity Chess set which caught my eye, priced £1,500 (Instruction Book Included) but not yet having mastered the 2-player game I decided I was not quite ready for the 4-player version and resisted temptation, opting instead for a candle from the famous Cire Trudon, France's oldest candle company, priced £75.
With all this food and shopping choice, you might feel the need to walk it off, and with Petworth's rural location, set in the heart of the South Downs National Park, you are in the right place. There's a plethora of walking trails to choose from, rolling countryside and open park spaces surround this town.
A favourite with the locals is Petworth
Town and Shimmings Valley path (ifootpath. com), or for longer rambles try Pulborough to Petworth (walkingclub.org.uk).
Then there's Petworth Park itself. Wandering through the streets you are unlikely to go far without coming across a National Trust sign for Petworth House and Gardens. One of the country's most famous stately homes, surrounded by a vast wall, which, according to the locals, was constructed to keep the servants in rather than the vagabonds out.
Spanning 900 years of history and passing through just one family, Petworth House was built as to rival the palaces of Europe - a vast mansion set in a beautiful 283-hectare (700-acre) deer park, landscaped by `Capability' Brown and immortalised in Turner's paintings.
You can step inside this English 'Versailles' for £15.90 for an adult/£8.00 for a child, and while the gardens adjoining the house are included in the entry fee, you can access a larger portion of them – known as