Our senior long haul product manager Kathy Vigolo has just returned from one of our first tours in seven months! Read about her memorable journey around Kent in our latest instalment of Staff Stories.
It’s such a joy to finally be back on the road! I can’t say how much I’ve missed exploring places, sharing experiences, and creating new memories with fellow travellers and customers. I recently joined our Kent – Castles, Gardens and Vineyards tours, one of our first trips after a long winter of lockdowns. Here’s what we got up to…
A historic return to travel
Situated on the outskirts of Canterbury is Howfield Manor, a 12th-century home nestled into the idyllic countryside and five acres of gardens. All customers arrived via private vehicles to the accommodation, each settling into one of the well-appointed, traditionally furnished rooms.
Howfield Manor is the place to be if you prefer boutique accommodation. The hotel has 15 rooms and offers friendly, personal service – you certainly won’t be forgotten here!
The literary greats of Canterbury
For the rest of the afternoon, we set off on a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Canterbury. This allowed everyone to familiarise themselves with the nearby city if independent exploration was desired.
Canterbury was a wonderful city, brimming with rich history, art and architecture. Some of the highlights included the striking cathedral and the Shakespearean connections – the city is the birthplace of playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was believed to have co-authoured the Henry VI trilogy with William Shakespeare.
We returned to our accommodation to enjoy the comforts of the manor. After a lovely welcome brief and drink with our local tour manager in the restaurant, located In the oldest part of the manor, we enjoyed a delicious three-course French-style meal which was made using locally sourced fresh ingredients.
Kent’s hidden gems
It was fascinating to discover more of the Kentish treasures and hidden gems during our second day out, learning the history of the Cinque Ports and the smuggling communities in the quaint towns of Hythe and Rye, expanding our visit all the way to the Essex coastline.
I loved the stunning views over the English Channel and the quirky feel in these two picturesque towns. The journey was immersive, revealing the off-the-beaten paths of Kent and Essex – the kind of places you wouldn’t normally come across on your own.
A sip in the sun
Towards late afternoon, the wine lovers among us – or those who purchased the optional vineyard tour – proceeded to the valley of Hawkinge, where Terlingham Vineyards is tucked away. This was an absolute gem of a place. Small but perfectly lined vineyards overlook the vast Kentish countryside and offer sun-drenched views of the English Channel.
In 2021, Terlingham Vineyard was named by The Times and Conde Nast Traveller as one of the must-visit vineyards in the UK, so we felt lucky to have this experience on our trip. We enjoyed delicious organic wines and embraced the history and hospitality of the family (the founders of this viticultural hotspot).
To the castle, we go
The adventure continued on day three with a visit to the imposing Dover Castle, which was built during the 11th century. Thanks to its defensive strengths throughout history, it has long been described as the ‘Key to England’. Our local guide really brought the castle to life through the retelling of fascinating stories and legends.
The James Bond connection
We then continued our travel along the Kentish coast and stopped in the charming town of St Margaret’s at Cliffe. The town is spread across the rural Kent farmlands and down to the coast, offering some of the best views of the Dover Cliffs. We stopped for lunch in its stunning bay. Ian Fleming actually owned a house at the end of this bay, and it’s here that he wrote his third James Bond novel, Moonraker. We proceeded to the quirky town of Deal, another one of the famous Cinque Ports and a trendy seaside town.
All good things come to an end
It was difficult to believe that four days had already gone by. One thing I must say is that it was so reassuring to see all the venues on this trip taking great care of customers and promoting safety and social distancing at all times.
On our final day, we travelled further inland to explore one of the most prestigious sites in Kent, Leeds Castle. With its stunning gardens and picturesque buildings, it’s truly a dream for photographers and historians. There’s so much to learn within the grounds. It was a vast space and we had plenty of time to explore – we didn’t feel at all rushed.
Later in the afternoon, we returned to Howfield Manor. We enjoyed a fabulous farewell dinner and an evening full of storytelling and email exchanges. It was such an amazing group of people, and it was brilliant being able to share spaces and adventures together again.
Explore somewhere close to home, but back in time, with us. Join our next Kent – Castles, Gardens and Vineyards holiday.