Great British escapes ... Isle of Thanet

This isle holds a European Blue Flag award for no fewer than seven of it's sandy beaches, writes Stephen Emms

Why go now?

Kent's Isle of Thanet - a misnomer really, as since the late 17th century it's been part of the mainland - holds a European Blue Flag award for no fewer than seven of its sandy beaches. Visit now and it's still possible to have a bay to yourself, and good weather for walking or cycling around the 26-mile coast - the longest continuous stretch of chalk cliffs in the country. (Choose from one of six themed routes at Thanet's three neighbouring towns are satisfyingly different, too: Broadstairs, with its curving bay and cute jetty, is the classic seaside haunt; Ramsgate flirts with a continental alfresco culture centred on the royal harbour, and world-weary Margate, the UK's first ever resort, is being buffed shiny by arts-led regeneration.

Where to stay

For Regency glamour, plus unparalleled views over the cosmopolitan harbour, book a balcony room at Ramsgate's Royal Harbour Hotel (01843 591514;, where roaring fires and a nightly cheese platter will greet you in the drawing room. Some rooms are tiny, so check when booking. Seaview doubles start at £98. Burrow House is a Victorian pile in nearby Broadstairs, offering elegant rooms (from £85 a night) and "gourmet weekends" (five-course dinners and matching wines at £155 per person, including room) close to Viking Bay (01843 601817; Or step back in time at the Walpole Bay Hotel in Margate (; 01843 221703) a quirky 20s hotel and "living museum" with Poirot-style gated lift, bougainvillea-clad terrace and hundreds of antiques. Double rooms start at £70.

Don't miss

The art scene in Margate is gathering pace with the new waterside Turner Gallery due to open next year. In the meantime head to the Turner Contemporary in the pleasingly revamped former M&S store (01843 280621;, or the galleries on the newly spruced-up Harbour Arm, at whose tip perches a 9ft shell lady cast in bronze. Broadstairs hosts a panoply of summer festivals, from a celebration of Charles Dickens (20-24 June), who holidayed here ( to a Folk Week (7-14 August) and a Food Festival (29 September-4 October). And don't leave Thanet without seeing one of its many blue-flag beaches - best is Botany Bay

Where to eat

After a potter round Margate's old town, head to No 6, a brasserie in the attractive marketplace serving local fare (01843 295603; Broadstairs's marine parade is rather unexciting for the gastronome, so grab lunch instead at the lovely Oscar Road Cafe (01843 872442;, which offers lobster rolls (call first), doorstep crab sandwiches, and exquisite cupcakes. The finest restaurant in Thanet opened last year: Age & Sons in Ramsgate (01843 851515) is a three-storey conversion of a former wine importers in a courtyard behind the seafront. The ground floor houses an all-day deli, while the upstairs restaurant serves wrigglingly fresh fish. Don't miss co-owner Harriet Leigh's mind-blowing expresso martinis in the basement bar.

The perfect pub

The Thanet coast is dotted with fascinating boozers, from Margate's creaking haunts (its oldest pub, frequented by Turner, is the Northern Belle) to Ramsgate's waterside bar culture (best is the boho Belgian Café). But the 17th- century Belle Vue, perched on a cliff on the edge of Ramsgate, is top choice for breathtaking views over the Pegwell Bay nature reserve.

Retail therapy

The independent shops of Albion Street in Broadstairs make for a pleasant rummage on a Saturday afternoon, while Margate Old Town has an increasing number of boutiques, including the just-open Ingoldsby Gallery (01843 292779; Inland, near Birchington, Quex Barn is a daily farmers' market with fishmonger, deli, butcher and restaurant (01843 846103;

Take a hike

Turner famously said Thanet had the loveliest skies in Europe, so decide for yourself with an easy-going eight-mile walk along the geologically rich coastal path from Ramsgate to Margate ( where from Thursday to Saturday you can watch the sun set from the newly opened BeBeached Cafe ( on the jetty. From Broadstairs you could make a diversion up to the historic neighbouring village of St Peter's for its award-winning village tour (07546 514948;, brought to life by costumed characters.

Take the family

Kids (and anyone else with an imagination) will love the Shell Grotto (; 01843 220008) in Margate, a 2,000 sq ft subterranean man-made temple boasting 4.6 million shells. It lurks under a suburban back street, and was discovered in 1835 by a young boy, Joshua Newlove - no one knows who built it. Alternatively, shower the kids with old-fashioned childhood memories: donkey rides, Punch and Judy and a helter skelter on the main beach at Viking Bay, Broadstairs or simply catching crabs in rock pools.

Stephen Emms

The GuardianTramp

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