“Kent, sir – everybody knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women” observed Mr Jingle in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, and whilst we might phrase it differently almost 200 years later, the Garden of England retains a fruitful abundance from the High Weald to the cliffs and beaches of the coast. In recent years, viticulture has taken root firmly in the region, and Kent is the source of the most highly-regarded vineyards in the UK, producing a host of award-winning wines – from champagnerivalling sparkling wines to impressive whites and increasingly well-respected reds. On this tour in the company of expert wine critic and author Jonathan Ray, drinks editor of The Spectator, we will meet some of the county’s finest winemakers – and a brewer – and taste the very best that Kent has to offer. Based on the edge of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we shall also take time to enjoy exquisite gardens, galleries and plenty of the finest local produce.

The Hotel

We will be based for the duration of the tour at the elegant Chilston Park Hotel, located on the edge of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just 20 minutes from Maidstone and Ashford, and half an hour’s drive from Canterbury. The Grade I listed 17th century manor house sits in 22 acres of Kentish parkland, and offers 53 comfortable bedrooms, located in either the main house or the Mews building nearby. The Culpeper’s restaurant has a good reputation for seasonal dishes created by head chef Adrian Martin with ingredients sourced locally, and afternoon teas are served in the Marble Lounge. There is plenty of parking on site for those arriving by car and the taxi journey from Maidstone West will cost approximately: £30

What's included

  • Four nights' accommodation with breakfast
  • Two dinners & two lunches
  • Three winery visits including tastings
  • All sightseeing, entrance fees and gratuities
  • The services of the Kirker Tour Lecturer, Jonathan Ray


Make your own way to the hotel today. In the evening you will meet Jonathan Ray and the rest of the party for an introduction to the best of Kent’s produce, including a tasting of some local Kent wines and dinner featuring some of the county’s finest seasonal ingredients.

Our first day in Kent will begin at perhaps the most celebrated of its vineyards, Chapel Down, just outside Tenterden. We will enjoy a tour of the wine estate including a tasting of their award-winning still and sparkling wines, followed by lunch in Chapel Down’s excellent Swan Restaurant. In the afternoon we will travel to nearby Rye, an ancient town and member of the Cinque Ports with a fascinating history as defensive bastion and smugglers’ haven. There will be time to explore the highlights of Rye including Lamb House, the infamous Mermaid Inn and the church which offers spectacular views over the landscape. We will return to the hotel later and the evening will be free for an independent dinner.

This morning we will visit the wonderful gardens at Sissinghurst, created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson from 1930 until her death in 1968. One of the most famous gardens in England, it has gained an international reputation for pioneering the use of ‘garden rooms’ such as the celebrated White Garden, as well as a fine collection of old garden roses. We will then continue to the nearby Balfour Winery, founded by Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn in 2002 on the beautiful Hush Heath Estate. Here we shall enjoy a three-course lunch served with paired wines, after which we will explore the 400-acre Estate, which is also home to oak woodlands and meadows, and the state-of-the-art winery.

Grapes may have gathered the headlines in recent years, but it was the humble hop which put Kent on the drinks map and there is no better guide to the history of brewing in the country Jonathan Neame, whose family have run Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame since 1698. After a tour of the magnificent Victorian brewery in Faversham, we will enjoy a tasting of a selection of beers. We will then visit the excellent Macknade Food Hall for a lunch combining the best local and imported Italian specialities, and an opportunity to pick up some gastronomic souvenirs – there is a very good wine shop on site as well as an extraordinary deli counter. We will then visit our third winery, Simpson’s, where experienced winemakers Charles & Ruth Simpson grow 30 hectares of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir on the chalky soil of the Elham Valley.  We will visit the winery and enjoy a tasting before returning to the hotel.

The tour ends after breakfast this morning.

Our Reference: KKM800278