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Spotlight on: Maidstone

PUBLISHED: 07:39 21 November 2015 | UPDATED: 07:39 21 November 2015

The Archbishops Palace

The Archbishops Palace

Manu Palomeque

There's much more to Maidstone than just its one-way system. With a stunning park, superb leisure facilities, historic buildings and a riverside setting, we invite you to explore our county town.

1 Shopping heaven

Maidstone is a great choice for a day out shopping, with a brilliant mix of traditional, independent retailers, huge High Street names and plenty of cafés and restaurants to revive in afterwards. Fremlin Walk (ME14 1PS) has great on-site parking and dozens of stores, including House of Fraser, H&M, Zara and Pandora. And while the town’s main shopping focus may have moved to Fremlin Walk when it was opened in 2005, at the other end of Maidstone work is moving forward to refurbish The Mall (formerly known as the Chequers Shopping Centre), with a planned completion date of May 2016.

2 Take in a show

The Hazlitt Theatre (ME14 1PL) is a great place to visit at any time of year, with a good mix of drama, music, dance and family entertainment. But throughout this month the theatre will belong to Peter Pan and friends as its annual pantomime runs between 4 December 4 and 3 January. Starring Ricky Groves from EastEnders, this is the first year the panto will be run by staff from parent company Parkwood 
Theatres, rather than bringing in an outside group. Tickets are available from www.parkwoodtheatre.co.uk.

3 Breath of fresh air

Stroll around the town’s impressive Mote Park (ME15 7RN) and it’s easy to see why this huge space is so popular. With a superb children’s play area, a vast car park, café, toilets, pitch and putt course, model railway and a 30-acre lake offering all sorts of watersports, it’s little wonder this green space pulls in more than a million visitors a year. At 450 acres, it’s also one of the biggest parks in the south east.

4 Marvellous museum

There is so much to see and do at Maidstone Museum (ME14 1LH). Whether it’s taking the kids through the ever-popular dinosaur gallery, studying the 2,700-year-old Egyptian mummy or admiring the paintings in the Bentliff art gallery, there is plenty to occupy all the family for a few hours. Best of all, it has a lovely café to relax in afterwards and apart from some special exhibitions, for which there is a small charge, your visit is free. Check www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk for opening times and details of some of the museum’s regular special events.

5 Bite to eat

Maidstone is not short on restaurants, cafés, pubs and coffee shops. Whether it’s a meal at any of the big chains, including Prezzo, Wagamama and Bill’s, or a snack at one of the great independent places –such as Frederic Café Bistro, rated the best restaurant in Maidstone (01622 296414) and vegan-friendly Fortify Café (01622 670533) – there is plenty to choose from. Also worth a try and a little different from the norm are the live music nights held at the town’s enormous Pizza Express (01622 683548).

6 Relaxing river

The River Medway is a central part of Maidstone yet many people visit the town without exploring the riverside.

The best way to take in the natural beauty of the area is to walk some of the Millennium River Park. Running all the way from Teston Country Park, through the historic centre of Maidstone and on to Allington Lock, there’s a 10km route which offers walkers the best views of what most of us just drive by in a hurry.

And if walking is too strenuous, then the Kentish Lady river boat offers a unique way to see the town on one of its hour-long trips at the weekends and during school holidays or its three-hour weekday cruises. Visit www.kentishlady.co.uk.

7 Ancient palace

The Archbishop’s Palace (ME15 6YE) in Maidstone was built during the 14th and 16th centuries. Originally used as a place for travelling archbishops to rest between London and Canterbury, it fell into private ownership when it was given to King Henry VIII and he passed it on to Sir Thomas Wyatt. Later it belonged to several families of note, but by the early 20th century it had become a medical school for the Territorial Army. Today it is managed by Kent County Council and is used mainly as a register office. Across the road from the palace is its old tithe barn, which is now the Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages and has more than 60 vehicles on display. For opening times see www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk.

8 Leisure time

Maidstone also boasts brilliant leisure facilities. Maidstone Leisure Centre (ME15 7RN), which coincidentally is also at Mote Park, is one of the best in the county with five swimming pools, a two-storey fitness suite, sports hall, children’s soft play area and a 1,200-seater event hall. Having been refurbished recently it’s really looking its best and is well worth a visit for one of the fastest flume rides in Kent if nothing else.

Also in the town centre, Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre (ME16 8SF) is home to the Odeon cinema, a Hollywood Bowl bowling centre, a selection of restaurants and the town’s general market, held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

9 Days out

Maidstone has some brilliant visitor attractions within striking distance. Leeds Castle is just a short hop down the M20 and at this time of year the castle is dressed in its Christmas finery. There are plenty of things to do including winter trails for children, Christmas markets and a Notes of Christmas display will feature hand-made illuminated white paper sculptures in some rooms, from 5-24 December (www.leeds-castle.com). Also close to town is the Kent Life (no relation) Heritage Farm Attraction (www.kentlife.org.uk) and the Hop Farm Family Park (www.thehopfarm.co.uk).

10 Surrounding villages

Kent’s county town of Maidstone is surrounded by a number of lovely villages. Of particular note are ancient Aylesford, famed for its Priory, Bearsted, with its charming, very large village green and Wateringbury which has some wonderful riverside walks. Great places to eat near Maidstone include The Hengist at Aylesford (01622 885800), The Mulberry Tree in Boughton Monchelsea (01622 749082), Fish On The Green in Bearsted (01622 738300) and The Windmill in Hollingbourne (01622 889000). w

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