What to do, see and eat in Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 10:24 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:24 17 July 2018
Our county town has a lot to brag about, from its important history to its excellent facilities, great shopping and an ever-increasing list of places to eat and drink
Maidstone has been our county town since medieval times and was already an important part of the country when Archbishop Courtenay ordered a grand ecclesiastical manor house to be built here in the latter part of the 14th century.
The Archbishop’s Palace and adjacent College and Church of All Saints remain today, set close to the River Medway and alongside the town’s busy one-way system; a perfect example of how Maidstone marries the very old with the very new.
As our administrative capital, it houses the headquarters of Kent County Council and combined crown and county courts. It also as attracts many big businesses and related employment opportunities, like the Natuzzi Italia brand that opened a brand new furniture and interior accessories store this April in Aylesford Retail Park.
With good schools and transport links, plus an ever-improving infrastructure, the town is developing at a rate of knots.
Late last year research carried out by property technology company OneDome put Maidstone in the top 10 places to live in Kent, taking into consideration things like facilities, safety, green spaces and access to public transport. It’s certainly struck the right chord with young families and the area seems to be attracting more every day. In fact, Maidstone Borough Council has adopted a Local Plan to deal with the town’s rapid growth and promises to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between the need for local housing and employment with quality of life.
The council recently committed to investing £4.3m in the redevelopment and improvement of the town’s main green space, Mote Park, over the next three years. The scheme will be carried out over three phases of delivery.
The focus is on a new adventure park area for children and will include high ropes and a climbing wall, mini golf, Segway hire, investments in the skate and play areas and a state-of-the-art café and visitor centre.
The park is a big part of life in Maidstone, with a lake offering water sports, plenty of open space for walking and bike riding – and the adjacent Mote Park Leisure Centre.
It’s also used for several big outdoor events each year. This summer look out for the Ramblin’ Man Fair (30 June-1 July), The Big Day Out (14 July) and the Kent Prosecco Festival (20-21 July).
There’s a lot going on for families in this buzzing town, with the Hazlitt Theatre, the Odeon Cinema, Maidstone Museum and plenty of sports facilities, as well as nearby attractions including the Kent Life heritage centre at Sandling, Cobtree Manor Park in Aylesford, Teston Country Park and the fabulous Leeds Castle.
Cruise to Allington Castle
This year the Medway cruise boat Kentish Lady, which generally offers trips from outside the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone to either Teston lock or Allington lock, is adding to its repertoire by offering an exclusive trip to Allington Castle. Privately owned by Sir Bob and Lady Worcester, the castle sits on the river banks and isn’t generally open to the public, so it’s a real treat.
Mainly aimed at groups and societies, the trip offers guests the chance to cruise to the castle, where they will disembark for a tour of the gardens. Thought to be one of Kent’s best-kept secrets, the medieval castle dates from the 13th century and is set in
42 acres of riverside gardens.
Visitors will be given a guided tour of the Italian gardens, lavender walk, formal ponds, lakes and courtyards and get to view the impressive Great Hall. The tour runs on Tuesday afternoons until October, pre-booking is essential and group rates are available, www.kentishlady.co.uk
And Maidstone of course benefits from the proximity of another great castle. This year’s annual Leeds Castle Classical Concert takes place on 14 July and will be a particularly special occasion as the iconic Kent event celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Internationally respected conductor John Rigby will command the stage, this year not only conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but also acting as host, introducing special guests. Along with much-loved classical favourites, the audience will be treated to a special finale including the greatest hits from the 1970s.
John Rigby says: “This year we will celebrate the heritage that this unique experience has, but also spring board forward with a refreshed approach and programme. There will be more of a party flavour and we are guaranteed to have the audience singing and dancing into the summer night.”
Eating and shopping
Maidstone is one of our county’s busiest shopping hubs, with the all the high-street stores you could hope for. The open-air Fremlin Walk Shopping Centre has a flagship House of Fraser, along with H&M, River Island, HMV, Zara and many more. And there’s indoors shopping centre The Mall too, with TJ Hughes, New Look, Next and many more household names.
Explore the High Street, Week Street, Bank Street and Gabriel’s Hill for more shops and restaurants, and don’t miss the Royal Star Arcade and the Market Buildings for some of the town’s best independent businesses.
The town centre has dozens of places to eat and drink. Look out for La Villetta, Frederic Café Bistro, Artemis, Vesuvius, Mu Mu, Narai Thai Palace, The Gem of Kent, The Bierkeller and many more.
The ancient Corpus Christi Hall building in Earl Street now boasts a tapas restaurant called La Taberna, Drakes pub now offers a vegan menu thanks to Ponga Foods and the former Earls pub has just completed a £900,000 refurbishment. It’s now reverted to its original name, The Market House, and has a lovely roof terrace perfect for summer drinks.
For coffee and a snack try places like Harpers (see Postcard), Esquires, Mr Bean, Finch House, Eden, The Living Café and The Heart of Flavour.
In the surrounding villages some of our favourites include the superb Fish on the Green in Bearsted, The Hengist in Aylesford, The Potting Shed in Langley, The Square Fish Café in Lenham and The Curious Eatery in Boughton Monchelsea.The Bow Window coffee shop in Lenham won the Kent Life Food & Drink Awards best independent café of the year 2017.
Maidstone is conveniently located just off the M20, although traffic in the town centre can be challenging at peak times. It has central railway stations providing links to London in less than an hour, as well as to the coast and the Medway Towns.
Sat nav: ME14 1PS
It’s not cheap but considering all it has to offer, it’s not an overly expensive place to buy property. Prices for a one-bedroom flat begin at around £90,000 and two-bed properties start at £170,000. Three-bed semis are priced between £260,000 and £600,000. Larger properties are available right up to £1.1m.
Postcard from Maidstone
My name is Claudine Bedford and my husband Nick and I reopened Harpers in Maidstone in October last year.
The business has been part of the local community for more than 20 years and we are thrilled to be able to give this much-loved brand a new direction.
We are situated in the picturesque Market Buildings, in a lovely Grade II-listed building alongside other wonderful independent businesses.
All of the food is home made, ensuring we know exactly what goes in. We offer a wide selection of sandwiches, toasties and other savoury food, as well as various cakes and other treats.
We also stock a large range of homeware and design-led gifts and we spend a great deal of time sourcing unique items that you will not find anywhere else in Maidstone – a little something for everyone we like to think.
Having both lived and worked in London, we were keen to bring an air of the capital to Kent, a coffee shop culture and an exciting, independent and welcoming environment, moving away from the rows and rows of high street chains and eateries.
We moved to Maidstone four years ago and it is now very much our home. We live near Mote Park and even now are blown away by this stunning space and all it has to offer. Our children are happy and settled in local schools and we are delighted to be part of the many independent businesses within the town. We feel passionately about going over and above to ensure our customers have a great experience and that our family run business continues to grow from strength to strength, embedding itself firmly within the community.