I’m standing on the first-floor balcony of our rental as the sun beats down from a clear blue sky and an ultramarine sea in front of me shimmers in spellbinding fashion. Seagulls wheel with abandon. Wisps of cloud amble hither and thither.
As I take a sip of the chilled glass of zesty white wine I’m holding I realise, happily, that the country I’ve lived in for almost half a century still has the power to surprise.
The scene before me is reminiscent of the Cote D’Azur and the seaside property I’m staying in – ‘The Breakers Beach House’, bookable through Oliver’s Travels – wouldn’t be out of place there. But here I am in Folkestone, Kent.
Ted Thornhill and his family check into The Breakers Beach House in Folkestone. Pictured above is the middle floor of the three-storey property
The Breakers (pictured above to the immediate left of the brown property with the arches) occupies a prime coastal spot
The Breakers offers uninterrupted sea views. This image shows the main middle-floor balcony, accessed from the living room
It’s a town with a reputation as being a gateway to somewhere else – to the trenches during the First World War (10million men were shipped from the harbour there to the frontline) and since then to the continent for holidaymakers on ferries and, more recently, by train through the adjacent Eurotunnel.
However, Folkestone is entirely deserving of a reputation as a brilliant destination in its own right, I discover, with Anthony and Danielle Nevill, the husband-and-wife owners of The Breakers, playing their part in putting a halo around it.
We reach their property – practically on the border with adjoining Sandgate village – in little longer than an hour thanks to a 140mph ‘Javelin’ train service from London St Pancras to Folkestone West station.
But I’d happily travel many hours for a stay there – it’s utterly fabulous and Danielle and Anthony are wonderful, nothing-is-too-much trouble hosts.
The middle floor of The Breakers (above) features an L-shaped sofa and a kitchen
Above is the double bedroom accessed from the middle-floor living space, which features a balcony with wooden decking
The middle-floor bedroom balcony (above) is one of three outdoor spaces at The Breakers from which guests can soak up the sea views
H G Wells is a former resident of Sandgate village, which adjoins Folkestone
Jovial and chatty Anthony kindly chauffeurs me, my partner and five-year-old daughter from the station to the house, merrily revealing all manner of intriguing historical and geographical nuggets during the short journey.
He points out the house he was brought up in that now sports a blue plaque bearing his mother’s name, author and historian Ann Nevill (who wrote an excellent history of Folkestone). He also reveals that author H G Wells once lived in the area, that from the house you can see the spot in France where Hermann Goring looked at England through binoculars while planning an invasion – and that he (Anthony) is (very) distantly related to the high admiral of William the Conqueror.
The equally jovial Danielle is waiting at the house to help show us around, as the lighthouse in Calais beams its red light across the English Channel in the distance.
What a place.
Pictured above is the ground floor of The Breakers, which is fully self-contained, with a double bedroom, kitchen and en-suite
Breakers Beach House is easily reached from London St Pancras using the Southeastern high-speed Javelin train service
The ground-floor apartment features Greco-Roman decor – and some of the beachcomber chic found elsewhere
The Breakers is a distinctive three-storey wedge-shaped building that sleeps up to 11 and boasts… plenty.
There are two gigantic L-shaped sofa beds, two kitchens, a wood-burning stove, three en-suites, a beautiful ornate spiral staircase that leads up to an attic bedroom and decor that’s a beguiling mixture of beachcomber chic (shells in jars, driftwood table supports), Greco-Roman (behold the colourful paintings of pillared buildings – and the actual pillars – on the ground floor) and country-house cosy (we adore the floral yellow wallpaper in the upstairs bathroom).
Comfort levels are pleasing – those sofas are plush; the beds, duvets and pillows five-star-hotel standard – the lighting is impressively customisable (there are dimmer switches for almost every bulb on every floor) and the mod-cons are indeed modern and convenient – flat-screen TVs abound and the kitchen equipment is first-rate.
Mod cons in the property abound – and include multiple flat-screen TVs and dimmer switches for most of the lights
The cosy attic bedroom, which has three single beds (one is off-camera) and wallpaper with a nautical theme
But I’m saving the best features till last – two balconies with wooden decking leading off the middle-floor bedroom and living room, which look like they’ve been scooped out of the facade, and a huge ground-floor terrace.
These spots – kitted out with chairs, tables and banquettes – capitalise on the property’s prime beachside position, proving to be irresistible locations for soaking up the glorious, uninterrupted sea view.
The Breakers is separated from the water only by a public causeway and a pebble beach and from the terraces it’s possible to take in a vast swathe of English coastline, and a chunk of France.
To make our stay even more mouthwatering – Oliver’s Travels’ concierge service serves up a smorgasbord of, well, smorgasbords.
The Breakers Beach House is bookable through Oliver’s Travels. Pictured above is the ground-floor terrace
Ted and his family enjoy a fully stocked fridge at The Breakers – plus a private-chef dining experience and picnic hampers
On top of the complimentary welcome hamper stuffed with goodies such as honey, jam, crisps, fudge and sticks of rock, the fridge is fully stocked with red and white wine and fizz by Kent producer Terlingham, along with milk, sausages and bacon and more besides. Plus, there are several loaves of bread and pastries laid out – and a bowl brimming with eggs, too.
Danielle, meanwhile, rustles up a stupendous chicken pie that lasts for dinner on the night we arrive and lunch the next day – and we’re treated to a private-chef experience in the house on the evening of day two.
This is just superb, with the (middle-floor) dining-room table laid out restaurant-style, complete with printed menus.
Top local chef George Marsh rustles up south-coast mackerel tartare served on crispy sourdough with little dollops of avocado and pink grapefruit; rump of Romney Marsh lamb with delicious lamb fat ‘potatoes’ and wild mushrooms, and for dessert it’s Bakewell tart with clotted cream. All delicious.
For the kids (by this point the party includes our friend Rich and his daughter, Ella), it’s chicken bites with garlic mayonnaise, mac and cheese with cheesy garlic focaccia and a ‘build your own’ ice cream sundae, with the little ones given marshmallow pieces, chocolate sauce, brownies and strawberries with which to customise their vanilla ice cream.
The en-suite for the attic bedroom features cosy yellow floral wallpaper and a claw-foot tub
The dining room table laid out for the private-chef dinner
We have a waitress, too – delightful Abbey. As well as serving the food she decants top Riesling and an excellent Crozes-Hermitage red from hip local wine bar John Dory.
In between the decadent feasts and wine-fuelled sea-view gazing from the trio of terraces, we stride forth east along the seafront towards Folkestone harbour to see what delights emerge.
The children go wild with delight when we reach Lower Leas Coastal Park, which is home to an incredible adventure playground featuring huge tube slides and zip lines.
There’s fascinating art to enjoy, too.
Folkestone is home to the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition – ‘Creative Folkestone Artworks’, with creations popping up in both scenic and surprising locations.
A stunning aerial photograph of the Folkestone seafront. The Breakers is situated a 10 to 15-minute walk to the left of this shot, with Folkestone Harbour to the right
An aerial shot looking west across the Folkestone Harbour area. The town was a gateway to the trenches for millions of soldiers during the First World War
Folkestone is home to the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition – ‘Creative Folkestone Artworks’. Pictured above is an Antony Gormley cast-iron figure standing beneath the harbour wall
One of Ted’s favourite installations in the Folkestone outdoor exhibition is the one pictured above – A K Dolven’s 16th-century bell, suspended between two steel beams
We’re particularly taken with Norwegian artist A K Dolven’s bell installation on the beach – a 16th-century bell suspended 65ft in the air between two steel beams – Antony Gormley’s cast-iron figure standing in the water beneath the harbour wall and Richard Wood’s little pink holiday home, which floats amid the boats in the harbour.
What also impresses is the way in which the harbour area and the ‘Harbour Arm’ – once a railway terminal for the Folkestone-Boulogne ferry – have been transformed and repurposed into a vibrant hub of entertainment with enticing options for eating and drinking, and something of a festival atmosphere.
There’s a buzzy beach bar, crazy golf, an outdoor cinema, a bar in the former signal box and restaurants in shipping containers (and with waterside tables).
The old lighthouse at the end of the Harbour Arm promenade? That’s now the Lighthouse Champagne Bar.
Richard Wood’s little pink holiday home, which floats amid the boats in Folkestone harbour, is part of Folkestone’s outdoor art exhibition
Ted is impressed with the way that the harbour area and the ‘Harbour Arm’ (above) – once a railway terminal for the Folkestone-Boulogne ferry – have been transformed and repurposed into a vibrant hub of entertainment. The Lighthouse at the end of the Arm is now a Champagne bar
The buzzy beach bar above is one of the many enticing eating and drinking options in the Folkestone harbour area
The historical picture on the left shows how the railway line used to extend right the way around Folkestone’s Harbour Arm (picture courtesy of www.folkestoneseafront.com). The picture on the right shows how the railway terminal has been re-invented as a public thoroughfare
Seaside seduction: ‘Folkestone is entirely deserving of a reputation as a brilliant destination in its own right,’ declares Ted
The old train station, meanwhile, has been nicely restored and re-invented as a pedestrian thoroughfare, like a mini version of New York’s High Line, complete with flowers, plants and wooden benches.
(As a train fan, I’d much rather this was still an actual station, but this is the next best thing.)
Before we leave for London Danielle delivers one final smorgasbord – a picnic for the beach with enough food in multiple hampers for at least 10 people (by this point it seems a sizeable portion of Kent’s food and beverage sector has supported our thoroughly indulgent stay).
Anthony kindly delivers us back to Folkestone West for our Javelin back to St Pancras, pointing out that passengers on the Belmond Orient Express alight here for coaches that take them to a Channel Tunnel Le Shuttle service that connects them with the Pullman on the French side.
I’d love to do that trip one day – but only if I can work in a few days at The Breakers Beach House on the way.