Hythe was the original Cinque Port, part of the historic collection of coastal towns formed for military and trade purposes, providing ships for the Crown in return for money and privileges. Oozing with charm thanks to its ancient network of streets in town and dazzling seaside location, a couple of days spent here can be a real tonic for the spirits.
The word Hythe is Old English for haven or landing place, and my favourite way of getting here is cycling along the coast from Folkestone, through the petite village of Sandgate, an invigorating journey that whets the appetite for a bit of lunch or some more exploring – I’m still discovering little nooks and tiny backstreets on each visit.
The beautiful and majestic parish church of St. Leonard is at the heart of the oldest part of town on the hill, a Norman building originally constructed in 1080 next to the original Saxon church, and virtually unchanged since the 14th Century. Beginning an exploration of Hythe from this point is a fine way to ‘get under the skin’ of the town. The Royal Military Canal wends its way through town, built as defence between 1804-1809 during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, and now a pretty tree-lined waterway that makes for a serene walk.
The Hope Inn
The Hope Inn on Stade Street is my idea of the perfect pub – a stagger away from the sea, the Thai food at Noiy’s Noodles inside is a compelling reason to keep returning. Having first encountered her food when she was cooking on Folkestone’s Tontine Street, Noiy now rustles up food from an open kitchen beside the main room of the pub, the sizzles and aromas tantalising drinkers inside. An open fire, genial staff and a gorgeous sun-trap garden at the back, it’s the kind of gem that feels like a real discovery for first-timers. Pad Kra Pao my most ordered dish, stir-fried spicy chicken and Thai fragrant rice, topped off with a fried egg – lip-tingling goodness. The green curry is made using only thighs, for maximum flavour, and the Massaman curry features the tenderest of beef, falling away into a deep soothing sauce with potatoes. Noiy’s chilli pork ribs must also be tried, and chicken satay skewers are some of the best I’ve had anywhere. In the summer, take your pad thai to the beach if you fancy – supreme seaside lunching.
A recent arrival has been Ivy’s Cafe on the High Street, a street that in the 11th Century would have been on the quayside with boats moored up, before being silted up over three hundred years. This all-day spot, owned by Will Dunlop, dishes up a mean black bean quesadilla as well as excellent toasties, although it has been chef Harry Johnson’s pasta evenings, where we’ve been treated to seriously good agnolotti, pillowy fresh parcels filled with garlic sausage and Pecorino, and mutton ragù pappardelle made with New Romney sheep. Throw in a pork tonnato and artichoke dish, and a fine Barbera from Piemonte, and we have a cracking evening.
My other pub of choice in Hythe is tucked away in a back street close to The Hope Inn, the very cutely sited Three Mariners. A proper drinkers’ pub, no music, with just crisps and nuts on offer, it’s always full of regulars…and dogs, always the sign of a good pub.
Two other ‘secrets’ to add to the list: recently opened Hythe Cellar offers a little slice of Italy, with owner Alessandro importing a neat selection of boutique Italian wines, with a charmingly bijou ‘enoteca’ upstairs with carefully sourced cheeses and charcuterie. For coffee lovers a special visit to Mit Milch Coffee is essential, where owner Luke Reen serves everything from drip-filter to excellent espressos, rotating his bean selection regularly: obsessive attention to detail makes this the best coffee for miles.
Hythe is a haven, a landing place, steeped in history with seaside charm – it rewards repeated visits.