Kent's county town, Maidstone, lies at the heart of the Garden of England. Here orchards and hop gardens surround romantic villages and must-see heritage sights.

This lush landscape is home to captivating Leeds Castle, whose romantic towers and crenulations are reflected in a glittering lake. There's been a castle here since Norman days; today a stroll round its opulent rooms reveals stories of six English Queens, an Anglo-American heiress and one-time resident Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife The glorious 500 acre parkland supplies a hedge maze, falconry demonstrations and the adrenaline-fuelled treetop walkways of Go Ape. You can even sleep soundly amid all this grandeur. The estate's cottages, stables and gamekeeper's house have been transformed into luxury holiday homes and B&B rooms; country-house Chilston Park Hotel is also nearby.

In Maidstone itself, the stables of the 14th century Archbishops’ Palace house one of the town's hidden gems; the elaborate sleighs, sedan chairs and horse-drawn vehicles of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages. Outside, hop on the Kentish Lady or Allington Belle for a scenic River Medway cruise through the Maidstone Millennium River Park to Kent Life where oast houses, historic homes, farm animals and tractor rides provide a lively insight into Kent's rural past. Why not couple it with a 4-star overnight stay at the nearby Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel?

The Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery showcases a 2700 year old  Egyptian mummy,  outstanding oil paintings, fine items from the Japanese Edo period,  and the story behind the discovery of Maidstone's millennia-old iguanodon; the town's world-famous dinosaur find.

Indulge in big-brand retail therapy at Fremlin Walk shopping centre, take in a show at the Hazlitt Arts Centre, then select where to sleep. At Tudor Park Marriott Hotel and Country Club, you can drop off in style after an 18-hole game of golf.

Maidstone is the springboard for superb countryside. Hike the chalky ridge of the Kent Downs AONB as it sweeps south to Dover, get green-fingered inspiration at the National Trust property Stoneacre, or sip tea or sup a pint in the picture-postcard villages of Lenham, Marden, Headcorn and Yalding.

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