Rye: A beautiful town with houses to suit all budgets

There's no direct train to London - but there's no Starbucks either. Jonathan Christie finds bliss in East Sussex
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The Independent Online

A hilltop citadel with a tangle of cobbled medieval streets overlooking lush countryside and distant views to the sea. It sounds like a romantic getaway in Italy, but it's actually Rye in East Sussex.

In the centre of the town, the high street is dotted with butchers, greengrocers, delis and galleries. There's not a Starbucks in sight. Instead, there's sense that you're in the 1950s.

Much of this is perhaps because it is probably too long a commute to London for most people. Its property prices are low given how pretty the town is, but a lack of direct trains to London is a factor. The average price of a terraced house here is £167,757, around £100,000 less than Brighton, and it's more chi-chi than its neighbours Bexhill and Newhaven.

It's not all old-world charm, though, as a gentle influx of London types has ushered in smarter boutiques and hotels. In summer, the town is awash with tourists, but come 5pm the streets are peaceful again.

This Cinque Port dates back to the 13th century, and in 1340 four gates were built to protect the town from the French (the south-facing cannons are still there). The cannons proved to be fairly ineffective as the French trashed Rye during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Much of the town had to be rebuilt and it's these timber-framed houses that give Rye its distinctive look. One of the best-preserved parts of Rye is Mermaid Street. Over time the sea receded, diminishing Rye's importance as a port. The Channel is now over a mile away from the town.

Your Kind Of People?

There's a healthy mix of people in Rye, although don't go there looking for an all-nighter. Unlike other towns on the south coast, such as Brighton and Hastings, the pace of life is slower and more genteel. Second-home owners and retired couples make up a big chunk of the residents here, although there is also a new wave of professionals from London, who can work a few days from home. Rye Film Club shows an eclectic mix of old and new films.Rye residents past and present include Paul Merton, Tom Chaplin and Holly Johnson.

Can You Shop 'Til You Drop?

Every Thursday there's a general market in the town and Wednesdays see a small farmers' market down on Strand quay. There are several small boutiques such as Niche, which sells Jigsaw-esque frocks, and in Juel you'll find contemporary jewellery and accessories. There are plenty of antique shops, especially at the bottom of Mermaid Street, where you'll find French tinware and Sixties kitsch as well as traditional pieces. But if something modern is more your bag, then Jako Interiors sells classic furniture by Jacobsen, Eames and Mies van der Rohe. The best nosh is at the super-chic George Hotel. Locally caught scallops are a favourite in many of Rye's other restaurants and delicious home-made cakes are to be sniffed out at Simon the Pieman in Lion Street.

Green & Pleasant?

The word "picturesque" was invented for Rye. Most of the town is tightly packed together with glorious views from many of the streets. The river Rother meanders around the town's walls, and it's only a few minutes out beyond the fortified walls where, in late spring, you'll find sea kale on the shingle ridges of the harbour.

Do The Schools Make The Grade?

St Michael's CofE gets excellent results at primary level and Thomas Peacocke secondary school is near the town centre. Other options include Homewood school in Tenterden (11 miles) and Buckswood in Guestling (seven miles). Both are good mixed private schools.

What's Nearby?

Local trains take you to Ashford in 20 minutes, picking up connections to London or Paris/Lille/Brussels via the Channel Tunnel. When the new Eurostar high-speed link opens, you'll be in London within the hour. An annual season ticket to London costs £3,132. Towns nearby include up-and-coming Hastings, quaint Tenterden and historic Battle. The beaches at Cooden and Winchelsea are pebbled whilst Camber Sands is better for buckets and spades. Surreal Dungeness is good for blowing the cobwebs away and the surrounding reclaimed marshland is dotted with pretty villages, lonely churches and empty footpaths, perfect for a long walk.