Chichester has all the ingredients for the perfect weekend getaway: the rolling hills of the South Downs, vistas of the Solent, the stretch of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland, some of England's best-preserved historic buildings, and the lavish Goodwood estate and racecourse. Plus there's good shopping and one of the country's flagship repertory theatres.
But the Royal Oak offers another reason to visit these parts - good food. A past winner of Les Routiers Inn of the Year, it is a top-end gastro-pub with rooms, offering a comfortable, cheery feel, blending the rural beauty of its surroundings with 21st-century luxury.
A wonderful Grade II-listed, 200-year-old inn, it's on the old coach road to London, two miles north of the ancient Roman city, set in beautiful Sussex countryside.
The comfort factor
The six rooms are spread between the inn itself and the flint cottage and renovated barn that stand behind it. (The owners are currently fitting out two further cottages on the site, which will be ready for guests by July.) Rooms are relatively small, but welcoming and cosy, with the spacious flint cottage the biggest of the bunch, sleeping up to four. The inn faces on to a road, but it is a quiet rural thoroughfare, snaking through the village of East Lavant. The main building has a modern rustic look: think wooden floors, exposed brickwork, leather sofas and an open fire. There is a well-conceived terrace at the front and side of the building, which is wonderful for breakfast on a summer's morning, or a nice pint of local ale in the early evening.
Small. Ours didn't even have a bath, but it did have a good power shower and L'Occitane toiletries.
The food and drink
Fantastic. The Royal Oak has six full-time chefs and serves traditional British cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Particularly recommended is the fresh lobster cocktail - caught down the road at Selsey - and the slow-roasted shank of lamb in rosemary and red-wine sauce. The sea bass and scallops served with roasted sweet potato and salsa verde is also a winner. In addition to the menu, specials on the blackboard change twice a day, with the average three-course meal plus wine costing around £35 a head. The bar also hosts some fantastic beers - plenty of locals drink here, which is always a good sign. Try a pint of Badgers, Tanglefoot or Sussex Best - all from the keg.
Mainly Londoners escaping for the weekend. Couples and families.
There are two areas of outstanding natural beauty within easy reach - The South Downs and Chichester Harbour. One of the highlights of the latter is the pretty hamlet of Bosham, which features in the Bayeux Tapestry and is supposedly where King Canute made his infamous attempt to conquer the waves. Chichester itself has a remarkably intact Roman wall encircling it, and a striking 11th-century Norman cathedral, renowned for its modern art. Just outside the city is Fishbourne Roman Palace - the largest Roman home found north of the Alps. Another must-see is the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, home to 50 historic buildings from as early as the 13th century, each painstakingly taken apart and rebuilt there.
Child-friendly, with cots provided. Access is difficult if you have limited mobility.
Doubles start at £90 a night, with the flint cottage costing £130 on Fridays and Saturdays. Minimum of two nights' stay at weekends.
The Royal Oak, Pook Lane, East Lavant, Chichester, West Sussex (01243 527434, thesussexpub.co.uk). For more info call Chichester Tourist Information (01243 775888; visitchichester.org).
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