As soon as September appears, our thoughts turn immediately to weekend getaways in the countryside - lazy breakfasts, cosy pubs, chic boltholes, forest walks, all with a crunch underfoot and a nip in the air. All it takes is a little bit of planning now, and you could be toasting your tootsies by the fireside as the leaves start to fall. Our three choices are all around 90 minutes from London by car or train, so they're perfect for visitors and locals alike.
Arundel, West Sussex
The West Sussex market town of Arundel lies deep in the South Downs about fifty miles southwest of London. With its riverside setting, imposing Gothic cathedral and perfectly manicured cricket pitch within the grounds of the Norman castle, it's not hard to see why its touted as one of the prettiest towns in the south of England.
There are lots of reasons to loiter in the town itself. Some wonderfully disarranged secondhand book shops are housed in the ancient timbered buildings of the high street, there's a decent monthly farmer's market, and you won't want to miss Belinda's, a 16th century tea room where the ceilings are so low you practically have to crawl in on your hands and knees. But despite all that, it would be a shame to miss out on the surrounding countryside.
Arundel sits just within the southern boundary of the newly inaugurated South Downs National Park, the newest in England, and the 99-mile South Downs Way long-distance walking trail runs just to the north of town, offering some of the finest rural views in all of the UK. Nearby villages like Burpham and Slindon offer yet more options for pub roasts and fireside pints, and if the sight of Arundel castle brings out your inner Rapunzel then bed down in the village of Amberley, five miles north, because the equally beautiful Amberley Castle just happens to be a luxury hotel.
Arundel can be reached in 1 hr 30 mins by a direct train from London Victoria.
To the uninitiated, Hungerford may be better known for an infamous incident in its recent past than its glorious setting alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, but this small medieval Berkshire town, packed with antique shops and traditional pubs, is a great base for exploring the truly idyllic countryside which surrounds it.
This is real Thomas Hardy country - Hungerford is sometimes mooted as being the town of 'Kennetbridge' in Jude the Obscure - and within a few miles there are the kind of villages that you actually do see on the front of chocolate boxes, like Chilton Foliat, Axford and Ramsbury, as well as easily accessible walks along the canal or up onto the beautiful rolling Lambourn Downs, below the famous horse racing village of Lambourn.
For a unique, historic and thoroughly regal place to stay, try luxurious Littlecote House Hotel just to the west of town. This Grade I listed Elizabethan country pile was the scene of Henry VIII's introduction to Jane Seymour, his third unlucky bride. Perhaps best not to mention this if you're planning any kind of proposal while you stay there...
Hungerford is just over an hour away by train, direct from London Paddington
The county town of Warwickshire, Warwick is one of the most ancient towns in England with a fine Georgian centre, a high street full of independent boutiques and galleries, and one of the country's finest castles as its major selling point. Built by William the Conqueror and now branded as 'Britain's Ultimate', Warwick Castle sits on a cliff above the River Avon and is one of the region's major tourist attractions. It hosts numerous events throughout the year - jousting, medieval banquets, highwayman suppers - and its 60 acres of gardens invite relaxed strolling.
Warwick is more than just a pleasant provincial town and castle however. It has been gaining a reputation as a bit of a foodie destination in recent years, with fresh new restaurants and cafes taking root, especially along Smith Street and Jury Street. Try the much-loved Aubergine for speciality Turkish food , or Catalan for tapas on Jury Street. For great fresh, seasonal food and somewhere to stay, check out The Lazy Cow, a New York-inspired steak and ale house with 16 large and quirky rooms.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.