West Sussex landscape flickr PhillipCCastles and countryside—this is West Sussex, a county situated south of England, sharing borders with Royal Navy birthplace Hampshire and quintessential English seaside resort Brighton.  It is determinedly quieter than its neighbors, and in this way, it is a perfect respite from all the seaside action if you feel you’ve had enough.  Plenty of walking and cycling trails, with interesting detours to keep you occupied for a whole day, as well as castles and stately houses to gawk silently at.

Chichester Cathedral interior stained glass refractions flickr PhillipCPresently a wealthy market town, Chichester (pop. 27,500) is a former Roman settlement, and you can still see this history in the symmetry of the town centre, which reflects the Roman cruciform street plan.  In fact, many of the ancient city walls are still intact, and the octagonal rotunda Market Cross is still around, and is where the streets all branch out from.  The administrative capital of West Sussex, Chichester is the perfect balance of historically dignified and sophisticatedly cosmopolitan.

Chichester Cathedral (Cathedral Green, +44 1243 782595, free).  The history of this Gothic cathedral, with its iconic 19th century spire, dates back to the 1070s when it was first constructed.  It was to be rebuilt a century later because of a fire.  Several years that followed saw the addition of several other parts, such as the unique bell tower which was added in the 15th century.

Its interiors are surprisingly modern.  They include a glass stained window made by Chagall, and a huge altar screen tapestry crafted by John Piper.  Near the tapestry you will find the best Romanesque stone carvings in England which were created in the 1100s.  They are reliefs depicting Lazarus and Christ in Bethany, with semiprecious stones for eyes.  The cathedral also houses the tomb that led Philip Larkin to write the poem, “An Arundel Tomb”.

Pallant House Gallery (9 North Pallant, +44 1243 774557, free)
Don’t let the Georgian exteriors fool you—this is a gallery housing contemporary British art.  It, in fact, has one of the best collections of 20th century British art in the world, with a few Picassos and Cezannes thrown in for good measure.  If you’re lucky, you might catch one of the themed guided tours that the gallery offers free of charge.

Fishbourne Roman Palace flickr rhinoFishbourne Roman Palace (Salthill Road, Fishbourne, +44 1243 789829, £7.60).  A bus ride west of Chichester, this relic is the best preserved palace that dates back from the Roman times.  It is thought to have been built around 75 AD, and was discovered by workmen in 1960.  It is not quite certain how the palace was utilized or who utilized it, as it looks as though it may have been partly rebuilt during different eras.  Notice the well-preserved floor mosaics depicting the famous dolphin riding cupid.  For a more interactive educational experience, there is the audiovisual presentation of the palace as it had been during the Roman period. 

Ship Hotel
(57 North St., +44 1243 778 000, £99).   This is the best place to stay in Chichester, but its 36 rooms can vary greatly from each other.  Most rooms are clean and fresh, and the meals at the all-day brasserie are an added treat.  

Millstream Hotel (Bosham Lane, +44 1243 573234, £145).  Located in a quiet and picturesque village, Millstream Hotel fits right in with its pretty cottage house neighbors.  Its manicured gardens and the views of South Downs and Bosham Harbour seem well-worth the price of this independent hotel.  The rooms are all well-appointed and comfortable.

Petworth House flickr humbert15 Pretty little Petworth (pop. 2,300), located 12 miles northeast of Chichester, is best known for Petworth House (+44 1798 34392, £10.90).  It isn’t just a huge stately house standing on a whopping 700-acre park.  It houses an impressive art collection—from JMW Turner (who was a frequent visitor), Van Dyck, William Blake, Bosch, and Gainsborough, just to name a few.  This extraordinary collection was started in the 17th century. 

Aside from the art collection, the house itself is a work of art, especially the grand staircase surrounded by murals done by Louis Laguerre, and the Carved Room, where the full-length portrait of Henry VIII is displayed, and where the wooden relief carvings created by Grinling Gibbons are.  The Servants’ Quarters are also a sight to behold.  You need to go through a tunnel which connects the quarters to the house, and here you will find state-of-the-art kitchenware during the 1870s.

Another great “art work” here is the landscape designed by Capability Brown on the deer park that surrounds the house.  It is thought to be his best work, and has inspired works by JMW Turner on his visits here.

Petworth House is located fifteen minutes away from the Pulborough train station, where a bus goes to Petworth Square every hour.

Bignor Medusa Mosaic Located at the base of South Downs just six miles north of Arundel, the Bignor Roman Villa (Bignor, Pulborough, +44 1798 869259, £5.50) houses some of the most extensive ruins of Roman settlement in England.  It was discovered in the early 1800s by a farmer.  The floor mosaics are surprisingly well-preserved, depicting Venus, gladiators, and the best of the lot, Ganymede carried by an eagle.  It also features remains of a hypocaust, which is a type of underfloor heating system invented by the Romans.  These remains have been protected for two hundred years by Georgian buildings.

Surrounding the villa is the farm that has been in the hands of the Tupper family for years.  It is smack dab in the middle of South Downs.

Arundel with castleOne wouldn’t be surprised, upon arriving in hilltop Arundel (pop- 3,300), if a fairy-tale princess came traipsing through the streets and singing, because that is exactly what this town looks like—a fairy tale setting.  With streets that seem to radiate out of the Arundel Castle, this town is very pretty, and perhaps one of the least spoiled towns in South East England.  It also helps that it lies right at the heart of South Downs.

Arundel Castle (+44 1903 882173, £7.50).   Initially built in 1068, the castle that can now be seen jutting out in the middle of the town is a product of a major reconstruction that started in the 18th century, as a result of its destruction during the Civil War. The only Norman structure that remains is the keep, from the top of which you get a great view of the Norfolk duke’s residence and the castle grounds. Inside, you will find a collection of paintings by Gainsborough and Van Dyck in the library. 

Venture outside the castle and onto the grounds, and you will find in the fourteenth century Fitzalan Chapel the tombs of the former dukes of Norfolk.

Arundel Cathedral (Parsons Hill, +44 1903 882297).   The Catholic parish church of Arundel, Arundel Cathedral was built largely through the efforts of the Howard family, who are rank just below the royal family in the Peerage of England.  Though its architectural style leans toward the French Gothic, it was only built in 1868 when, after forty years of suppression of Roman Catholic faith in England, the ban was lifted.  Henry Fitzalan-Howard, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, was the one who commissioned architect Joseph Hansom to create the spire that could act as counterpart to the Arundel Castle. 

April Cottage Bed and Breakfast
(Crossbush Lane, +44 1903 885401, £80).   Very homey and cozy, April Cottage is a few minutes away from the centre of the town but easily found.  The rooms are comfortable and have all the modern amenities one expects from a respectable B&B.

Arundel House Rooms (11 High St., +44 1903 882136,£95-120).   Centrally located, Arundel House Rooms has all the amenities of a boutique hotel, with the intimateness of a cozy B&B.  Its five rooms are pristine, contemporary with character.  The staff remembers the littlest details about the wants of a guest.  The breakfast menu is also extensive and delicious.

The Town House (65 High St., +44 1903 883847, £120).   Formerly a Regency town house, this Georgian B&B has intricately decorated rooms and affords guests a great view of both the Castle and the South Downs.