Fine time for a trip to Austen country
Jane Austen’s house is now a museum
Astonishingly, when Jane Austen was laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral in 1817, only four people attended the funeral. Today thousands would line the streets in homage. And 200 years on, there's no let-up in the commemoration of the nation's favourite literary daughter.
The village of Chawton in her native Hampshire has been celebrating the bicentenary of her arrival in 1809. The 17th-century house where she lived and wrote is now a museum, newly equipped with an interactive education centre, and the anniversary programme continues this year with recitals and family workshops, while Jane Austen Regency Week runs in Chawton and neighbouring Alton, from June 19 to 27.
Winchester Cathedral opens an Austen exhibition in April, with a series of events including a summer Regency Ball. Devotees of the queen of costume drama can book guided tours or short breaks with Winchester tourist office.
The 900-year-old cathedral remains one of the country's ecclesiastical landmarks, the great rock around which the currents of life flow in this historic city. Its treasures range from the 12th-century illuminated Winchester Bible to Sound II, Anthony Gormley's arresting sculpture in the crypt. Throughout the year the cathedral green hosts fairs and markets including a food and wine fest on the May Day weekend and a street performers' festival in early July.
You can amble through the narrow streets to a busker singing of maids and swains and stop for refreshments at James Martin's deli or Montezuma, the organic chocolatiers. In the Great Hall, King Arthur's Round Table hangs on a wall like a dartboard for myopic knights: though no relic of Camelot, it is nonetheless of 700-year vintage. But all that recalls the prosperous medieval Jewish community that once lived in the city is a street sign - Jewry Street, now site of the local Brasserie Blanc.
A half-hour drive away, Tylney Hall in Hook offers all the traditional pleasures of a country house hotel: decorous lounges, acres of restful park and gardens, good food and friendly staff. The lawns roll to the countryside through a boulevard of redwoods, there is a heated outdoor pool as well as indoor spa and, after cocktails and dinner, you can walk down to the water gardens, lit up like an enchanted grove at night.
For children, Thorpe Park and Legoland theme parks are a 45-minute drive away.
Tylney Hall Hotel (01256 764881; www.tylneyhall.com) has double rooms from £210 per night. Stay two nights for the price of one until March 31 if you dine both nights in the Oak Room Restaurant.