Active Retreat - Mountain Biking & Yoga in the South Downs

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Things to do

Birling Gap

Birling Gap Beach

Birling Gap, with acres of shingle and sand is a marvellous beach. Set at the base of the imposing sheer chalk cliffs it is a 15 minute drive from The Star, through a valley in the Seven Sisters. It is one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastlines in East Sussex. Good parking and a café run by the National Trust.

Cuckmere Haven

The village of Alfriston has charming lanes and houses. Among many lovely shops, Much Ado is one of the best bookshops in the country. St Andrew’s Church, on the edge of the Cuckmere, is known as the Cathedral of the Downs. It was built in the 1370s and is now a Grade I listed building with many of its original features intact, including a magnificent wooden spire.

Set off across the South Downs Way in search of sea air from The Star in Alfriston, inspired by the set of beautifully illustrated walks you’ll find in your room. Go armed with a picnic packed by the hotel’s kitchen and fuelled by a breakfast of Sussex gypsy toast with whipped Northiam Dairy cream and Cuckmere honey. 

Condé Nast Traveller

The Star is a heavenly base for walkers. ‘There are walks in every direction; short, long, high and low, level along the bends of the Cuckmere River towards the sea, steep on the Downs and cliffs above. There is nowhere more glorious to walk so close to London.


These unbeatable natural attractions are matched above all by Glyndebourne, the Christie family opera house only ten miles away. It is one of the best and most beautiful small opera houses in the world; its music is always superb and picnics on the lawn in the interval are unforgettable.

The Star can provide picnics or full hampers whether you are walking on The Downs or going to Glyndebourne.


Even closer is Charleston, an exquisite little cottage and garden where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant entertained the Bloomsbury Set in the 1930s and 40s. The cottage is decorated with murals, mostly by Duncan Grant himself, and is a time capsule of that artistic and literary age.

Other lovely houses to visit in the area include Glynde Place, in the village of Glynde, and the magnificent Firle Place, still the home of the Gage family and open for large parts of the year. Firle is a wonderful, if strenuous, walk from The Star.

The changing climate has made Sussex perfect for vineyards, and more and more vintages are produced, improving all the time. Alfriston itself has a huge new vineyard, Rathfinny, and its sparkling wine has won many awards.

Of the local towns, Lewes is the best preserved and loveliest, with many unusual shops climbing a steep hill to the castle at the crown of the town. Brighton, raffish as always, is a lively seaside town with beautiful Regency crescents and George III’s Pavilion.

Visit all these places, then come home for tea or a glass or two at The Star.

Berwick Church

From Alfriston walk the Vanguard Way to reach this sacred site on the hilltop. It’s the 20th-century murals that draw most visitors to this place. They are quite simply outstanding. Painted during the Second World War by Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin Bell, the murals continued, or perhaps revived a long tradition of painted interiors in Sussex churches. Inspired by the frescoes of Renaissance Italy.

Lullington Church

On a hillside nearby, in the midst of a wood, there stands Lullington Church, one of the smallest in England. There is a mystery about this tiny flint chapel. It owes its diminutive size to the fact that all that is left of it is its chancel. No one knows how, when, or why? 

Farleys farmhouse

Lee Miller and Roland Penrose moved to the Sussex countryside to live at Farleys in 1949. For the 35 years that followed, they filled their home with a collection of contemporary art treasures and were visited by some of the key personalities of 20th century art.

Eric Ravilious, Lighthouses at Newhaven, 1935. Towner Eastbourne.

Towner Eastbourne

Collecting and exhibiting contemporary art for almost 100 years, Towner Eastbourne sits where the coast and the South Downs meet. Towner’s collection of almost 5000 works is best known for its modern British art – including the largest and most significant body of work by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942).


For families with young children, Drusillas Park is on the edge of Alfriston and is a must – It has a zoo, where children can even feed the penguins, and a popular theme park.  Middle Farm, with its play barn, farm shop and farm animals for the children to meet, also provides an excellent diversion for little ones.  Knockhatch Adventure Park has indoor and outdoor play areas as well as a children’s farm.  For a more low-key day out, head to one of the numerous nearby beaches, and don’t forget to pop into The Gelato Famoso Ice Cream Parlour on Marine Parade in Eastbourne for a decadent sundae on the way back.


Cinema Screenings

at The Towner Eastbourne

Cinema Screenings

at The Depot, Lewes

Devonshire Park Theatre


Charleston Festival

22-29 Jun

Rothesay International Eastbourne

18-21 Jul

Festival of the Garden

at Charleston



7-22 Sept

Artwave Festival

Rathfinny Estate Tour


Glynde Place Concert Series