You’ve just finished a Calippo, had a lunchtime cider and staggered towards the tube in shorts and flip flops – and not a green leaf in site. You stumble onto a packed train and instantly lose ten pints of water, face buried in the pungent pits of a Bulgarian banker. You could go to the city’s myriad museums this weekend to grab a piece of the ancient world – but why not escape the madness of the metropolis, and get your fix outside the city limits? Three beautiful Roman villas are waiting for you with open arms, and stunning scenery. All you have to do is jump on a train (or car – or even bicycle if you’re feeling really intrepid/suicidal). Not only will you be able to breathe easy once again, but you’ll also get a slice of daily Roman life you can’t get from looking inside dusty cabinets.
1. Lullingstone Roman Villa, near Eynsford, Kent
Located only a stone’s throw from the M25 and 45 minutes from London Victoria, Eynsford is a stunning little town which exudes Kentish charm (I should know, it’s pretty near where I’m from), and houses no small number of great beer gardens (essential for the summer sun). Yet it’s Lullingstone Villa, half a mile down the road, which provides the area’s most intrigue. A second century AD luxury pad, the villa is thought to have once housed the family of Pertinax, the Roman governor of Britannia who briefly took the Roman leadership in 193. Its impressive surroundings hold mosaics, busts and other artwork. However it’s the villa’s chapel – first pagan, then Christian – which provides some stunning history up close and personal, and is thought to have been one of Britannia’s first Christian chapels. Kids can also try on Roman clothes, or play some ancient games.
2. Brading Roman Villa, Brading, Isle of Wight
How about a break from the mainland? Brading Roman Villa is a fantastic museum which chronicles the villa’s history as an Iron Age settlement, to its 2nd century ADglory as a huge Roman residence, resplendent with the villa proper, mosaics, garden area and farm buildings. If you’re with children there’s plenty of activities to keep them occupied, and schools can go on guided tours of the premises. Brading is a great way to learn about everyday life nearly two thousand years ago – and the beaches aren’t half bad, either.
3. Chedworth Villa, Gloucestershire
Many people will be making the most of the sun to speed off towards the natural beauty and serenity of the West Country. So why not combine your stay with a visit to one of the country’s most picturesque ancient sites? Chedworth Roman Villa, located in the stunning village of the same name near Cheltenham, was found completely by accident by a gamekeeper in 1864. Since then it has fallen into the hands of the National Trust, who have painstakingly restored it to some of its former glory. Its floorplan includes hypocausts, a water-shrine, latrine, two mosaics and several fine mosaics – and there’s no small number of activities, tours and events run throughout the year by its owners.
So there’s three reasons to get out of the city this weekend – do you really need any more?