South East

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Dreaming spires, chalk white cliffs and glorious sunshine could best describe the South East of England. Not least its area's proximity to London and the fringe benefits of the capital's road, rail and air connections. Also a few inspirational conference venues from universities to purpose built centres and former airports.

Few venues are just as inspirational as the University of Oxford. Its wealth of departments and colleges from the Ashmolean Museum to Wycliffe Hall are flexible enough to accommodate all delegates from 20 to 450. Oxford is a pleasant city dominated by its university with other attractions including its castle and the River Thames.

The South East of England is not without its rural conference venues. Some of which have appeared on television such as Highclere Castle. The Jacobethan house - also known to millions of viewers as 'Downton Abbey' - plays host to a number of corporate events. If your ideal conference is in the company of Rolls Royces, James Bond's Aston Martin or Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird, Beaulieu Abbey, and the National Motor Museum is an absolute must. Tailor made tours and corporate events are catered for, either in Lord Montagu's Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey or The Domus as well as the museum.

In Surrey, Sussex and Kent, there is quite a number of stately homes and castles, with Arundel Castle, Petworth House and St. Augustine's Abbey to name a few. Lovers of maritime history will be placated by Southampton, Portsmouth and Chatham. Southampton was historically seen as The Gateway to the World with ferry services to Lisbon and Casablanca among others. It has historically been a centre for cruise ships, and remains so today.

Portsmouth's maritime history is commemorated by some famous ships; H.M.S. Warrior, Mary Rose and H.M.S. Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship. Its historical dockyard is a major tourist attraction, with its ships and museums also conference venues themselves. If you wish to take a different view of Portsmouth, the Spinnaker Tower offers unrivalled views. Not only of the city centre, but also The Solent and the Isle of Wight. To commemorate some special days, the tower is lit in different colours other than the usual white.

Another place known for its maritime history is Chatham, Kent. Its historic dockyard was the birthplace of H.M.S. Victory. Today, its dry docks and ship building slips have been restored and form part of a museum complex, including a Victorian ropery. The Royal Dockyard Church and the Commissioner's House are used as wedding and conference venues.

Religious history is well represented in the South East by Canterbury Cathedral. Founded in 597, the present building dates from 1070 and is in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1170, the murder of Thomas Becket and his martyrdom made the Cathedral a place of pilgrimage. Part of the cathedral's precinct includes the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, which is one of Canterbury's most central of conference venues and a hotel.

No mention of 'The Sunny South' is complete without reference to its seaside resorts. Close to Canterbury, the harbour town of Whitstable is a popular spot for artists and seafarers. Its harbour is known for oysters, fish processing and boat storage. Further east on the Isle of Thanet are the three resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. A recent attraction to Margate is the Turner Contemporary art gallery, available for hire with stunning views of the English Channel. For somewhere more unusual, why not hire the Shell Grotto, an underground attraction decked with exotic shells?

Broadstairs retains its Victorian charm, resembling a fishing village. It was a favourite resort of Charles Dickens between 1837 and 1859. Neighbouring Ramsgate is noted for its sands and maritime heritage being one of the ancient Cinque Ports. Its cross-Channel ferries have shifted to Dover, known for its white cliffs and castle. Its neighbour, Folkestone, saw its ferries supplanted by Eurotunnel. Today, it is the preserve of Le Shuttle's car carrying service to Calais.

The Sussex coast is dominated by four resorts: Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton and Worthing. All four have excellent conference venues in local theatres, public halls and purpose built conference centres. Hastings is characterised by its castle, its picturesque Old Town, cliff lifts and lengthy promenade. West of the town is St. Leonards on Sea, its immediate neighbour designed in Victorian times by Decimus Burton.

Eastbourne is an attractive resort noted for its Carpet Gardens, well preserved pier, purpose built bandstand and its theatres. It remains a popular resort for holidaymakers and delegates of all ages. The Devonshire Park Centre and Eastbourne Centre are among the resort's most popular conference venues. 

Only 21 miles west of Eastbourne is Brighton, an internationally famous stop on the conference circuit. The Brighton Centre, a purpose built venue, was a regular haunt on the party political conference circuit. It remains a popular seaside resort with a wealth of attractions, shops, the Palace Pier and a long pebbly beach. No visit to Brighton's complete without a tour of the Royal Pavilion. Designed by John Nash, it was a former royal residency for King George the Fourth. Another seaside resort famed for its pier is Worthing. Most of it was rebuilt in the 1930s in the Streamline Moderne style, a cousin of the Art Deco movement.

Further inland, the South East of England is dominated by the North Downs, South Downs and the New Forest. The chalk hills that make up the Downs act as a natural boundary between Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Over in Surrey, the city of Guildford, Croydon and Camberley is well represented in terms of conference venues. Croydon has The Fairfield Halls, a favoured venue for delegates and musicians. The original London Airport - in the same town - is a superb conference venue with a nearby hotel.

For sporting entertainment, the South East of England is blessed with numerous racecourses, all of which excellent conference venues in their own right. These include Royal Ascot, Sandown Park, Goodwood, Fontwell Park, Windsor and Newbury to name a few. Association Football is well represented with Southampton, Portsmouth, Gillingham and Brighton and Hove Albion among the South East's main footballing sides.

By rail, the South East of England has unrivalled connections with London termini. There is regular through cross-London services from Milton Keynes to Brighton, and numerous commuter services from Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. The High Speed One line offers fast connections with Kent as well as via Eurostar to Paris Nord and Brussels. Its main airports are London Heathrow, just inside the M25 motorway, London Gatwick and Southampton.

Whether you're attracting delegates from Camberley or Calais, or London, to say there's plenty of conference venues to choose from is quite an understatement.

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