Joining the ranks of established wine producers like Ridgeview, the arrival of a substantial new vineyard Ė Rathfinny, just outside Alfriston Ė has boosted the parkís reputation as a winemaking region to be reckoned with. Hampshire and Sussex already produce some great small-batch vintages with distinctive orchard or elderflower flavours. The English Wine Centre stocks an excellent range.
Re-skilling in ancient country lore may still be niche, but itís catching on fast. Experts are on hand to teach you how to plan a route using a map, compass and observation skills, throw a pot or expand your foraging know-how beyond blackberry picking. The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a good place to start, with craft skills, rural trades and Tudor cooking demonstrations.
Somewhat overshadowed by its grand near-neighbour, Petworth, just ten miles away, Parham is a charming manor house, set in a deer park, with beautiful walled gardens, tended by passionate horticulturalists. Fresh flowers from the cutting beds fill the elegant public rooms with colour.
The beautiful countryside between Lewes and Alfriston was a source of great inspiration for Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf and their Bloomsbury Group associates. Their creative legacy lives on at Charleston Farmhouse in Firle, St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick, The Monkís House in Rodmell and in the regionís many artistic and literary festivals.
Youíll feel on top of the world on this magnificent National Trail Ė the only such trail entirely within a national park. Around 160km long, itís easy to break into chunks. It follows the spine of the Downs from Winchester to Eastbourne, with an extra loop at the Sussex Heritage Coast. It was Englandís first bridleway National Trail; walkers, cyclists and horse riders can all enjoy it.
Diving into a quaint little pub to get cosy after a winter walk, or chilling out in a flower-filled beer garden on a warm, sunny day Ė these are quintessential South Downs National Park experiences. The park doesnít do chain pubs plugging alcopops. Expect low beams, inglenook fireplaces, real ale, tasty food, woodsmoke, muddy boots and dogs.
Ancient woodlands nestle on the chalk hills and lowlands, golden in autumn and ringing with birdsong in spring, when bluebells carpet the ground. Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve is a particularly Tolkienesque experience of gnarled and twisted trees, or try the evocatively named Serpent Trail on the Black Down, whose hills and heathers have inspired poets and dreamers, including Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Set in a 700-acre park, Petworth is rightly famous for its grand scale and its outstanding collection of paintings, sculptures and decorative features. These include works by JMW Turner, which form part of what the National Trust describes as its finest collection of pictures. It also gives you a glimpse into the mechanics of 18th and 19th century life below stairs (or, in this case, across the courtyard).
You really donít need to bring your car to the South Downs National Park, let alone use it to get around. With a little planning and patience, you can have a brilliant time getting around by train, bike or on foot. Bus services are decent, particularly in the east of the park. Staff at local accommodation options are usually clued up about routes and can offer advice.
Visitors who donít keep to designated rights of way can cause erosion and disturb wildlife and livestock. The same applies to any drivers who practice illegal off-roading. With so many outdoor activities on offer here, why choose one thatís noisy and polluting? To enjoy the National Park without having to follow any trail, look for the Open Access Land signs or the orange areas on OS Explorer maps.
The South Downs may be a wonderful place for dog walkers Ė but in order to keep it so, owners should be responsible and respectful. This includes keeping dogs under control or on lead around livestock Ė especially at lambing time; picking up after the dog and not disturbing wildlife such as ground-nesting birds.
A small minority think itís cool to off-road into the park and blow the tranquility to bits with loud music and litter. We donít. Thankfully, antisocial gatherings are rare, but those that have taken place have damaged the environment and raised hackles in the community. The 2014 illegal rave at Devilís Dyke, for example, will take the rare chalk grassland up to a decade to recover from.