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58km (36 miles) SE of London; 53km (33 miles) NE of Brighton

Dudley Lord North, courtier to James I, is credited with the accidental discovery in 1606 of the mineral spring that led to the creation of a fashionable resort, Royal Tunbridge Wells. Over the years, "Chalybeate Spring" became known for its curative properties, the answer for everything from too many days of wine and roses to failing sexual prowess. It's still possible to take the waters today.

The spa resort reached its peak in the mid-18th century under the foppish patronage of Beau Nash (1674-1761), a dandy and final arbiter on how to act, what to say, and even what to wear (for example, he got men to remove their boots in favor of stockings). Tunbridge Wells continued to enjoy a prime spa reputation up through the reign of Queen Victoria, who used to vacation here as a child, and in 1909 Tunbridge Wells received its Royal status.

Today, the spa is long past its zenith. But the town is a pleasant place to stay -- it can be used as a base for exploring the many historic homes in Kent; it's very easy, for example, to tour Sissinghurst and Chartwell from here.

The most remarkable feature of the town itself is the Pantiles ★, a colonnaded walkway for shoppers, tea drinkers, and diners, built near the wells. If you walk around town, you'll see many other interesting and charming spots. Entertainment is presented at the Assembly Hall (www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk) and Trinity Arts Centre (www.trinitytheatre.net).