Hot - Hot - Hot!
The West Dean Chilli Festival

If you like it hot, hot, hot then the Chilli Festival at West Dean in Sussex is just for you. Whether you like to look at them, grow them, eat them or cook with them - West Dean has chillies for every taste and every eventuality.

The Chilli Fiesta, to give it its proper name, had a small beginning.

The Victorian greenhouse in the gardens of West Dean College held only six different varieties of chillies, or hot peppers if you're from across the pond, when the idea of a festival took hold.

From there, it grew to 100 varieties in 1996 to over 250 in 2008. Every conceivable type of chilli is available at the Chilli Festival from the Wild Fire Chilli to the Apache. There's even a Carrot Chilli that looks like a carrot.

Besides the display of chillies there are over 100 stalls offering food tasting, cooking demonstrations, growing tips and exotic dishes like chilli chocolate. And music that plays throughout the day is salsa music, made just for dancing.

West Dean Chilli Festival Greenhouse © essentially-england.comWest Dean Chilli Festival Greenhouse ©

Even if you don't like chillies, the beautiful architecture of West Dean College is well worth a trip. Unlike most schools, this one is quite unique. It teaches a mix of craftsmen, artists, restorers and conservators. There are also people from the building trades, forestry, gardening and farming.

West Dean has a rich history. It was mentioned in the Doomesday Book, the great tax survey commissioned by William the Conquorer, as a hunting park and forest owned by the Dukes of Norfolk and The Earls of Arundel.

The Peachy family rebuilt the original home more than 500 years later, added the orangery, used darker flints to outline the windows and extended the parkland and arboretum.

After numerous face lifts, additions and owners West Dean passed to Edward James, who was a great patron of the arts, leaving the land and the Flint Mansion to his trust devoted to the arts. In 1964, he started the Edward James Foundation that supports artists and craftspeople and the Flint mansion changed to West Dean College in 1971. When he died in 1984, his body was laid to rest in the arboretum.

While you're at the West Dean Gardens visit the Centre houses and sample their home-made lunches. There are also art exhibits in the Sussex Barn Gallery and a tapestry studio where institutions and private buyers can commission works. Even if chillies are not your thing, it is worth the trip to see the beauty of the 6,000-acre estate.

And if you want to test your heat resistance? Then check out the website of West Dean Gardens for dates, tickets and anything else you need to know to make your visit a resounding success.

West Dean Chilli Festival Stall © essentially-england.comWest Dean Chilli Festival Stall ©

Looking for other things to eat after visiting the Chilli Festival?
Try the Food Festivals page!