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The staff working in hotels in Essex try not to heave a tired sigh when guests ask them where the nearest vajazzle salon is. Sure, there are plenty of 5-star and 4-star hotels where you might bump into the TOWIE set, but luckily there are other Essex hotels where a hearty breakfast is more important than an eyebrow weave. So leave your preconceptions at home, grab a map and take the first slip road out of town. You’ll find there’s far more to this misunderstood county than fake tans and French manicures.

Colchester is England’s oldest recorded town and the one-time capital of Roman Britain, so it’s a magnet for history lovers. Colchester Castle is built over the ruins of the Roman Temple to the Divine Claudius, the tower of Holy Trinity Church has its origins in the Saxon period, and traces of medieval architecture survive in the ruins of the Augustinian priory of St Botolph and the Benedictine abbey of St John. The Dutch quarter, formerly colonized by Flemish weavers, houses many Tudor buildings, while the Victorians made their mark with the Town Hall and the iconic "Jumbo" water tower, still one of the most recognizable landmarks on the skyline. Check into one of the town’s boutique hotels and take a walk back in time through the history of England.

History of a more recent era can be experienced at the secret nuclear bunker at Kelvedon Hatch. This huge underground complex was built during the Cold War as a possible regional headquarters for the UK government and, after decommissioning, was opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1992. It retains many of its original features, including its entrance at ground level through an ordinary-looking bungalow surrounded by trees. Why not contrast the privations of life in the bunker with a stay at one of the luxury hotels in the area, where you can shake off the Cold War with a hot bath!

For generations of Londoners, the perfect day out will always be a trip to Southend Pier. This Grade II listed building extends 1.34 miles into the Thames Estuary, making it the longest pleasure pier in the world. Gutted by fires and damaged by accidents, the pier has survived a checkered history and is about to gain a new lease of life with the reconstruction of the pier head and a new pavilion housing a theatre and exhibition space. Ride the train to the end of the line and enjoy the spectacular seascapes before checking into one of the romantic hotels that make England’s traditional seaside resorts so unique..