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The magic of Mersea Island

The tiny estuary island of Mersea is a place of pilgrimage for seafood fans and families who love its old-world charms. But, as Essex girl Joanne O’Connor discovers, it’s even better when the day trippers go home

If you’ve heard of Mersea and you’re not from Essex, the chances are it’s because of the Company Shed. Until it was discovered by restaurant critics seven or eight years ago, this unassuming seafood shack, on the shores of a muddy creek, was something of an insider’s secret. For the natives of east London and Essex who converged on this small estuary island at the weekend, it was a place of pilgrimage where they would eat their own bodyweight in oysters, rollmops and prawns, then high-tail it back across the Strood – the ancient Roman causeway that links Mersea to the mainland – before sunset.

I grew up in Essex and the seafood run to Mersea is a well-established family ritual. But like most of the day trippers who visit, I’ve never ventured much beyond the harbour in West Mersea where the yacht club, lifeboat station and a handful of cafés and pubs are clustered. I suspected Mersea had more to offer than half-a-dozen Colchester Natives and a glass of white wine, but it seemed too close to home to justify a longer stay.

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Stylish holiday destinations in eastern Europe

Whether it’s on the coast or in the countryside, eastern Europe – Romania, Montenegro, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia – offers tempting locations for any type of holiday

Romania has plenty of beautiful farm buildings and a strong folk craft history, which means there are some gorgeous places to stay in rural locations. Casa Palaga is a very special wooden self-catering house sleeping four in deep countryside in the Maramures area, with views of the Rodna mountains and over the border into Ukraine. Set in a clearing surrounded by trees and grass, the house is full of lovely old wooden furniture. It’s booked until September, but could be good for a late summer break. From €440 a week, or €70 a night (min three night stay). Or try Casa Cosma (homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p2002080), nearby, a similar wooden farmhouse, sleeping four, from €65 a night, min three-night stay.

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