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Britain’s ‘happiest place to live’ busts the January blues

 (Richmond.gov.uk/)
(Richmond.gov.uk/)

There’s no such thing as Blue Monday, that pervasive marketing myth that dubs January’s third Monday the most depressing day of the year. Yet most of us would agree that the first month of the year can be a right slog.

We’re freezing cold, ill, broke and failing to keep any of our new year’s resolutions. What better way to bust the blues than by visiting what was recently voted Britain’s happiest place to live, Richmond upon Thames.

The leafy London suburb topped the latest annual “Happy at Home” index by Rightmove, which asks people to rate how they feel about their local area. Richmond’s residents cited a strong sense of belonging and unparalleled access to nature as key factors contributing to their high happiness scores.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are a short hop from Richmond bus station (get on the 93 bus and get off at Lion Gate), and the moment you step inside the walled gardens Tfl becomes a distant memory. Explore the iconic glasshouses; the Palm House is like a rainforest, the Temperate House is home to the never-not-funny sausage tree, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory has carnivorous plants.

Kids in tow? The Natural Area is home to a life-size badger set to explore, while the Children’s Garden is a full day out on its own. Designed for two to 12 year olds, it’s the size of 40 tennis courts filled with climbing frames, wooded areas, trampolines, slides, sandpits and hidden treasures, all set around a 4m high canopy walk wrapped around a 200-year-old oak (kew.org). The adjacent restaurant the Family Kitchen is fab, too.

Bus is back to Richmond proper and take a stroll along the twinkling, bulb-festooned river path towards Richmond Park. You’ll pass the historic water meadow, which famously forms part of a William Turner landscape, and if you’re lucky there might even be cows grazing. Recharge with cuppa, or a cocktail, at the must-visit garden emporium Petersham Nurseries.

Afterwards steel yourself to climb the epic Richmond Hill. Pass through kissing gates and paddocks to reach the very top, where you’ll be rewarded with views across the river and vast open skies. Sitting park-side ready to welcome you is the Harbour Hotel, a brilliantly bright 18th-century Georgian property which has been lovingly transformed into a luxe spa and buzzy hang-out.

Refuel at the hotel’s terrace eatery The Gate, which serves up special versions on classics, such as the seafood burger, £21, which is bursting with cod, crab and prawns, alongside a full kids menu - we loved the proper fish and chips, £8 (harbourhotels.co.uk/richmond)

 (Richmond Harbour Hotel)
(Richmond Harbour Hotel)

It’s often the less tangible things that people deem to be the most significant factors that contribute to wellbeing. In Richmond there’s a strong sense of community spirit, people seem genuinely happy to be here.

Its a vibe reflected in the Richmond-based TV show Ted Lasso (encouraging us all to believe again, y’all). Indeed, the series has proved to be a rich source of travel inspiration. Expedia’s ‘set-jetting’ data reveals that searches for Richmond increased by 160% after season two of Ted Lasso aired. American fans accounted for 65% of searches, followed by Australians, Canadians, us Brits and the Japanese.

The Richmond that Ted Lasso lives in is fully accessible for fans, and pounding the pavement to tick off some of the show’s sights is not only free, but also that rare thing of an experience that actually lives up to expectations. Seek out Ted’s home, 9½ Paved Court road, down an Insta-magnet alleyways, with neighbouring picturesque cafes, bakeries and pubs. You can call one of the flats home for the night, check out Vrbo for heaps of accommodation ideas.

There’s a thriving independent business and restaurant scene, all within easy walking distance. Visit cult local favourite Thai Upon Thames, family owned and run for over 27 years, for a feast fit for a king.

Sit back with an ice cold Singha beer, £3.95, in the home-from-home surroundings. Not to be missed is the lamb massaman curry with potato comes wrapped with buttery Thai roti, £15.95, and the broccoli with garlic, £7.95, which is so much more than the sum of it’s parts. There’s a full kids menu, as well as dishes with no spice (and those with a lot…) (thaiuponthames.co.uk)

 (Thai Upon Thames)
(Thai Upon Thames)

Richmond is the first London location to claim the top spot in the 12 year history of happiness index. With green spaces comprising of nearly half of the borough, the good life here is open to everyone, so it’s little surprise that it should rank so highly. The only unhappy-making part for visitors is when the time comes to leave.