The summer season without a picnic is like strawberries without cream: possible, but lacking the flourish that makes all the difference. Wearing white tie, black tie, jeans or linen suits, the picnic can be enjoyed en plein air, under a gazebo, by a tree stump or in front of top-quality sport.

It has become the defining activity of the British summer, but has been with us longer than we think. The picnic has its roots in the elaborate hunting feasts that preceded the chase in medieval times. However, the word itself does not emerge out of the lexicographer’s hamper until 1748 – one theory traces its origins to the French verb piquer, meaning pick or peck, with the rhyming ‘nique’ meaning trifle. Whatever its origins, a good picnic needs planning. Writing nearly a century ago, Emma Paddock Telford noted: ‘The pleasure of a picnic depends on the efficiency of its commissary department, and any serious oversight when one is 20 miles from a lemon or any other desired edible is a misfortune hard to bear’. Quite.

In order to avoid pitfalls such as this?and to help you decide what to eat, and where, this summer?we have drawn up the ultimate picnic guide to the best that country and town have to offer.

Sporting events to picnic at

Royal Ascot, Berkshire,


Ascot

Serious picnickers are delighted that Ascot is back in Berkshire. Number 1 car park is still there, and the waiting list for it is down to a mere five years. Arrive early enough to watch the Royal Procession at 2pm. Do bring a picnic tea as well, as you do not want to be leaving straight after the final race at 5.30pm with the rest of the traffic (0870 727 1234; www.royalascot.co.uk).

Eat: Cold rack of lamb

Drink: Bollinger

Wear: Frilly dresses and big hats (they must cover the crown of the head)

WearMen wear morning suits and silk top hats

Cost: On average, 12,500 members pay £300 for a five-day badge for the Royal Enclosure. Junior badges (for those aged 17 to 25 years) cost £180. Royal Ascot is actively encouraging new and younger members; for details, telephone 01344 878476.

Henley Royal Regatta

If you are not a member at Henley, the Bubbly Barn Bar is an excellent spot, and there is parking available at the Remenham Farm car park and Remenham Meadows. If marquees, mahogany tables and silver cutlery are more your thing, ask a member to get you into the hallowed Stewards’ Enclosure between the Leander and Regatta enclosures (01491 572153; www.hrr.co.uk).

Eat: Home-made quiche

Drink: Pimm’s (bring your

own borage)

Wear: Trouser suits or skirts (knees kept covered is the rule at Henley);

blazers and club ties for men

Cost: Up to a 15-year waiting list, but two meetings have been held in the past year to increase the number of memberships, which cost £150 a year.

Burghley Horse Trials

Cross-country day (Saturday) is prime picnic time. This year, the start and finish will move to Ring 2, which makes the ha-ha lawn the place to sit. You can see the house, be in the centre of the action, and the trade stands are close by (01933 304744; www.burghley-horse.co.uk).

Eat: Chicken and ham pie

Drink: Chilean Carmenere

Wear: Cropped trousers, flats, cotton sweaters slung around neck. Good boots and casual trousers, or jeans, for men

Cost: Membership is £120 for the four days of the trials, together with £32 to reserve a picnic space.

Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup Final, Cowdray Park


Ascot

Taking place in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this event guarantees a great picnic spot for all visitors. Members can invite guests to join them in the coveted John Cowdray enclosure, or the Members’ car park, where there are spaces to set up elaborate gazebos (or where you can simply picnic from the back of your car) all a short stroll from the main grandstand. There are also lots of public picnic spots arena-side by the top goal. Get there early to reserve the best view.

Gates open at 10am for the 3pm match (01730 814110; www.cowdraypolo.co.uk).

Eat: Argentinean ‘asado’-style rare beef

Drink: Veuve Clicquot (of course)

Wear: Strappy dresses with wedges (which make it easier to tread in the divots); lightweight suits (or chinos) with cotton polo shirts, for men

Glorious Goodwood, West Sussex

This event is completely geared towards picnicking. The top alfresco dining spot is in the members’ car park number 3 trackside, opposite the finishing post. But with a 10-year waiting list, you might want to consider cultivating ticket-holding friends while you wait. Being on the top of the Sussex Downs, all of the car parks have wonderful views. Visitors can book spaces in the Three Furlong picnic car park, near the starting post, and in car parks 8 and 9, which have views towards the Solent and the Isle of Wight (0800 018 8191, www.goodwood.co.uk).

Eat: Cold salmon

Drink: Vintage Moet & Chandon

Wear: Flowing dresses for women, and linen suits and Panama hats

for men

Cost: Membership is £335 (including £105 joining fee), which gives you access to the sublime Richmond enclosure. For membership details, telephone 01243 755022.

Best seaside picnic spots

Barafundle Beach, Pembrokeshire


Ascot

The wide golden sandy beach at Barafundle is ideal for picnics. You will have to carry your hamper on the short walk across the cliffs from Stackpole Quay – along part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path -to get there, but it is worth it. The dunes and pine trees on the western side of the beach provide the perfect shelter if it is windy.

Eat: Welsh lamb

Drink: Felinfoel Double Dragon Welsh beer

Wear: Loose trousers and cotton sweaters with coloured plimsolls

Brancaster, Norfolk

Brancaster has a vast expanse of sandy beach. The most scenic spot to picnic at is off to the east, looking across to Scolt Head Island National Nature Reserve, at the toe of the dunes that border the golf course.

Eat: Colchester oysters

Drink: Charles Heidsieck 1985

Wear: Bloomer shorts teamed with nautical stripes and a vintage naval captain’s cap

Luskentyre, Outer Hebrides

Picnic in the marram dunes on the west coast of Harris, facing north, for the best views of the Harris hills.

Eat: Venison sausages

Drink: Malt whisky

Wear: Harris tweed

Picnic spots for arts lovers

Glyndebourne Festival Opera, East Sussex, 19 May – 26 August 2007

Leith’s picnic service (01273 812510) provides an elegant hamper, furniture, and even a butler. If there is no room in the Upper Circle Terrace (open from 3pm; 2pm on Sundays), then a spot next to the lake in the large ornamental gardens is hard to beat. (01273 812321; www.glyndebourne.com)

Eat: Lobster

Drink: Taittinger Compte de Champagne 1995

Wear: Floaty dresses. Men wear black tie

Cost It is hoped that the list will be re-opened within the next 10 years. When this happens, the annual fee will be £140. In the meantime, telephone the box office for returns.

Hampstead Heath

Pick a spot on the northern fringes near Kenwood House for fabulous views of the capital.

Eat: Home-smoked trout

Drink: German Riesling

Wear: Shorts, flats, and cropped jackets

Durley House Hotel

15 Sloane Street, London SW1

Book into the hotel to gain access to one of London’s most exclusive picnic gardens. You can ask for anything you want from the hotel and order more from your idyllic spot via a mobile phone supplied by the hotel (020 7235 5537; www.durleyhouse.com).

Eat: Wild smoked salmon

Drink: Krug

Wear: Cream and white romantic dresses, flat shoes from Emma Hope

Cost: £625 per night for the best suite.

Richmond Park

Find a quiet spot overlooking Pen Ponds, one of the best areas for a picnic in the 2,500 acres of hills, woodlands, ponds, gardens and grasslands, where there are 650 free-roaming deer.

Eat: Venison p?

Drink: Crozes Hermitage

Wear: Anything from Hackett

Romantic picnic destinations

Stowe, Buckinghamshire


Ascot

Set up in the shade of a gnarled oak tree, to the right of Stowe’s famous Palladian Bridge, and enjoy views across the lake to the Gothic Temple.

Eat: Poached wild salmon

Drink: White Burgundy

Wear: Old-fashioned rose prints and antique lace dresses

Jenkins Crag, Lake District

A short walk from Waterhead, in Ambleside, through secluded Skelghyll Wood, brings you to Jenkins Crag where there is a flat promontory perfectly situated for a cliff-top picnic with views over Lake Windermere.

Eat: Cold roast lamb

Drink: Red Burgundy

Wear: Long khaki shorts with an old necktie as a belt, and long, coloured socks with walking boots

Lizard Point, Cornwall

Either picnic on the cliff tops overlooking Kynance Cove, or right at the end of the Lizard peninsula -the most southerly point in Britain.

Eat: Local crab

Drink: Champagne Salon Le Mesnil

Wear: Ice-cream coloured cotton trousers, striped grosgrain belts, and cotton sweaters