Not a single motorway carves through Dorset; from London, take the M3 to Andover or Winchester, then it's A roads all the way.
Bournemouth International Airport (www.bournemouthairport.com) has links with Glasgow, Dublin, Shannon and New York, as well as many European cities. There's a shuttle bus that connects the airport to Bournemouth railway station (www.yellowbuses.co.uk).
From London, the South Western Main Line runs down to Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth; or there's the West of England Main Line, which passes through Sherborne. Go to www.nationalrail.co.uk to plan your journey.
UK dialling code: +44.
The aforementioned John Fowles novel; The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, all by Thomas Hardy (for 'Casterbridge', read Dorchester; 'Shaston' stands for Shaftesbury).
Do go / Don't Go
Summer's a shoo-in, with Dorset among the UK's top five sunniest counties. May is wonderful for seeing the coastal-path flowers at their height. Winter can be forbidding for serious Jurassic hikes, but among the gentle beaches and resorts, the off-season coast is a treat.
The number for the main taxi rank outside Bournemouth railway station is +44 (0)1202 556166. In Bridport, we recommend Beeline Taxis (+44 (0)1308 425555); in Dorchester, Pete's Cabs (+44 (0)1305 251122).
10-15 per cent is the norm.
Bring a DVD of The French Lieutenant's Woman to watch in bed: the adaptation of John Fowles' novel was shot on location on the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Do pack beach paraphernalia: swimwear in summer; bucket and spade in spring/autumn; kite in winter.
Dorchester is the centre of the Thomas Hardy industry - it's the county town of South Wessex (his name for Dorset) - with Hardy's Cottage at Bockhampton (www.nationaltrust.org.uk), and Max Gate, the Victorian villa where he wrote Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Bridport is becoming an arts hub to reckon with, thanks to the Electric Palace, an art-house cinema and brasserie backed by Richard Eyre, Mike Leigh and local Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes (www.electricpalace.org.uk). The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (www.bsolive.com) is an international name; its Summer Fireworks Proms are terrific.
Standing proud on a hillside halfway between Dorchester and Sherborne, the Cerne Abbas Giant, he of the mighty prehistoric truncheon (ahem), is fenced off and just not as satisfying to see from the next-door field as he looks on postcards.
Away from the high-street offerings of Weymouth, Bournemouth and Poole, Bridport lives up to its reputation as a market town, with weekly street markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays (seek out the antiques and bric-a-brac stalls on lower South Street), an excellent farmers' market in the Arts Centre on the second Saturday of every month, and a monthly antiques and second-hand book fair. Bridport Old Books on South Street (01308 425689) is a wonderful secondhand bookshop, where you will often find the helpful owner trying gamely to explain Shakespearian sonnets to clearly bewildered teenagers.
Golden Cap, at 191 metres, is the highest point along the whole of the south coast. A stiff hike will be rewarded with stupendous views; however, a drive up to Langdon Hill carpark, via the village of Morecombelake on the A35 between Lyme and Bridport, will be rewarded similarly - once you've walked through the woods a bit.
They call it the Jurassic Coast for a good reason: if you don't go home with your very own fossil find, you weren't looking hard enough! The sheltered stretch of Studland Bay known as Shell Bay is a good place for those who prefer to look for - you guessed it - shells.
April Badbury Rings are the prehistoric setting for the Portman Hunt's annual point-to-point. May Sherborne Abbey Festival (www.sherborneabbey.org) is a week-long series of quality contemporary and classical concerts in beautiful surroundings. June Wimborne Folk Festival (www.wimbornefolkfestival.co.uk) brings bearded trad musicians and the women who love them to the streets of this civilised Dorset community. Bridport Food Festival (www.bridportfoodfestival.org.uk) is a celebration of the locally sourced and the organically raised. July Larmer Tree Festival (www.larmertreefestival.co.uk), with pop, folk and world music, fancy dress, and all the festival food, massage and daft entertainments you've come to expect. August The Great Dorset Steam Fair (www.steam-fair.co.uk) is a huge event combining - bewilderingly - heavy horses, traction engines, Punch & Judy stalls, terrifying funfair rides and pop acts. In Bournemouth, firework displays take place from the pier on Friday nights throughout August; and there's classical summer entertainment, in the shape of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Classical Proms in Meyrick Park (www.bsolive.com).