It’s also Britain’s sunniest county with the lowest rainfall, no hills to speak of – great for cyclists – and that coastline with its yachting clubs and muddy creeks attracts migrating birds and all manner of wildlife.
So why is Essex still the butt of so many jokes?
Television’s “unreality” show The Only Way Is Essex has added to misconceptions but it’s been a mixed blessing for the real people who live in this county, discouraging people from moving there despite being so close to London.
But it’s all change now. About 12 miles north of TOWIE’s Brentwood, county town Chelmsford has shaken off its boring commuter dormitory image and is now renowned for its shopping and entertainment.
It’s also bidding to become the 2025 City of Culture.
This follows several years of regeneration, including the Marconi Evolution development on the site of the world’s first wireless factory and HQ of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.
Its final building phase now has one-bedroom flats priced from £245,000 (01245 269208; bellway. co.uk), available with Help To Buy.
On the outskirts of town the huge new neighbourhood of Beaulieu has its latest tranche of three, four and five-bedroom New England colonial-style homes available at Beaulieu Heath.
Four-bedroom, three-storey houses are for sale from £579,995 (01245 806355; countryside-properties.com).
They have a master bedroom with en suite on the top floor, a roof terrace and garden, additional living room on the first floor and a garage.
But people are beginning to head out to places in proper Essex countryside such as Tiptree. Central Essex has been known for its fields full of pick-your-own strawberries so Berryfields, the new housing development in Tiptree, is aptly named.
The two, three, four and five-bedroom houses, some with clapboard exteriors, are located around a landscaped village green and have been so popular that only the five-bedroom Rainham design is still available.
With open-plan living and a study / bedroom on the ground floor plus four bedrooms upstairs, it costs £525,000 (01621 818551; inlandhomes.co.uk).
Further up the A12 is Colchester, Britain’s oldest town, which is undergoing a £3billion regeneration.
New developments include out-of-town Forest View at Kingswood Heath that should suit families, downsizers and first-time buyers with two-bedroom coach houses and two, three, four and five-bedroom open-plan houses from £299,995 (01206 853629; bellway.co.uk).
The new homes have open countryside on their doorstep with Dedham village – painted by John Constable in the 18th century – just seven miles away.
While the A12 heads east towards Suffolk and Norfolk, the M11 is the northern route from London through Essex to Cambridgeshire.
It runs close to Waltham Abbey, a town with 16th century pubs, close to the 10,000-acres of woodland, wetlands and lakes that makes up Lee Valley Park.
It’s here you’ll find Hazlemere Marina, a development of apartments and houses offering open-plan living beside the River Lea, only a 10-minute walk from the 2012 Olympic Lee Valley White Water Centre and 10 minutes from Waltham Cross Railway Station with 30-minute train journeys to London Liverpool Street.
So popular is this development that only two-bedroom apartments and fourbedroom houses remain, for sale at £309,995 and £499,995 (0203 092 9322; bellway.co.uk).
Not so long ago comedians who made cheap jokes about Essex would always get a laugh.
But as Bob Monkhouse once said: “They’re not laughing now.”