Reigate has been named the best place to live in the South-east in a national newspaper's study of the 12 most desirable locations in the region.

The historic town beat other well-known towns and cities including Winchester in Hampshire, Chichester in West Sussex, Sevenoaks in Kent and Ascot in Berkshire, to the top spot in the Sunday Times Best Places to Live in the South East list.

Surrey's other entrant in the list, Farnham, ranked fifth.

The two-part Best Places to Live guide, the first of which was published in the Sunday Times last Sunday (March 17), put the region under the microscope as part of a national quest to “reveal the little Nirvanas dotted across the UK.”

The guide took a range of elements into account including transport links, quality of schools, natural beauty, low crime rate, property prices, cultural life and unemployment figures, to reach its findings.

Each area was also assessed on its own individual assets, including local festivals, architecture or proximity to an airport.

And Reigate's charms were not found to be lacking, covering criteria including natural beauty, low crime rate, cultural life and proximity with factors such as its location in the rolling North Downs and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, proximity to Gatwick Airport, historic Reigate Fort, Reigate Priory and High Street, Capability Brown-designed Gatton Park, scenic Priory Park and picturesque Reigate Hill and Reigate Heath.

The town also rates highly for local schools' standards, local unemployment and property prices.

The finding of Reigate as a “little Nirvana” was no surprise to resident Wayne Smith, originally from Sunderland, but who now lives in the town with his wife Nina.

Wayne, 29, a personal trainer and dog rescue volunteer for Epsom Canine Rescue, said: “I love it.”

Praising the town's stores, coffee shops, parks and “places to catch up,” he said: “I am getting a really good vibe about it. There's a lot nicer bars around here, which bring a nicer clientele in to have a good time.”

He said: “I certainly think it's a low crime area.

“In the High Street at night-times, I've never felt threatened coming home from bars.

“It seems there's a pretty good community spirit here, shown by how well-kept the facilities are – like Priory Park.

“It's one of the coolest parks in the area.”

Lindsay Thompson, 65, of Chart Lane, Reigate, who was born in the town and has lived all her life in Reigate, working in a Reigate-based solicitors until her retirement, said: “You feel safe in Reigate and comfortable walking out on your own.

“The town has got lots going for it and the park is amazing. It just feels like home – I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.”

Reverend Clive McKie, minister of Reigate Methodist Church, which built and runs the new Reigate Community Centre on behalf of the local community, said: “Reigate Community Centre is at the heart of the town and staffed entirely by volunteers. “The enthusiasm they bring and the friendly buzz of activity by the various groups using these amazing premises typifies that sense of community found in the town.”

And Reigate's strong sense of community spirit was also cited by Ian Burks, the chief executive of Reigate and Redhill YMCA.

He said: “Reigate people work hard, take a pride in their community and are prepared to go that extra mile to support our charitable work in the community. “This is so clearly highlighted at our annual Fun Run in Priory Park, which always attracts thousands of local people of all ages, taking part and raising money for Reigate and Redhill YMCA.” Leader of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, Mrs Joan Spiers, said: “We are very proud that a town in our borough has been named as the best place to live in the South-east.”

Coun Spiers said: “As a council, we are always investing in our places and communities to ensure they remain clean, green, safe and healthy, and it is always rewarding when one of our towns is recognised.” She said: “Reigate has many attractive features – abundant green space, beautiful architecture, good transport links and a vibrant, thriving high street with many independent shops. “It is a place to be proud of and I am proud to be leader here.”

Coun Spiers continued: “Reigate and Banstead cares about its residents and we spend a lot of time trying to give them what we can afford and what they need.

“We are well served by our officers and they deserve much of the credit for Reigate. “We spend our residents' money wisely and I know that my Executive and my officers share my views.

“They understand that we are public servants and we spend a great deal of time trying to get as much right as we can.”

The second part of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live guide will be published this Sunday (March 24).

The guide's 12 most desirable locations in the South East were, in order, Reigate, Sevenoaks, Winchester, Ticehurst in East Sussex, Farnham, Chichester, Hart in Hampshire, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, Canterbury in Kent, Ascot, Little Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, and Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.