My friend Anna has been going to the Isle of Wight since she was a child. Now she’s all grown up, she takes her own children there for summer, Easter and the odd weekend here and there. It’s an under-rated holiday destination that, in recent years, has undergone a bit of a transformation from bucket’n’spade to boutique chic – well, almost. It might not be as cool as Norfolk or Cornwall, but trust us, in a few years it might be. You get to ‘travel’ overseas (by ferry, but small children can’t tell the difference), there are beaches, nice restaurants, a clutch of good hotels and far fewer crowds than Cornwall (although I do still love, love, love Cornwall). Of course, you can never guarantee the weather and the ferry thing does add an extra thought (and cost) to the travel arrangements, but still, those are hardly big problems. If they were, you’d head to France or Spain or Italy or somewhere hot like that, but then you’d have the flight and the airport to deal, so it all kinds of evens up really, doesn’t it?
GO: If you’re looking for a traditional British seaside destination where sailing is incredibly popular. DON’T GO: If you’re looking for a hip destination with lots of chic boutiques and five-star hotels.
Where to Stay: A bustling village on the north-eastern coast of the island, Seaview is home to the Seaview Hotel & Restaurant. Packed in summer, the food is excellent and the rooms prettily designed in shades of cream and blue. From £125 per night. Smack bang in between the villages of Seaview and Bembridge , the Priory Bay hotel enjoys an idyllic location overlooking a golden sand beach. Rooms are perfectly nice (nothing to write home about), but the hotel’s luxurious yurts are just gorgeous. There’s also a six-hole golf course, tennis courts and outdoor pool. Rooms from £160 per night. Yurts from £200 per night. With only seven rooms, The Hamborough in Ventnor is arguably the island’s most stylish hotel. There’s a lovely seaside location, Michelin-starred restaurant and a large rental property which sleeps up to 14 guests. From £170 a night. If you’re looking for self-catering, then Hill Farm‘s gorgeous barns are a complete dream. Set in a stunning rural location close to Bembridge, you’ll enjoy beautiful views and a wonderful sense of space. If you’ve a taste for the sepia-tinted days of old, then Vintage Vacation‘s eclectic collection of accommodation, ranging from an Old Scout Hall to vintage Airstreams and a tiny, but chic shack, could be for you.
Where to Eat: On the west side of the island, The New Inn is thought to be the best pub on Wight. The menu features locally-sourced produce and dishes such as gnocci served with sauteed kale, almonds, cream and parmesan, and crisp fried polenta with roast butternut squash and shallots, walnuts and extra virgin oil. Even if you’re not staying at The Hamborough, it’s worth making a reservation at it’s restaurant, the only one on the island with a Michelin star. Specialising in classic French cuisine, it offers a la carte, lunch and tasting menus. The same team is behind the uber-successful Pond Cafe in Bonchurch. Soak up the relaxed atmosphere and dine on Italian-inspired dishes such as Spaghetti di zucchine and Pernice Arrosto (whole roasted partridge cooked with thyme, celeriac remoulade, baked herb pagnota and marsala sauce). Also try The Priory Oyster for the freshest seafood and most mouth-watering salads, and The Crab Shed in Ventnor for the best crab on the island. Owned by the family of late, great film director Anthony Minghella, Minghella has been serving the island’s best ice cream for over 60 years.
Best Beach: Wild and unspoiled, Compton Bay lies at the base of chalky white cliffs on the west side of the island. Enjoy long blustery walks or hide out on the sand with your bucket and spade. Blissfully undeveloped.
When to Go: You’re not going to be going to the Isle of Wight for the weather. At least, you’re not going to be able to guarantee good weather, which is rather freeing when you think about it. It means that you can go in autumn, winter, spring and summer. Obviously for light evenings and the hope of sunshine, spring and summer are your best bets. Just remember Cowes Week, the Isle of Wight festival and Bestival, and plan accordingly. You may want to go. If not, you’ll want to avoid travelling on those days (for the cost and crowds at the ferryport).
IMAGE: Barbara Murdter