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The Isle of Wight has always been firm family favourite – no prizes as to why; its easy and cheap to get there, there’s miles of gorgeous safe family beaches and, even if the great British summer weather doesn’t play ball, there’s a ton of family friendly attractions inside and out that will keep everyone entertained. For an older generation, there’s more than a touch of nostalgia about the island too, a reminder perhaps of childhood seaside holidays.
Sailing of course is also a big draw (Cowes week) as are the two major music festivals, the Isle of Wight Festival in June and Bestival in early September. Outside of summer holidays and these peak weeks the island takes on a calmer air. In recent years it has also has upped its game in the class stakes…
Accommodation is one factor and there are a number of boutique hotels offering a more upmarket, couples orientated, product. The Hambrough in Ventnor is a good example. In a great location, overlooking the Ventnor Esplanade, each of the 7 bedrooms are designed to make the most of sea views. Calming decor, high ceilings, spacious rooms, a super comfy bed and thoughtful touches like a whizzy ding coffee machine and Molton Brown toiletries set the tone. A delicious breakfast (in my book its always a good sign when kippers make an appearance on a breakfast menu) is served in the restaurant which again has high ceilings and an enormous bay window with views out to the sparkling sea.
Another option, if you like the great outdoors – is ‘glamping’. Tom’s Eco Lodge at Tapnell Farm takes it to a whole new level with its luxury safari tents, each sleeping up to eight. With proper beds, private showers and bathrooms, log burning range and full power, this is 5* camping in style. The setting and facilities are just fabulous. Large groups (up to 60) can even have exclusivity of the whole site – it’s very popular for wedding parties. If life under canvas is just a step too far for you, they also have some lovely wood cabins and farm cottages.
Like everywhere in the UK, the food scene is also on the up in the Isle of Wight. It has its fair share of naff pubs, chippies and ‘value’ family restaurants but there is also a rising number of quality coffee shops, interesting cafes and top notch restaurants. West Wight, I am told, is the trendier side – we didn’t have time to visit them all but trusted local recommendations include The Hut on Colwell Bay and The Red Lion pub in Freshwater. I can also personally vouch for the quality of the burgers at The Cow Co at Tapnell Farm and the Piano cafe in Freshwater is well worth a try for a relaxed lunch or evening meal (often with live music). We also enjoyed Sunday lunch at The Little Gloster just outside Cowes – the seafood in particular is excellent. The setting overlooking the Solent is lovely but it does get very busy and service is slow.
As for things to do, there’s plenty. For many it will be enough to simply enjoy coastal walks. Once the school holiday rush is over, the beaches are quiet – pull up a deck chair and take in the sparkling sea views. Cycling is also huge on the island and well suited to those who enjoy a good ride but would rather not power up steep hills.
Short breaks of course are not always about non stop action – sometimes you just need to relax. Should you need assistance in that department, I can highly recommend The Cabin Spa, proudly keeping up Ventnor’s reputation as a stylish spa resort, famed for its therapeutic sea air. A hot stone massage with a sea breeze is hard to beat. Treatment prices are also very reasonable – their Signature treatment including foot, scalp and hot stone back massage is £60 for an hour.
The great thing about the Isle of Wight is accessibility, nowhere is more than half an hour’s drive away so you can see and do a lot in just a few days. There are the iconic places to visit like the Needles and Osbourne House, some lovely gardens and a whole host of family attractions from Dinosaurs to Donkeys if that floats your boat. Once you start to wander though you will find the less obvious diversions. The town of Freshwater, for example, was particularly interesting once we learnt about the Freshwater Circle – so many famous poets and artists were drawn here. A highlight was ‘Dimbola’, home of pioneering portrait photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Now a museum, the house itself is nothing to write home about but the exhibitions it contains are fascinating. On one side is the historical interest of her work and on the other they have a space dedicated to modern portraits (when we visited the theme was current comedians). There’s also a space devoted to the history of the Isle of Wight Festival including all sorts of wonderful memorabilia.
This was my first time to the Isle of Wight and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It helped that we were lucky with the weather, it was a sunny and breezy September weekend. I love walking on beaches in all weathers though. Like Queen Victoria, I was drawn to its charms – there’s something quite calming about the slower pace of island life. Perhaps not quite enough to build myself a palace but definitely enough to want to revisit.