Truly a world away from the mainland, the Isle of Wight makes for a relaxed yet exciting last-minute weekend away. Cool Places recommends the best things to see and do
Tucked into the south coast of England, the Isle of Wight is a rural backwater: it’s easy to reach – a short crossing from Lymington, Portsmouth or Southampton – and yet is a world apart from the mainland, with an array of diverse landscapes, unpretentious small towns and a pace to life that has more in common with the quieter corners of Devon or Cornwall than with Hampshire just across the water.
The island boasts lots of family-friendly attractions: its crumbling chalk cliffs have exposed huge numbers of dinosaur fossils, while stately homes, historic sites, cycle and walking trails, and some glorious beaches, make it a perfect daytrip or weekend break destination. Get here while you can, though, because the island’s low-key charms are catching on fast.
Below we highlight the very best places for a great weekend with a little help from Cool Places; read more at www.coolplaces.co.uk.
Here's a hotel that has the period feel of an Agatha Christie novel yet is shot through with contemporary flair. There are beautifully tended grounds, complete with heated outdoor pool (in summer), while over the road the garden climbs a hillock to the Riviera Terrace, where tables overlook the bay.
The rooms are spacious, with giant comfy beds, flatscreen TVs and pristine bathrooms, and you can still take afternoon tea here, just as Queen Victoria did – and the cakes, scone and sandwiches are to die for: no wonder you need to book a table to get in. There's also a classy bar and restaurant.
Well located for enjoying the sedate pleasures of Seaview and Seagrove Bay, the Boat House has four recently refurbished rooms that make for a very comfortable bolthole in this quiet part of the island. They also have an excellent restaurant and bar downstairs featuring real ales and a good wine list.
The concept may not be original, but the execution is perfect: luxury, ready-erected canvas lodges-cum-tents which offer you the chance to experience the joys of camping without the hassle. The lodges come complete with spacious dining rooms, cosy beds (including bunk beds and alcoves for the kids), hot showers and a flushing loo. What's more, there's electricity, so you can store food in a fridge and needn't bang your shins when it's dark.
The lodges nestle among trees on a working farm – there are also picnic tables and a lawned area for games. On a clear day you can see down to the north coast, while a long distance footpath passes right through the grounds.
Good coffee and delicious sandwiches and pastries, surrounded by local art for sale, is the offer in this intriguing, listed Art Nouveau building constructed like a mini skyscraper. The stained glass windows are further reason to visit, and if you get chatting with the owner you may be treated to some exclusive Cowes gossip.
Parts of the Buddle Inn date back to 1550 and there's live music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tucked away in the deep south of Niton it’s a popular, secluded pub, gorgeous gardens and a terrace with spectacular Channel views: so impressive, in fact, that it is sometimes booked for weddings.
Originally known to sailors as the Birdcage pub, Murrays is now a firm favourite with visiting yachtsmen, and is considered the place to eat during Cowes week. Renowned for their excellent, well-priced, locally caught seafood, everything they do is good. Start by testing the reputation of the fish soup, followed by smoked haddock fishcakes.
One of the Isle of Wight’s star attractions, bang in the centre of the island, Carisbrooke is a superbly preserved, moated fortress with an original Norman keep and a great accretion of walls and other buildings. Perched on one of the island’s highest points, there are sweeping views from its battlemented walls.
The island’s showpiece stately home, built in the 1840s by the eminent architect Thomas Cubitt, was conceived by Prince Albert as a holiday home for Queen Victoria and the royal family. After Albert’s death, it was to Osborne House that the queen increasingly withdrew, and where she eventually died. It’s a glorious pile, modelled on an Italianate design, with added flourishes like the Durbar Room, a nod to the British Raj. Formal reception rooms on the ground floor, including the elaborate, colonnaded Billiard Room, contrast strikingly with the relatively modest bedrooms and living rooms upstairs.
Don’t miss the Swiss Cottage – a giant playhouse with child-sized furniture and kitchen – or the restored Victorian walled garden.
One thing you can’t help noticing however you get about the Isle of Wight is the vast number of carefully signposted paths. With labels such as SW7 and F45 there are hundreds of miles of interconnecting walkways and cycle tracks crisscrossing the island in all directions. Of exceptional note, however, is the 60-mile coastal path, much of which follows the Isle of Wight’s portion of Britain’s designated Heritage Coast.
Assuming you’re not intending to do the whole thing, you can get a good taster of ‘Walking the Wight‘ by taking path T27 from the end of Highdown Lane to Tennyson’s Monument and then following the cliff round to the Needles Old Battery and on to Alum Bay. The whole coastal path is a three-day (or more relaxing five-day) circuit.
Cool Places is a new website devoted to selecting and celebrating the best of UK travel, whether you’re booking a last-minute weekend away or looking for ideas for next year’s holiday. They cover the UK’s best places to stay, from stunningly located campsites to cosy boutique hotels, great gastropubs and restaurants to beachside cafés, and the country’s quirkiest independent shops and markets. Check it out, and add your own local favourites.