More than a festival, the best tips for a stay on the Isle of Wight


For travelers wanting a stay that feels like a real vacation, the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England is about three hours from London by car or by train and ferry. Renowned for its natural beauty which encompasses 65 miles of coastline, the island has beautiful and expansive sandy beaches, superb hiking trails, an impressive Roman villa and excellent seafood. It is no surprise that the ‘island was home to Queen Victoria’s summer vacation home, Osborne House, now an English heritage property, open to the public.

Getting There

Travel to the Isle of Wight by car from Portsmouth or Lymington across the Solent Strait takes 40 minutes aboard a Wightlink ferry. Foot passengers can opt for a Wightlink catamaran and be on the island in 22 minutes. Recognizing the demand for greener travel, Wightlink’s new Victoria of Wight ferry is a hybrid energy vessel that runs in part on electricity. A full-day round-trip Wightlink crossing by car from Portsmouth to Fishbourne starts at £ 52.50 with short-term round-trip car crossings starting at £ 65.50. For foot passengers tickets are £ 14.40 per person.

Where to stay

Among the many guesthouses and hotels, there are only a handful of luxury properties on the island. Haven Hall Hotel, an arts and crafts house built in 1908, perches atop a cliff above Shanklin. The panoramic coastal views are some of the best on the island and there is easy access from the property to the famous coastal path that continues around the entire island. The exceptional location of this hotel is its main selling point. A labor of love for former British real estate developer David Barratt and his wife Arielle, an American interior designer, Haven Hall opened four years ago, after a meticulous multi-million pound renovation.

Accommodation at Haven Hall has 14 rooms, including 7 suites with kitchen and living room, from £ 440 / night including breakfast. Each room, named after a famous person associated with the island, is different and was designed by Arielle Barratt. Most of the rooms have lovely sea views, including the Victoria and Albert, John Keats and Winston Churchill rooms. The pretty blue and white Seagulls suite has a lot of charm with skylights, sloping ceilings and a terrace overlooking the gardens. It also has a fully equipped kitchen if you are inclined to dine. Each room and suite has been carefully decorated by Arielle Barratt, with antiques and attractive touches like handmade duvets.

Outside, two acres of large, beautifully landscaped gardens with plenty of seating and places to relax and take in the views, a heated swimming pool, sauna on request and lawn tennis court. If you can bear to leave the beautiful gardens of Haven Hall, a walk on the cliff path will take you to some of the best sandy beaches on the island.

What to see and do

Discovered in 1880 by retired army captain John Thorp and farmer William Munns who discovered a mosaic of Bacchus, Brading Roman Villa has been searched several times since. Today the site is a fantastic museum that features the West Range, built around 300 AD, which is the last and largest of the site’s three buildings. The lack of underfloor heating indicates that this was a vacation home for a wealthy Roman family who used it during the warmer months. The foundations of two earlier north and south links are now chalked out on the outside. The South Range was erected around AD 100, shortly after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 to the present day and features rare and well-preserved mosaics, including a man with a rooster’s head , the only one of its kind in the world.

Osborne House, East Cowes

Osborne House, the lavish former vacation home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, is located in East Cowes, across the estuary from the home of the famous annual Sailing Regatta at Cowes. In her diary, Victoria wrote that she “could never be grateful enough for having had this place”. Osborne House was built and designed to the tastes of Victoria and Albert in 1845; few English royal residences are as personal as Osborne. Inside are heirlooms that showcase the royal life at home. You can see the bedroom where Victoria’s daughter Alice got married and the bedroom where the Queen died. The expansive grounds include a walled garden, a lovely woodland walk to Queen Victoria’s private beach where you can see the Queen’s bath machine. From the beach you will see the same views of the Solent and the English mainland that once reminded Prince Albert of the Bay of Naples.

Currently only the ground floor rooms of Osborne House are open to the public, but there is much to see, from ornate architecture to furnishings and a magnificent collection of art. Unique to an English royal house is a large gallery of Indian portraits, commissioned by Queen Victoria in the 1880s and one is that of Abdul Karim, a favorite servant of the Queen who inspired Stephen Frears’ film Victoria and Abdel, with Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

Dimbola, Freshwater bay

“Beauty, you are under arrest. I have a camera and I am not afraid to use it. Julia Margaret Cameron

Dimbola, near Freshwater, was the home of Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century. Ambitious and successful in his day, Cameron is today credited with creating the first close-up photographic portraits. His portraits of “famous men and blond women” include other members of the “Freshwater Circle” such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Lewis Carroll. Dimbola is now a charming little museum showcasing its photography, gear, and contemporary exhibits from photographers from around the world. A current temporary exhibition features photographs of 1950s Paris by American fashion photographer Marilyn Stafford. The museum also has a poster room for the Isle of Wight Music Festival, including the original poster from the legendary 1970 festival featuring headliners like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and others. Outside is a sculpture by Jimi Hendrix. The onsite cafe is lovely with an excellent range of homemade cakes and loose leaf teas.

Ventnor’s Exchange, Ventnor

One of the few hip places on the island is this fabulous cocktail bar and record store, with an impressive selection of vinyl records. The owners of the Ventnor Exchange also founded what has become a very popular margin party every July. The festival features over 100 different shows from top new comedians and emerging bands to events like impromptu hip hop in a laundromat.

Compton Bay

Compton Bay is the Isle of Wight’s prime location for surfing and its sandy beach and lovely views over Tennyson Down and The Needles make it a great spot for a day out on the Located in West Wight, the strip of sand Two miles from Compton, the rolling sea, sandstone cliffs and white chalk cliffs in the distance offer a magnificent view from the top.

The needles

The Needles, a group of three narrow vertical chalk piles that rise about 30m from the sea off the island’s western end in the English Channel, is one of the most photographed groups of rocks in the world. The surrounding area is managed by Great Britain heritage who run a chairlift to the beach below and organize boat trips around The Needles.

Where to eat and drink

The terrace in Yarmouth is a chic new harbor side restaurant with a focus on local fish and farm produce. The menu is excellent as it has clearly taken full advantage of the quality ingredients on the doorstep, garlic tomatoes, lobster crab and even cheese curds prepared minutes from their doorstep. Menu highlights include the ceviche of the day, garlic shrimp and focaccia, Isle of Wight crab bruschetta with minced fennel, and lobster bruschetta.

Founded in 1832 as a coaching inn, The Royal Hotel in Ventnor is one of the oldest and most beautiful hotels on the island. The royal afternoon tea of ​​sandwiches, scones and a delicious selection of cakes and a choice of tea is superb. Or for a simpler option, the traditional afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream is also a great choice.

Fish and chips are an island staple and there is naturally a lot to choose from here. Steam on the Shanklin seafront and the Crab and Lobster Tap both serve very large portions of excellent cod and fries.

Joliffe in Cowes is a lovely little cafe in a former shoe store that apparently served Queen Victoria. The original store burned down and the remaining Art Nouveau building was purpose-built as a shoe store on the site around 1917. It is now a quaint little restaurant, a great place to stop for a coffee and a cake.


About Lillian Coomer

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