If recent airport nightmares have got you rethinking a trip abroad, or if the pandemic has sparked a new found love for trips closer to home, then maybe a weekend on the Isle of Wight has got your name on it.
With glorious stretches of white sandy beaches, more yachts and sunseekers than you can shake your stick of rock at, and buzzy beach clubs serving ice cold rosé by the bucket load, maybe this year could be the time to swap Ibiza’s White Isle for a weekend on the Wight Isle?
What To Do
Whether you’re into long coastal walks, searching for dinosaurs or sampling some local history there’s no shortage of things to do. Plus, new bar and restaurant openings are successfully putting the island on the foodie’s map - read on for our top choices.
Number one on any visitor’s list has to be the stunning coastline and specifically the famous Needles. Take the sightseeing bus or park the car at Freshwater and then walk up and over Tennyson Downs to the Old Battery for the obligatory Needles photo stop. Carry on along the coast and observe the views of Alum Bay and its multicoloured cliffs and sand, if you’re brave ride the retro chairlift down to feel the sand warm between your toes. Our advice - avoid the cafes and restaurants up top and pack a local picnic instead!
For your classic bucket and spade and candy floss trip head to the busy tourist beaches of Ryde, Shanklin and Ventnor, or for something more refined call in at the pretty beachside village of Seaview. You might even spot someone famous.
For history buffs Queen Victoria’s residence at Osborne is a must and Carisbrooke and Yarmouth Castles get good reviews too. Keep kids happy at Robin Hill or one of the many animal parks and sanctuaries across the island.
If you’re visiting in June then be sure to grab a ticket to the Isle Of Wight Festival who this year hosted the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Kasabian, Pete Tong and many more. Similarly July/August sees thousands flock to the island for Cowes Week - take part, watch from the shore or avoid it like the plague we’ll leave you to decide.
Where To Eat
If you’re wanting to see and be seen then head straight to The Hut, a firm favourite and regular stopping point on the itineraries of those in the know.
Quite probably the best location of any restaurant on the Isle of Wight, The Hut promises laid back, easy going dining in an alfresco, waterfront setting. If you’re travelling by sea then anchor off and wait for The Hut’s private dinghys to collect you or if coming by land be sure to organise a pick up from one of their two branded defenders “Surf” and “Turf”.
We kicked off our gastronomic treat with a couple of Hut Painkillers, a dangerously easy to drink concoction of dark rum, pineapple, orange and creme de coco. The Hut aims to make people feel like they’ve gone on holiday when they’ve just gone out for lunch and we can confirm that a couple of Painkillers definitely leave you in a sunnier mood.
Whilst deciding on your starter we can highly recommend the sun dried tomato arancini or the chorizo with cider, garlic and spice. We opted for the cod tempura fish tacos and the sea bass sashimi to start. The tacos could have packed more of a punch but the sashimi was sensational. Sea bass was up again for the mains, this time with a delightfully delicate maitake dashi broth, pak choi & shimeji mushrooms. If you prefer your meals from land then fear not, amongst the beautiful selection of seafood we also devoured the bang bang chicken salad and were pleasantly surprised by the vegan and vegetarian options - vegan scallops particularly sparked our interest.
If you’re two or more, or if there’s a celebration, then be sure to try the Fruits De Mer or Surf N Turf platters, with the waiters having to flex their muscles under the weight of the dishes.
The only downside to lunch was we ate so much we barely had room for dessert, but for professional research purposes only we took on a banoffee pie and the pavlova with lemon curd and raspberry sorbet. Safe to say both get our stamp of approval.
Head to the terrace for some pre or post dinner cocktails and people watch to your heart’s content. Whilst the weather wasn’t up to much when we visited it didn’t dampen our spirits and the view and setting was spectacular. That said, we'll be sure to visit again when the sun is shining and the party atmosphere kicks off in full force. Word is getting out so book your table early to avoid disappointment
Another firm favourite for either casual alfresco dining or a more refined evening meal is The George Hotel. We sampled the English asparagus with soft poached egg and parmesan foam, the tuna tartare and because we couldn’t decide we also made room for the Isle of Wight tomatoes with spiced crab and tomato consomme (heaven). As always we couldn’t not try the house burger complete with onion rings, cheese and bacon - how else?! And for something lighter the pan fried cod loin with mussels and jersey royals was a triumph. Be sure to stop in during your trip.
Finally if you like your food garlicky then no trip is complete without visiting the famous garlic farm - just pack some mints for after!
Where To Stay
We holed up at the aforementioned George Hotel, a 17th Century townhouse in the picturesque harbour town of Yarmouth. Having undergone recent refurbishment the hotel successfully balances the laid back calm you yearn from a coastal retreat alongside luxurious modern touches and beach club cool.
On entering you’re welcomed into a grand reception with sweeping staircase studded with mock portraits of famous Georges throughout history, our favourite was Boy George dotted amongst the other admirals and generals - Bush, Clooney and Best wasn’t a line up we’d ever expected to see.
The light and bright conservatory restaurant welcomes you for breakfast, lunch and dinner whilst the period, wood clad bar and reading room provide plenty of snug and cosy corners for a fireside nightcap or gentle recline whilst you let your food go down.
The hotel offers standard “cosy” and “classic” or more premium “deluxe” and “prestige” rooms. We opted for the prestige room with terrace, providing the perfect spot to quaff a cold glass of champagne (Bollinger is the house choice), whilst soaking up views across the private garden nestled between the waters edge, castle wall and pier. With the sun shining we were hard pushed to think of anywhere we’d rather be.
Crisp linen, comfy dressing gowns, all the usual mod cons and a double shower that’s rapidly gone to the top of our favourite hotel bathrooms all wrapped up to create the perfect night. What’s more, the morning newspapers served with local shortbread and in room Nespresso provided all the reasons we needed to stay in bed another hour.
The hotel classes itself as 3* but we’d have to disagree and in our humble opinion it should be pushing for at least 4! Be sure to ask for a sea view room and if you’re feeling fancy why not arrive by their luxury boat transfer service. Book your stay here.
If you’re on foot then jump on the speedy Hovercraft from Southsea, Portsmouth, the journey takes just 10 minutes and there are crossings every half an hour. Alternatively if like us you pack the kitchen sink and are travelling by car then board one of the Wightlink or Red Funnel vehicle ferries from Southampton, Lymington or Portsmouth.
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Sarah Hayman is a contributing food and travel writer at Marie Claire UK, covering everything from UK breaks to far flung destinations, the best greasy spoon to Michelin star dining.
Growing up on the Kent coast Sarah spent virtually every day of her summer holidays frolicking on the beach so it’s no wonder that a life living and working in London leaves her yearning for sand between her toes and cool wines on summer eves.
To ensure she’s ordering the right thing in a restaurant and knowing her lefts from her rights, Sarah has since dabbled in languages being conversational in Spanish and currently studying Arabic at SOAS.
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