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The Isle of Wight: 7 reasons to sail across

The short voyage across the Solent, sometimes as little as 22 minutes, makes a visit to the Isle of Wight an adventure. Not only are crossings fast, they are very frequent too. You are embarking on a mini-cruise when you take Wightlink from Lymington, Portsmouth or Southampton to the Isle of Wight. Although the ferry crossings are quick there’s usually time for a coffee or light lunch as you watch the island approaching. Many people take their car but with the Island’s extensive bus services others decide to cross as foot passengers. The beaches The image below is of stunning Compton Beach on the island’s South West coast, located in an Area of Natural Beauty. Yet, it was the traditional bucket and spade beach of Sandown Bay, which won Countryfile’s 2019 Award of Beach of the Year. Miles of golden sand, traditional pier and an eclectic range of cafes, ice-creameries and shops won the title. Family favourite The Isle of Wight is a family favourite for holidays and even a weekend. Blackgang Chine, The Land Of Imagination, is a theme park that keeps children happy with adventure and an ever-changing programme of shows. Amazon World Zoo Park, Butterfly World and the Isle of Wight Zoo are great destinations for family days out. With it’s fossil rich beaches and cliffs the Isle of Wight has recently been named the United Kingdom’s Fossil Capital. As there have been so many archaeological discoveries it is known as “Dinosaur Island.” Walking territory Footpaths criss-cross the island and exploring by foot is one of the best ways to discover forest trails, historic downland and ever-changing shoreline. A spectacular circular walk of some 67 miles passes rugged coastline and remote beaches. Equipped with sturdy boots and rucksacks some walkers set themselves the task of circling the island in 3 or 4 days. The 16 miles between Cowes and Yarmouth makes for a good day’s exercise but there are many shorter and less challenging sections. This year some of the grasses along the coastal path are being left uncut to promote the growth of wild flowers such as Bee Orchid, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Knapweed, Pyramidal Orchid and Wild Thyme. Great hotels Before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided to purchase Osborne House, what is now the Royal Hotel at Ventnor was one of Victoria’s favourite haunts for afternoon tea or dinner. Today there is definitely a regal elegance to the four storey hotel built in 1832. Set in the cliffs at Ventnor, the hotel’s sheltered gardens, with a sub-tropical climate, have hot-poker plants and palms that you would normally expect on a Mediterranean coastline. Residents, sunbathing by the pool, often enjoy pointing out that on some days it is actually warmer in Ventnor than in Athens or Nice. With it’s flourishing Botanical Gardens, Ventnor is proud to be called England’s Madeira. Just one of 30 hotels  to continually be recommended in Michelin Guides, since their inception in 1911, the Royal Hotel is a luxurious base for holidaying on the Isle of Wight. Seafood The restaurant at the Royal Hotel is just one of many on the island renowned for the quality of their seafood and other fare too.  Increasingly the island is becoming a magnet for foodies. Some of the most authentic places to eat seafood on the island are to be found at Steephill Cove. So authentic that you may be showered in sea water from waves crashing onto the rocks as you walk from Ventnor to the restaurants.  Look out for platters of lobster, crabs, prawns, crevettes and dressing, usually shared between two or three diners. The Needles At the South Western corner of the Isle of Wight, the brilliant white and sharp isosceles shapes of The Needles, contrasting with the red stripes of TrinityLighthouse, is the iconic sight that most people first associate with the island. It becomes an ever more dramatic sight, viewed from Alum Bay, in August, during Cowes Week of yacht-racing, when numerous boats, with their bobbing sails, make it a photographer’s dream seascape. Osborne House Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided that they needed a home where their children could play naturally, away from the etiquette of Windsor Castle. Prince Albert designed a light yellow-stone Italianate house, with geometric formal gardens, set amongst acres of freedom where their nine children could enjoy their childhood. This is a good year to visit Osborne House. An exhibition marks the 200th anniversary of both Albert and Victoria’s birth, particularly focusing on the gifts they gave each other and how they celebrated family birthdays. Though being woken by a band playing under your window is not everyone’s ideal start to a day of celebration. With a minibus running down to Osborne beach and another to the Swiss House, the ultimate grand children’s Wendy House, there is plenty to keep visitors occupied after they have walked through the house. Disclosure: Our trip was courtesy of Wightlink, The Royal Hotel and English Heritage

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. When I was a child we had a lot of wonderful holidays on the Isle of Wight. Generally, the weather was really good but even back then there was loads to do either indoors or outdoors. I visited last year and it is really surprising how much more there is to do nowadays. For a relatively small island there is so much going on.

  2. There was always great Fish and Chips on the island but I think the food really has come on over the last few years. It’s becoming something of a gourmet’s hotspot.

  3. There’s something special about getting boats to the Isle of Wight. It’s as if you are going abroad and really getting away from things. Though the great thing is that you don’t have all the delays of security, passport control etc etc etc And then you are only travelling for something like half an hour.

    1. Gary you’ve hit the nail on the head. Getting on the ferry to the Isle of Wight makes it feel as if you are going somewhere different but it is all so easy. You only have to report to the Ferry Terminal 30 minutes before your sailing.

      At the other end I was surprised at how quickly we disembarked. You just drive on and drive off.

  4. As a Londoner it is fantastic that a train takes me to Portsmouth in under 2 hours and then I can be across to the Isle of Wight and breathing in the fresh sea air in under 3 hours. It seems a world away from the stress of London.

    1. Interesting point! One of the reasons why Queen Victoria chose Osborne House was that with the improving rail network -and the Royal Yacht ready and waiting at Portsmouth – she could be at Osborne House in under 4 hours.

  5. My ex goes once a year to the Isle of Wight with his family, and he always enjoys it. I’ve never been but I would love to go. I hadn’t realise the crossing can be so quick, and being able to go from different places like Southampton makes it more convenient. The Royal Hotel at Ventnor looks incredibly impressive, I bet that’s quite popular with those whoo can afford it. I think checking out Osborne House for the 200th anniversary celebrations would be really interesting, and certainly quite a memorable experience. The architecture is very distinctive. Not a bad place to grow up and explore as a child at all! Judging from the walking aspect, and it taking 3 to 4 days to circle the entire island, do you think it’s possible to visit most of the major landmarks and enjoy plenty on the island with just a week’s stay?

    1. Hi Ella,

      Yes, it’s really quick to get there. Wightlink’s foot passenger service takes just 22 minutes and their longest ferry crossing would only be 45 minutes.

      A week would be fine. If you’re not taking kids then there are a number of attractions you probably wouldn’t bother with.

      I’ve done both couples and family holidays and always found plenty to do. Enjoy your time on the Isle of Wight.

  6. I’m quite pleased that a close friend is moving to the Isle of Wight this summer. I will be able to visit and explore the Osborne house. I have always been fascinated by Queen Victoria and I can’t to see the 200th exhibition.

  7. It looks like a trip to the end of the world. The scenery is really amazing and the place seems to be very relaxing. Good to know that there is a theme park, a zoo and other attractions around the area. Walking around definitely makes the experience worthwhile because you get to appreciate the surrounding and the climate as well. I also love the way they preserved the structure of the Royal Hotel because it adds elegance and history to the place. I am hoping that they will be able to maintain the cleanliness and the picturesque view of the isle.

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