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Isle of Wight - England

Criss-crossed with hiking trails and cycleways, this idyllic Solent island provides a Best-of-British escape for energetic travellers. Lucy Kehoe hops on her bike

Travel Time 1hrs 10min

Why go?

Sun-bleached beach huts, soft-scoop ice cream and vibrant pleasure gardens provide buckets (and spades) of seaside nostalgia on this diminutive Hampshire isle. Catch a ferry across the Solent for a weekend of gallivanting amid gussied-up Victorian seaside resorts, rustic fishermen’s enclaves, rolling hills and wild, western shorelines. Head east for 19th-century elegance and picturesque hotels, take a trip to trendy Newport or Cowes to unearth ambitious young restaurateurs or hike inland to meet the island’s inquisitive red squirrels. And wherever your wanderings lead, on an isle that’s just 37km long by 21km wide, you’re never too far from a classy crash pad or a table laden with fresh seafood.

What to do

Start in Ryde, where steeply sloping streets flanked by Love Hearts-coloured terraces form a warren of independent shops and vintage stores. The isle frequently tops best cycling destination lists, so leave the car on the mainland and pedal around the excellent network of cycleways. Bike rentals can be booked from the town’s TAV Cycles near the pier. Just 8km down the coastal path, St Helens Duver Nature Reserve boasts the island’s best rock-pooling beach, where shallow sea puddles teem with a safari of blennies, gobies and brightly coloured sea anemones. A little further, the Shanklin Chine, a deep ravine of water running from the hills down to the beach, is lined with rare plants, wildlife and waterfalls. Once a smuggling route, it’s best seen at night, when the jagged foliage is illuminated. From Shanklin, join the Red Squirrel Trail, a circular route that cuts across the island, with the chance to spot the area’s most famous furry inhabitants. If cycling isn’t your forte, explore on foot. Literary types should traipse the Tennyson Trail, a 23km walk snaking between Carisbrooke and the famed Needles rock formation, a trio of chalk stacks rising above the sea. Break up the walking with some crabbing, a rite of passage for younger adventurers. Many shops stock weighted lines. Bait them with bacon, prepare a bucket and reel in the crustaceans from Bembridge Harbour.

Where to stay

Tucked under St Boniface Down, the health resort of Ventnor was a popular Victorian holiday spot. The Royal Hotel is a veteran establishment that wears its grandeur well. Stay in one of 55 elegant rooms, dine under crystal chandeliers and take afternoon tea on the lawn. In Yarmouth, 17th-century townhouse The George is the isle’s best weekend bolthole: think Farrow and Ball-toned panelling, a rickety original staircase and airy sash windows overlooking the harbour. Sunny North House was one of Cowes’ first boutique offerings, and its oak-smoked kippers at breakfast aren’t to be missed. If you’re looking for a leap up from camping, The Shacks offers unique holiday cottages, including a range of glitzy Airstreams, across the island.

Where to eat and drink

If crabbing has whetted your appetite, try Best Dressed Crab in Bembridge. In Yarmouth, dinner at Michelin-approved The George is a must. Executive chef Robert Thompson also has a diminutive fine-dining spot, Thompson’s which serves up the likes of smoked haddock Scotch eggs and ravioli of local pheasant. The Hut – down in Colwell Bay – is the place for bountiful seafood platters, while, over in Gurnard at The Little Gloster chef Ben Cooke plays on his Danish ancestry with a New Nordic slant. Pop in for a plate of oysters with a Bloody Mary or linger over a seafood marinière. Something pungent dancing on the wind? It’s probably the island’s famous garlic. Elephant, Wight and Iberian varieties are all on offer at Newchurch’s Garlic Farm where you can also join a farm tour.

Time running out?

Recommissioned London tube carriages run on the Island Line, a hop-on, hop-off railway service between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin (£6.50 for a day ticket).


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the pound sterling (GBP). Time is GMT. Passenger ferries take 25 minutes to cross the Solent; vehicle ferries take 1 hour. The hovercraft crosses the Solent in under ten minutes.

Getting There

Red Funnel runs a regular ferry service from Southampton to Cowes.

HoverTravel operates a hovercraft service from Southsea to Ryde.


Visit Isle of Wight is the local tourist board and its website offers a comprehensive guide for visitors, including information on cycle and walking routes, plus events.

This article was taken from the May 2020 issue of Food and Travel.

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