Insider Guide to the Isle of Wight
This island may be small in stature but it's packed to the brim with great things to check out. Muddy's Hants and IOW editor Danielle gives us the lowdown.
The Isle of Wight really is a magical place. Disconnected from the mainland by at least three miles of the Solent, to get here you need to hop aboard a ferry, FastCat or even a hovercraft (no passport required, honest!), but once you do you’re in for a real treat.
One of the reasons the Island is so special is the absolute wealth of food unique to the area. Every road you turn down there’s a farm shop, local dairy farm or someone making and selling chutney.
If you fancy eating out on the Island you will be spoilt for choice. Starting on the North of the Island in Yarmouth is Off The Rails. This is a converted railway station that is decked out with loads of vintage memorabilia. The food is excellent and very quirky. They’re particularly known for the “Suitcase Burger”, served in a charcoal black bun enclosed in a wooden suitcase. Yep, a suitcase.
A little further toward the West, The Hut in Colwell Bay is a must for any beach fans. This spot attract celebs with its laid back beach vibes and a menu that serves up top-notch seafood.
As you can imagine seafood is in abundance on the Island and places like Smoking Lobster in Ventnor and Stotesbury’s in Newport serve up all levels of pescatarian dishes – from the humble fish & chips to high-end lobster, caught fresh.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more relaxed then head for The Freshwater Coffee House. This little spot serves up fantastic homemade cakes (the vegan gingerbread is amazing), lunch specials and has a super relaxed and family-friendly vibe (they’ve also got drawers full of toys to distract the littlies so they won’t snaffle your brownie).
For breakfast, I always head straight to Ventnor to Cantina. This tiny place (seriously, they only have 22 seats) serves up the most incredible – and quirky – breakfasts on the Island. The ‘Farmer’s Breakfast’ in particular is very unusual with pickle, potatoes and bacon all featuring.
And, if you fancy grabbing something for a picnic then check out Bembridge’s WW Woodford. Not only does this butcher have some of the funniest staff I’ve ever met, but James Martin TV-chef extraordinaire declared the sausage rolls his favourite ever and I can concur they’re pretty damn good.
If you fancy getting all “one with nature” but without any of the actual… you know, nature… then check out Glamping The Wight Way, just outside of Freshwater. These ginormous safari tents (largest on the Island, in fact) are incredible with super luxe interiors carved by hand by a local craftsman and 90% of the wood comes from the Island itself. With two bathrooms, an outdoor shower, super comfy king-sized beds and a generous deck and living space, this is luxury glamping to the extreme.
Another fab glamping spot is Sibbecks Farm in Whitwell. This is part of a smallholding and gives you a chance to get outdoors and even help out with the animals while you stay. It even has its very own stream for the kids to paddle in as well.
For something a little bit grander then The George in Yarmouth is always a good choice. Recently refurbished, with its own private beach and a fab brand new Sicilian-style beach bar, this is one with cracking views and lots of Island character.
And if you really want to get really fancy then how about rocking up at Queen Victoria’s old gaff, Osborne House? Ok, so you can’t stay in the house itself but you can stay at No 1 Sovereigns Gate which comprises of two gorgeous holiday cottages at the entrance of the Queen’s former residence.
For total bonkers-ness then it HAS to be The Enchanted Manor in Niton Undercliff, above. This place is akin to Liberace’s lookbook. Cherubs, murals of fairies all within a gorgeous Georgian manor house. The area is secluded and quiet, with excellent walks nearby and you’ll sleep well in the hand-carved four-poster beds each room has.
And, if you want something a little bigger and more family orientated then The Lakes Rookley is a gorgeous spot. With a range of cottages and lodges and lots of gorgeous countryside to view, they make an ideal pied à terre for getting out and exploring the Island.
As with the Island’s gastro love affair, drink is definitely a big thing here. Starting with Isle of Wight Rock Salt Vodka or the famous Mermaid Gin from the Isle of Wight Distillery, available in numerous places but also at the distillery’s very own pub – The Mermaid, just outside of Ryde. There’s also the Godshill Cider Barn where you can pick up cider, ginger beer and local wine from this family-owned business.
If you fancy hitting the cocktails then check out No 64 Shanklin. It’s a little slice of cosmopolitan glam in a rustic seaside town. And, for possibly one of the best views going (not to mention the largest wine selection on the entire Island!) it has to be the Spyglass Inn in Ventnor. Voted Best Pub on the Island for many years on the trot, it’s also steeped in smuggling history as well.
The Island is home to some amazing, unusual, off-radar shops and boutiques. If you like your sustainable clothing then check out Rapanui. Not only can you pick up some fantastic clothing made from organic materials, they also offer a recycling scheme where you send your old togs for credit against new ones. (Psst! Kate Moss is a fan!)
Also on the renewable/sustainable front is Wyatt & Jack in Ryde who make incredibly striking totes and weekender bags upcycled from, believe it or not, old deckchairs and bouncy castles.
Another Island business originally from the Isle of Wight is Liz Earle and you can visit the flagship store on Ryde’s Union Street. Here you can pick up all of your skincare favourites as well as perfume inspired by the Island and can even check-in for pampering in the on-site treatment rooms.
If you’re a fan of books then head down to Freshwater to Mrs Middleton’s Shop & The Rabbit Hole. These two shops are packed to the roof with amazing second-hand books – adults in Mrs Middleton’s and kids in The Rabbit Hole. It’s worth visiting just to see the incredibly quirky decor alone. In between the two shops is another fab artisan retailer Whistle & Hound selling all sorts of wonderful bits from Island creators. It also offers interactive workshops on everything from crochet to lino printing and flower garlands.
If you fancy picking up some local produce (and trust me, you’re going to want to do that) then choose from any of the amazing farm shops and delis on the Island. My top tips are Farmer Jack’s at Arreton Barns, Briddlesford Lodge Farm (the butter they make is incredible and sells out instantly) and House of Chilli where you can pick up Bloody Hell Hot Sauce which will absolutely blow your socks off.
The Island has more than its fair share of touristy stuff to check out and even Islanders visit these places on a regular basis. First is the absolutely iconic The Needles and Alum Bay. You’ll need to pay £5 to park during high season but the view is breathtaking. If you’re feeling brave take a trip on the chairlift, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. Eeek!
Further along the southern coast you’ll find Shanklin Chine which, while pretty steep, is an utterly spectacular natural sight. You’ll also want to snap some pictures of the cute thatched cottages in Shanklin Old Village for your Instagram feed.
The Island is has an unusual microclimate which means that is home to a range of plants and flora that you wouldn’t be able to grow elsewhere. The place to check this out is Ventnor Botanic Garden, an incredibly beautiful and chilled place to while away a few hours.
Queen Victoria’s old home Osborne House is one of the English Heritage sites and visitors can see why Old Vic really loved the Island so much. Speaking of palace-like places, also worth a visit are Carisbrooke and Yarmouth Castles.
And while you’re in Yarmouth also have a little meander along the beautifully preserved Yarmouth Pier. It’s the longest wooden pier left in the UK and the absolute pinnacle of Victorian amusement of the time – they really knew how to party in those days.
It’s fantastic place to holiday with children, particularly if the thought of long-haul with toddlers leaves you feeling cold. Most of the attractions allow free returns within a week too which might make a difference when the dreaded mid-afternoon moaning about being tired starts (theirs not ours, though now you mention it…).
For animal-mad sprogs check out Monkey Haven in Newport, Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary in Ventnor (it’s also free with donations accepted), the Isle of Wight Zoo in Sandown, West Wight Alpacas in Wellow and Amazon World in Sandown.
The Island is also home to the world’s oldest amusement park, Blackgang Chine, and if you ever went as a child, the magic is still definitely there. It’s also pretty cool to check out all the creepy abandoned bits that have fallen in the sea due to coastal erosion.
For some outdoors time then Robin Hill Country Park is filled with hidden trails, the famous toboggan run and some huge adventure play areas.
Finally, Tapnell Farm has a fantastic mix of animals to pet, play areas and its own go-kart circuit that may well amuse adults as much as the kids. It’s also going to be home to the Island’s first-ever water park as of 2020 as well, so even more reason to go.
Where to start? If you want some quirk in your getaway then the Island will certainly deliver on that front. It is full of the most unusual, obscure and downright bonkers things to see and do (hey, it’s home to David Icke, after all!)
One of the most popular attractions on the Island is The Garlic Farm where they, well… grow garlic but also sell garlic themed everything – including beer and ice-cream!
There’s also an entire chain of shops around the Island dedicated to rock (the sweets, not the stones). Another highlight is the kitschy – if a little bit gruesome – Penny Arcade at Arreton Barns, complete with naughty slideshows and slightly off-colour relics of the penny arcade era. Bring plenty of cash and a very open mind.
The Isle of Wight isn’t a place associated with high culture, but listen here you lot (*wags finger*), there happen to be fabulous galleries and art spots here. First on the list is Seaview Gallery located in an absolutely beautiful little village on the North coast. Then there’s Quay Arts in Newport which has a brilliant calendar of events throughout the year and The Dimbola Museum and Galleries, once home to trailblazing photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and now host to excellent exhibitions with a lean towards popular cultural movements. There’s also annual celebrations of both Jazz and Opera as well.
One of the biggest events on the Island each year is Cowes Week in August. One of the longest-running regattas in the world, even if you’re not overly into your sailing it’s definitely worth a visit for the party atmosphere that takes over the town. There’s a huge firework display, live music and plenty of opportunities for dancing the night away (lots of gin too!)
The Wight is getting a bit of a reputation for being a hipster’s paradise. Along with the food and drink that is in keeping with the slow food movement (head to Ryde Farmers Market for a wide selection of what the Island has to offer), its festie highlights include Isle of Wight Festival in June, Rhythm Tree Festival (a bit like Bestival used to be) in July and, er, the Isle of Wight Ukulele Festival every March (apparently it’s a blast!). Or if you really want to get all zen and mindful then how about checking out a silent retreat with the monks at Quarr Abbey, just outside of Ryde.
By Danielle Jones