By Amanda Statham
Boutique hotels, fabulous festivals and Michelin-star restaurants – Amanda Statham discovers there’s more to the Isle of Wight than messing about in boats
Book a sea view table for supper at The Little Gloster Restaurant & Bar, close to Cowes in the island’s north.
The décor is Scandinavian-influenced – think simple white sails, wood tables and floor – and your carbon footprint will be a little lighter as the food is locally sourced and seasonal.
A tasting platter for two, £19.95, included mouthwatering fillet of Isle of Wight beef carpaccio and wild mushroom crostini with parmesan, while mains like seared sea bream in spiced coconut and mussel broth are imaginative and as good as any London restaurant.
For an extra special meal, head to Ventnor on the south of the island to try the delicacies being served up at The Hambrough.
Top chef Robert Thompson, who’s just 30 years old and already boasts a Michelin star, is currently causing waves with his original dishes. I tried the surprise tasting menu (£85pp without wine, £145pp with), seven courses of sheer delight, including some odd-yet-tasty dishes like goats cheese ice cream and pigeon.
The small dining room is perfectly adequate, but isn’t as grand as the food, however all that’s about to change as Thompson revealed he’s got city backing to convert nearby vast derelict Winter Palace into a bistro, hotel, performance space and glitzy restaurant complete with panoramic Ventnor views. It’s scheduled to open in 2013, see you in the ferry queue.
If you’re after something a lot more low-key (less pricey) visit the Octopus Garden Café for retro cheap eats in the heart of Cowes.
The brightly coloured café is packed full of Beatles memorabilia, from album covers to signed photographs and 60s hits blasting from a jukebox.
The menu is full of comfort food and I can recommend the Mega All Day Breakfast if you’re starving and/or hung over - two eggs, bacon, two sausages, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, hash browns and toast for £7.99.
No trip to the IoW would be complete without sampling an ice cream at Minghella. There are outlets of this 60-year-old family business in Ventnor and Cowes, which churn out delicious and unusual flavours like banana smoothie, peanut butter bliss or, my favourite, honey and ginger.
Spend the week in an original silver Airstream camper courtesy of Vintage Vacations. The campsite in Ashey also has retro UK caravans for rent, such as Doris, a star of the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show.
Bottles of Babycham and crotched covers set the vibe of the kitsch interiors, while stripy deckchairs and plastic pink flamingos raise a smile outside. There’s a tiny shed crammed with fun finds from the 50s and 60s, so you even shop too. From £100 for a midweek, two-night stay to £650 for a week in peak season.
Copyright Amanda Statham
As well as having a must-visit restaurant, The Little Gloster Restaurant & Bar is all your seaside hotel fantasies come true, from the nod-to-nautical bedrooms to the vegetable-filled gardens overlooking the sea.
Of the three bedrooms, the Balcony Suite is the one to bag, with its comfy sofa, blue and white striped cushions and curtains and broad balcony with deckchairs for two and binoculars. The extras here really make the stay, like a coffee machine and herbal teas in-room, giant beanbags for lying around in the sun in comfort and faux sheepskin rugs thoughtfully placed on the garden’s picnic tables as the sun sets and temperatures fall.
The secret behind all the chic bits and bobs are owners Ben and Holly, who look far too young to be running the show, which is probably what makes this place so cool. Are there any downsides? Well, the beach it overlooks isn’t the best, but a five-minute stroll down the coast and you can build sandcastles to your heart’s content. From £70 per room (low season) and £80 (high season) including a slap-up breakfast.
A 15-minute coast path walk from Ventnor leads to my favourite UK beach, Steephill Cove. Reached only by foot (though you can park in Love Lane above and wander down), it consists of a cluster of pretty houses around an arc of sand and has a 70s holiday vibe: you can hire a deckchair for the day, rock pool, dig holes, go for a paddle and, when hunger strikes, there’s finger-licking good crab (or lobster or mackerel ciabatta) to enjoy on a picnic table at the Wheeler’s Crab Shed.
Give your calves a work out tackling the slope behind Steephill Cove (yes, it really is steep) and emerge at the beautiful Botanical Gardens celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Protected from frost and cold winds by chalk downs, the gardens sit in their own sunny microclimate and are bursting with subtropical palms, cactus and flowers from Africa to Australia. Giant water lilies and lotus flowers are the highlight of a tour of the greenhouse, and you can enjoy an al fresco cream tea in the sunshine at the Garden Café.
The Isle of Wight festival has passed (in a mud-filled blur) but one of the best festivals on the circuit, Rob Da Bank’s Bestival is yet to take place on the island (6 to 9 September) at Robin Hill Country Park. The line up includes Stevie Wonder, Florence + the Machine, New Order and Sigur RÓs a long with DJs, film, theatre and, best of all, dressing up. Tickets are from £170, including camping, though you can pay more and stay in ready-pitched accommodation, including tipis, yurts and PodPads.
I travelled to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink on its 40-minute Portsmouth to Fishbourne crossing. Car ferries also operate between Lymington and Yarmouth (35 minutes) and there is a passenger catamaran service from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pierhead (22 minutes). From £50.
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