The Isle of Wight is having a moment, and for good reason. Only this week Tatler Magazine hailed it as “the hottest seaside getaway right now,” and a host of celebrities have been spotted at Cowes Week, the Island’s oldest annual sailing regatta.
However, the Isle of Wight became a popular holiday destination long before the emergence of the modern staycation, and holidaymakers have delighted in its quintessentially British seaside resorts since the Victorian era.
Situated just off England’s South coast, the Island is less than a two hour journey from London via Wightlink’s ferry service, and the crossing is even shorter if you travel without a car on the hovercraft or catamaran service.
Friday evening: The Hut, Colwell Bay
Start your weekend as you mean to go on with a reservation at The Hut, one of the Island’s more upmarket restaurants. Although somewhat clichéd, the restaurant’s slogan – “the easy-going beach restaurant” – sums up its laid back atmosphere perfectly.
On arrival, you are greeted by a preppy front of house team and stylish interior decor; although essentially a glorified cabin on the outside, the inside is tastefully decorated with a seaside theme.
The food and drinks menu is extensive, and features local fish dishes and creative cocktails, all of which are beautifully presented. The whole experience is a real holiday treat, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day, the outside seating deck is the ideal location to watch the sun set over Colwell Bay, Bellini in hand.
Saturday morning: Steephill Cove, Ventnor
Steephill Cove represents everything that is wholesome about the British seaside. Even on a cloudy day you could spend hours sat in a vibrantly coloured deck chair, watching the traditional fishermen at work and listening to the sound of the sea lapping against the promenade.
The Cove is only accessible by foot, so park in Ventnor and be prepared to climb up and down a significant number of steps to get there. Although the walk is taxing, it is well worth it, and the Cove’s secluded location has safeguarded its status as one of the Island’s hidden gems.
For lunch, visit The Crab Shed to pick up a sandwich or pasty. There are options for non fish-lovers, but the fresh dishes of crab, lobster and mackerel – caught daily in the Cove – are exquisite. The seating area is very basic and all outdoor, which means that the restaurant is shut on rainy days, but this only adds to its rustic charm. I return to this spot year after year to enjoy the simple pleasures of seaside life.
Saturday afternoon: walk to the Tennyson Memorial and the Needles
Lord Alfred Tennyson, the Victorian Poet Laureate, lived for many years on the Isle of Wight and spent much of his time exploring the grassy paths along the Island’s cliffs. In his memory, an imposing memorial was built on the highest point of Tennyson Down (a picturesque stretch of coastline and a favourite haunt of the poet).
There is a beautiful walk up to this monument, which you can access by parking in Freshwater Bay or the High Down Chalk Pit car park. If you fancy more of a challenge, carry on along the cliffs until you reach the iconic Needles, a trio of chalk stacks that you can see from the viewpoint at the westernmost tip of the island. On your way to the landmark you will pass a 19th Century fort and a Cold War rocket test site, complete with underground National Trust café (which is always a bonus).
Saturday evening: Wightwood Pizza
Pick up a wood-fired pizza, cooked to order in just 90 seconds from Wightwood Pizza’s vintage Citroen van. The van actually has a wood-fired pizza oven in the back and travels to a different part of the Island every evening. As well as offering classics such as Margherita, made with Island cherry tomatoes, the company also does a weekly special. After sampling a few I can confirm that the crispy pizza bases and fresh toppings are worth tracking down, so check the website for locations and timings for your visit.
Sunday morning: Compton Bay
There is no better way to end a weekend on the Isle of Wight than with a beach day. My personal favourite is Compton Bay, which is an expansive sandy beach located between Freshwater Bay and Brook. On a good day the waves are perfect for body boarding and surfing, but if not, the two miles of sand are very conducive to sunbathing or sandcastle-making. Come rain or shine, it is heartwarming to see families making the most of the outdoors, armed with wetsuits, buckets and spades. There is even a trusty ice-cream van to be found in the car park throughout the summer, meaning that you can enjoy a 99 Flake whilst looking out over the beach’s rugged coastal backdrop. What more could you want from a weekend by the sea?