June 24, 2024
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Simple pleasures: great routes on the Isle of Wight | England holidays

mef picturesque cycling, coastal walks and the simple seaside pleasure of sailing your boat, make the Isle of Wight your first place to visit. Home to Queen Victoria’s summer retreat, Osborne House, there are 20 unspoiled beaches and a series of coves. A network of cycle and walking paths covers 17 miles of coast and countryside. Famous for the Cowes sailing regatta in July and August, the 147-square-mile island also offers all water sports, from kayak surfing and windsurfing to paddle-boarding and parasailing.

We explored by bike, we borrowed our wheels from Foresters Hall, a stunning Grade II listed 14 bedroom boutique hotel. Situated on a quiet street in the old town of Cowes, Foresters is five minutes’ walk from the Red Jet terminal – the journey to East Cowes from Southampton Pier takes 28 minutes.

The bike rack sits in the hotel courtyard, which leads past the beautiful dining terrace to a small herb garden. Beyond that, a white picket fence surrounds a small salt-water pool, which is bounded by the Garden Suites building. 3D Mural by Joe Hill of joe and max 3d free, looking out at the swimming pool, a swimmer looking as if he has just dived off the painted balcony.

Cowes, home of the famous regatta.
Sailing: Cowes, home of the famous ghat. Photo: Geoff Smith/Alamy

Swimmers might like Room 11, which is next to the pool in the Garden Suite. For a sea view and a bit of cinematic stardust, head to Room 12. Hotel owners Sara Curran and Peter Sussman, originally from Dublin and Toronto respectively, call it the Judi Dench room. The star stayed there during the filming of the Victoria & Abdulwhich was filmed at Osborne House.

On the second day, after a hearty Foresters breakfast of Arnold Bennett Eggs, we took the four-mile wooded cycle path from Cowes-to-Newport that runs parallel to the River Medina. At Newport, we continued south to Carisbrooke Castle, where King Charles I was imprisoned. Carisbrooke is also the starting point for the Tennyson Trail, which ends up at the Needles at the most westerly point on the island. We cycle the very short distance to the charming village of Shorwell for a veggie roast lunch at the Crown Inn instead. This route is more hilly than others – unless you’re into cycling, in which case you’d probably end up on the beach. Chalk Ridge Extreme however, a 50 mile route of steep gradients and cliff top paths of which the Tennyson Trail is a part.

Fit for a Queen: Osborne House, Queen Victoria's summer retreat.
Fit for a Queen: Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer retreat. Photo: Getty Images

We deserved our pre-dinner cocktails, taken in the luxe Foresters bar, a stunning blue room that showcased the couple’s art collection – including a portrait of a woman in colorful robes, a signature motif of American artist Jim Dine. There is also a portrait of Annie Leibovitz in the ladies’ loo and paintings by Alex Katz, one of Peter’s favorite artists, throughout the hotel.

Sara and Peter first met working in film and television. They opened Foresters Hall in 2022. “Our desire was to have this place not only as a hotel but as a place of culture – and for conversations about art,” says Peter. “We want to share our love of art and design with whoever comes through our doors.”

More splash: 3D artwork by the pool at Foresters Hall.
More splash: 3D artwork by the pool at Foresters Hall

The couple’s books on art and wine are in the nearby library, continuing the aesthetic of the hotel’s arts club. The Brasserie at Lobster Tobaccothe hotel’s Mediterranean-influenced restaurant not only serves very good fish dishes, but, unusually, really good wine by the glass, supplied locally by Wine Therapy.

More fresh fish was available at Hill HollowA gem of an old fishing cove 20 minutes walk from Ventnor, a Victorian resort with vintage beach huts on the south side of the island.

Crab Shed i Hill Hollow serving fresh crab pasties and fresh Beach Shack crab sandwiches next door. If we had brought swimming gear, we would have taken out a sea kayak, provided by Cove Kayaks. As it was, we sat in the sunshine, watching Labrador swim in the sea, and felt the joy of simple seaside pleasure.

Foresters Hall (forestershall.com). Double rooms from £295 per night B&B

Sunshine and reign: three other Victorian seaside resorts

Selina, Brighton

Selina.

Hove was once the demure cousin of snazzy Brighton; A stay at Selina Brighton, a trendy hostel-cum-hotel in Hove itself, gives you the best of both vibes. Selina, which combines stylish, multi-priced accommodation and co-working spaces, works a funky aesthetic with this hip Hove cove, just a stone’s throw from the skeletal West Quay. Rooms from £53 a night, selina.com

Grand Hotel, Tynemouth

Great Outdoors.

Surfers, sandcastle builders and sun worshipers love Tynemouth’s golden Longsands Beach. Overlooked by Tynemouth Priory and Castle, there is an aquarium, crazy golf and a breakwater. But no Victorian seaside resort is worth its salt without a Grand Hotel; Tynemouth’s is suitably old-school elegant, with views of the beach from 14 of the 47 bedrooms. Rooms from £90 a night B&B, grandhotelynemouth.co.uk

The Sail Loft, Southwold

Sail Lake.

It’s about a mile walk along Southwold beach to the Sail Loft, an old sail making warehouse. Situated on the Blyth estuary, with several shacks of fresh fish and tables close by, this restaurant and rooms is a peaceful haven compared to Southwold itself, with its stunning pier, pubs and pebble beach. Rooms from £180 a night B&B, sailoftsouthwold.uk

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