MY husband and I binge-watched The Crown in lockdown 2.0, so I’ve become a big fan of the royals, which means the place I’m most excited to visit on the Isle of Wight is Osborne House, the beloved holiday home of Queen Victoria.
As we arrive at the door with our one-year-old daughter, a chatty guide approaches and says: “Once upon a time, a young couple turned up here and just fell in love with the place. So they bought it.”
She is talking, of course, about Victoria and Albert, who celebrated their birthdays here, swam off the private beach and gathered with their children – all nine of them – around the fireplace.
Today, it’s owned by English Heritage, but the family’s paintings and furniture remain, and we’re able to imagine the dinners they had in the grand dining room, as our daughter totters across the carpet.
Entry to Osborne House costs £13.30 per adult, £8 per child (English-heritage.org.uk).
Prince Albert apparently said that the view of the Solent was reminiscent of the Bay of Naples.
We can’t quite see that ourselves, but crossing the Solent did give us the sense of escape we’d been craving at the end of last year after a bleak November in lockdown.
The same can be said for Tapnell Farm, with its chic, cosy “modulog” cabins, open all year, complete with private hot tubs and fire pits.
It’s less than 10 minutes from the western coast, and check-in is contact-free, while dinner at the farm’s eatery,
The Cow, is ordered via an app. We tuck into delicious burgers, £12, and milkshakes made with Isle of Wight ice cream, £4.
You can get to most places on the island within half an hour’s drive, many much quicker, but our exploring starts from our front door – at Tapnell Farm Park, where we meet cute wallabies and our daughter is charmed by cheeky meerkats.
Entry costs £6.95 per adult, £8.95 per child.
A short drive away, we make more furry friends at West Wight Alpacas farm, feeding alpacas, pygmy goats and miniature donkeys, before treating ourselves to alpaca-wool scarves from the gift shop.
Entry costs £8.50 per adult, £6.95 per child (Westwightalpacas.co.uk).
This adventure – for me, at least – is a trip down memory lane.
I spent every summer holiday on the island as a child and we always walked out to the Needles – three chalky teeth strung out to sea from the island’s westernmost point.
It was usually busy, but now we find the landscape quiet, because of both Covid and the winter season, and the car park empty of coaches.
Few others make the two-mile-long walk out to the Old Battery (a Victorian fort) so we share the view with the seabirds and fill our lungs with fresh air, our shoulders dropping as we relax, and huge smiles lighting up our faces.
At The Freshwater Coffee House, less than 10 minutes away, local produce is the focus.
My ciabatta is served with Isle of Wight Cheese Company cheddar, our mushroom soup and chocolate cake are both home-made, too (Freshwatercoffeehouse.co.uk).
Fresh and local is what the island is all about – its tomatoes appear at every meal, most memorably in the delicious home-made tart, £8.50, at The Piano Café (Thepianocafe.co.uk).
But The Garlic Farm near Newchurch is probably the island’s most famous name – its products are sold at farmers’ markets and country shows across the UK.
And it makes an excellent morning out – walk through the fields, then stock up on everything from black garlic beer to all manner of chutneys and sauces.
At the restaurant, we watch red squirrels running to and fro collecting nuts as we feast on ham hock from nearby Brownrigg’s Farm, served with the Garlic Farm’s red onion marmalade and local soft cheese, £13 (Thegarlicfarm.co.uk).
One Vine Day
Next stop is Adgestone Vineyard, 10 minutes further on in the car.
It’s one of the oldest working vineyards in England – the original vines were planted in 1968.
Here you’ll get a laid-back tasting of a tangy white, a full-bodied red and a surprising sparkling wine that, thanks to a secret method, is bubblegum-blue (Adgestonevineyard.co.uk).
Afterwards, we call in to the Isle of Wight Distillery, where a tasting paddle of its Mermaid gins and new award-winning rum costs just £5.
The atmosphere is more cosy pub than industrial distillery and we stay far longer than planned, enjoying the normality of a pub that was in tier one at the time (Isleofwightdistillery.com).
Eventually, though, it’s time to leave, as we have booked dinner at the Smoking Lobster in Ventnor, a restaurant loved by locals for its fresh-off-the-boat seafood.
We aren’t disappointed: the grilled half lobster, £25, is the stand-out dish of our trip and worth the 30-minute drive (Smokinglobster.co.uk).
The sun is shining on our final morning, so we hit nearby Compton Beach, a two-mile stretch of golden sands and the busiest place we’ve seen.
Dozens of locals – many of them canine – cavort in the surf, and our daughter is back on the toddle too, tugging us along.
It’s the perfect end to a glorious weekend.
Modulog cabins start from £442 for three nights, sleeping up to six (Tapnellfarm.com).
The return ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth costs from £65.50 per car (Wightlink.co.uk).
Plan your trip at Isleofwight.com.
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