The Isle of Wight: laidback and cooler than ever
For decades the Isle of Wight has been known for seaside kitsch, sticks of rock and families carting around buckets and spades. But thanks to free-thinking music festival goers, fresh seafood and a host of cool bars, it is quickly becoming a whole lot cooler.
In terms of accomodation, the island boasts everything from kooky camper vans, to yurts, to the newly refurbished boutique hotel, The George. In 2019, The George Hotel and Beach Club underwent a £750,000 renovation, transforming the entire bolt-hole into a must-visit destination.
The hotel was taken over in January 2019 by entrepreneur Howard Spooner, a nightclub impresario whose projects include The Leopard Lounge and The Clapham Gran, and interior designers Sally Faber Johnson and Tanya Lippuner. Nestled on the water’s edge, the 17th century townhouse lies between the castle and the pier in the harbour town of Yarmouth.
The oasis-like hotel is open all year round, but summer or spring are without a doubt the best times to visit. There’s both indoor and outdoor dining, along with an outdoor kitchen complete with pizza oven and grill. Both serve freshly grilled steak and lobster, while the beachfront garden is dotted with olive trees and retro deckchairs that are perfect for a relaxed evening.
“My inspiration for the beautiful outdoor area was to create individual spaces within the garden. It is framed by the historic fort-wall to the west and opens out to a wide northerly view over onto the Solent,” said Johnson. “I wanted all guests to feel at home here so we’ve created a feeling of beachside comfort for guests of all ages to wind down by the sea. There’s a luxurious atmosphere, but it’s not ostentatious.”
We arrived after a fairly long day travelling and were greeted with open arms and a menu to die for. The homemade cuttlefish crackers dotted with fregula and dunked into freshly made taramasalata are a good place to start. Then move onto the squid or local venison carpaccio with seed sherry and mustard cress, and finish with any one of the mouth-watering desserts.
The menu changes seasonally but it’s always made with local food under the watchful eye of Robert Thomson. The youngest British chef ever to be awarded a Michelin star, Thomson first joined The George in 2014, before opening his first solo restaurant in 2015. He brought delicacies to the The George’s menu including grilled native lobster with rose harissa butter, local tomatoes, chickpeas, basil & saffron.
After a candlelit supper, we headed upstairs and sunk into a deep clawfoot bath, before slipping into our huge bed and enjoying a heavenly nights sleep ensconced in crisp white linen. Nothing disturbs you at The George until you are woken by the gentle lapping of the sea on the shingle beach. There are 17 rooms and suites, each with bespoke furnishings and brand new bathrooms, complete with walk-in rain showers and separate bathtubs.
The George has a rich history and has hosted royalty, including King Charles II. Today, however, the hotel is favoured by famous faces such as Noel Gallagher, Biffy Clyro and Depeche Mode. In 2015, actor Benedict Cumberbatch and playwright Sophie Hunter hosted their exclusive pre-wedding party here.
While The George is the perfect place to hole-up while on island, you’ll likely want to explore further afield. If you are here for a week or a whistle-stop 24 hours, there is plenty to do.
The Isle of Wight enjoys a mild climate and a shore lined with tranquil sand dunes and azure waters. We were here in Autumn and even under low-slung moody skies the island was still breathtaking. We headed out and roamed around for a weekend, with coastal walks, lungfuls of fresh sea air, creamy chowder stop-offs and locally caught fresh crab doing wonders for the mind and soul.
What to do
Our top tips for everything worth seeing and doing during your trip.
The Needles Old Battery
A spectacularly situated clifftop fort with the best views of The Needles Rocks - the iconic chalk stacks overlooking world-famous coloured sands.. Also home to an impressive collection of Second World War memorabilia and other regularly updated exhibitions.
Alum Bay beach is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque beaches on the Isle of Wight. A mainly shingle beach, it’s situated at the most westerly tip and framed by the Needles.
The crystal-clear waters here are a favourite for local swimmers and perfect for children to paddle. Enjoy watching the boats moor in the bay during the day and fisherman returning with their daily catches at dusk.
The stunning, tree-lined Chine cuts its way from Shanklin Old Village to a sandy beach and has drawn renowned artists, photographers and writers here for centuries. From author Jane Austen to painter J.M.W Turner, many have visted to this remarkable gorge.
Nestled just beneath Shanklin Chine is a tiny, low-ceilinged fisherman’s cottage, the town’s original thatched pub dating back to 1817. In the 1800s, visitors came here for the pub’s hot brine baths, filled with piped sea water heated in a copper boiler.
If you’re planning a visit to Shanklin Chine, walk down the few steps to this charming cottage to enjoy a pint and a plate of crab cakes by the sea.
The only distillery on the Island was licensed in 2014 by long term friends Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett. Tours are readily available, providing a taste of the island’s spirits.
The Mermaid Gin - a smooth, elegant and complex gin made with locally foraged rock samphire and Boadicea hops - is worth a try. As is the Mermaid Vodka, which carries a salty edge, and the HMS Victory-branded Navy Strength Barrel-aged Gin and Rum.
All of the spirits are hand-crafted in small batches and slow-distilled before being cut with local spring water.
Prices for The George start at £225 for a night’s stay with continental breakfast. Visit www.thegeorge.co.uk for further information.