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The best things to see and do in Port Solent

PUBLISHED: 11:31 09 June 2014 | UPDATED: 13:05 09 June 2014

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A mecca for yachties and boatsmen alike, Port Solent has been transformed from disused scrub land to one of the largest marina developments in Europe

A potted history Port Solent, near Horsea Island in Portsmouth Harbour combines the charm and excitement of a Mediterranean port, with the facilities of a major modern town. Yet this is a place that nearly wasn’t. It could have been a sports arena, for instance, a conference centre or even a site for motor sports, which were some of the other proposals put forward for the development of a scrubby piece of foreshore then known as Paulsgrove Lake in the 1970s. Thankfully, for the many day-trippers, sailors and residents now enjoying one of the largest developments of its kind in Europe, Portsmouth City Council, who owned the land, went with one of the most imaginative of the schemes - a marina combining boats, housing, apartments, shops, restaurants and recreational facilities. Work began in 1986 and in 1988 the Princess Royal arrived by royal barge to officially open the £200m development. Today, with easy access to the waters of the Solent, the port has been described as the south coast’s premier destination marina, making real the vision of a ‘lifestyle inspired by a dream to create a unique waterside haven’.

Shop till you drop

If the eating at Port Solent is good, so is the waterside shopping. Snow & Rock has one of its largest stores here, which also incorporates Runners Needs and Cycle Surgery outlets. The branch of Cotton Traders offers the crisp, fresh and jaunty marine look, while the family-owned Pavers shoes store can see you stepping out in style. For kitchenware, visit La Cuisine, which also doubles up as a cafe, serving good coffee and handmade cakes. It opens at 10am for breakfast and on Fridays stays open until 9pm, when you can enjoy a glass of wine. For gifts and homeware, The Trading Post is a lovely unit full of independent boutiques such as jewellers, old fashioned sweet shop and haberdashery. Also, there is a waterside market held on the first and third Sunday of every month selling crafts and artisan gifts.

Out & about

Sailing is obviously one of the best things to do in Port Solent. Perfectly situated between Portsmouth and Southamton, it has easy access to the sea through Portsmouth Harbour and there are full onsite marina facilities, a harbour master and chandlery for both visitors and those seeking a permanent birth. Premier Marinas (02392 52481) hosts regular skills workshops, social events, tuition throughout the season and a regular programme of open ‘taster’ days. If, however, you prefer to have fun on terra firma, then you could always take in a movie at the Odeon cinema and there’s live music at Zippers American Bar Grill on the last Friday of every month. To find out who’s playing, and to book your table, telephone (02392) 370992.

Food & drink

On Port Solent’s Boardwalk there are more than 20 restaurants, bars, cafés and teashops with something for everyone from a three-course meal to a leisurely drink. For family-friendly traditional grub, try the Alec Rose Portsmouth pub which has a waterfront terrace and old favourites such as cod and chips (02392 314800). For something more exotic, there are not one, but two, Mexican restaurants, Chiquito (02392 205070) and Chimichanga (02392 384198), serving a variety of cocktails, tapas, wraps and chargrills. For that holiday ambience, slide into a seat on O Sole Mio’s deck area and dive into a menu of pasta, pizza, fish and meat dishes and enjoy a romantic Italian meal overlooking the bobbing boats (02392 388697). Or if you fancy a slice of homemade cake and a cup of tea head to Gracie-Anne’s Tearooms within The Trading Post for great lemon drizzle and a variety of sweet treats, lunch items and traditional style milkshakes.

My weekend in Port Solent

“When I was child we used to come here for birthdays and other family events,” says Hannah Williams, operations manager at Zippers restaurant. “Sometimes we’d come for the evening, other times just for a long, lazy Sunday lunch. I can’t remember when Port Solent wasn’t here, but I’ve seen it develop a lot. With more retail outlets opening and a range of different markets catering for everyone from the foodie and the gardener, to people looking for gifts, crafts and homeware, now it really is a one-stop shop. These days in the summer, if I’m working at the weekend, I love to come in early in the morning, open up the restaurant and just imagine that I am in a different country, particularly when the tourists and boaties start arriving for something to eat. It’s like having your own little piece of the Med. If I’m not working, I might buy a milkshake from Dean’s Diner, wander around for a bit, then sink into a deckchair with a good book, and just watch the sun go down.”

Getting there...

From whichever direction you are travelling by car, Port Solent has brown signs that can be picked up from the A27, the M27, A3 and the M275 - and there’s a free car park when you get there (Satnav postcode PO6 4TP). For those using public transport, Cosham and Portchester railway stations are both a short taxi ride away or you can catch the Stagecoach no. 24 from Cosham. If you are arriving by boat, head due north towards the Portchester Castle where you’ll see Pile 78 – at this point use channel 80 to contact Premier Marinas for further instructions.

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