Here's why you should be visiting the Isle of Wight for Christmas 2016
PUBLISHED: 12:02 13 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:39 01 November 2017
Visit Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is not just a destination for summer and music festivals. There is so much more to it than that. Emma Caulton explores the Island out of season
Too much to do, too little time. Twenty-four hours is not enough to explore the Isle of Wight. So plan your short break experience beforehand. Are you into adventure? An animal lover? A foodie? Is nostalgia your thing? Or are you in search of festive family fun? The Isle of Wight has all that and more. Escape has never felt so close - the short hop across the Solent taking you a world away from the hurly burly of mainland life - perfect for an out of season break.
As the Island is a sanctuary for the red squirrel, you may be able to spot them in woodland and parks. Nests of twigs (dreys) in the forks of trees give a clue to their whereabouts. They are particularly active at dawn and dusk and at this time of year can be seen retrieving their cache of nuts.
Now is your last chance to visit Monkey Haven in Newport before it closes for winter. This happy home for rescued animals (predominantly primates, but there are others) has cute marmosets, noisy whooping gibbons, mischievous macaques (give them a towel and they play ‘ghosts’ for hours), curious capuchins and more. Other creatures include a mob of meerkats and two Bengal eagle owls rescued by Haven founder Don Walser. It has been judged one of the best places to visit in the South of England in 2016’s Beautiful South Tourism Awards. Open every weekend until December 5.
Then there’s the family-run Isle of Wight Zoo at Sandown, built within the ruins of a Victorian Fort and facing one of the island’s loveliest beaches. Again, this is more of a sanctuary with conservation projects and a focus on lemurs and tigers – especially older tigers. Staff are friendly and well-informed, and experiences include big cat feeding presentations. Winter opening hours are 11am-3pm daily.
Tasty Local Produce
Well-flavoured, quality local produce is a big thing here. Discover Isle of Wight cheeses (from farm shops, delis and stores across the Island as well as Isle of Wight Farmers’ Markets - Fridays at Newport and Saturdays at Ryde), artisan bread from The Island Bakers in Newport, fresh crab, lobster and fish straight off the boat from Ventnor Haven Fishery, and sample garlic-inspired chutneys and sauces at The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm in Newchurch.
The Garlic Farm’s Allium Cafe is a great pit stop. Other lunchtime suggestions (from a very wide selection) include homemade Italian cooking at the recently reopened Pond Cafe in Bonchurch, proper burgers from the Cow Co in a converted barn at Tapnell Farm near Yarmouth and seafood so fresh you can taste the sea from The Best Dressed Crab – on the fisherman’s pontoon, Bembridge Harbour.
Work off lunch and work up an appetite for dinner. At this time of year, the Isle of Wight’s landscape and seascape can be spectacular. Go for an easy stroll or ambitious hike along over 500 miles of footpaths, including 64 miles of coastal paths.
Prefer to cycle? Lonely Planet has named the Isle of Wight one of the best places to cycle in the world. Routes vary from the accessible Red Squirrel Trail, which mostly runs along disused railway lines through the heart of the Island, to the recently waymarked Chalk Ridge Extreme Trail – the Island’s most challenging trail climbing the steep ridges of the Island’s major downs. Bikes are available to hire from outlets across the Island.
Or take to horseback to canter along a sandy beach or trot down a country lane. It is the perfect place for beginners to learn to ride year round with a number of stables.
Top notch restaurants vie for best place to eat. They include chef/proprietor establishments such as The Little Gloster with rooms in Cowes, with great value set price menus, imaginative a la carte and Christmas sharing menu.
There’s Dan’s Kitchen overlooking St Helen’s village green offering what I’d call modern British comfort food with innovative elements (like crab risotto with avocado ice cream). Or Thompson’s – Robert Thompson’s acclaimed solo venture combining open kitchen restaurant with menu inspired by Island flavours. Others include Three Buoys in Ryde (gin battered fish and lemon salted chips anyone?), Coast in Cowes (relaxed and buzzy) and Mojac’s in Cowes.
Rooms at Le Gloster are decorated with Scandinavian simplicity and have sea views. At smart Seaview Hotel in quaint Seaview village suites are converted from a former banking hall. Or try an Eco Pod with views of Tennyson Down at Tapnell Farm. All in all, the Isle of Wight offers a very different and rather special experience.