There’s nothing that excites a small community more than a celebrity sighting. A few summers ago Gary Lineker was spotted in a small beach café in Ryde on the north side of the Isle of Wight, and the locals (including me) went into a frenzy (it's called The Three Buoys and the food is great, if you were wondering). Early last year Led Zeppelin rocker Robert Plant is said to have been hanging out at The Spyglass in Ventnor, a pub that also played host to Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart one New Year’s Eve. And last summer the caliber went sky high, as Oscar nominated Benedict Cumberbatch chose to marry his pregnant girlfriend Sophie Hunter in Mottistone Manor, a beautiful private residence in a secluded part of the Island, as we locals refer to it. Since then I've noticed more and more cool things to do have been popping up, so I've been trying them out for you (because I'm nice like that).
What’s so great about the Isle of Wight? Let me enlighten you.
You’re spoilt for choice and can often find pubs serving local beer from Goddards Brewery. Benedict chose to spend the night before his wedding drinking with Tom Hiddlestone and friends in The George in Yarmouth (below), a lovely hotel in a little town full of lovely pubs. The Old Fort in Seaview (where Kate Moss and Madonna have reportedly eaten in a private dining room and Paolo Nutini hung out after his performance at this year's Isle of Wight festival) is buzzing in the summer when the sailing community descends from London. My personal favourites are The Bonchurch Inn (Bonchurch), The Red Lion (Freshwater) and The Taverners (Godshill). For something a bit different, try the Ventnor Exchange; it serves craft beers, sells vinyl records (many by local artists), plays host to live music and theatre evenings and is the hub of the annual Ventnor Fringe festival (the Island's answer to Edinburgh).
You all know about the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival, but did you know that the Isle of Wight now has LOADS of other festivals? The Garlic Festival has live music as well as, err, garlic, and there’s even a festival dedicated to VW Camper vans called V-Dub. The Island also has a strong local music community, and you can always find a live band playing somewhere (including my dad’s blues band, The Sharpetones!). Listen out for Paul Armfield and Plastic Mermaids, who are currently enjoying airtime on BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music.
There’s a strong emphasis on local food on the Island (we even have three Island cheeses), so there is an abundance of great restaurants. Try The Pond Café , The Little Gloster or The Royal for a slap-up gourmet meal, Dell Café for tapas with the best sunset on The Island, or The Boathouse in Steephill Cove (only accessible by foot) for crab and lobster delivered to your plate fresh from the sea you’re overlooking. Just opened in the last year are Thompson's, headed up by Michelin Star chef Robert Thompson, and El Patron (both in Newport), which claims to be the only tequila hotel in the world and is already getting rave reviews for its Mexican restaurant. My favourite new place is Cantina in Ventnor, where you can go for a brilliant breakfast and take away bread made on the premises, including one that has onion and bacon in it!
Where to stay
There are some great posh hotels, like The Priory Bay near Seaview - locals speculated that this was where the Cumberbatch wedding would be before we learnt of the road closures in Mottistone – and The Hambrough in Ventnor. For something a bit different, try Vintage Vacations, with their Airstream caravans and a converted scout hall, all decorated beautifully with retro features or Wight Bells with their gorgeous bell tents (that have electricity!) for a spot of glamping.
What to do
It goes without saying that there are a fair few beaches to visit, but if you enjoy a swim you’ll need to know where to go, as the tide goes out for a WHOLE MILE in some areas, and others have strong tides. I recommend Seagrove Bay and Freshwater Bay for day-long deep-enough water. If you like watersports, try Wight Waters to hire a canoe or windsurf, and you can even do paddleboard yoga at Tackt-Isle. There is also a bi-annual walking festival as well as a randonnee for Tour de France lovers, and over the August Bank Holiday, Ryde plays host to Europe’s largest scooter rally, which is also brilliant for fashion spotting as the town gets over run with mods.