The British seaside is deeply fashionable nowadays. And, during the summer months, the pretty towns and villages of the Isle of Wight - with their surfing and nightlife, the June music festival and August's Cowes Week yacht races – number among the coolest of the UK's coastal resorts.
The first thing that hits you as you disembark the Red Funnel ferry from Southampton (take the high-speed service to West Cowes; 22 minutes), is how apple-cheeked and wholesome the island is: picture the nicer parts of the south coast and then turn back the clock 50 years.
Cowes is on the northern tip of the island, and a yachtier place you couldn’t imagine. If elaborate bits of string, brass instruments and deck shoes are your bag, you will be in heaven strolling its narrow, picturesque streets.
A mile or so from Cowes is Osborne House, East Cowes’s most famous attraction. Queen Victoria’s mid-19th century summer retreat was designed as an opulent Italianate villa by Prince Albert.
Osborne is a good starting point for a trip around the island (only 23 miles across at its widest point). Everywhere you go, you will see well-built, prosperous-looking Victorian houses that date back to the time when the royal couple drew wealthy vacationers to the island.
Further inland is the island’s other celebrated historic monument: Carisbrook Castle, a forbidding 13th century hilltop fortress in the south-west of Newport, where Charles I was detained before his execution.
There are endless walks and nature trails; the island has its own, mild microclimate and outdoor activities are inviting all year round. More than half the island is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, and rare and endangered species, such as the red squirrel, are comfortably established.
The heritage coast path from west of Cowes to east of Yarmouth is especially picturesque; other spectacles of nature include the extraordinary rock formations called The Needles, just off the island’s westernmost point.
Further east, Ryde is an elegant seaside town built on a hill and featuring a pier. If you fancy a shopping spree, head to Union Street, which has crafts and antiques shops and a handsome Victorian Arcade, selling books and curiosities – don’t miss its underground antiques market.
The island has always drawn downshifters and artistic types, and is positively infested with small galleries and craft shops, where you can buy locally made ceramics, glass and artworks.
Top of your shopping list, however, should be food. Fresh seafood and locally grown produce, sold at the weekly farmers’ markets (Friday in Newport, Saturday in Ryde) include everything from bread, lamb and beer, to island garlic.
Take the coast road further round still and you come to the prettiest part of the island by far: the rather upmarket Seaview. This is home to pastel-painted barge-boarded seaside cottages, quiet pubs, miles of deserted sandy beach, and the island’s boutique hotel, where you can order an Indian head massage in your room.
How to get there
Regular, high-speed ferry services leave the mainland from Portsmouth and Southampton. Take a train from London Waterloo to either destination (www.nationalrail.co.uk), or make the easy car journey to the coast. Ferry timetables can be found online at www.redfunnel.co.uk (Southampton to Cowes) and www.wightlink.co.uk (Portsmouth to Ryde).
Where to eat and stay
Seaview Hotel, High Street, Seaview (01983 612711; www.seaviewhotel.co.uk)
The island’s boutique hotel, Seaview is a Victorian building on the pretty seafront street, with stylish interior, refurbished earlier this year by Michael Keech and Graham Green, and a lovely relaxing atmosphere. Outstanding locally sourced food is served in the restaurant.
The George, Quay Street, Yarmouth (01983 760331; www.thegeorge.co.uk)
A quayside hotel with a long history going back many centuries, and a splendid dining room. The French brasserie-style restaurant has a delicious, modern menu and a takeaway service, should you wish to throw a spectacular holiday dinner party.
Priory Bay, Priory Drive, near Seaview (01983 613146; www.priorybay.co.uk)
On a 70-acre estate, this feels like the heart of the countryside, with private beach, six-hole golf course, tennis courts and swimming pool. The menu includes plenty of seafood.
For more information on travel, tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants, visit www.islandbreaks.com.