Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Discovering the Isle of Wight

Two hours and change, from London Waterloo, are the 'summer isles', The Isle of Wight. Walking along the long pier, the first glimpses of the Isle reminded me of the small towns in Europe. The promenade, the little cafes and restaurants, houses on the hill slopes, gentle rolling down to  the beach.

Famished after the train and ferry ride, we headed to the first restaurant we spotted, Michaelangelos, on Ryde pier. Maybe we were just hungry, but the food was amazing. I had a simple parmesan-aubergine bake. Parmesan can make anything taste like heaven I suppose.

lunch at Michaelangelos

All our bookings were last minute, so we paid a heavy price to book a hotel in Ventnor. It is a good hour and a half journey from Ryde, but no reason to complain, as the bus takes a route through the heart of this picturesque island, the quaint villages and the lush countryside farms. Ventnor itself is very beautiful, not too crowded and the Esplande has a number of really nice cafes, bars and restaurants.

Shanklin is a more popular and populated part of the island, which we realised later, and has all the 'touristy' attractions around it. It totally depends on what you want to do, visit the botanical gardens, parks, sanctuaries or chill by the beach. From golfing to dinosaur expeditions, there are enough activities, tours and treks to keep you busy for a week at least.

We realised it was impossible to do the touristy stuff, as traveling within the island can get quite tiring. The Southern Vectis buses are not as frequent as the buses in London, and traveling from one end of the island to the other takes a couple of hours at a minimum.

We visited the Adgestone vineyard in Brading. The audio guided tour nicely captured the story and history of English wine, and also explained the process of wine making and what makes English wine and sparkling wine, different from the rest of Europe. The tour ended with the sampling of the house wines. It was interesting to note that just 10 acres of land, can produce about 13,000 bottles of wine. We followed it up with lunch in the vineyard cafe, fresh basil soup and bread was divine.

Adgestone vineyard

The Roman Villa, also in Brading is an interesting place to visit. Just the location and the randomness of it! In the middle of literally nowhere, in the countryside, this villa probably constructed around 300AD was accidentally discovered by a farmer and excavated in 1879. Parts of the floor mosaics have been restored, but it gives you an idea of how magnificent it would have been at one time. Utensils, roof tiles and coins are also part of this well preserved exhibit. It is a must see.

Back in Ventnor, we discovered the most amazing spanish restaurant. El Toro Contento. It's always crowded and bustling, so we had to book a tables way in advance. The menu is typically tapas style. Ram tripped on the wild boar stew and chorizo. My humble vegetables and lentils was surprisingly so flavourful. We had our dinner here on both nights.

Ventnor beach

We spent the rest of our time reading, long walks, and collecting pebbles on the beach, enjoying every bit of the ocean and the sunsets. What I really missed, and probably will do in another trip is visiting the Needles. It was quite far from where we were staying and none of us were up for the long bus journey. All in all, two days is too short a visit, but definitely a good sampler or 'Tapas' that's going to keep us coming back to the Isle of Wight for more

Getting there: London Waterloo- Portsmouth by South Western trains (1.5 hours)
Portsmouth- Ryde pier by Wightlink Ferry (about 20 mins)
London- South Hampton by train
South Hampton to East Cowes by Red Funnel ferry

In and around the Island:
Souther Vectis unlimited bus pass for 2 days- 15£ per person

Where to stay: Shanklin/ Sandown/ Ryde/ Cowes (touristy, good location if you don't mind the crowds)
Ventnor, Totland (quieter but far)