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Why book a family holiday on the Isle of Wight? This all-at-sea county brings together the Cotswolds’ toytown sweetness and Cornwall’s beach-y lures. But it’s the characters you’ll meet who’ll inspire you to hop on a Red Funnel ferry from Southampton to East Cowes (an hour’s journey).

The soaring chalk cliffs, rugged coastline and sea-breeze-rustled greenery have inspired a who’s who of noted authors: Dickens, Marx, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Tennyson, Darwin… But it’s not just literary rock stars who have a story in them – ask around and you’ll find folk tales all across the island…

The one with ‘cute factor’: West Wight Alpacas

What’s the story?
Husband and wife Neil and Michelle fully embraced the niche hobby of alpaca raising. They were initially supposed to purchase two alpacas, but ended up with 11, five of which turned out to be pregnant. Suddenly with a herd on their hands, they saw potential for these gentle, strokably soft beasts to spread the love. They arranged stress-busting strolls around the farm’s trim fields. It’s more relaxing than meditating in a bath of herbal tea, and extra adorable when herds of curious unshorn crias (baby alpacas) bound over to greet you along the way.

West Wight Alpacas, Isle of Wight, England, United Kingdom

West Wight Alpacas

What happens next?
Take your alpaca – or, more sizeable, llama – by the reins and go… Most are named after luminaries (Rameses, Amadeus) but some have traditional monikers (for example, Vectis – the Roman name for the Isle of Wight). You’ll amble through fields into a soporific state, before squee-ing over the pygmy goats and miniature donkeys who also live on the farm. Neil offers handy alpaca-keeping tips, should you fancy a break from the workaday life.

What’s the takeaway?
You can’t take the animals home unfortunately, but there are strokably soft and sweetly llama-printed goods in the shop, alongside a range of natty Peruvian knitwear.

The strong (smelling) contender: The Garlic Farm

What’s the story?
You don’t have to like the pungent bulb to enjoy spending time here, but fans will certainly find the experience more enticing. The Isle of Wight is famed for its garlic, and this three-generation-strong family farm is the bread-livener’s mothership. Garlic farmer Colin has travelled the world in search of the optimum bulb: he’s sought out the lowest-altitude garlic patches on Earth, by the Dead Sea, sung the Garlic Anthem at Moravia’s annual garlic festival, crossed the mountains of Georgia, and found the world’s best bulbs in Kazakhstan. His family have done their bit towards making garlic cool, too: his daughter runs a street-food stall at festivals and his son’s gypsy-jazz band, Cat Skellington, plays on site. Even those who take olfactive offense will gain a newfound respect for the world’s most flavoursome allium.

The Garlic Farm, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

The Garlic Farm

What happens next?
Tractor-trailer rides, Roman detritus and lots of garlic edibles, including more left-field eats such as – actually rather tasty – black-garlic ice cream and garlic ale. For kids there’s a play area with a nest swing and trim trail, and acres of grounds for gentle nature walks.

What’s the takeaway?
Pots of soft sweet black garlic to toss into dishes needing a zhuzh, deliciously fiery garlic-chilli ketchup, indulgent truffle and garlic oil, braids of dried bulbs and more delicious things. Hit the tasting room to try to your heart’s content.

The back-to-nature stop: Ventnor Botanic Garden

What’s the story?
The Undercliff sounds like the title for a Jason Statham-fronted mountain disaster, but it’s actually the rock face that shades Ventnor Botanic Garden’s temperature-sensitive flora and creates its clement microclimate – less bad-ass, but good for the plants. This lush stretch was a sanatorium from Victorian times to the 1960s, until drugs were developed to treat tuberculosis. Now it has five thriving gardens with subtropical and exotic flora from around the globe, from statuesque cacti to giant Amazonian waterlilies – fans of kniphofia – you’re in for a treat. It’s not quite shaken off its past – the gardens are allegedly haunted.

What happens next?
It’s not just a sit-and-watch-the-grass-grow kind of place. It’s become a hothouse for both Egyptian lotuses and creatives – artists reside on site and inventive botanical dinners are held amid the greenery. Yoga, gong baths and tai chi add a spiritual element. The gardens act as a set for plays and live music and there’s a mushroom chamber, a tunnel leading to the coast and secret enclaves to uncover.

Ventnor Botanic Garden, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

The hop yard at Ventnor Botanic Garden

The takeaway
A few bottles from the on-site microbrewery: the pale ales and lagers have notes of pine and eucalyptus and all are brewed from hops grown in the gardens, of course. Or, nab some seed packets – how hard can growing a giant waterlily be?

The right, royal day out: Osborne House

What’s the story?
Not content with a caravan, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and family were so taken with the Isle of Wight’s charms they built a palatial summer palace there. The balmy seaside reminded them of the Italian riviera, inspiring them to cultivate lavish Mediterranean style gardens and a terrace to promenade on. The house proper has all the frippery you’d expect of the regent who coined Victoriana. There’s not a wall free of a painting, and there’s an Indian-style dining room that tests the limits of maximalism; however, Victoria loved it enough that she lived out her last days here (and installed a surprisingly modern lift). Her lifelong love and mourning of Albert is poignantly evident in the room they shared, with his portrait propped up by the bed and hidden silhouettes of the regents profiles in the upholstery prints

What happens next?
With nine little princes and princesses to keep amused in the summer months, the palace is actually quite a playful place. The Swiss Cottage of pint-size proportions was built especially for the younger royals. Here they learnt how to garden and manage a household and built up their collection of curiosities, including a five-legged deer and a human skull – kid stuff.

The Swiss Cottage at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

The Swiss Cottage at Osborne House

The takeaway
Perhaps a tiny sense of entitlement, and the beginnings of your own Mediterranean pleasure garden: a plant from the shop.

The fun at all ages one: Blackgang Chine

What’s the story?
Most would think that building a children’s theme park on a frequently eroding ravine, largely known as a smugglers’ haunt, would be a bad idea. But that wasn’t the case for Alexander Dabell, an entrepreneur who’s strong throwing arm landed him a decent-sized plot of land (the deal was that the lease would end where the stone landed). He initially built a pleasure garden, then acquired a whale skeleton which he put on display and gradually developed an imagination-spurring storyland around that. More than 175 years later, Dabell’s savvy – or eccentricity – has been vindicated, and Blackgang Chine theme park still thrills little ones.

Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

Blackgang Chine

What’s the haps?
Skullduggery and sparkles and everything in between… Ransack a French frigate in pirate cove, switch between sheriff and outlaw in the Wild West and flutter about fairy town, sink to the depths of the sea, then duck animatronic dinos in Restricted Area 5.

What’s the takeaway?
A sense of childhood wonder and possibly a pair of fairy wings.

One for the grown-ups: Mermaid Gin Distillery

What’s the story?
The fishy femmes who lured ships into peril now knock back gin on the rocks. Liquor-literate duo Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett (a brewer and vintner, respectively) set up the Isle’s first distillery, a leather-and-wood rustic-luxe space where the science happens in a gleaming still (which yields 450 bottles a go). They’ve swum against the tide to dredge up the drinkery – a course of late nights spent perfecting the martini, a poll on whether their nubile logo should #FreeTheNipple or not (the nip-slip won), and joining forces with the National Museum of the Royal Navy to produce an explosively strong gunpowder-proof gin.

Isle of Wight Distillery, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

Isle of Wight Distillery

What happens next?
Drinking. Each gin is a knockout (the 57 per cent proof Victory HMS gin, quite literally). Of its 10 botanicals, rock samphire is foraged from the island’s cliffs and Boadicea hops come from Ventnor Botanical Garden – the rest of the gang is comprised of elderflower, Sicilian lemons, grains of paradise, coriander, orris, angelica and liquorice roots, plus juniper.

The takeaway
Overdid it on gin? The salty Rock Sea Vodka is a sophisticated by-the-seaside souvenir – slug it with Fevertree’s Mediterranean tonic, a sage leaf and ice.

The stylish seaside stay: North House

What’s the story?
This Isle of White stay has a classic sea-hued colour scheme, but it’s attitude is entirely modern. In fact, two certain princes stayed here on a friend’s stag do a few years ago after they got a few rounds in at the local pub. The owner used to work on Roman Abramovich’s super yacht before purchasing the Grade-II-listed town house, so he knows a thing or two about treating everyone like a minted oligarch. As-good-as royalty Judi Dench also became quite attached to the stay while filming Victoria & Abdul. As a former theatre, forester’s lodge and labour exchange, it has some stories sown into its walls too, and with a walled garden, heated pool and Farrow & Ball-dressed rooms it plays the part of the brilliant beach-y retreat very well.

North House, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom

North House

What’s the happens next?
East Cowes is an iconic seaside town with all the fish and chips and ice-cream-laden cones you could desire. Soak up the sun on Sandown Beach, or swim and sail (there are plenty of chandleries selling the requisite gear). Dig for treasure in the antiques shops, before diving into the isle’s surprisingly swell fine-dining scene and friendly ale houses.

The takeaway
Some sweet seaside tchotchkes, a pocket full of shells and some sunset-hued memories.

Featured image courtesy of www.visitisleofwight.co.uk

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