Kerry, Kingdom of the Perfect Landscape

Picture by Jean Beaufort

With its wild coastline, high peaks and the Killarney National Park, Kerry combines nature at its most picturesque with a whole host of activities, from festivals and fairs to food and drink – and it’s an ideal destination for a self-catering, holiday cottage holiday

The Killarney National Park

Killarney was Ireland’s first national park, when the Irish Free State received a donation of the Muckross Estate. Today the National Parks and Wildlife Service manages this spectacular natural beauty spot.

The park covers some 26,000 acres and within it are notable landmarks such as Muckross House and its gardens, Inisfallen Island and the Lakes of Killarney.

The large area of natural oak woodland covered in the park is itself a stunning natural attraction, as are the herds of red deer on the mountain slopes. Muckross House was originally built between 1839 and 1843, then further improved in 1850, in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland.

Looking out across Muckross Lake, the house is an imposing feature of the park and well worth exploring, as are its surroundings, including its elegant, multi-themed gardens.

Killarney’s Upper, Middle and Lower lakes converge at the aptly named Meeting of the Waters. This is a wonderfully tranquil spot in the national park, which you can only get to on foot or by cycling, making it something of a hidden gem.

On Inisfallen Island are the remains of Inisfallen Abbey, dating from the early Christian period. The monastery dates from 640 and in its desolate state still evokes an air of mystery and spirituality.

Sitting on the edge of Killarney’s Lower Lake, Loch Leane, in the national park, Ross Castle was built in the 15th century. It was one of the last fortresses in Ireland to hold out against Cromwell’s armies, until its fall in 1652.

Recently restored, it has guided tours from April to October but its grounds are open to visitors throughout the year.

The Gap of Dunloe is one of Ireland’s most famous visitor excursions, involving travel through stunning natural landscapes. It combines a coach trip to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, a traditional, family-run venue, and thereafter visitors can travel on horseback through the six-mile pass of the gap.

A trip through the gap will take you to the shore of Killarney’s Upper Lake and Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

 

The Dingle Peninsula

Stretching 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, the Dingle Peninsula is a coastline of steep sea cliffs and sandy beaches.

It’s a great centre for angling, walking, surfing and swimming, with a thriving Iocal Irish-language community.

There are eco marine tours to the nearby Blasket Islands, where you can see whales, dolphins and plenty of seabirds, including puffins and gannets. You can also enjoy land-based minibus tours of the peninsula and Slea Head.

Along with action and adventure attractions such as cycling, trekking and climbing, there are various festivals held in Dingle throughout the year. These include traditional music festivals, hill walking and fitness, visual arts and poetry, and even Dingle’s own film festival.

The area is culturally, vibrant, and its landscape is richly, naturally dramatic, providing a whole range of interests and sights for visitors.

Experience and Explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

The West Coast of Ireland is the world’s longest defined coastal tourist route. It stretches for some 1,500 miles from the northern headlands, at Malin Head, to the Haven Coast

Picture by Brian Henry

in the south. It is a coastline of contrasts, from rugged cliffs to blue flag Beaches. It’s ideal terrain to explore from the base of a self-catering holiday cottage.

Rugged Landscapes and Towering Coastal Cliffs

In County Donegal  you can experience the drama of Malin Head and the Sliabh Liag Cliffs.

If you wanted a single place to capture the essence of rugged, outdoor beauty then Malin Head would be a leading contender. Lying on the Inishowen Peninsula, the area’s vivid coastal scenery and birdlife, along with its historical associations, make it an endlessly diverting destination.

The monolithic Banba’s Crown stands at the tip of the peninsula, built by the British Admiralty in 1805 as part of the coastal defences against the possibility of a French invasion.

The raised landscape of Ballyhillin Beach harks back to a time when the sea level was 100 feet higher, some 15,000 years ago. It’s also a repository for semi-precious stones.

If you’re lucky, you might also see dolphins off this coastline, and, on occasion, the Northern Lights.

Further down the coastline, the Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) mountain has some of Ireland’s highest sea cliffs. At the Cliffs Centre you’ll find information about the area and local culture, along with delicious homemade scones and cakes.

As well as exploring the cliffs and taking in the amazing scenery, you can also go on guided hillwalking and hiking tours, which take in the archaeology, heritage and folklore of the area.

The Poetic and Pounding Surf Coast

On the northern edge of County Sligo is Mullaghmore, with some of the most desired surfing waves off its white, sandy beach. Strandhill in Sligo is a favourite centre for surfing, and the local surf school offers surfing lessons for children and adults.

At Mullaghmore you can also take in the beauty of the monastic site of Inishmurray, dating from the 6th century, and Ben Bulben mountain, part of the dramatic landscape that inspired the poet W B Yeats.

The Picturesque Bay Coast

In Connemara and County Mayo , you’ll find a shoreline dotted with characterful dotted with coves, loughs and islands. The beautiful Clew Bay has numerous islands, including Clare Island, the biggest of them. Here are blue flag beaches, and historical and archaeological sites.

For those seeking more active diversions, Collanmore Island is home to many organised water sports, including kayaking, dinghy sailing and paddle boarding.

A must-visit is the Georgian Westport House, providing fascinating cultural insights with its elegant, historically preserved rooms and grounds. Also onsite, are the Pirate Adventure Park and Adventure Activity Centre, making it an ideal family destination.

The Calm South

The aptly named Haven Coast zig zags from Bantry Bay to Kinsale in Cork. This southernmost stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way basks in the more temperate climate of the Gulf Stream and is a focal point for both ancient cultural sites and contemporary food and festivals.

There’s an annual Gourmet Festival held every autumn in Kinsale, hosted by the fishing port’s Good Food Circle restaurants. Kinsale is also a centre for arts and crafts, as well as boasting fine beaches.

South west of Skibbereen, Lough Hyne is a unique saltwater lake, and, as Ireland’s first marine nature reserve, it’s home to a many rare species of animals and plants. Guided kayaking trips are available for exploring the lake.
You can also go whale watching in West Cork, with various species frequently seen in these waters, including Minke, Fin and Humpback whales, as well as dolphins. Day trips for dolphin and whale watching are available throughout the autumn months, departing from Baltimore Harbour.

Escape to the Essex Coastline

The large and diverse county of Essex has over 350 miles of coastline, making it an ideal holiday location, especially if you choose a self-catering holiday cottage and use it as a base from which to explore this fascinating region.

Essex may not be top of everyone’s list, but having the longest shoreline of any county in England means that it offers lots of variety and endless possibilities for family holiday activities, or just somewhere to relax and take in the surrounding natural beauty.

A Victorian Seaside Legacy

Clacton-on-Sea encapsulates the classic British seaside holiday. It was created as a seaside resort in 1871, with its iconic pier dating from this time. Clacton was also the location of Bill Butlin’s second ever holiday camp in 1938.

Clacton brings this legacy up to date with a thoroughly contemporary approach to seaside fun and entertainment, complete with an aquarium, thrill rides and other family entertainment, along with bars and restaurants.

Frinton has much more of a genteel feel, with its esplanade and avenues and vintage surviving Victorian beach huts. In its heyday it was a retreat for the aristocracy, while today it retains a sense of uprightness, even if that’s enforced with numerous by-laws. It does, however, have a certain quiet charm that’s a world away from Clacton’s brashness.

Uniquely, Walton-on-the-Naze is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and has a history of coastal erosion. Wooden groynes (barriers) and a concrete sea wall protect it now, but many pillboxes dating from the Second World War have since fallen from the eroding clifftops.

The area offers plenty of walking trails, nature reserves, three miles of sandy beaches and a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Red Crag cliffs, where many fossils have been found. Manmade attractions include a pier, yacht club and marina.

Southend boasts the longest pier in the world, and a buoyant cultural scene that includes a number of museums, galleries and historic houses. It has seven miles of coastline, the bustling entertainment of City Beach, and plenty of rides and rollercoasters to burn off your kids’ energy on.

Exploring Essex’s Intriguing Islands

Essex has a number of islands off its extended coastline, each with their own particular charm and character. Foulness is the largest of them, close to Southend-on-Sea, and a large number of tidal waterways separates it from the mainland. It’s a notable wildlife haven for birds and seals, and it has a fascinating Heritage Centre located in an old school house, full of local artefacts, some dating back to Roman times.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) owns the island, so visiting hours only apply at the time when the Heritage Centre is open.

On Essex’s Blackwater Estuary, Osea Island feels like something of an idyllic retreat. You can only reach it by a pebble causeway every seven hours, when the tides permit crossing. It has a rich history of occupation dating back to Neolithic times, and there are remains of ancient villages and Viking burial grounds here.

It’s a secluded spot that attracts a range of wildlife, from wild rabbits to a wide variety of owl species. Osea makes an ideal spot for sailing and fishing for sea bass in the estuary, and it also has a saltwater swimming pool and a tennis court.

More of a wilderness destination, Wallasea Island is an RSPB conservation project and a developing nature reserve. The RSPB is working to restore mudflats and saltmarshes to this wild landscape, and to provide a safe, natural home for many different species of birds.

For oysters, and the simple pleasures of watching the world go by, Mersea Island fits the bill, along with windsurfing, sailing and other watersports. It combines these seaside attractions with the country life of its eastern side and the Cudmore Grove Country Park.

Self-catering or All Inclusive – Which Holiday to Choose?

Picture credit: Ed Hoskins

Family holidays require a degree of planning. Everyone knows it’s not a simple as looking at desirable destinations, booking one and waiting for the date to come around. While your end destination is important, the actual structure of your holiday is also vital, and this includes amenities.

All inclusive holidays are popular for families. They provide a readymade solution to at least one big issue, and a potential family battleground: meals.

There is also the issue of cost: which is the most economic option for a family holiday?

However, we think the most important thing you must consider is quality. What sort of holiday do you want? What will suit your family best, and, how will the holiday affect you all?

Are You in Control?

The temptation with all inclusive is to cede all control to your holiday hosts, so you no longer need worry about the kids nagging you for drinks and snacks. And your meals are taken care of, so you don’t have to do that much planning around mealtimes.

But then how much choice will this leave you with? Because if you’re staying within the confines of your resort that’s fine, but any plans to eat out and you’re basically paying twice.

If, for example, you choose to stay in a UK holiday cottage, then you’re basically in control of everything you do. You choose where to shop, what food to eat – and if you want to eat out, you can plan ahead for it.

If the kids are fussy about their food, no problem, because you can find food they’re comfortable with in the local shops, or even take it with you. Sometimes familiarity is a great problem-solver.

And you can control the budget.

 

Your Holiday Experience

It comes down to the kind of holiday you want, and a self-catering holiday cottage break is about exploration.

It’s about getting to know the area around you; discovering new places while having your own home from home as a kind of base camp.

You also have a lot of independence. Some might find this a challenge, if your kids need constant entertainment on tap, for example; but if your family is temperamentally suited to it, then the self-catering holiday can be very rewarding.

You can switch off by doing lots of active things, things that take you away from your normal routine, even while you maintain your close-knit family arrangements in your self-catering accommodation.

Your holiday might just tell you something new about yourself, and give you a much-needed rest in the process. Not every moment has to be magical – but you might just surprise yourself.

 

Holiday Cottages Dos and Don’ts

When you’re on a self-catering break, staying in a holiday cottage, you expect a high degree of personal freedom, where you can set your own schedule, make your own eating arrangements, and generally enjoy a

Picture by Petr Krotochvil

holiday that’s a home away from home.

However, holiday cottages do have rules, and while these shouldn’t have a negative impact on the quality of your stay, they are important from the point of view of safety and common courtesy.

Many of them are, in fact unwritten, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow them, if you’re going to be a good guest.

Arrival

If you’re given an appointed time to arrive at your holiday accommodation, don’t be too early. It can prove especially difficult where there are several properties in one place, with queues of cars leaving and arriving.

If possible, do arrive at your holiday cottage in daylight hours. After dark, finding things like locks, keys and entrances can prove complex, particularly if you’re out in the countryside. Be on the safe side and bring a torch with you.

Do check in advance if you require disabled access – people can have different ideas about what this means and, depending on the disability, conditions can vary.

Don’t assume that “dogs welcome” means any pet – caged birds will be fine but it’s unusual to take a cat, for example.

Your holiday cottage may state that towels are included, but please don’t assume this will cover all your needs. You should pack your own beach towels (if applicable), and you might want to pack a large bath towel of your own.

Do ask the owner any questions on arrival, but don’t overwhelm them with detailed queries about the area, places to eat etc – their time is limited and while you’re on holiday, they’re not.

If there’s a welcome pack at the cottage, do take the time to read it – it will probably contain useful information about the cottage and the local area and its amenities.

Don’t keep any complaints to yourself – if there’s something you feel is wrong, or missing, then let the owner know as soon as you can after your arrival, so that they can fix it. That way everyone’s happy.

Departure

Do check you’re leaving your holiday cottage in the same state you found it. No one’s expecting you to act like an au pair throughout your holiday, but you should leave the place tidy as a courtesy to the owner.

If there are any breakages do admit to them – it’s not fair on the owner if they then must deal with unreported items that are broken or missing.

If there’s a visitors’ book, do write in it – useful comments, including constructive criticism, should always be welcome, since the holiday cottage owner will want to ensure that guests have the best possible experience.

How to Make the Most of Your Self Catering Holiday

Image by George Hodan

Holidays are about relaxation, but we all know that they can also be a major cause of stress, both in the planning and the execution; and keeping everyone happy all of the time presents certain challenges.

When it comes to a self-catering holiday in a holiday cottage, the key is to be prepared but also be flexible. Here are our tips for a successful, and happy, holiday.

The Advantages of Self Catering

For a family holiday, self-catering gives you much greater flexibility, because you can come and go as you please. Of course, while this means you set your own schedule, it also requires a bit more planning on your part.

You’ve also got potentially more freedom in terms of space – your holiday cottage has more to offer than a hotel room, and while there may not be the facilities immediately to hand that a hotel can offer, you’ve got other choices – surrounding attractions, countryside etc.

There’s also more freedom in not feeling immediately labelled as a tourist – staying in a holiday cottage gives you the opportunity to feel more embedded locally and comfortable in your own skin.

Choosing Your Location

Obviously, location is key. While you might like the abstract concept of self-catering, the reality and what sort of holiday you can expect, will very much depend on where you choose to go on holiday to.

So, if you’ve got kids, think of what they’ll want to do, and what you’ll need to keep them happy and occupied – if, for example, birdwatching and nature reserves are not their thing then make sure your holiday cottage is located somewhere where there are attractions and things that will appeal to them, as well as you.

Think about what you’re looking for and match the location to it – whether it’s rural seclusion, beaches, attractions or entertainment.

What is the immediate outdoor space going to be like – will you have a garden, or even a pool? This can make a big difference to how you find your self-catering holiday experience. Having outdoor space gives everyone on holiday a greater sense of personal freedom.

What You Get and What You Should Bring

What you get in your self-catering accommodation can vary, so you should always check in advance. Your cottage might come with a fully-equipped country kitchen, or something more basic.

Is there a washing machine, a television, kids’ toys? What sort of cutlery, crockery will be supplied, and do you need to bring your own towels?

Knowing what to expect in terms of facilities also affects what you decide to pack for your holiday. If there’s a washing machine, you can pack less changes of clothes, for instance.

Always bring the essentials with you – first aid, a loo roll, and a corkscrew!

And have basic supplies of food and drink with you for the day of your arrival, in case the local shop is closed and there’s nothing provided at your accommodation address. Again, location is important: do you need a food shop nearby to fit in with your holiday plans?

There’s a self-catering holiday to suit most people, so try and choose the one that will best suit you – be prepared for your holiday, but also be prepared to relax – planning is important, but so is enjoying the moment.

Visit Jersey for a Laid-back, Natural Break

Picture by Petr Kratochvil

The largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey is surrounded by smaller islands and reefs. It has a unique combination of British and European influences, giving it a distinctive, laid-back cultural flavour of its own.

With mild weather similar to the South Coast of the UK, it’s an ideal holiday spot and boasts plenty of self-catering accommodation, from beachside apartments to holiday cottages.

 

Jersey Beach Life

Whether it’s beach life, surfing, walking and the rugged outdoors, or just enjoying the scenery accompanied by great food and drink, Jersey offers a wide variety of ways to enjoy yourself.

At St Ouen’s Bay, on the island’s west coast, wait for the golden hour, as the sun sets and lights up the view. Relax in the iconic Watersplash beach bar and diner and experience this natural display of breathtaking beauty.

This side of Jersey is ideal for surfing, with strong Atlantic swells. Swimmers should be careful with the strong currents though.

Further north, there are more sheltered bays, such as the tiny fishing harbour of Bonne Nuit, ideal for picnics. Bouley Bay’s deep waters are great for experienced swimmers, and Greve de Lecq is one of the north coast’s most popular beaches, with its rockpools, sheltered sandy expanse, cafes and pubs.

To the east is the Long Beach at Grouville Bay, a longstanding local favourite with its extended stretch of sand and children’s playground.

On the south coast, Beauport is a lovely south-facing, sheltered beach with shallow, turquoise water, while Portelet Bay is similarly sheltered. St Brelade’s Bay is popular, busy and a great family destination with its beachside activities, seaside eateries and safe swimming. Also, look out for the lovely art deco-style outdoor pool at Havre des Pas, which gets filled daily by the incoming tide.

Explore Jersey’s Heritage

Relaxation aside, Jersey is rich in historical associations and has an intriguing cultural heritage that’s well worth exploring, when you tire of the tide and the sunlounger.

A powerful remnant of the German occupation during the Second World War, the War Tunnels were dug deep into the hillside of the island using forced labour. They are now the site of a series of exhibitions that tell the story of the island’s occupation and liberation. The Jersey War Tunnels are north of St Helier, accessible by car, public transport or on guided tours.

La Corbiere is at the extreme south western point of Jersey, and it is on this rugged piece of coastline that you’ll find La Corbiere Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1873 and switched on the following year. It was the first lighthouse in the British Isles to be made of reinforced concrete. At a height of 35 feet, its light can be seen at a distance of 18 miles on a clear day.

Another of Jersey’s iconic landmark buildings is its Opera House, first built in 1865, then rebuilt and reopened in 1900 following a fire. The building hosts plays, operas and ballets. It is designed with an Edwardian horseshoe-style auditorium, and its lobby has an impressive chandelier comprising over 10,000 pieces.

In the 1920s, the shipping magnate Sir James Knott created the Botanic Gardens in the grounds of Samares Manor, east of St Helier. The gardens have a glorious display of unique plant life, along with a museum dedicated to rural life.

Overlooking the harbour of Gorey, Mont Orgueil Castle was originally built to protect Jersey from French invasion some 600 years ago. With its network of towers, turrets, staircases and hidden rooms, the castle is a great place to explore, and it provides great views across the harbour from the battlements.
Whether it’s exploration, culture or sun and sand you seek, Jersey has plenty to offer, while retaining an underlying sense of unhurried relaxation.

Feeling at Home Abroad in Glorious Guernsey

Guernsey feels at once very British and very different – it’s close enough to France to feel like you’re visiting a foreign country, yet, when you get there, Guernsey has a touch of slightly displaced British charm. In short, it feels unique.

There’s a wide range of accommodation in Guernsey, from luxury hotels to self-catering coastal cottages, full of character.

 

A Coastline with Character

With 27 bays to choose from, Guernsey’s coast is a big draw for visitors. Beaches range from hidden coves to bigger, and more popular, stretches of sandy beach.

The beaches on Guernsey’s west coast are generally of the sandy variety, including the easily accessible Cobo, Vazon, Pembroke, Grandes Rocques and Port Soif. Here you’ll find plenty of facilities and amenities and, in some places, such as Vazon Bay, excellent surfing conditions.

In contrast, on the east coast, Fermain Bay is a secluded pebble beach you can only reach on foot, a short walk along the cliff path from St Peter Port. It feels quite hidden away and has wonderfully clear waters for swimming in.

It’s also well served by the Fermain Beach Café, serving refreshing drinks and good quality food and great views across the bay.

With its shallow, turquoise waters, Moulin Huet Bay on the south coast inspired the painter Renoir with its tranquillity combined with stunning views of the surrounding cliffs.

There’s enough variation on Guernsey’s coast to suit most tastes, whether you’re for watersports, lounging in the sun, or exploring rockier terrain.

A Great Harbour Capital

St Peter Port has been a bustling centre of activity on the island dating back to Roman times. Guarding the town is Castle Cornet, some 800 years old, at the mouth of the harbour.

It’s a short walk from the town centre and contains five museums and four gardens. From here the noon-day gun is fired, and you can experience great views of the port, and across the sea to other, neighbouring islands.

In the town, steep, cobbled streets lead you up to Candie Gardens and the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery. The restored Victorian gardens have some of the oldest heated glass houses in the British Isles, and a wide selection of beautiful flowers, tended lawns and glittering ponds.

The whole town has an air of easy refinement, while feeling utterly accessible and welcoming. There’s much Regency architecture to admire and a variety of tearooms to visit.

The German Occupation Museum provides plenty of information about the Nazi occupation of the island during the Second World War, and offers a fascinating contrast to the more genteel side of Guernsey’s cultural history.

The French writer Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, spent 15 years living in exile on Guernsey. He fell in love with the place and his home, Hauteville House, is open to the public on guided tours. At the very top of the house is the Crystal Room, where Hugo did his writing, and which has glorious views across St Peter Port.

Visitors can also enjoy the surrounding gardens free of charge, and there are lectures on Hugo held there.

Whether it’s activity and culture you’re after, or pure relaxation, or a combination of the two, Guernsey can offer it, wrapped up in its own idiosyncratic island charm.

Channelling your Holiday on the Isle of Wight

Cowes Harbour by Colin Woodcock

Sitting in the English Channel, around three miles off the UK’s south coast, the Isle of Wight has been a popular holiday destination since Victorian times. Its climate is mild, it’s an Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty, and it’s within easy reach of the mainland.

Self-catering accommodation on the island is varied, including cosy cottages and modern apartments, and you can choose between more remote rural locations and being based in a town centre.

 

The Needles, Way out West

The Needles Chairlift is one of the images that is always associated with the Isle of Wight, taking people from the top of the cliffs at Alum Bay down to the beach. The Needles Park is located on the southwestern tip of the island, and there’s a stunning, panoramic view of the cliffs and the sea from the chairlift.

Here you’ll also find the Needles Rocks and the Trinity Lighthouse. The Needles Battery is also well worth a visit. This military site was built in the 1860s to guard the Solent – the stretch of water separating the Isle of Wight from the UK mainland. The National Trust restored the Old Battery in 1982 and it’s now a vibrant museum piece that also offers fantastic views across the Solent.

The Needles Park is also home to Alum Bay Glass, where you can watch traditional glassmaking, and the Sweet Manufactory, for those with a sweet tooth. There’s also a 4D cinema, offering a unique cinematic experience.

 

Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle

Osborne House is nearby the town of East Cowes and was Queen Victoria’s seaside palace and is a suitably impressive and immersive experience. There are fabulous sea views from the terraces, and inside you can see how Victoria and Albert, and their children, lived when residing here.

The house has sumptuous drawing rooms and dining rooms, alongside the Dunbar Rooms, which are decorated in a style inspired by the Indian subcontinent, at the time known as the jewel in Victoria’s crown.

Situated in Newport, Carisbrooke Castle originally dates from Saxon times before being taken over first by the Normans then later remodelled during the Middle Ages. The castle was a strategic fortress during the reign of Elizabeth I and Charles I was imprisoned here for a time.

You can walk around the castle battlements and experience great panoramic views across the island. There’s film and virtual tour, and the Castle Museum is full of artefacts from the reign of Charles I. Last but not least, the castle’s tea room serves refreshments, light meals and snacks.

 

Cowes and East Cowes

The town of Cowes is famous as hub for sailing, and it has a rich maritime history, which you can explore in the local Maritime Museum. Cowes is also a popular shopping destination, with its many boutique and specialist shops. There are also many small galleries displaying and selling arts and crafts form the Isle of Wight.

The Yacht Haven is the centre of sailing activity and this large marina is where various international yachting events are held.

East Cowes is separated from Cowes by a river and you reach it by crossing the floating bridge – unless, of course, you’re making the journey by boat. In East Cowes you’ll find the Classic Boat Museum and, a short distance from the town, East Cowes Beach, which is a firm family favourite because it’s well sheltered.

These are just some of the many places to visit and things to do on the Isle of Wight. It’s also a home for various events, such as Bestival and the Isle of Wight Festival. It also hosts walking and cycling festivals, and for those into sailing, Cowes Week.

The Isles of Scilly: Splendid Holiday Isolation

An archipelago off Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly are both very English and very different. With the comings and goings of small ferries that connect the islands determining the pace of life, and a general sense of relaxed calm, it is like stepping back into a bygone era.

This is no mere cultural nostalgia trip though, because the natural beauty of the islands is the big draw, with no traditional seaside brashness, just miles of fine beaches, and a welcoming hospitality and intimacy.

Across the five inhabited islands there is plenty of self-catering holiday accommodation, from traditional granite cottages to farmhouses, converted barns and chalets.

 

St Mary’s

This island has the largest population of the Scillies, at around 1,800, and its transport links make it an entry point. 80% of Scillonians live here, but while it is the largest of the islands, it’s still compact.

Central to St Mary’s is Hugh Town, with its shops, banks and places to eat and drink. It’s far from bustling, but has its own easy going charm. The other main settlement on St Mary’s is Old Town, close to the airport, where you’ll find a fine beach and nature reserve and various amenities.

There’s plenty of fresh seafood to savour from the range of restaurants and cafes on St Mary’s, and if you tire of relaxing on the beach, you can visit several historical sites, including iron age and Roman settlements at Bant’s Carn and Halangy Down – in fact there is a greater concentration of historical sites on the Isles of Scilly than anywhere else in the UK.

 

St Agnes and St Martin’s

By way of contrast, St Agnes has a small population of around 70 and feels both calm and wonderfully isolated. There’s a campsite at Troytown Farm, where you can also get delicious ice cream; and the island’s quayside has a fine old pub, the Turk’s Head, as well as restaurants and cafes in the centre.

The landscape of the island comprises rocky outcrops and sheltered coves with attractive beaches.

St Martin’s is just two miles long but has some of the most stunning beaches in the British Isles. It’s also home to a diverse range of wildlife and plants. Coming here is really like getting away from it all – but the island does have a post office, an off licence, and a vineyard, so you’re not totally cut off from civilisation!

You can also experience snorkeling with seals from here, with regular trips organised to the Eastern Isles.

 

Tresco

Tresco boasts the famous Abbey Garden, the Scillies’ major attraction and a breathtaking showcase of sub-tropical plant life and imposing palm trees, a mark of its sophistication. The gardens have a great gathering of ships’ figureheads known as the Valhalla collection, rescued from shipwrecked vessels over the years.

Overall, this island has a more ordered feel than the other islands, with plenty of varied accommodation and an art gallery.

However, the northern end of the island is far emptier and is worth exploring. Here you’ll find the ruins of two forts dating back to the middle of the 17th century.

 

Bryher

Bryher is a study in contrasts: its west side has the jagged rocks and crashing breakers of Hell Bay, but it’s also home to the luxurious Hell Bay Hotel. It’s also home to the Fraggle Rock Bar and a number of places to eat serving tasty fresh seafood.

Paths criss-cross the island, making it a great place for walking; and the area has plenty of sandy beaches to enjoy and rocky coves to explore.

There are also over a hundred uninhabited islands that are worth visiting in the Scillies, sites of great natural beauty and vivid wildlife. Many can be reached by boat and plenty of day trips are available from the inhabited Islands of Scilly.