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.