When you think of top-notch destinations for a foodie weekend, minds instinctively turn to the likes of Paris, Bologna and Barcelona. But what if there wasn’t even a need to leave the UK? The Isle of Wight has worked hard to earn its nickname of the Isle of Bite, giving us Brits a perfect foodie mini-break location without the need for passports.
The elegant Royal hotel in Ventnor has embraced the idea of the Isle of Wight as a foodie destination, and offers a whole host of short breaks, centred on the island’s wealth of gastronomic delights. Whether you’re an oenophile, a budding chef or just an all-round gastronome, The Royal has a package to suit. We went along to sample highlights from the Gastronomic Weekend and Italian Wine Weekend packages, and can thoroughly recommend both.
The next Gastronomic Weekend will take place from the 21st-23rd April 2017, costing £520 per couple, and is the perfect treat for foodies. You can enjoy two nights’ stay at the beautiful Royal while exploring the island on a gastro tour that includes visits to some of the IoW’s best food producers, including one of Britain’s oldest vineyards. The weekend package includes dinner and breakfast for two, as well as return car ferry passage from Southampton, Lymington or Portsmouth.
We travelled over from Southampton and found that the ferry passage put us straight in the holiday mood – the stresses of the week quickly melted away as we made the crossing. Once on the island, it’s easy to see why it was home to Queen Victoria’s favourite residence. There’s a quaintness that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, but also real natural beauty. Lush fields and tree-lined lanes greeted us at every turn as we explored the pretty island, and the wealth of producers and growers were in evidence.
The Gastronomic Weekend kicks off with a gin and tonic taster experience at 5.30pm on the Friday, followed by a three-course dinner (which you also get to enjoy on Saturday). The taster experience is hosted by the Isle of Wight Distillery, well-known for their distinctive Mermaid Gin. The Royal prides itself on being the go-to hotel for foodies on the Isle of Wight; its restaurant has featured in The Michelin Guide every year since its first publication, and has also been awarded two AA rosettes for the exceptional dining experience it offers – meals here are sure to be stand-out dining experiences.
When it’s time to retire for the night, you’ll find that your room is designed with maximum comfort in mind – The Royal offers a stay filled with the finer things, and this certainly extends to the luxurious rooms. Our suite was spacious, bright and comfortable, with wonderful sea views and large windows to enjoy them through. Just across the road from the hotel is a sloping path to pretty gardens that overlook the coast – on a sunny day in summer, it would be the perfect spot for one of The Royal’s romantic picnics. The Royal in Ventnor has served as a destination for refined visitors for over 180 years, and in that time they have perfected the art of elegance. Stepping through the attractive, bright conservatory – an incredible spot for afternoon tea – and into the lobby when we first arrived, we took in the polished floors, high ceilings and dramatic chandeliers and felt as though we’d stepped into the pages of an Agatha Christie novel.
Saturday morning starts with breakfast – another treat – followed by a masterclass chef demonstration with talented head chef Steve Harris. Local farmers from Living Larder join in, teaching you all about the wonderful produce grown on the island.
Next up is a tour of The Garlic Farm and its stunning estate, with lunch in the lovely restaurant. Garlic is one of the Isle of Wight’s most celebrated exports, so we were keen to sample from the extensive menu and to browse the shop for garlicy products. The beautiful estate is sprawling and lush, with peacocks wandering around and plenty of feeders with nuts for red squirrels. We took a seat by the window with a view of the roaring fire, and settled down to a delicious meal. The menu is varied, with everything from hearty classics like bubble and squeak and burgers to more unusual dishes like the quesadilla, which is packed full of sweet potato, peanut butter, mozzarella and chilli. The charming setting was the perfect place to relax and embrace our weekend of gastronomy.
Perhaps one of the most popular elements of the Gastronomic Weekend is the visit to Adgestone Vineyard, one of the UK’s oldest vineyards. There you’ll get to learn about a range of locally made wine, as well as partaking in a wine tasting session. The vineyard is truly beautiful, with sweeping views over the coast and plenty of space for you to revel in its tranquillity.
Sunday morning is all about botanics. After breakfast – think fresh pastries and fruit followed by a made-to-order omelette – you’ll head to the Ventnor Botanic Garden for a tasting experience hosted by the garden’s curator, Chris Kidd. Spend the rest of the day exploring the island before you catch the ferry back to the mainland, no doubt checking your diary to plan your return to the Isle of Bite as soon as possible.
For more Isle of Wight foodie inspiration, pick up a copy of the Hampshire & isle of Wight Food & Drink Guide at your local Waitrose store, order a copy online, or browse digitally on our website or on Issuu.