ith white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, the Isles of Scilly look and feel like something out of a honeymoon destination brochure — granted, a few notches cooler in temperature than, say, the Maldives.
The archipelago lies 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, offering something between a beach holiday and countryside getaway. Inland from those sparkling waters and swoon-worthy beaches lie lush farmlands, picturesque cottages and many a country pub — just the ticket for a wholesome weekend.
In fact, the Scilly Isles have been the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s UK escape of choice during the locked-down pandemic. They have holidayed on Tresco island with their three children – Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 6, and Prince Louis, 3 – for two years in a row.
Here’s what to eat, drink and where to stay on this UK slice of paradise.
Surrounded by water, lobster and crab are specialties. Try crustaceans overlooking St Mary’s harbour at Juliet’s Garden (julietsgardenrestaurant.co.uk), under the vines in the Garden Room at the Star Castle Hotel (star-castle.co.uk) or in scampi and chips at Adam’s Fish & Chips (adamsfishandchips.co.uk). Island-hop and get involved at the no-frills Crab Shack on Bryher (hellbay.co.uk) where you prep your own meal — don your apron and crack some claws.
Don’t miss the legendary curry night at Polreath Tea Room, St Martin’s (polreath.com). An island institution, Jason and Sarah Poat have been dishing out curries on a Monday night for 15 years — by local demand — and word on the country lane is that they can book up two months in advance. A simple concept done well — soft pillowy naan and fragrant curry with herbs and chillies grown in the kitchen — makes this a surprising highlight.
At Westward Farm on St Agnes (westwardfarm.co.uk), Aiden Hicks together with his wife, two kids, and parents (his family have been on the islands since the 1400s) make batch-distilled craft gin using botanicals grown on the farm. Look out for seasonal blends from their own plots, such as honey and orange, chamomile and elderflower, and their signature rose geranium, all made from two tiny pot stills in a cupboard-sized distillery on site. Everything is done by hand: grown, picked, distilled, blended and bottled on the farm — even the wax seals are topped at the kitchen stove. Visit Scilly Spirit Distillery, St Mary’s (scillyspirit.com), where husband-and-wife team Arthur and Hilary Miller’s inspiration for their gin recipe dates back to 1665 and the ship that wrecked around the Bishop Rock landmark, carrying a rich cargo of pepper.
Survivors were rescued by crewmen in pilot gig boats, so the blend contains pepper as one of the six main botanicals, reflecting the six oarsmen. Subtle notes of citrus and marmalade with herbaceous freshness mirror the purity of the island air and water. Call in for an afternoon tasting, or blend your own bespoke gin at the Gin School. Your recipe will be kept on file for future reordering, an original way to commemorate a special trip.
Taste Scillonian wine at Holy Vale Winery (holyvalewines.co.uk) on St Mary’s. It’s brave to grow grapes on these islands, where morning mists make for a tricky game. Owner Robert Francis has opted for one of the world’s most stubborn varieties, Pinot Noir, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. When questioned on why Pinot Noir, Robert looks wistful — he’s enjoyed a lot of beautiful bottles in his time and it was a dream to make some himself. The on-site tasting room features mouthwatering wines from around the world, best enjoyed with lunch overlooking the vines.
A second wine project comes from St Martin’s vineyard (stmartinsvineyard.co.uk), where Val and Graham Thomas planted their vines in the plot of an old flower farm back in 1996, originally as a holiday hobby. Their rustic wines: three white, one rose and a red from unusual grapes — Orian, Seyval Blanc and Siegerrebe — can be found in bars and cafes across the islands.
On a hilltop of St Mary’s is the Star Castle Hotel (star-castle.co.uk). Once a 16th-century military building, the hotel is full of old-timey character and is well-placed for explorations on the island and beyond. Stay in one of the guard rooms on the ramparts for views over St Mary’s and beyond.
To stay more remotely, the smaller St Martin’s island is secluded and the sole hotel, Karma (karmagroup.com), is situated right on the beachfront, allowing you to go from bed to beach in a matter of minutes.
Great Western Railway runs direct from Paddington to Penzance and the journey allows enough time to fully decompress from city life. A new timetable launched at the end of last year means more frequent services than ever before.
From Penzance, take the shuttle bus to Land’s End airport and enjoy a short but exhilarating 15-minute flight on the Skybus, a compact eight or 12-seater plane, that will make you feel like you’re going somewhere really exotic.