The South: Places to Explore

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Isle of Wight

A slightly tattered, slightly romantic place, this island sometimes gets so crowded it seems that it might sink beneath the weight of the throngs of summer visitors. Its appealingly dusty Victorian look comes courtesy of Queen Victoria, who made the Isle of Wight (pronounced white) fashionable by choosing it for the site of her favorite residence, Osborne House. She stayed as often as she could, and ultimately died here. The island attracted the cream of Victorian society, including Darwin, Thackeray, and Tennyson; the latter lived here until tourist harassment drove him away. Perhaps understandably, islanders have a love-hate relationship with the crowds of tourists that descend on this 23-mile-long island every summer thanks to the ferries and hydrofoils that connect the island with Southampton, Portsmouth, Southsea, and Lymington. The attractions include its vacation resorts—Ryde, Bembridge, Ventnor, and Freshwater (stay away from rather tacky Sandown and Shanklin)—and its rich vegetation, narrow lanes, thatched cottages, curving bays, sandy beaches, and walking paths. Although the fabulous ocean air is, to quote Tennyson, "worth six pence a pint," the island offers more than sailing and the sea. There’s splendid driving to be done in the interior in such places as Brading Down, Ashley Down, Mersely Down, and along Military Road, and the occasional country house to visit, none more spectacular than former royal hideaway Osborne House.

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