Drawn by the island’s slightly old-fashioned and unspoiled feel, throngs of visitors flock to the 23-mile-long Isle of Wight (pronounced white) in summer. It became a fashionable holiday destination during the reign of Queen Victoria, who spent her own vacations here at her favorite residence, Osborne House, where she ultimately died. The island attracted the cream of Victorian society, including Darwin, Thackeray, and Tennyson, with the latter living here until tourist harassment drove him away. Perhaps understandably, islanders have a love-hate relationship with the crowds of tourists who disembark from the ferries and hydrofoils that connect the island with Southampton, Portsmouth, Southsea, and Lymington. The attractions include its seaside resorts—Ryde, Bembridge, Ventnor, and Freshwater (stay away from rather tacky Sandown and Shanklin)—and its green interior landscape, narrow lanes, curving bays, sandy beaches, and walking paths. Although the revitalizing ocean air is, to quote Tennyson, "worth sixpence a pint," the island offers more than sailing and the sea. There are splendid scenic roads to explore in Brading Down, Ashley Down, Mersely Down, and along Military Road, and historic holiday getaways to visit, notably Osborne House itself.
Looking back on eight decades on making travel history.More