If you are in the mood for some island hopping adventures, with soft white sand, deserted beaches, scenery to blow your socks off and miles of smiles guaranteed, you really can’t do much better than head to the Isles of Scilly.
With 5 inhabited islands to choose from; St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes, there is a bit of something Scilly for everyone.
Seriously, I’ve travelled the whole, wide world, staying on tropical island paradises wherever I can find them.
But these local lovelies, 28 miles off the Cornish coast, practically on our doorstep, are far and away, my fab faves.
If you are heading to the Scillies, first thing you have to do is decide which form of transport you’re going to use.
There is a boat, The Scillonian, which takes around 2 or 3 hours and allows you to take your dog along with you.
A small plane, also dog friendly, which is a lot quicker, takes around 30 to 40 minutes. But, more importantly, there is a helicopter which gets you there in just 15 minutes.
Naturally, I chose the helicopter, because, well, why wouldn’t you? It’s not every day you get to chance to try out the millionaire lifestyle of the rich and famous.
With all modes of transport, you have to remember the first rule of island life. Time, tide and weather waits for no-one.
The day I was due to travel, the clouds descended, the heavens opened, and all transport ceased. Which was unexpected, but actually added to the adventure as I got to spend a relaxing night in a Penzance B&B, before enjoying a glorious early morning trip along the seafront to the heliport, watching a pink and golden sunrise over St Michaels mount. A mighty fine way to start any day.
The largest of the islands is St Mary’s, making it the perfect base. A great place to stay if you want a gateway to the Scillies.
Boats regularly travel between each of the islands, allowing you to pick and choose your own itinerary.
I spent my first day, happily wandering round St Mary’s itself, strolling along the coastal path, which takes you to picture perfect hidden beaches, past glorious headlands.
Halfway round, decided to make my way back across the heart of the island through windy little lanes. Taking me past several of the honesty box stalls that are scattered like cute confetti throughout the islands.
Star Castle Hotel
I was lucky enough to stay at the Star Castle Hotel. A luxurious space with 38 bedrooms, four stars and more history than a shelf full of history books.
Originally built in the 16th century it has seen a bit of everything. Being used as a garrison for Royalist troops, a prison for popish priests and, since 1933, being used as a posh and plush hotel for happy travellers. The perfect place to stay for those in search of peace, comfort and luxury.
There are bedrooms in the castle itself, but I went for one of the suites outside, part of a cosy bungalow style arrangement in the gardens.
My home from home had it’s own living room, complete with sofa, seaviews and space to stretch out. Along with a bathroom, complete with creamy soft towels, toasty hot rainfall shower and everything a hygienic heart could wish for.
The bedroom itself was a symphony of comfort, with a bed made for sweet dreams and bedding made for snuggling under.
If all of that wasn’t enough, there was even a bijou kitchenette for tea, coffee and biscuit time. All in all, a relaxing place to spend time at the end of an adventure filled day.
The hotel food is rather good too. Not content with offering gorgeous grub and fine wines to make the heart sing, they also offer a choice of two restaurants, one in the castle, the other in the conservatory, complete with grapevine and soft, romantic lighting.
They have obviously found themselves a talented chef too, who along with the smiling, friendly team of waiting staff, delivers superb examples of the culinary art. Which is no small thing on an island oasis like this.
The menu changes daily, featuring a tantalising mix of tempting flavours at every turn. Everything from fresh lobster, often caught by the hotel owner from his own boat, to rack of lamb served with the tastiest, teeniest shepherds pie as accompaniment. Sigh.
Every meal was a delight, up there with the best money can buy. The breakfasts were rather awesome too. Had some of the best kippers grilled in butter I’ve ever tasted. Mmm.
Things to do
Of course, there are many reasons to visit the Scillies. Some arrive in search of scenery, aiming to visit a few of the islands, to enjoy their unique charms. Some visit in search of peace, whilst others, come in search of fluffy friends.
Birdwatching. It’s famous for it, apparently. Whilst I was there, a Blackburnian Warbler was spotted, which may well mean nothing to you and me. But, it was only the fourth time in British History that one of these tiny, brightly coloured creatures has blown into town.
Hundreds of twitchers, men with enormous cameras, descended. Desperate to tick it off their list of birds to watch. Most odd, but rather fun to watch.
For myself, I had another, far more exciting reason to visit. Wanted to taste the spirit of the place. Literally.
You see, the islands are home to a joyous assortment of distilleries and vineyards. Producing wines, gins, rums and whiskies. Promising pleasure for every palate.
Holy Vale Vineyard
On St Mary’s, the owner of the Star Castle Hotel, a lover of fine wines, has planted his very own vineyard.
Parcels of land that used to grow daffodils are now home to several varieties of grape. A splendid chap called, George, leads guided tours of the vines, finishing up with tasting sessions, where you can sip on their very lovely and rather rare home grown offerings.
Sadly, at the moment, they only have enough bottles to satisfy their own needs, so you can’t buy a bottle to take home.
Scilly Spirit Distillery
However, Scilly Spirit, a gin distillery on St Mary’s, has lots of bottles of gin that you definitely CAN take home with you.
Once you’ve taste tested their range of sipping delights, it’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with them. They even do a rosé, barrel aged gin, taking inspiration from the sunsets of St Mary’s.
Their Island Gin is a fruity, peppery pleasure, full of warm hearted loveliness. Bit like the owners, Art & Hils.
A welcoming and friendly couple whose enthusiasm and skill has earned them a shelf full of awards, prizes and glowing worldwide reviews. Even their bottle designs have won prizes, for goodness sake.
My particular favourite tipple, was the Atlantic Strength gin, 57% ABV. An extra strength, strong minded, straightforward shot of gin heaven.
Apparently, so Hils told me, they manage the distilling process so it doesn’t leave you with a hangover the next day.
Must say, after sinking a few glasses and waking up fresh as a buttercup at breakfast. Am inclined to think they’ve worked a miracle. Can’t wait to taste the whisky they are working on.
Next morning, I caught one of the regular boats, popping over to St Martins for a few hours.
It’s a smaller, quieter island, filled with more deserted beaches, more amazing greenery and more amazing scenery, all linked by quaint little lanes, leading to quiet, hidden, hamlets.
Just perfect for strolling. Apart from the ever present honesty boxes offering everything from jewellery, to eggs, to knick knacks, there was also a sprinkling of cafes, pop up shops and bakeries to provide comfort to the happy day tripper.
Though, you have to watch out for sparrows with no respect for personal space.
SC Dogs Distillery
Whilst there, I visited SC Dogs distillery. The owner, Andrew, creates some superb spirits in a glorified greenhouse on his farm. Churning out a dazzling array of rums, vodkas and cider brandys.
My particular fave was the Honey Spiced rum. As if all of that alcoholic action wasn’t enough, he’s recently turned his talents to whisky. Using barley grown on his own farm.
The food miles from plough to whisky glass, can be measured in metres.
If you are looking for the perfect island getaway, with a sip of something special to keep you smiling, head to the heavenly Scilly Isles.
How much does it cost to stay at Star Castle Hotel?
Stays at the Star Castle Hotel cost from £200 per room per night, based on two sharing a garden room on bed and breakfast basis. Stays on dinner, bed and breakfast basis start from £240 per night.
How do you book a helicopter to the Isles Of Scilly?
Penzance Helicopters offer a scheduled, year-round helicopter service to the Isles of Scilly, flying direct to Tresco and St Mary’s in 15 minutes. Prices start from £134.50 per person one-way.
Do you need a passport for Isle of Scilly?
No you do not need a passport as The Isles of Scilly are part of Britain but an official form of photo ID is required if flying to the islands.