In an age when so many hotels no longer give away brochures, I was instantly reassured by the pile of paper souvenirs at The Royal in Ventnor. Their stylish photo brochure, prominently displayed at Reception, is so much more in keeping with this traditional and elegant hotel than any transient, 21st century website – a lovely souvenir after a visit to this charming hotel.
Not that The Royal is stuck in the dark ages. Historic it may be, but this is a hotel that moves with the times. It has a very good and thoroughly inviting website, but not at the expense of more traditional forms of communication. All credit to the Bailey family who own it.
Built into the side of a series of cliffs and terraces, The Royal stands in a commanding position above the red sand beach of Ventnor on the south side of the Isle of Wight. With its mild climate and fresh sea air, Ventnor became a hit with discerning Victorians and there are still some atmospheric buildings to be seen along the Esplanade. Pick up the free Town Trail leaflet from the tourist information stand in the high street Post Office.
The Royal, higher up the hill on Belgrave Road, opened its doors in 1832 and has been dispensing warm hospitality ever since, now rated 4-star by the AA with two AA rosettes for its imaginative cuisine. The 53 en-suite rooms are elegantly and individually furnished in country house style, but with all modern amenities.
My Premier room with separate sitting area was decorated in white and taupe with highlights of red on the soft furnishings. The double windows looked over the hotel gardens and small kidney-shaped pool to the sparkling waters of the English Channel.
A tempting collection of Elsyl toiletries nestled in a small gift bag in the gleaming white bathroom and, to my delight, I found an abundance of mirrors and adjacent sockets in which to plug hairdryers and gadget chargers. Only thing missing was a magnifying mirror for those of us who need close-up vision to apply mascara.
WiFi access is free in all the public rooms but officially not available in the bedrooms, although I managed to pick up a spasmodic signal, perhaps by having a room over the bar. Mobile phone signal is non-existent but that seems to be a general island problem, unless you stand on the hotel’s delightful cliff top terrace in the private gardens across the road which offer sweeping views onto the esplanade.
Meals can be enjoyed at tables in the conservatory around the front entrance but we ate in the Appuldurcombe Restaurant, enjoying three choices from the extensive table d’hôte menu for £40, plus wine. Much of the produce is sourced locally, so I opted for a delicate crab, ginger and pasta starter, followed by succulent sea bass, the ‘Catch of the Day’ cooked with delicious crispy skin and served with seasonal vegetables. Service was friendly and attentive.
A recent addition to the hotel services is a treatment room where a range of holistic and marine-inspired spa treatments are offered by a local company – pre-booking essential. Alternatively, you can book the Crow’s Nest and enjoy treatments for couples in this exclusive cedar cabin with sea views just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. For the ultimate treat, follow up with an indulgent Royal Afternoon Tea.
Don’t leave town without visiting the main attraction, Ventnor Botanic Garden, where more than 30,000 rare and sub-tropical plants and trees are spread across 22 acres. Recently transferred from council ownership and now privately run as a non-profit making venture, a number of welcome innovations are being put in place including the charming Edulis restaurant where I enjoyed a scrumptious board of local crab, prawns and salad, grown on site.
Afterwards, I felt like Gulliver amongst the giants as I walked amongst extra-large versions of some of my own garden plants as well as sub-tropical species which thrive in Ventnor’s almost Mediterranean micro-climate. There are different species to enjoy in all seasons, but don’t miss the giant Amazonian water lilies in the Tropical House. The pads grow up to 2metres wide and are strong enough to support the weight of a small child.
And watch out for the resident red squirrels, especially in the area of the walnut trees. I stood captivated whilst two russet lovelies scampered about the grass, quite unconcerned about human onlookers – magic!
The Royal Hotel
Ventnor, Isle of Wight