Cowes and its nearby towns boast excellent restaurants, hotels and bars. Read our guide and reviews to find the best places to stay, eat and enjoy a drink whilst soaking up the excitement of this year's race.
Not long to go until Cowes Week!
Steeped in natural beauty, the Isle of Wight and the New Forest offer visitors plenty of attractions, leisure activities and an excellent selection of hotels, guest houses, restaurants and bars.
If you are attending Cowes Week this year, it’s time to book your accommodation and reserve a table at the various eateries that the area boasts.
If you like to be in the midst of the action during Cowes Week 2016 (29 July -6 August), this pretty town is ideal to stay in. If you prefer a more tranquil spot away from the hustle and bustle, there are plenty of beautiful coastal or inland places that offer accommodation and entertainment, such as the quaint town of Lymington in the New Forest and Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.
The island’s official tourism website, Visit Isle of Wight, is an invaluable source of information and advice on where to stay, what to see and do, local transport and services, entertainment and holidays.
Travelling to and from Cowes from the mainland and other towns on the Isle of Wight is easy.
Red Funnel runs a regular passenger vehicle ferry service between Southampton and East Cowes every hour and the crossing takes less than 60 minutes.
Foot passengers need not worry as Red Funnel runs the Red Jet service from Southampton to West Cowes. This fast service takes around 30 minutes and runs every half an hour at peak times and every hour off peak.
If you choose to stay in Lymington, there’s an additional service that runs during Cowes Week which takes passengers from Lymington to Cowes directly. At all other times you can get a train from Lymington to Southampton and then catch the ferry or Red Jet. Alternatively there are ferries from Lymington to Yarmouth. From there there is an option of taxi or bus services to Cowes and other parts of the Isle of Wight.
Where to stay
The enchanting town of Cowes has several excellent hotels and guesthouses that are just a stroll away from the excitement of Cowes Week. Make sure you book well ahead of time as over 100,000 people descend on the town for the racing event of the year.
Recently opened, this small but beautiful b&b is perched on a hill just a 10 minute walk from the high street.
Holly Tree House offers three pretty rooms with a choice of kingsize or twin beds, all with newly renovated ensuite luxurious bathrooms with a roomy walk-in shower and free standing bath. Towels, bathrobes and high-end skincare products are provided too.
All the rooms are decorated to a high standard, the beds are very comfortable and the level of cleanliness unbeatable.
For breakfast there’s a choice of full English, cereals, fruit, toast and spreads. Make sure you try the bread, which is homemade and simply delicious.
The Holly Tree House owners, Mandy and Mark, are friendly, polite and truly go the extra mile to make guests feel at home, offering a car pick-up from the ferry and sharing their knowledge of the area.
Wi-Fi and coffee and tea making facilities are complimentary.
The Holly Tree House is a bijou guest house and without a doubt one of the prettiest and most welcoming we’ve ever visited.
Room prices start at £70 per night for a single occupancy or £85 for a double or twin including breakfast for the period May-September. For more information and booking visit Holly Tree House Cowes.
If you would prefer staying on the mainland, the quaint town of Lymington is an excellent choice. With easy access to Cowes via the Red Funnel from Southampton or with direct ferries during Cowes Week, this is an ideal location to visit both the Isle of Wight and the New Forest.
Named after the original radio beacon ship responsible for beaming the very first radio signal to The Isle of Wight, The Mayflower pub and guesthouse has been recently renovated to very high standards.
It offers six beautiful rooms (with double or twin beds) all finely decorated with Victorian and nautical themes.
The rooms boast ensuite bathrooms with rain showers. Roll-tops bedroom baths feature in four of the bedrooms.
Three of the rooms have views across Lymington marina and the local sailing club, and all have Wi-Fi and tea and coffee facilities.
Breakfast is served in the dining area and offers a choice of freshly baked pastries, full English, toast with jam, fruit, cold meats, cheese and cereals.
Staff are attentive, friendly and helpful and the pub and restaurant downstairs offers a well-thought selection of wines, ales, spirits and delicious cocktails (see the ‘Where to eat’ section below). Prices start at £110 per night based on two people sharing. For more information and booking visit The Mayflower Lymington.
Freshwater Bay House, Freshwater Bay
Located a few minutes away from the beach and close to The Needles, the 18th century Freshwater Bay House hosted guests such as Lewis Carroll and Alfred Lord Tennyson. This stunning property offers 48 rooms, several with breathtaking sea views, three lounges, an outdoor swimming pool, children play area and private access to Freshwater Bay Beach. It also features the Dandelion Café, where guests and visitors can enjoy delicious food, cake and drinks.
Much of The Bay’s electricity, heating and hot water is provided by solar panel, making it an ideal place to stay for the eco-conscious. It’s easily accessible to Cowes, by car, cab, bus or you can cycle and take in the stunning coastal view. Prices start at £115 on a full board basis plus a free Ordnance Survey Explorer map of the area. For more information and booking visit Freshwater Bay House.
Where to eat
The Coast Bar & Dining Room, Cowes
Popular with the yacht crowd, locals, and tourists alike, The Coast Bar & Dining is an elegant yet informal eatery in the heart of Cowes.
The exposed brick walls, dark wood floors and leather sofas give the atmosphere a modern cosy feel: the kind of place you’d want to stay at for hours.
And for hours we did stay as we needed time to taste many of the dishes on offer.
The menu is well thought-out and caters for meat, fish and vegetarian eaters alike.
A plate of oysters, from the specials, was glorious. The bivalves were fresh, sweet, creamy and buttery, served with lemon, tabasco and shallot vinegar.
So good they were, we greedily ordered another six before finishing the first plate.
Pan seared scallops with pea puree (the dish comes with black pudding but we asked for it to be left out) was delicate, flavoursome and beautifully presented.
For main, mussels with shallots, garlic, cream, dill and frites hit the spot: the molluscs were meaty and tasty and the sauce light and delicate.
The crab with aioli, frites and salad was mouthwatering: fresh as fresh can get and full of flavour. The aioli was delicious with the right hint of garlic: not overpowering but definitely detectable. The skinny chips were perfect: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
We were tempted by many dishes on the menu. The wild mushrooms and rosemary arancini, Coast seafood linguine. salmon fishcakes, duck confit and wild mushroom ravioli particularly caught our eye, and we have it on good authority that the wood fire oven at the Coast Bar produces the best pizzas outside of Italy.
A classic sticky toffee pudding was perfectly paired with honeycomb ice-cream and the rhubarb crumble worked well with the sweet spiciness of stem ginger ice-cream. Old fashioned puddings such as lemon posset were also on offer, as well as an artisanal cheese platter with Cornish Yarg and Dorset smoked red cheddar.
The wine list is well-put together and paired beautifully with the food.
The cocktail list features old classics such as Dark and Stormy alongside a Coast Bar cocktail of the week.
For more information and bookings visit The Coast Bar & Dining Room.
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It’s late afternoon on a Saturday and The Mayflower is bustling with groups of friends, couples and families making the most of the sun that’s just come out after a rainy day.
The huge and manicured beer garden is alive with chatter, glasses clinking and people enjoying the early summer. The Mayflower is getting busy and it’s easy to see why. This nautical pub and restaurant has quickly become an institution in Lymington, thanks to its beautiful and welcoming surroundings, friendly atmosphere, big outside space, delicious food, great selection of wine, local ales and gin cocktails.
A negroni is mixed to perfection, just the way Italians make it; strong and punchy. A Proper G&T is exactly what it says on the tin, and indeed done properly. Two perfect aperitifs.
We sit down to dinner in the light and spacious back dining room, overlooking the beer garden (meals are also served on the terrace).
A starter of Scottish Queen scallop, avocado gratin and homemade sourdough bread is light and delicate.
The mains feature a good selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.
We order pan fried stone bass, pak choi, aromatic rice, lime, soy & ginger dressing, which is executed to perfection. The fish is firm, meaty and full of flavour and paired perfectly with the aromatic rice and greens.
Slow roast pork belly, champ, seasoned greens & Bramley purée is another winner. The meat is perfectly tender and fatty and works well with the purée apple.
Puddings are divine. The banana & apple toffee crumble & custard comes in a generous portion and yet we could still have seconds. A classic baked vanilla cheesecake is given a twist with the addition of shaved pineapple, which adds zing and freshness to it.
The wine menu is extensive and features bottles from Europe, South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It’s well priced too, ranging from £17 for a Verdicchio and a Negroamaro up to £195 for a bottle of Pol Roger, Cuvée Winston Churchill, 1999, with plenty of options in between.
Service is attentive, polite and never intrusive and the staff look like they are enjoying their job and surroundings: a good sign of a team run well.
Would we visit again? Absolutely. We still have to try the crab & lobster macaroni, spinach, morels & tarragon, the Ringwood battered fish & chips, crushed peas & tartar sauce, the baked aubergine with vine tomatoes, feta and couscous, the Hampshire watercress, shaved courgette, fennel & goat’s curd and last but definitely not least the almond profiterole.
For more information and bookings visit The Mayflower Lymington.
Best of the rest
The Union Inn, Cowes: just a stone’s throw away from the sea front, this small traditional pub and inn is pretty, cosy and the perfect place to enjoy a drink.
The Harbour Kitchen, Cowes: another eatery by the owners of The Coast Bar, The Harbour Kitchen specialises in burgers, beer and bourbon. Visitors swear these are the best burgers in the UK and vegetarians are well-catered for with meat-free versions, such as the halloumi, and salad options.
The Terrace Restaurant at the Montagu Arms Hotel, Beaulieu: boasting a Michelin star since 2009, this restaurant is not to be missed.
The Cellar, Lymington: this tasting house and wine merchant offers a great selection of wine and spirits which can be sampled in the back room or on the terrace. Staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. Well worth a visit.
Stanwell House Hotel, Lymington: This lovely hotel in the heart of Lymington offers beautiful rooms, scrumptious afternoon teas, mouthwatering English tapas and delicious lunches and dinner.