Neighbourhood watch: Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Tapas bars in Ventnor? Well, this seaside haven is on the up.
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The Independent Online

What do Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens have in common? They've all fallen under the spell of Ventnor, a charming little seaside town on the Isle of Wight.

Ventnor is on the island's southern coast, about 12 miles from the ferries at Ryde. It benefits from its own micro-climate, sheltered from any icy northern blasts by the National Trust-owned St Boniface Downs. These hills, at around 800ft, tower over the town.

In the early 19th century, Ventnor was mostly thatched fishermen's shacks, but in the 1830s it gained a reputation for the healing qualities of its climate and waters. Business flourished all the way up until the Second World War, and today buyers are drawn to its solid, decorative mix of Victorian and Edwardian coastal architecture.

It's good value, with average house prices mirroring the national average at about £210,000. Detached houses, terraces and flats actually track £15,000 to £20,000 below this price. Smart and relaxed, Ventnor is enjoying a well-earned renaissance.

It's a buzzy town all year round and with the expansion of the harbour into a New England-style working port, the yachties now have a safe haven. Tourism pushes the island's economy along, but Ventnor has conceded less of its soul to this industry than the nearby towns of Shanklin and Sandown. Second-homers and relocators have been rediscovering the Isle of Wight in their droves.



Your kind of people?

The islanders, or "Caulkheads", are a friendly bunch. Local entertainment exists at the Winter Gardens at the top of the Esplanade on Pier Street; it puts on an eclectic mix with recent gigs by the likes of The Damned and Hazel O'Connor, and also shows the less commercial films. A sedate atmosphere pervades the town, but the harbour, bars and restaurants are lively.



Can you shop till you drop?

Food and drink feature heavily on Ventnor's CV, with the daily catch of seafood supplying the local restaurants and hotels. The Hambrough Hotel serves up serious nosh as well as being one of the island's premier boutique places to stay. Or there's the Pond Cafe in Bonchurch; it's got a great reputation for local seafood dishes. Ventnor's brewery has been fermenting since 1840 using St Boniface spring water, which emanates from the rocks above Ventnor. There are a couple of authentic tapas bars, El Toro on Pier Street and The Met on the Esplanade, both adding a touch of the Med to Ventor's micro-climate. But if you fancy cooking yourself, head to the harbour and buy fresh crabs and lobsters direct from the fishermen.



Green and pleasant?

Ventnor's Victorian and Edwardian housing stock remains remarkably well-preserved, helping to maintain the town's "old fashioned" charm. Many of the roads are very steep and lead sharply down towards the harbour, rather like secret Cornish fishing villages. Ventnor Park is small but perfectly formed, looking just the way a well-manicured 1950s pleasure ground should (complete with an Edwardian bandstand) and, of course, there's always the sea views, often framed by lush green trees clinging to the Undercliff.



Do the schools make the grade?

Ventnor Middle School holds its own above the national achievement level, as does Sandown High School at secondary level. For those looking for an independent option, the Priory School in Shanklin notches up a 100 per cent pass rate on GCSEs.



What's nearby?

Ventnor's Botanic Gardens, a short walk along the coastal path from the Esplanade, feature 22 acres of exotic plants and a Temperate Showhouse. On your way to the gardens, you'll pass through Steephill Cove, a tranquil haven of tumbling cottages overlooking a sandy beach. Crab and lobster are still landed here daily and served up in the excellent Boathouse Restaurant right on the shore front. The ferries to the mainland steam out of Yarmouth, Ryde or Cowes and a day-return ticket for your car and four passengers will cost from £48.50. Residents get a bit of a discount as long as you are not carrying any "grockles". Or you can ditch the car and travel on foot for £10.40 return. In order to speed the whole process, grab the catamaran to Ryde; it costs from £13 return.

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What can you buy?

Modern manors - £325,000

This three-bed Grade II listed house, the east wing of Ventnor Manor, is being restored. Buy now and have a say in how the rooms are finished.

Hose Rhodes Dickson (01983 855 525; www.hose-rhodes-dickson.co.uk)

Vintage village - £695,000

A three-bedroom stone house in the village of Bonchurch. The superb grounds have a garage/studio, raised terrace, summerhouse and a "cave" for storing wine. There's a huge kitchen/dining room and two receptions.

01 Estate (01983 855 101; www.01estateagents.com)

Period proportions -£1.2m

This stone-built villa dates back to 1835. It sits in the hamlet of St Lawrence, less than two miles from Ventnor. The 1.5 acres of grounds have fantastic sea views, while the house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, four receptions, a conservatory and a swimming pool.

Savills (01202 856 800; www.savills.co.uk)

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